Tue, 31 March 2015
As Jazz stretches itself a number of different directions, one of the most intriguing is the integration of electronica into the jazz repertoire and sound. No greater statement as to how this can be effective exists than the work of Donny McCaslin, and his longtime bandmates Jason Lindner (keyboards), Tim Lefebvre (bass), and Mark Guiliana (percussion). In what other band is the bass player called "the DJ of the band?" Where else is the drummer so uniquely a part of the sound that McCaslin has said that "this record is a drum solo," and yet you often strain to find a traditional drum break?
The Grammy-nominated Casting for Gravity kicked open the door to this sound in a big way, and Donny’s new CD, Fast Future, takes it to another level. In addition to the sounds, textures and beats that the band brings to its music, McCaslin has wisely chosen tunes from electronica pioneer Aphex Twin and up and coming band Baths (the alter ego of L.A.-based electronica artist Will Wiesenfeld) as jumping off points for improvisation. The results are always exciting and frequently moving.
Saxophonist/composer/producer David Binney, McCaslin's longtime friend, collaborator, and basketball partner, is the “fifth member” of the quartet. Months before he set foot in the studio for the project, McCaslin consulted with Binney and the two shaped a vision for Fast Future. "I can't overstate the significance of Dave's contribution to this record, " McCaslin says. "It was a real partnership. He was never more of an influence on a record than he was on this one."
Straight-ahead jazz fans should not worry about an album of bleeps and blorps – this is mature music, a logical synthesis of the craft these musicians have been hard at honing, an unexplored crossroads between jazz and electronica with virtuosic musicianship.
Everyone in the band is busy with multiple projects. Lindner is in demand constantly and has his own band Now Vs Now and its large ensemble spin-off, Breeding Ground. Guiliana joined with pianist Brad Mehldau to form the electronic duo project Mehliana and founded the independent record label Beat Music Productions, which released two of his projects last year. Lefebvre joined the Tedeschi Trucks Band, perhaps the hardest-working band in this business, and finds himself constantly on the road.
McCaslin guested on the David Bowie/Maria Schneider collaboration, "Sue"; sat in on Alexa Thana’s debut CD; and had a key part in an all-star woodwind section in the recording of Ryan Truesdell's Gil Evans Project’s Lines of Color.
Podcast 474 is my conversation with Donny, where we talk about the new CD, how he blends nontraditional jazz into his sound, and what kind of music he has been listening to of late. Music selections include ”No Eyes”, "Love What is Mortal” and "54 Cymru Beats" from Fast Future; “Can’t We Talk It Over” from Ryan Truesdell's latest Gil Evans Project live CD Lines of Color, and the David Bowie/Maria Schneider collaboration, "Sue (or in a Season of Crime," available on Bowie’s latest compilation CD Nothing Has Changed.
Direct download: Podcast_474_-_A_Conversation_with_Donny_McCaslin.mp3
Category:podcast -- posted at: 12:00pm EST
Sun, 29 March 2015
The Spring is truly the season of spiritual awakengin and celebration. Holy week for those of the Christian faith is underway, and the first night of Passover, the Jewish festival of freedom, begins Friday evening, just as Good Friday observences end. The festival of Vaisaki, celebrated by Hindus, Buddhists and Sikhs is on April 14. Theravada, the New Year festival for Theravada Buddhists, is celebrated for three days begining April 4. April 21 begins the Baha'i festival of Ridvan, and Pagan/Wiccan followers this week commemorate the end of the Celtic Tree Month Alder and beginning of the Celtic Tree Month of Willow.
It’s a blessing when these festivals of many faiths coincide on the calendar, reminding us of the great similarities and wonderful differences that make up these faiths. In order to celebrate this season of spirituality, I offer my annual podcast of jazz with a spiritual strain running though the tunes in Podcast 472 (previous Podcasts can be found for 2014, 2013, 2011, and 2010), including:
ICP Orchestra – “Psalm”
Grachan Moncur III and the Jazz Composers Orchestra – “Angela's Angel”
James Brandon Lewis – “Wading Child in the Motherless Water”
Eugene Marlow’s Heritage Ensemble - “Mah Nishtanah Halaylah Haze (Arrangement)”
Nicola Conte (feat. Melanie Charles) – “Spirit of Nature”
Naomi Shelton & the Gospel Queens – “Thank You, Lord”
Tony Scott – “Prajna-Paramita-Hridaya Sutra (sutra chant)”
Kirk Whalum – “Into My Soul”
Jimmy Greene – “Your Great Name”
Sean Jones - "Lift Ever'y Voice"
Charlie Haden and Hank Jones - "Take My Hand Precious Lord"
Alicia Olatuja – “Amazing Grace”
Wed, 25 March 2015
“My music is the spiritual expression of what I am — my faith, my knowledge, my being…when you begin to see the possibilities of music, you desire to do something really good for people, to help humanity free itself from its hang-ups…I want to speak to their souls.” — John Coltrane
I was cautiously optimistic when I heard that a documentary about John Coltrane was being greenlighted for theatrical release. If any African-American jazz musician’s life story captures the sweep of the second half of the 20th century and the development of Jazz music, it would be Trane. So imagine my real joy when I learned that it was John Scheinfeld who would be directing and film.
I am familiar with Scheinfeld’s work from the theatrical documentary The U.S. vs. John Lennon which he directed, wrote and produced. It was an official selection of the Venice Film Festival, the Telluride Film Festival, the Toronto International Film Festival and the London Film Festival and was subsequently released in theaters worldwide and on DVD. It was also the recipient of the FOCAL International Award for Best Use of Archival Footage in a Feature/Factual Production).
His most recent documentary film, Who Is Harry Nilsson (And Why Is Everybody Talkin' About Him)? premiered in New York and played in theaters across the country during the fall of 2010. The film, for which Scheinfeld was nominated for a prestigious Writers Guild Award for Outstanding Documentary...and for which USA Today named him one of the Top 100 Pop Culture People of 2010...was released internationally in the Summer of 2011. He earned a Grammy nomination for producing 2005's Beautiful Dreamer: Brian Wilson and the Story of SMiLE. Clearly, this is a man who can bring music to the screen in a big way.
As Mr. Scheinfeld sees it, the film will explore the global power and impact of the music of John Coltrane and will reveal the passions, experiences and forces that shaped his life and revolutionary sounds.
Shot on locations around the world, the film will appeal to a broad, worldwide audience that will be touched by Coltrane’s very human story of demons and redemption. One can only hope that it will be a film about hope, faith, optimism and the power of music to heal and to transform the world, much as Trane did himself.
Podcast 472 is my conversation with John about the upcoming film. He is interviewing the great musicians who played with and hung out Coltrane, many of whom are featured in the music that I have integrated with our talk:
John Coltrane – “Cousin Mary (alternate take)” from Heavyweight Champion: The Complete Atlantic Recordings. An alternate take from the sessions that made up the Giant Steps album in 1959. Coltrane on sax, Tommy Flanagan on piano, Paul Chambers on bass and Art Taylor on drums.
Elmo Hope Sextet – “Polka Dots and Moonbeams” from Informal Jazz. Vintage sideman Coltrane, sitting in on a 1956 Prestige session, featuring Hope on piano, Donald Byrd on trumpet, Coltrane and Hank Mobley on saxophone, Paul Chambers on bass and “Philly” Joe Jones on drums.
John Coltrane - “Song of the Underground Railroad” from The Complete Africa/Brass Sessions. Trane shows his social activist side on a large scale session from 1961that augmented his “Classic Quartet” and featured Freddie Hubbard, Booker Little (trumpet) Jim Buffington, Donald Carrado, Bob Northern, Robert Swisshelm, Julius Watkins (French horn), Charles Greenlee, Julian Priester (euphonium) Bill Barber (tuba) Coltrane (soprano,tenor saxophone), Eric Dolphy (alto saxophone, bass clarinet, flute, arranger, conductor) Pat Patrick (baritone saxophone) Garvin Bushell (reeds) McCoy Tyner (piano, arranger) Reggie Workman (bass) and Elvin Jones (drums).
John Coltrane – “Bessie’s Blues” from Crescent. The Classic Quartet on one of my favorite Coltrane albums circa 1964 – Coltrane on tenor sax, McCoy Tyner on piano, Jimmy Garrison on bass and Elvin Jones on drums. This is a different take than appeared on Crescent and can be found on the Classic Quartet boxset on Impulse!.
Direct download: Podcast_472_-_A_Conversation_with_Filmaker_John_Scheinfeld.mp3
Category:podcast -- posted at: 12:00pm EST
Sun, 22 March 2015
"Thana Alexa is a great new talent...has a beautiful voice and is a great composer and bandleader...She's a musician first and a vocalist second." - Antonio Sanchez
High praise from a great musician and Ode to Heroes delivers the goods.
The album mainly features the engaging original compositions of singer-songwriter Thana Alexa, along with vibrant takes on jazz standards like Wayne Shorter's "Footprints," Charles Mingus' "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat," and Paul Desmond's "Take 5." Most importantly, it spotlights Ms. Alexa's ability to engage in rewarding and illuminating conversation with some of the music's most renowned and forward-thinking players. Her band includes veteran jazz stars like Sergio Salvatore on piano and Sanchez on drums and the likes of Donny McCaslin (saxophone) and Scott Colley (bass) sit in on other tracks.
Though she was born in New York City, Thana was raised in Croatia, so her path was never going to be the expected one. She first encountered jazz at an outdoor café in Dubrovnik. The owner was a bassist who encouraged her to join his band onstage when he spotted her mouthing the lyrics in the audience. "He yelled to me from the stage in broken English and my mom pushed me up there," she recalls. "I must have looked like a tree just standing there; it was my first time ever singing in front of people."
The experience ignited a passion for jazz and soon Ms. Alexa was taking voice lessons at the Rock Academy of Zagreb. A few years later, vibraphonist and club owner Bosko Petrovic took the young singer under his wing, producing a demo and urging her to discover her own voice. She returned to the States at the age of 18 to attend Northeastern University, majoring in psychology because she still saw jazz as a hobby. "I had the darkest year of my life," she says. "It was only during a jazz course I had once a week that something would light up inside of me when I had my five minutes to sing. The message was clear that a life change had to be made, so I moved to New York City and enrolled at the New School where I received a B.F.A in jazz performance and also finished my B.A. in psychology."
Since then, she has collaborated with a number of adventurous musicians, most notably guitarist Gene Ess, a veteran of bands led by Rashied Ali and Dr. Eddie Henderson, while holding down a residency at New York’s 55 Bar, a jazz vocalist’s Mecca. She won the 2011 Jazzon Alpe-Andria International Competition for Ode To Heroes while her song "Siena" was nominated for a Best Jazz Composition award by PORIN, the Croatian Music Academy, an honor equivalent to the Grammy Awards in America.
Podcast 471 features my conversation with Ms. Alexa with musical selections from Ode to Heroes, including the title track, “Trace Back Your Footprints” and “Siena”, as well as tracks from Sanchez’s New Life and Ess’ Fractal Attraction.
Thana Alexa will appear March 23 at SubCulture in New York, with special guests Antonio Sanchez and Donny McCaslin.
Thu, 19 March 2015
It's the best band I ever worked with."- Maria Schneider
The Brussels Jazz Orchestra will present the U.S. premiere of "Graphicology—A Visual Jazz Score" at Jazz at Lincoln Center, March 20-22 at 7.30 and 9.30 pm at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola (located at Broadway at 60th Street, 5th Floor, New York City). For the performances, the BJO will team up with illustrator and jazz lover Philip Paquet, with whom they created a multimedia project combining big band jazz and a graphic novel. Six composers were commissioned by the BJO to create individual soundtracks to accompany jazz-related stories, comic strip-style. Edited into original videos, Paquet's illustrated stories will be shown onscreen while the Orchestra performs the soundtracks.
The BJO is celebrating its 22nd year as one of the premier Big Bands in Europe, if not the world. Guided by Artistic Director Frank Vaganée, the group has made appoint to create these sort of multi-media events, and even worked on the score to the Academy-Award winning film The Artist. The Orchestra has released more than sixteen CDs, the latest of which with Joe Lovano, Wild Beauty, was nominated for two Grammy Awards.
Podcast 470 is my conversation with Frank Vaganée, and features musical selections from BJO projects with Lovano (“Streets of Naples”) and Kenny Werner (“Second Love Song” )from Institute of Higher Learning) as well as "Peppy and George" from the soundtrack of The Artist.
Thu, 12 March 2015
With the release of Bird Calls, Rudresh Mahanthappa moves forward by looking back. During the fertile five year period that has found him releasing six albums as a leader or co-leader (and at least half a dozen more as a sideman); the alto-saxophonist had been working primarily with an electric sound, climaxing with the powerful Gamak CD in 2013. Bird Calls finds Mahanthappa returning to an acoustic sound, primarily with a traditional quartet (Matt Mitchell,François Moutin, Rudy Royston) augmented by trumpet prodigy Adam O’Farrill, paying tribute to the legendary Charlie Parker with a reimagining of Bird’s melodies, harmonies and spirit.
Rather than take his turn on tunes like “Confirmation”, “Donna Lee” or “Parker’s Mood”, Rudresh has removed or realigned the famous melodies, changed the harmonic progressions or rethought the rhythmic progressions of the classics. The result allows us to see Parker as a true musical visionary, a man whose music was written and recorded more than three-quarters of a century ago, but can be seen, as Mahanthappa notes, as “21st-century classical music, with a really modern way of thinking about rhythm and melody and harmony.”
Simultaneously with the release of Bird Calls, Mahanthappa is touring not only with his jazz group, but as part of collaboration with Ragamala Dance, presenting Song of the Jasmine. A new dance work conceived by Aparna Ramaswamy, the production takes the South Indian classical dance form of Bharatanatyam into the 21st century, with Mahanthappa and other members of a quintet, including his long-time friend and sometimes collaborator Rez Abbasi, onstage playing his score.
Podcast 469 is my conversation with Rudresh, covering topics as varied as the importance of Charlie Parker to today’s music, to his choice for five albums every jazz musician should hear. Music selections from Bird Calls include “Talin is Thinking”, “Bird Calls #5” and "Chillin'", plus additional music from Gamak (“Are There Clouds in India?”) and Rez Abbasi’s 2011 CD Suno Suno (“Monuments”).
Direct download: Podcast_469_-_A_Conversation_with_Rudresh_Mahanthappa.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 12:00pm EST
Tue, 3 March 2015
"Music has a unique way of communicating and healing. I'm so thankful that music is my profession - that I am able to write and arrange to create settings that convey the emotions I experience, not the least of which is the pain that my family and I have endured at a time when words fail." - Jimmy Greene
I first met Jimmy Greene when he was a budding young talent at the Hartt School of Music in the mid-Nineties. A protégé of the legendary Jackie McLean at Hartford’s Artist Collective, Greene played with strength and a passion that belied his years. Since then, his 9 solo recordings, released on various labels including RCA Victor, Sunnyside, and Criss Cross, have been met with much critical acclaim. In addition to his recordings and appearances as a leader, Greene appears on over 70 albums as a sideman, and has toured and/or recorded with Horace Silver, Tom Harrell, Freddie Hubbard, Harry Connick, Jr., Avishai Cohen, Kenny Barron, Lewis Nash, Steve Turre, the New Jazz Composers Octet and the Carnegie Hall Jazz Band, among many others.
Jimmy met his greatest challenge on December 14, 2012 when his 6-year-old daughter, Ana Márquez-Greene, was tragically killed, along with 19 other children and 6 educators, on at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. In the months that followed, he struggled to make sense of the loss, and find a way to use his art as a means of grieving, and then celebrating the life of his daughter.
Beautiful Life, on Mack Avenue Records, is the triumphant result of that struggle. Going places musically he had not gone before, Greene took up a number of his former friends, mentors and admirers on their offers of musical support to create an album that is far more celebratory of life than elegiac in nature. Greene juxtaposes the hardcore instrumental jazz for which he is best known with traditional spirituals, contemporary Christian music, standard ballads and three original songs framing his own lyrics.
Animating the repertoire is a gold-standard rhythm section (Renee Rosnes, piano; Christian McBride, bass; Lewis Nash, drums), augmented at various points by guitarists Pat Metheny and Jonathan DuBose, Jr.; pianists Kenny Barron and Cyrus Chestnut; vocalists Kurt Elling, Javier Colon and Latanya Farrell; spoken word from Tony Award-winning actress Anika Noni Rose; a 13-piece string ensemble from the Hartford Symphony Orchestra; and most touchingly, an accomplished children's choir. Jimmy composed or arranged every selection and plays tenor and soprano saxophones as well as flute with customary authority, melodic focus and abiding soulfulness.
Podcast 468 is my conversation with Jimmy, augmented by tracks from Beautiful Life, including “Saludos/Come Thy Mighty King” (which features a vocal from Ana); “Where is Love” and “Ana’s Way”.
Direct download: Podcast_468_-_A_Conversation_with_Jimmy_Greene.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 12:00pm EST
Mon, 2 March 2015
While jazz instrumentalists see to often come together to create ‘supergroups” or play “supersessions”, jazz vocalists seem a bit reticent to do so. The reasons may range from ego issues to concerns of vocal compatibility to just plain lack of opportunity
Thankfully none of those problems exist for featuring notable New York singers Amy Cervini, Hilary Gardner and Melissa Stylianou. I’ve enjoyed their individual releases on the Anzic label for years, and my enjoyment was tripled when I learned they were collaborating on a “supergroup” recording.
That debut album – and the name of their collaborative group –is Duchess, and successfully channels the 1930s inspiration of the virtuosic Boswell Sisters into a wonderfully entertaining and contemporary package. Produced by Oded Lev-Ari, who helmed previous acclaimed Anzic releases by Cervini and Stylianou, Duchess wisely matches the vocal trio with an ace New York band: pianist Michael Cabe, bassist Paul Sikivie and drummer Matt Wilson, plus saxophonist Jeff Lederer and guitarist Jesse Lewis.
The songs of Duchess range from the well-known Peggy Lee number "I Love Being Here With You" and Johnny Mercer's "P.S. I Love You" to new twists on "Que Sera, Sera" and the indelible standard "I'll Be Seeing You." There's a playful Gershwin rarity with "Blah, Blah, Blah" and a direct Boswell Sisters homage with their arrangement of "Heebie Jeebies." And fans of the ladies’ individual work are not deprived of their talents - there are solo spots for each with "My Brooklyn Love Song" (Hilary), "A Doodlin' Song" (Amy) and "Humming to Myself" (Melissa).
It was a pleasure to speak with the three ladies of Duchess recently, and Podcast 467 is my conversation with them, supplemented with musical tracks from the Duchess CD, as well as individual tracks like Melissa Stylianou’s take on “Nice Work If You Can Get It” from her CD No Regrets, and Amy Cervini’s take on Hank Williams’ “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry”from Jazz Country, which feature Marty Ehrlich on saxophone. I’ve also thrown in a Boswell sisters classic for good measure - their 1934 song "Rock and Roll" as featured in the film Transatlantic Merry-Go-Round , an early use of the phrase “rock and roll”, even though here it refers to "the rolling rocking rhythm of the sea".