Wed, 28 October 2015
The passing of Phil Woods last month is still being felt in the jazz world. One of Woods’ protégées, alto saxophonist Jim Snidero, will take a moment to honor his long-time mentor and friends this Thursday with a concert called “One for Phil” at the Smoke Jazz and Supper Club in New York City. Snidero’s band – Snidero on Alto Saxophone; Alex Sipiagin on Trumpet; Andy LaVerne on Piano; Ugonna Okegwo on Bass; and Jason Tiemann on Drums – will play three sets at Smoke, in what promises to be a memorable evening.
Snidero first met Woods in 1975, and then studied with him until moving to New York in the early 1980's. They kept in contact over the years, with their last visit being this past June. “Phil was the guy that inspired me to commit to the music, and for that, I will always be grateful" states Snidero. "Without question, he was one of the greatest jazz musicians and alto saxophone players of all time".
As strong a player as Snidero may be, he may be even more important as a jazz educator. He has written three 11-volume series of jazz etude books keyed to play-along CDs that are becoming the standard for students around the world. He also has produced courses in jazz improvisation and performance for The Jazz Conception Company that earned rave reviews.
Podcast 504 is my conversation with Jim, as he talks about his friendship with the late Phil Woods, what aspects of Woods’ playing and personality made him great, and even picks a favorite Woods tune or two. Musical selections for the episode feature Phil Woods performances from across his career, including "Freedom Jazz Dance", a sultry "The Summer Knows", "Chasin' the Bird" and a frenetic take on "Shaw Nuff". From Snidero's latest CD Main Street comes his original composition, "Oxford Square."
Special thanks to my friend Jeff Kirschenbaum for assisting me with selecting representative Woods’ recordings. Sorry I had to pick a different take of "Freedom Jazz Dance", since the one he wanted me to choose was more than 25 minutes long.
Fri, 23 October 2015
“Part of our human consciousness constantly searches and yearns for the divine, unspeakably beautiful, eternal, In my world, I call this place Everblue.” - Yelena Eckemoff
I have enjoyed the piano-based jazz albums of Yelena Eckemoff for a number of years now. The Moscow-born pianist was a child prodigy, and had been classically trained at the finest Moscow schools. Her teachers included Anna Pavlovna Kantor, who also trained the celebrated Evgeny Kissin, and she also studied with Galina Nikolaevna Egiazarova at the Piano School of the Moscow State Conservatory. But she also had an ear for jazz, which she has developed more fully since her arrival in the United States about fifteen years ago.
Residing with her family in North Carolina, Yelena rarely plays live, and so the series of CDs she has released are her primary creative output. She writes all the material for each CD (except for her latest), and brings in the finest musicians to help her flash out the sounds she hears. These sidemen have included drummer Peter Erskine on her Cold Sun CD; Mark Turner (saxophone), George Mrasz (bass), Joe Locke (vibes) and Billy Hart (drums) for A Touch of Radiance; and now Tore Brunborg (sax) , Arild Anderson (bass) and Jon Christensen (drums) for her latest CD, EverBlue.
I’m not the first listener to think that her music would not be out of place on a label like ECM, as it often evokes a sense of serenity and wonder, with pastoral overtones. There is not much swinging on one of her CDs, but her nature-centric compositions are strong, and her fellow musicians flawless.
Podcast 503 is my conversation with Yelena, as she tells how she arrived in the US, who her early influences were as she moved into the world of jazz, and how she came to work with so many fabulous musicians. Musical selections from EverBlue include “Sea Breeze” and “Blue Lamp”, and “Pep” is from A Touch of Radiance.
Direct download: Podcast_503_-_A_Conversation_with_Yelena_Eckenoff.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 11:00am EDT
Thu, 22 October 2015
It may be hard for many of us who learned about Jazz from the recordings of Michael and Randy Brecker to accept that Michael is gone, and that Randy will turn 70 years old in November. He must have a recent taste for nostalgia, as he reassembled many of his jazz buddies for a Brecker Brothers Band Reunion CD/DVD set in 2013, and now goes back to his days as a first-call studio “cat“ who could play any music or write any chart a producer or artist needed. Randy’s reputation was well-earned, considering the timeless recordings featuring his trumpet, including iconic albums by Frank Zappa, Paul Simon, Steely Dan, James Brown and Bruce Springsteen. The album is called RandyPOP! and it’s already a favorite of mine.
What makes this more than a look back at past glory are the “derangements” of memorable pop tunes by Kenny Werner, who refuses to simply cover a song. Instead, there are key, tempo and meter shifts, along with time to stretch out for memorable solos. And what a band Brecker has put together for this live recording: Werner ( Piano, Keys), David Sanchez (Tenor Saxophone), Adam Rogers (Guitar), John Patitucci (Bass), and Nate Smith (Drums).
Brecker’s daughter Amanda lends powerful vocals to several of the tunes, most notably on “New Frontier”, which Werner has dramatically altered in time, making a hard song even more difficult to sing. Watch for a new project from her next year in collaboration with guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel.
Podcast 502 is my conversation with Randy, where he tells some of the best stories you will hear in a podcast this year – how the Brecker Brothers Band came together, why he left Blood, Sweat & Tears before their ultimate commercial success, and fly-on-the-wall accounts of sessions with Parliament (Mothership Connection) and writing horn charts for Bruce Springsteen (Born to Run).
Musical selections from RandyPop! include “Let Me Just Follow Behind” (originally recorded by Bette Midler) and a dramatic “Think/I’ve Got a Bag of My Own” medley with spoken intro by Randy. Past glories are highlighted with the Brecker Brothers Band’s “Sneakin’ Up Behind You” and the dynamic horn section of Randy and Michael Brecker, Wayne Andre and David Sanborn playing the classic chart for “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out” from Born to Run.
Direct download: Podcast_502_-_A_Conversation_with_Randy_Brecker.mp3
Category:podcast -- posted at: 9:52am EDT
Mon, 12 October 2015
Columbus Day has become a deeply divisive event in the US. What once was the naive celebration of the "discovery of America" - take that Amerigo Vespucci and the Native Americans - is now marled with protests, given the start of the genocide his arrival in the New World began.
But let's go back to a simpler time, like May 1936, when Fats Waller and his Rhythm appeared on a popular radio show, The Magic Key Show, which originated from New York. That day, he performed two tunes - the well-known "I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter", and the lesser known "Christopher Columbus". The lyrics?
Mr.Christopher Columbus/Sailed the sea without a compass/Well, when his men began a rumpus/Up spoke Christopher Columbus
He said: "There is land somewhere/So until we get there we will not go wrong/If we sing a swing song/Since the world is round, we'll be safe and sound/'Till our goal is found we'll just keep the rhythm bound
Soon the crew was makin' merry/Then came a yell, let's drink to Isabella/Bring on the rum/A music in that all the rumpus/That wise old Christopher Columbus
Christopher Columbus/Christopher Columbus
Maybe not a Shakespearean sonnet, but you get the idea. And as always, Fats knew how to swing.
Category:general -- posted at: 10:00am EDT
Fri, 9 October 2015
Had it not been for an assassin’s bullet on December 8, 1980, John Winston Ono Lennon would have turned 75 years old today. Given that we lost him at the age of 40, it gives one pause to think about how much great music we might have received over the years from his genius.
It’s easy to argue that Lennon’s memorable work came in a spectacularly creative period of writing and recording that began with 1964’s A Hard Day’s Night and ended with 1971’s Imagine, followed by a general decline, if not outright silence. But what a body of work that gave us! And given the relative strength of the material on his final sessions in 1979 and 1980, there was definitely hope that an older, more mature, and perhaps more dedicated Lennon was far from finished. Alas, we will never know.
Jazz musicians have recorded Lennon material almost since it first appeared, and you can check our previous podcasts that have focuses on Beatles music in my previous “Jazzin’ On…” podcasts of the music of George Harrison, Paul McCartney. and two prior John Lennon podcasts, #142 and #196.
Podcast 501 features the following tunes written by John Lennon, during both his Beatles period and solo career, including:
Laurence Elder - "Imagine"
Wayne Brasel – “Strawberry Fields Forever”
Beatlejazz – “Cold Turkey”
Bill Frisell – “Mother”
Diane Reeves & Cassandra Wilson – “Come Together”
Freddie McCoy – “I Am the Walrus”
John Basile – “In My Life”
Don Randi Trio – “Tomorrow Never Knows”
Ramsey Lewis – “Julia”
Steve Marcus – “Rain”
Arif Mardin – “Glass Onion”
Al DiMeola - "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite"
John Pizzarelli – “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away”
Wed, 7 October 2015
When I spoke with Bob Belden this spring, I had no idea that it would be the last conversation I would ever have with him. Oe tht he would have with a jazz writer.
The outspoken Belden had just returned from a trip to Iran with his band Animation, the first American performer to play there since the Islamic revolution in the late Seventies. He had wrapped work on two new CDs, and performed in a well-reviewed show celebrating the legacy of the Royal Roost club and Miles Davis.
And then he was gone, dead of a heart attack on May 20th, after lengthy struggles with various illnesses.
His legacy as something of a renaissance man - performer, composer, orchestrator, conductor, arranger, record executive – is considerable, highlighted by Grammy award winning CD The Black Dahlia and the genre-bending Miles from India. He also won Grammys for his liner notes to the box set reissues Miles Davis Quintet 1965-1968 and Miles Davis & Gil Evans: The Complete Columbia Studio Recordings.
His final recording with Animation, Machine Language, continues the trend he began two years ago with Transparent Heart, both releases on Rare Noise Records. Little about these records can be considered “jazz” in the sense most of us think of it. And that was exactly what Belden had in mind, he told me in that final conversation, calling his music “intimidating” and “adult music”. Jazz as we know it, he said, is “not an intellectual music. Not anymore. It’s basically college music. Music for students…It’s becoming like Colonial Williamsburg, where everyone is expected to play a role. Everyone is expected to imitate someone from the past. You’re the reincarnation of this person and you’re the reincarnation of this person. And so forth. “
Machine Language fits that bill in spades. The group for this session features Belden on saxophone and flute, Peter Clagett on trumpet, Roberto Verastegui on keyboards, Bill Laswell on electric bass, Matt Young on drums and Kurt Elling guesting as narrator. It is intended to be part of a trilogy of work that would attempt to meld music, literature and film into a cohesive form. Regrettably, I doubt we will ever see it finished.
Prior to Machine Language, Belden had collaborated on In an Ambient Way, a reinterpretation of Miles Davis’ In a Silent Way, a recording he loved due to its modern recording techniques. The recording was credited to “Powerhouse”, a group composed of Wallace Roney (trumpet), Belden (soprano sax, flute), Oz Noy (guitar), Kevin Hays (Fender Rhodes), Daryl Johns (bass) and Lenny White (drums).
So Podcast 499 is a bittersweet one for me, knowing that I will never get to speak again with a man I came to know as a friend. There will be no more emails forwarding news items he found outrageous, no more early listens to work in which he was engrossed. I will miss him.
Musical selections include the title track, "Genesis Code" and "A Machine's Dream" from Machine Language and appropriately enough, "End Titles (Master)" from Bob's soundtrack to the movie Three Days of Rain, as played by Jason Moran.
Direct download: Podcast_499_-_A_Final_Conversation_with_Bob_Belden.mp3
Category:podcast -- posted at: 12:00pm EDT
Tue, 6 October 2015
When we list the great piano players of the last fifty years, for some reason Monty Alexander seems too often to be forgotten. In a career spanning five decades, Alexander has built a reputation exploring and bridging the worlds of American jazz, popular song, and the music of his native Jamaica, finding in each a sincere spirit of musical expression. In the process, he has performed and recorded with artists from every corner of the musical universe and entertainment world. Who else can claim working with Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Ray Brown, Dizzy Gillespie, Sonny Rollins, Clark Terry, Quincy Jones, Barbara Hendricks, and Bobby McFerrin, but also with Ernest Ranglin, Sly Dunbar, and Robbie Shakespeare. When Clint Eastwood wanted to record the soundtrack to his film Bird, a movie about the life of jazz titan Charlie Parker, it was Monty Alexander he chose to record the piano track. And Alexander is still going strong, having released the second album of his Harlem-Kingston Express band’s material this past spring.
In celebration of the Jamaican jazz icon, pianist Donald Vega has put together a hard swinging compilation of Monty's great, early compositions. With Respect To Monty features an all-star lineup backing Vega, including Anthony Wilson (guitar), Hassan Shakur (bass) and Lewis Nash (drums). Shakur, a long-time Alexander collaborator, lends a welcome tone of authenticity to the group’s tunes.
Vega does more than imitate Alexander – he successfully brings out the spirit and joy of the great pianist’s work in these tracks. It helps that he has Wilson’s guitar front and center – this CD s in many ways a testament to his playing, be it soaring leads or supportive comping. Shakur, a long-time Alexander collaborator, lends a welcome tone of authenticity to the group’s covers. Lewis Nash plays like – well, Lewis Nash, which is a high compliment indeed.
Podcast 498 is my conversation with Vega, who since he left the Manhattan School of Music and The Juilliard School, where he studied with piano great Kenny Barron, has performed at a very high level. He replaced the late Mulgrew Miller as the pianist for world renowned bassist Ron Carter’s Golden Striker Trio. His last album, Spiritual was a trio recording with the solid-gold rhythm section of bassist Christian McBride and drummer Nash.
Musical selection from With Respect To Monty include "3000 Miles Ago", "The Gathering" and "Mango Rengue."
Direct download: Podcast_498_-_A_Conversation_with_Donald_Vega_about_Monty_Alexander_and_more.mp3
Category:podcast -- posted at: 7:41pm EDT
Mon, 5 October 2015
One of the very first podcasts I did here at Straight No Chaser featured the music of pianist/composer Andrew Hill. It feels appropriate that as I reach the cusp of my 500th podcast, that I stop and appreciate the fiftieth anniversary of the recording of Compulsion, one of Hill’s finest works.
By 1965, Hill had recorded with Rashaan Roland Kirk, Hank Mobley and Joe Henderson, and released more than a handful of albums as a bandleader. Compared to say, Black Fire, his 1963 classic, Compulsion seems a very different kind of album. Where Black Fire is a Blue Note session to a tee – a quartet composed of Hill, Joe Henderson, Richard Davis and Roy Haynes – Compulsion begins to explore more adventurous rhythmic ground. Hill explained later that his intention was to "...construct an album expressing the legacy of the Negro tradition," and for that he would need percussion.
Compulsion ended up with just four lengthy tracks, full of fascinating improvisation that Hill would develop over the next few years. The band is top notch – Hill on piano, Freddie Hubbard (trumpet, flugelhorn), John Gilmore (tenor saxophone, bass clarinet) Cecil McBee (bass), a three-headed monster rhythm section of Joe Chambers (drums), Renaud Simmons (conga), and Nadi Qarmar (percussion), and, for the driving track “Premonition”, Davis returning as a second bass player. The music shows Hill's continued growth as a composer, as he eschews overt melody in favor of harmonic invention and texutre.
As a subtly prepared “concept album” with a distinct thematic connection between the four tracks, Compulsion stands as a mature work of art. He would record five more albums for Blue Note in the Sixties, but only two saw the light of day for at least a decade, as the label chose to either sit on them, release them under others' name (Sam Rivers) or put the tracks solely on compilation albums. .
Category:general -- posted at: 12:00pm EDT