Thu, 15 December 2016
Fabian Almazan won the 2014 Downbeat Critics Poll for Rising Star Pianist, and has worked steadily as a core member of Terence Blanchard’s groups since 2007. Born in Cuba, he began playing classical piano at an early ag4e, but when he and his family fled Cuba, he found himself exposed to new and different music as well. A product of the Brubeck Institute and Manhattan School of Music; Fabian has been mentored by the likes of Kenny Barron and Jason Moran.
His two CDs as a leader – Personalities and Rhizome – point to a growing interest in harmonic invention and an intriguing integration of Latin rhythms and more avant-piano sounds. The latter album even added a string quartet to the piano-based band. Carefully taking control of his musical output, Almazan has announced the creation of Biophilia Records as an outlet for his work, and those of meaningful, imaginative musicians.
“Biophilia” means “love of living things”, and label has a distinctly environmental approach to its packaging and distribution. Their artists collaborate with organizations that specialize in conservation, sustainability and outreach initiatives, regularly volunteering in community events. The first release from the label will come in December. from the Awakening Orchestra, with interlude: Atticus Live! - the music of Jesse Lewis.
Podcast 554 is my conversation with Fabian, as we discuss the Rhizome Project, his goals for Biophilia, and what it’s like to hold down the piano chair in Terence Blanchard’s band. Musical selections include "The Adventures of Dirt McGillicudy" from the Awakening Orchestra release: "Hugs (Historically Underrepresented Groups)", an Almazan composition on the Terence Blanchard album Choices; and "Take Off" from the Blanchard composed soundtrack of Red Tails.
Direct download: Podcast_554_-_A_Conversation_with_Fabian_Almazar.mp3
Category:podcast -- posted at: 12:00pm EDT
Sun, 13 November 2016
Scott Morgan has been around the New York jazz scene for more than a decade, but Songs of Life is his debut CD as a leader. After a few listens, the obvious question is:
Man, what took you so long?
Morgan has a warm, engaging tenor, and his phrasing rivets the listener to the lyrics he is singing, creating a wonderful intimacy. His band – pianist Fred Hersch, bassist Matt Aronoff, tenor saxman Joel Frahm, and drummer Ross Pederson – plays in a sensitive, yet solid, manner, allowing his to ring every drop of emotion he wants from the album’s13 well-chosen tunes.
Morgan treats songs from the Pop/Rock era with the same respect as those from Broadway, finding new ways to interpret songs by James Taylor and the Beatles that let them stand up with the Great American Songbook. His lyrics to Hersch’s “Mandevilla” allow the Brazilian flavor of the song to seep through with sensitivity and soul. His duet with Janis Siegel, “I’ll Follow” is an emotional highlight.
Podcast 551 is my conversation with Scott, as we discuss the CD, how he selects his material, and what songs he thought might work on Songs of Life, but ended up dropping. His story of how “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly” came to be melded with the late Dave Catney's "Little Prayer" in a memorable performance is both heartbreaking and heartwarming at the same time. Musical selections from Songs of Life include that medley, Kurt Weill’s “Lost in the Stars”, “I’ll Follow”, and Lennon and McCartney’s “I Will.”
Scott Morgan will play two matinee sets at the Blue Note in New York on November 20th, 2016 at 11:30 am and 1:30 pm.
Direct download: Podcast_551_-_A_Conversation_with_Scott_Morgan.mp3
Category:podcast -- posted at: 5:37pm EDT
Tue, 4 October 2016
One of the great delights in modern jazz comes when a talented composer or arranger takes on material which we have come to expect to sound a certain way, or be presented in a certain manner, and turns it upside down, or at least off-kilter. Whether it’s a singer reimagining the way a tune from the Great American Songbook is interpreted (Cassandra Wilson, Kurt Elling); a soloist wringing emotion from a tired chestnut (almost anything Fred Hersch, Brad Mehldau or Keith Jarrett cover) or bringing in sounds from other genres or cultures to make us rethink the very sound of jazz itself (Kamasi Washington, Donnie McCaslin, Robert Glasper), we are listening to new music at a very exciting time.
Mehmet Ali Sanlikol fits firmly into this category. As a composer, he brings contemporary classical, straight ahead jazz and the music of his Turkish heritage into a wondrous sonic collision. With his band Whatsnext?, he is allowing us to think twice before putting music into one category or another.
Resolution is his new CD, and from the very start, you can tell there is something exciting happening here. “Turkish Second Line” takes the sound of classic New Orleans street music (driven forward by guest soloist Anat Cohen) and merges it with the kind of Turkish dance music that Sanlikol has heard at parties since he was a child in Istanbul. Whether he is pairing scat singing with traditional Turkish singing or adding micro-tonality to big-band charts, Mehmet is making this music uniquely his own. Aided by additional guest soloists David Liebman, Antonio Sanchez and Tiger Okoshi, Whatsnext? rises to the occasion time and time again playing this strong material.
Podcast 550 is my conversation with Mehmet Ali Sanlikol, as we discuss his musical background, and how he seeks to merge the music of his Turkish roots with Jazz. Musical selections from Resolution include the title track, “Turkish Second Line” and “Whirlaround.”
\Sanlikol and Whatsnext? will present the new CD at concerts at Joe’s Pub in New York on October 6th, and Shalin Liu Performance Center in Rockport, MA on October 9th.
Direct download: Podcast_550_-_A_Conversation_with_Mehmet_Ali_Sanikol.mp3
Category:podcast -- posted at: 6:07pm EDT
Tue, 30 August 2016
What seems a lifetime ago, I had the opportunity to serve on a panel to award grant money from the Connecticut Commission on the Arts to musical applicants. My group reviewed instrumental music, and one of the members of the panel was none other than Anthony Braxton. For those who are unfamiliar with the name, Mr. Braxton is one of the foremost composers and performers of avant-garde jazz, opera and instrumental music of the past sixty years.
Mr. Braxton was at that time serving a as professor at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, so his inclusion in the Commission’s deliberations was fortuitous. I could not have asked for a more polite, warm and open person with whom to spend an afternoon, and despite the huge gap in knowledge between himself and the rest of the panel, he generously acknowledged our opinions and was patient in explaining his views.
Now just past 70 years old, Mr. Braxton has recorded hundreds of albums during his career. From his time at the AACM in Chicago, to his quartet collaborations with the likes of Chick Corea, Kenny Wheeler, Sam Rivers and Dave Holland (Circle; Conference of the Birds), to Creative Orchestra Music, “Ghost Trance Music,” Trillian Opera and other large and small group improvisations; Mr. Braxton has eschewed any sort of genre or characterization for his daring and challenging music.
As a way of exploring his music, most notably his post-1980 compositions and recordings, trumpeter-composer Nate Wooley has devoted the latest issue of his on-line publication, Sound American to Anthony Braxton. Essays written by the foremost scholars and performers of these compositions have made contributions to the site, which you can read now at no cost (although donations are most welcome, and should be made immediately). Complete with streaming samples of Braxton’s music to illustrate the points made by the writers, this is an indispensable guide to those who know and love Anthony Braxton’s work, and a key to entering the world of his sound if you do not.
Nate Wooley has become one of jazz’s latest versions of a Renaissance Man, writing about and composing music; performing with his trumpet as part of the downtown free jazz, experimental, rock, and noise scenes; crating his own Pleasure of the Text music label; and generally standing out as one of today’s great improvisational innovators. He has just released two new CDs, the hypnotizing Argonautica, his tribute to and collaboration with mentor Ron Miles (Firehouse 12 Records), and the ecstatic Seven Storey Mountain Von his own label. A the 2016 FCA Grants to Artists Awards recipient from the Foundation for Contemporary Arts , he was awarded $40,000 to use for future work alongside percussionist William Winant, composer Ashley Fure, and legendary vocalist Joan LaBarbara.
Podcast 548 is my conversation with Nate about Anthony Braxton, Sound American, and his latest (and coming) musical projects. Musical selections include a Braxton quartet recording including Kenny Wheeler, and Dave Holland(“Opus 60“); "Fifth Meeting" from a trio recording with William Parker and Milford Graves called Beyond Quantum; an excerpt from one of his "Echo Echo House" Recordings from Three Compositions, and a brief excerpt from Wooley’s Argonautica.
Direct download: Podcast_548_-_A_Conversation_with_Nate_Wooley_about_Anthony_Braxton.mp3
Category:podcast -- posted at: 11:16am EDT
Tue, 16 August 2016
It's summer in New England, so why not some summer themed music for these lazy, hot days? Today is August 16th, the feast day of Saint Roch, the patron saint of Dogs, so why not celebrate the "Dog Days"?
The Romans referred to the dog days as diēs caniculārēs and associated the hot weather with the star Sirius. They considered Sirius to be the "Dog Star" because it is the brightest star in the constellation Canis Major (Large Dog), as well as the brightest star in the night sky. The term "Dog Days" was used earlier by the Greeks in Aristotle's Physics.
The Dog Days originally were the days when Sirius rose just before or at the same time as sunrise, which is no longer true, owing to procession of the equinoxes. The Romans sacrificed a brown dog (Sorry Angus and Hamish, my two miniature dachshunds!) at the beginning of the Dog Days to appease the rage of Sirius, believing that the star was the cause of the hot, sultry weather.
I've done four previous Dog Day postings, Podcast 292, Podcast 225, Podcast 442, and Podcast 492 if you'd like some more summer-themed music. There's a few repeats between these posts, but what the hey. It’s all grooving or relaxing music for soaking in those wonderful warming rays. Winter is just around the corner, and I am gonna grab all the warmth I can. Look for me on my deck with Angus and Hamish - and Nancy - and a cold beverage or two. I’ve been learning a bit of mixology, so I think Frozen Whiskey Smash is the drink of the day.
Podcast 546 features the following uninterrupted hour of music, featuring a few new tunes I've recently received from upcoming or imminent releases:
Rebecca Angel – “Jet Samba”
Paul Desmond – “Wave”
The 3 Cohens – “Beaches”
Holly Cole – “Too Darn Hot”
Lou Donaldson – “Hot Dog”
Kenny Garrett – “Backyard Groove”
Stanley Clarke – “Hot Fun”
The Rippingtons – “Flamingo Beach”
Pieces of a Dream – “Warm Weather”
Kenny Burrell – “Hot Bossa”
Jeff Golub – “On the Beach”
Project Grand Slam – “The Rescue”
Mon, 15 August 2016
Originally from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Sergio Pereira starting playing acoustic guitar (violao) at the age of 8 years old, influenced by his older brother who helped him play his first chords and the bossa-nova giants at the time - Joao Gilberto, Tom Jobim, and, Marcus Valle. Growing up in Rio in the 60’s and 70’s contributed tremendously to the energy, groove and rhythms reflected in his music today.
Moving to New York in the 80’s, exposed Pereira to an entirely different “scene.” It motivated the guitarist to not only continuing playing the guitar, but to further enhance his knowledge of the music and the instrument itself, which led him to studying with jazz greats including Chuck Wayne, Sal Salvador and Alex Adrian. Beginning in the early 90’s he has been travelling the world extensively, playing with different groups and at countless venues in many different countries in Europe, Africa and beyond. For over 20 years Pereira has been a member of the United Nations Jazz band for which has afforded him the opportunity to perform in various high profile venues.
Recently, he returned to his Brazilian roots, working to further broadened his understanding of harmony, improvisation and technique.This has led to the release of his first CD as a leader, Swingando. Recorded in New York City and Brazil, the album includes some of the top musicians in Brazilian jazz today, a veritable who’s who of heavyweights, such as Helio Alves, Teixeira, Nilson Matta, Mauricio Zottarelli, Duduka da Fonseca and Itaiguara Brandao.
Podcast 545 is my conversation with Sergio, who spoke with me while setting up his new home in Valencia, Spain, Musical selections include “My Girls” and Chega Ai", both of which features the killer rhythm section of Alves, Matta and da Fonseca; and the the more intimate “Ela.”
Direct download: Podcast_545_-_A_Conversation_with_Sergio_Pereira.mp3
Category:podcast -- posted at: 8:35pm EDT
Wed, 10 August 2016
With the whole world’s eyes trained on Rio for the Summer Olympics, it should come as no surprise to readers of that I’m thinking about Brazilian music. Here in America we think primarily of Bossa Nova and Samba, but I also enjoy more esoteric genres like Choro, Forro, and Tropicalissmo. The release last month of two new CDs from Brazilian artists that were not previously on my radar was cause for celebration here at SNC, and the next two podcasts will feature my conversations with saxophonist Livio Almeida and guitarist Sergio Pereira.
Livio Almeida is Brazilian saxophone/woodwinds player and composer/arranger. He received his Bachelor in Classical Saxophone in Brasilia, Brazil, and received his second degree at The City College of New York with a BFA in Jazz Performance. You may have heard him in his role in the O’Farrill Brothers Band, or for his solos on recent releases by Arturo O’Farrill and the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra. He also directs a 10 piece band, the only one of its kind in the USA, a “dectet" dedicated to perform large ensemble Brazilian music, with regular residencies at the traditional Zinc Bar and Iridium Jazz Club in New York.
Action & Reaction is his second CD as a bandleader, and features his working quartet of Vitor Gonçalves on piano, Eduardo Belo on bass, and Zack O’Farrill on drums. Adam O’Farrill drops in to lend a hand on trumpet as well.
Podcast 544 is my conversation with Livio, as we discuss the differences in “Latin Jazz” and “Brazilian Jazz”, what went into his latest CD, and where he plans to take his music next. Musical selections include “Mercado en Domingo" from Arturo O’Farrill and the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra’s Grammy winning The Offense of the Drum, as well as “Living in the Dark”, “Those (Not So Infant) Eyes”, and the title track “Action & Reaction.”
Direct download: Podcast_544_-_A_Conversation_with_Livio_Almeida.mp3
Category:podcast -- posted at: 12:55pm EDT
Wed, 3 August 2016
At the turn of the millennium, saxophonist Chico Freeman left the US for Europe, and embarked on a multi-year journey of exploration, both of music and his soul. He traveled across the continent and to Africa, playing music with different types of musicians, and in different genres.
Quite frankly, he was missed. He hasn't been to the US in quite a while to play,and a player, performer and composer of his stature is not someone we can lose lightly. The son of the great Von Freeman, he was mentored by his Dad and the likes of George Lewis and the members of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians. From there he has tackled almost any musical style he wanted - playing the blues; funking it up as a member of Earth, Wind & Fire's horn section; and leading his own groups through dozens of memorable sessions.
Now he's back. In May he released a fine new CD, Spoken Into Existence, with a 4-tet of mostly European musicians. It finds Chico in a gentle, lyrical mood, as he performs five compositions in honor of each of his daughters, among other originals.
He wowed them with his Plus-Tet at Dizzy's Coca-Cola earlier this Spring, and now he's on a rare West Coast swing. If you are a left coast jazz fan, don't miss him.
Podcast 543 is our conversation, and it's a memorable one. He talks about the new CD, his approach to writing, and tells a few great stories about growing up in a household always full of music. Musical selections from Spoken Into Existence include "Nia's Quest", Stanley Turrentine's blues "Soft Pedal Blues" and "India Blue".
Direct download: Podcast_543_-_A_Conversation_with_Chico_Freeman.mp3
Category:podcast -- posted at: 7:11pm EDT
Wed, 22 June 2016
The 39th Freihofer's Jazz Festival will kick off the summer festival season in style at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center this coming weekend. "The Hang" has something for everyone to enjoy, and this year is no exception.
Saturday June 25th brings something blue to the Main Stage with Eric Lindell and Shemekia Copeland, before bringing the new (Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah; Joey Alexander) and the old (Pieces of a Dream 40th anniversary tour and a Steps Ahead reunion). The ageless Chaka Khan was forced to cancel her appearance, but the always exciting Isley Brothers will bring their mix of R&B, Funk and Rock to end the evening.The Gazebo Stage will showcase some of today’s best jazz musicians, with sets from the criminally underrated Vincent Herring & the Kings of Swing (featuring Mike LeDonne, David Williams & Carl Allen); singer Karrin Allyson; and relative newcomers Jamison Ross and Elio Villafranca.
Sunday’s Main Stage offerings are full of treats for hardline jazz fans: Chick Corea’s award-winning Trilogy featuring Christian McBride & Brian Blade; Bria Skonberg Quintet; Pat Martino Organ Trio plus Horns; and singer Lizz Wright. Jon Cleary & The Absolute Monster Gentlemen will bring some New Orleans piano soul to Saratoga, and the man once called “the Greatest Living American Poet” by none other than Bob Dylan (supposedly) - Smokey Robinson - will end the festival in style.
I’m very high on the Sunday Gazebo lineup of up-and-coming stars – pianist Aaron Diehl; singer Alicia Olatuja; the Skonberg Quintet; and a performance of “LaFayette Suite” featuring Walter Smith III & Laurent Coq.
Impresario Danny Melnick and I talked about the festival bookings and what to look for over the weekend in Podcast 540. Musical selections include tunes from Pieces of a Dream ("Fo-Fi-Fo"), Vincent Herring ("Soul Leo"), Lizz Wright ("Coming Home") and Aaron Diehl ("Kat's Dance").
Direct download: Podcast_540_-_Previewing_the_Freihofers_Saratoga_Jazz_Festival_with_Danny_Melnick.wav
Category:podcast -- posted at: 2:00pm EDT
Wed, 11 May 2016
Carla Bley turns 80 years old today. Her various creative incarnations - composer, band leader, side person, singer – have all been at the highest level, and she shows no sign of stopping now.
So let us now praise Carla Bley.
She entered the jazz consciousness as a composer. Encouraged by her first husband, pianist Paul Bley, she wrote strong compositions that were quickly recorded by the likes of Jimmy Guiffre, Don Ellis, George Russell, and most memorably, the Paul Bley Quintet on Barrage. Buoyed by that success, she became an integral part of the Jazz Composers Guild, a musical “think tank” that for ten years was a catalyst for the avant-garde, beginning in the mid-60’s. With trumpeter Michael Mantler, Ms. Bley helped create the Jazz Composers Guild Orchestra, which featured innovative soloists like Pharaoh Sanders, Don Cherry, Larry Coryell, and Cecil Taylor. On her own, she wrote, played organ and piano and conducted Gary Burton’s seminal A Genuine Tong Funeral, an album that predated Bitches Brew as jazz-rock fusion.
It was with the Jazz Composers Guild Orchestra that Carla’s most ambitious work was realized – the “chronotransduction” known as Escalator over the Hill, a collaboration with Paul Haines and Mantler. Something of a jazz opera, it took three years to record, finally appearing in 1971 as a 3-record box set with extensive lyrics and liner notes. It is hard today to realize the impact this work had on the music scene, bringing together seemingly disparate genres like European art music and cabaret; free jazz; Indian raga; and improvisatory rock. Artists from Jack Bruce and Linda Ronstadt, to John McLaughlin, Charlie Haden, Gato Barbieri, Roswell Rudd, Paul Motian and of course Ms. Bley and Mantler, brought a difficult and sometimes thrilling score to life. One of the few jazz recordings to catch the eye of Rolling Stone magazine, Jonathan Cott wrote in those pages that the album was “an international musical encounter of the first order.” The next year, she was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship for music composition.
Whether she was working with Charlie Haden’s Liberation Orchestra; dabbling in rock (Jack Bruce, Pink Floyd’s Nick Mason, Golden Palominos) ; or collaborating with long-time companion Steve Swallow the music she makes could never be pigeon-holed in type or genre, more so than perhaps any artist since Duke Ellington. The albums that she released under her name were constantly shifting sounds – Big Bands, Trios, Sextets and Duets. She re-interprets and reimagines her old work with grace, and continues to write and perform new work of the highest order, often in a keyboard style that is uniquely her own. She continues her satisfying relationship with ECM with the release today of Andando el Tiempo, a trio record with Swallow and one of her favorite saxophonists, Andy Sheppard. It shows an artist still growing, still exploring, still a joy to discover.
Let’s celebrate the creative work of Carla Bley with Podcast 537, featuring music selected from the body of work that bears her name as bandleader, including:
Carla Bley and Her Remarkable Big Band - "Greasy Gravy"
Carla Bley Trio - "Andando el tiempo: Camino al Volv"
Carla Bley - "Sing Me Softly of the Blues"
Carla Bley and Steve Swallow - "Walking Batteriewoman"
Carla Bley and the Lost Chords Quartet - "Three Banana"
Carla Bley - "The Girl Who Cried Champagne Parts 1-3"
Carla Bley Big Band - "Who Will Rescue You?"
Carla Bley Sextet - "Healing Power"
Carla Bley - "Nothing"