Yaniv Taubenhouse

Extraordinary times often produces extraordinary art. In the case of pianist Yaniv Taubenhouse, his new solo piano recording, Hope, was created during the onset of the global pandemic in February 2020, against a backdrop of news about Covid 19 spreading, coupled with anxiety and fear of the unknown, but also a survival instinct laced with hope. Hope acknowledges the trials contemporary life has been through over the past two years, and offers optimism and beauty for today and looking ahead.

This album speaks volumes about resiliency, an unrelenting determination to create, and a deftness at improvising (on and off the bandstand), which Taubenhouse, and the jazz community at large, have displayed. Hope also serves as another testament (this is his sixth album as a leader) to the fact that Taubenhouse is an accomplished trekker in the footsteps of the likes of Keith Jarrett, Herbie Hancock, Monk, Oscar Peterson and other piano giants.

His educational pedigree is unassailable (having studied extensively with jazz and classical masters and earning a BFA from The New School), and he has been called upon to work with Ronald McClure, Anat Cohen, David Schnitter, Ari Hoenig, Roswell Rudd, Jorge Rossy, Orlando Le Fleming, George Coleman, Peter Bernstein, Ferenc Nemeth, Will Vinson, among many others. Taubenhouse has recorded and released three critically-acclaimed albums in the Moments In Trio series, a co-led album with vocalist Sarah Eden, and his debut trio album, Here From There, and has toured the world many times, performing at prestigious venues and festivals in numerous locales.

Yaniv Taubenhouse

Jared Schonig


In the music of drummer/composer Jared Schonig there is a life-force, a vibrant affirmation that there are numerous great reasons to get out of bed in the morning – despite lockdowns and epidemic hangovers – and embrace it all.

His music percolates with sincere optimism for the future, enthusiasm for the present and reverence and erudition of the past. The music on Schonig’s intrepid debut recording as a leader, Two Takes Vol. 1: Quintet & Vol. 2: Big Band is meticulously-crafted and played with the freedom, abandon, joy and excellence that only the truly gifted seem to truly capture simultaneously.

Here we have a musician who dreams big, makes those dreams come true, and thrives as a percussive force in many dimensions: primal and raw, shimmering and playful, pounding and exhilarating, tumultuous and brutal, complex, unpredictable and exhilarating.

And, with these recordings, Schonig now joins the growing fellowship of drummers fronting their own bands, from Brian Blade to Johnathan Blake to Tyshawn Sorey, and many, many more. The spirit of Max Roach lives on.

One Voice Festival: Tales from the Quay

The One Voice Festival: Tales from the Quay at Wexford Arts Centre contributes abundantly to the long and rich tradition of the monologue on the Irish stage, seven writers – several new to the format – and seven performers who prove that composition and performance can be one and the same act.

Although the concept of personal stories waiting to erupt was conceived by director Paul Walsh seven years earlier, Covid 19 restrictions and lockdown have acted as a catalyst for bringing this project to fruition.

Two of Wexford Drama Group’s senior stalwarts, Phil Lyons and Andy Doyle, persuasively bookend an evening of introspection and reflection, rooted in original material suffused with the cornerstone of any good monologue, empathy.

Wexford Town (Hello in There) is a humorous though heartfelt lyrical paean by writer and performer Lyons to his adopted town, whereas Doyle in Thomas O’Leary’s The Trip of a Lifetime eschews superfluous trimmings to confront the brass tacks of a pandemic: illness and loss. ‘No pubs, no hurling, no travel,’ he laments, resignation and irony laced with fortitude.

Wexford, specifically the harbour, is a central character. ‘Ah the marina. Thank God we have it,’ says Doyle. Director Paul Walsh is keen for Wexford to be a strong personality in its own right, not merely a colourful backdrop, but throbbing with soul, refusing to age. Defiance is omnipresent.

These monologues are by writers steeped in an understanding of their own relationship to Wexford, performed by actors attuned to the nuances on the page and gifted in extemporisation before a masked audience. Strange times.

In Michelle Dooley Mahon’s Boots – the only outlier because it is set in the 1990s – John Crosbie’s edges are pared. He is embedded to his own patch like Beckett’s Winnie, complete with bag (of beer), a man whose colourful history Crosbie conflates into a controlled flow.

The past is a foreign country in Tales From the Quay: wistful in Wexford Town; a house of horrors in Eoghan Rua Finn’s Dei Gratia (with Jeanette Sidney Kelly); a lamentation in Boots; a suffocation in Carol Long’s Living Like a Fugitive (with Mairead Ryan); indecisive in Heather Hadrill’s Coming Home, but dispatched like a frisbee by Danielle Fortune in Jack Matthew’s Revenge.

Stasis is the enemy of  electrifying monologue, so Fortune’s Vikki roams the stage like it’s a cage, her feral gait venomously dispatching great Matthew one-liners, recalling that she ‘guts sea creatures for a living’, and how she ‘threw away her virginity on the quay.’

And because these are real lives there is betrayal and exits and entrances, specifically in Dei Gratia, Boots, A Method in Menapia – Paul Walsh’s sitcom with a terrific Imelda McDonagh as social climber Pamela and a cast of dead paramours – Living Like a Fugitive and Coming Home, Stephen Byrne as Christopher nailing the swallow note of the migrant forever destined to return to the nest. Tales from the Quay is rich in character and incident, reconciling the past and the present, and unafraid to make the heart the centre of the world.

Shape-Shifter

Saxophonist, composer, and educator Andrew Van Tassel draws inspiration from a broad palette of genres: bebop/hard bop, fusion, indie rock, classical music, and more. His new release on Brooklyn Jazz Underground Records  Shape-Shifter, reflects this multifaceted approach that ultimately produces music distinctly his own, while unveiling compelling explorations with electronics in a contemporary jazz ensemble context.

The band Van Tassel assembled for Shape-Shifter features budding stars on the NYC jazz scene, including Michael Mayo – voice, Lucas Hahn – piano, Wurlitzer, Alex Goodman – guitar, Rick Rosato – bass, Kush Abadey – drums and Alex Van Gils – live electronics and processing. His previous album, It’s Where You Are (Tone Rogue Records), received international praise from jazz critics. Highly recommended. There is an illuminative essence to the recording which is ideal listening during lockdown, wherever in the world you may be. In the meantime, stay safe.

Rafiki Jazz

Rafiki Jazz exemplify the moment where culture, faith, sound and spirit collide in their fifth studio album, NDUGGU (pronounced ‘un-doo-goo’) meaning ‘Dust’. Once again, Rafiki Jazz place musical diversity at the forefront of their music with eight new internationalist songs of enlightenment and change that cherish the human spirit, its joy and fragility. The dust that is NDUGGU is both physical and symbolic. Rafiki Jazz focus on the changing climate with ever-increasing desertification of Northern Africa, while dust also acts as a symbol reflecting destiny.  ‘Nduggu Bouy’ is steeped in melodic charms and smooth vocals, encapsulating the collective sounds of the band, their experiences and transitions.  The track also features the unmovable force in the fabric of Rafiki Jazz that is London-based hereditary griot: Kadialy Kouyate. Featuring his warm and soulful Fula singing and the stunning 21-string kora, Kouyate notably brings the traditional West African harp to meet traditional Southern Asian tabla drums.

Since 2006, the longevity of Rafiki Jazz has seen them touring the globe from Montreal to their hometown of Sheffield. However, 2020 saw the world of music uprooted and thrown into a new isolated online virtual realm. In keeping with their pledge to stay accessible, Rafiki Jazz took on a whole new approach to recording, using online collaborative ‘real time’ music sharing platforms. A perfect example of their collaborative methods is the Turkish ode to their band manager ‘Gesi Baglari’ in which all members of the band contributed the tracks compositions remotely from the comfort of their homes. Each member of the group set up their own home digital recording workstations, as well as being able to feature guest artists K.O.G. aka Kweku Sackey on the rich highlife track ‘Ngozi Ucheoma’ (Unlock your heart…life is a blessing) and guest percussionists Millie Chapanda and Amir Ezzat plus audio programmer-engineer Robin Downe. As well as this, old souls come together in a new role: long term violinist Vijay Venkat shocked the band by picking up the vocal mic on ‘Naalaikku Nalla Naal. The album also features the comeback of a previously recorded track: this time produced as a more traditional and authentic take of the Kashmiri lullaby ‘Hukus Bukus’.

Taylor Ho Bynum/Matthew Harvey

 “The Temp”, a thrilling new oratorio from composer Taylor Ho Bynum and librettist Matthea Harvey was recorded live in concert at Dartmouth’s Spaulding Auditorium in February 22, 2020 – just weeks before the Covid 19 pandemic shutdown – with a 65-member ensemble combining two of the Hopkins Center’s flagship student ensembles, The Coast Jazz Orchestra, under Bynum’s direction and The Dartmouth Symphony Orchestra conducted by Filippo Ciabatti, with an exceptional group of guest soloists: vocalists Kyoko Kitamura and Michael Mayo, saxophonist Jim Hobbs, trombonist Bill Lowe, drummer Tomas Fujiwara, and violinist Erica Dicker. 

“The Temp” is a secular oratorio for classical orchestra, jazz big band and choir, with four instrumental soloists and two vocal soloists. It features an original libretto by acclaimed poet Matthea Harvey, winner of the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award and a 2017 Guggenheim Fellow. Harvey used erasure processes on Shakespeare’s “The Tempest”, extracting words and phrases to craft a new narrative – a story of contemporary labour relations and a rebellion against corporate hierarchy that manages to be engaging, witty, and ultimately uplifting.

Composer Taylor Ho Bynum is best known for his long collaborations with creative music legends like Anthony Braxton, Cecil Taylor and Bill Dixon and forward-thinking peers like Mary Halvorson, Jason Kao Hwang, Ingrid Laubrock, and Tomeka Reid. While Bynum is intimately familiar with large-scale orchestral projects, having premiered compositions with the Scottish BBC Symphony Orchestra and the Tri-Centric Orchestra, and having produced and co-conducted Braxton’s last two operas, “The Temp” is his most personally ambitious orchestra work to date. The music blends the pre-determined and the spontaneous through a series of movements that seamlessly shift between through-composed passages and conducted improvisations for the full ensemble. The composition uses two conductors, sometimes working simultaneously, with two of the instrumental improvisers and the two vocal soloists embodying the two lead characters, supported by a choir of workers’ voices. Unlike many jazz/classical hybrids where improvisation is relegated to a light flavouring – in this work it is the main course, embedded within the performance practice of the entire ensemble.

Caroline Ward

Thanks to excavations at Pompeii, we have long known that the practice of still life painting is (a) ancient and (b) remarkably consistent in its use of well-worn conventions. For example, the double or triple level in the arrangement of objects, and the selection of what we might term pieces of the ordinary. And, if you examined Still Life With Peaches, from Pompeii, circa 79 AD, and Still Life With Pink Fish by Margaret Olley, 1948, you will not discern any obvious tremor in the evolution of still life painting. What Olley and the anonymous Pompeiian artist set out to achieve was the depiction of an arrangement, where colour is the great harmoniser of the space between the objects, in the same way that darkness fixes the planets. But of course, still life’s viscosity to change could not withstand the catalyst of genius, the nature of which is to bypass convention. Both Louis-Léopold Boilly, who invented trompe l’oeil, and Paul Cezanne, did this. But while Boilly created a technique – the optical illusion of realism – Cezanne created a new way of looking at still life. And his experiments, though he would not have labelled them thus, bequeathed to us a modern version, so to speak, of Vermeer’s mythical camera obscura, so that, with a contemporary still life artist like Caroline Ward, we are amply equipped to recognise her flawless mixture of detached precision, compositional repose and perspective accuracy.

Standing before Caroline’s Cracked Egg; Emblem’s Weave; Four Mushrooms or Folded Napkin is not simply a matter of admiring the representation of verisimilitude: the rewards are too easy. However, understand how Caroline is not giving a single view of anything, and rather than an existential take on the transience of nature, she is in fact stabilising the impression, and how she does this is the kernel of her gift: a display of realism which is astonishing to the eye. And the astonishment, I hope you will agree, is instantaneous. There is no preamble, no eyes beating about the visual bush. There is about her paintings a cinéma vérité quality in that improvisation, however subtle, can unveil truths. This is observational painting at its zenith.  With Mackerel Still Life, the artist was motivated by the iridescence of a fish she was gutting for supper. The Alessi Platter, and specifically the play of light around it, was spotted in a shop, and once she combined both, the fish and the prop, she had the luxury of determining every aspect of the painting. The use of lemon for a splash of colour, and the fact that Mackerel Still Life is the summation of a flow of perception, never fixed, emphasizes how a still life of this quality cannot be moored to a single view. Since her last exhibition in Kelly’s Hotel, one can detect a profound assurance and confidence in her still life compositions, specifically the courage not to refrain from the complex. In La Chaise Rouge, Caroline gives us an antidote to the lack of nuance often found in the manic swiping of visuals on social media: La Chaise Rouge is almost Zen-like in its appeal to the image-obsessive, Twitter and Instagram nerd in 2019, to submit to its contemplative calm, step out of yourself and return to the essential. Look again carefully at La Chaise Rouge and there is the intimation of an absent presence, or perhaps an arrival. The door frame, through which the light bounces from one room to another, is a metaphor for the human condition: the walls are devoid of that which enchants us, a painting, and in this way Caroline might be saying that in the absence of a linear story, you can apply your own narrative. We might feel alone, but there is no anguish. William Crozier famously said that landscape was a vehicle through which he could say anything, and he saw it as a means, not a subject, through which he could express the intangible. Imperceptible or not, neither art not nature is ever as cold or as detached as a glass, or a plate, and the still life reflected in art always reflects the artist’s own mind, but the still life artist, beset by many challenges, walks the tightrope between stabilizing an impression and taming transience.  Caroline Ward is a still life artist of the soul, an interpreter of the visible world, but an artist whose precision never looks laboured, although you know it must have been, and therein is the magic and mystery of the creative act. (Caroline Ward, Kelly’s Hotel, 2019)

Blake and Corea

Brooklyn-based Red Piano Records has released When Soft Rains Fall from pianist Ran Blake and vocalist Christine Correa. This recording is the latest yield from Blake and Correa’s remarkable 40-year friendship and singular musical collaboration. Lady in Satin was Billie Holiday’s penultimate recording, released in 1959, the year of her passing. Although the repertoire is derived from the Great American Songbook, Lady in Satin is unlike any of Holiday’s previous recordings as she specifically chose to be accompanied by the lush orchestral arrangements of Ray Ellis, and personally hand-picked each song based on its lyrics.

On When Soft Rains Fall, Blake and Correa pay tribute to the great Billie Holiday, 60-some years after the release of her Lady in Satin recording through an intimate recording of the songs from that classic album. In contrast to the grand orchestral arrangements of the original album, Correa and Blake interpret the music in a duo setting probing deep into the songs and exploring Lady Day’s emotional palette of hushed innuendos, loss, lamentation and unrequited love.

 Holiday holds a special place in the hearts and souls of these artists; a place where her music, her sound and her aesthetic resonates deeply. On When Soft Rains Fall Correa captures the raw emotion, drama and the intimacy that is associated with Holiday, quite present in the way she bends and slurs her notes, her rhythmic phrasing and the liberty she takes in her interpretations. 

In addition to the twelve songs from the Holiday album, Correa and Blake include, “The Day Lady Died,” a Blake composition that has the great Frank O’Hara poem superimposed over it as well as a solo piano version of “Big Stuff” (from Holiday’s Decca period) and a vocal solo version of Herbie Nichols’ “Lady Sings the Blues” (Verve). Together they capture an intensity in their interpretation of, “I’m a Fool to Want You,” and “You’ve Changed,” and lightness and frivolity in, “The End of a Love Affair,” and I’ll Be Around”. 

Blake and Correa are a united force in presenting this material. There exists between these two incomparable artists an uncanny, imaginative rapport, a sense of inevitability in their interpretations, which emboldens and challenges their audiences’ sonic imaginations. 

Matt Slocum

On Sanctuary drummer/composer Matt Slocum unleashes lovely, inspiring missives that could compel you to imagine a world in which peace, kindness and solace prevail – his music comes from an unsullied place, where the music is all that matters.

And, he has a sound! An inviting, burnished sound as pure and effervescent as water streaming from high peaks that reveals itself as much through his compositional output as it does through his choices behind the drums. Slocum is also a conceptualist and an instigator, traits which have produced five acclaimed recordings of mostly original music, four of them featuring the great Gerald Clayton on piano (a friend and musical partner for almost two decades), and Sanctuary being the first to feature first-call bassist Larry Grenadier (a modern-day giant known for his 25-year association with the Brad Mehldau Trio, as well as consequential engagements with Pat Metheny, Paul Motian, Charles Lloyd, Joshua Redman, and Mark Turner). 

The three protagonists on Sanctuary, recording after a single rehearsal, listen and interact on such a high level as to give the impression that they’d internalized the music after a long tour – a credit to Slocum’s leadership. Also notable on Sanctuary is the programmatic quality that underpins the proceedings. It’s definitely an ALBUM – the tunes connect emotionally, they cohere into a narrative arc.

Usually Matt has in mind a specific instrumentation and group of musicians before he arranges music for a project, so that it becomes tailored to that configuration and musical aesthetic. With Sanctuary, and for the first time, he took a different approach. He allowed myself to write whatever he felt like without those preconceptions. This seemed to make him reflect musically more on what he would call places and characters that, at one time or another, have provided a perceived sense of creative refuge and even a feeling of home.

Melissa Alanda

Each movement of the multi-media performance titled Visions for Frida Kahlo  depicts a personal relationship that shaped Kahlo’s life and influenced her artistic expression.

Inspired by the way she believes Kahlo’s works embrace trauma, reckoning, discomfort and pain, Melissa Aldana crafted each movement of the suite to help express – or begin to address – her own personal pressures and certain complexities in relationships she has with those closest to her.   

Bringing together some of the music’s most distinctive voices in music today, Sam Harris, Pablo Menares, Tommy Crane and Joel Ross, Aldana’sVisions for Frida Kahlo represents a metamorphosis of sound and intention.

She seeks to channel the exquisite, painful – at times, unceremonious – transformation Kahlo embraced as she developed into a unique artist, and offers in each movement and each interlude a true conception of herself and presentation of her own expression.