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.

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.

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.

David Virelles

Igbó Alákọrin (a phrase in Yoruba which can be loosely translated as The Singer’s Grove) is the realization of New York-based pianist David Virelles’s long-held dream to document the under-sung musicians of his birthplace, Santiago de Cuba. Virelles, who was named the Rising Star Jazz Pianist in the 2017 Downbeat Critics Poll, is one of the most in-demand pianists on the contemporary jazz scene, recording with the likes of Henry Threadgill, Chris Potter, and Tomasz Stanko. He also has five prior releases under his own name, including Continuum, which topped the New York Times best album list for 2012.
The picturesque town of Santiago in the Oriente region of south-eastern Cuba has historically been an important breeding ground for music on the island. Oriente is home to a wide variety of genres, including son, changüí, nengón, conga, as well as traditions inherited from Haiti. Since leaving home in 2001, each time Virelles returned he would make it a point to reconnect with the elders of Santiago’s rich musical tradition, many of whom he knew as family friends through his parents who are also musicians.
This project is an opportunity for him to shine a light on some of these musicians, many of who rarely received recognition beyond Santiago, but remain arguably amongst the last living resources from Cuban music’s golden era. It’s a homecoming that documents a collaboration with roots in family, community and culture.
On Volume II – Danzones de Romeu at Café La Diana, Virelles explores the piano music of the iconic early-20th Century pianist/composer Antonio María Romeu, following his practice of playing danzónes accompanied only by güiro. The title refers to the Café La Diana in Havana at which Romeu regularly performed starting at the turn of the 20th Century. Virelles is accompanied by the master güirero Rafael Ábalos, who has been an invaluable resource in realizing this entire project, passing on secrets of the danzón, the much talked about but forever mystical genre of Cuban music.

Tetraptych

Ter

It is life-affirming to hear four musicians so in tune with each other as they pursue, in the words of Bert Seager, “the higher intentions of our musical purpose”. Tetraptych – Seager (piano/compositions), Hery Paz (tenor saxophone), Max Salinger-Ridley (upright bass) and Dor Herskovits (drums) – may be the latest thing in a long line of modern jazz saxophone quartets but they very much forge their own path.

A tetraptych (pronounced “Te-trup-tick”) is “a four-panelled painting where each panel can stand on its own. Seen together, the panorama of panels gives greater meaning to the interaction of the parts.”

Composer and leader Seager uses the term “collective improvisation” to describe the modus operandi of  Tetraptych. While the quartet may have dispensed with road maps their unity of purpose and shared joie de vivre ensures that we are all happy to go along for the ride.

Under the Bostonian pianist’s light-touch leadership they take their time in laying out their wares. The music unfolds naturally and organically, never forced. They improvise because they can, and they do so in a way that is both seamless and sensuous. Listen to the sultry piano and sax foreplay of Distances and feel yourself slow-falling into the arms of a seductress!

The album opener, Welcoming The Water, is epic in both style and length. At 13.59 minutes it is the longest of the six tracks. It amply illustrates the cooperative and intuitive ethos which binds the four. The piano/sax conversation is one which invites eavesdropping. And what about Herskovits’ drum solo: every time I hear it I want to leap to my feet and punch the air. If this is improv bring it on!

Last Snow, with its tentative piano opening, coming on and falling away, resolves itself in successive layers of pastoral splendour.  The straight ahead bebop of Blues You Can Use and the Star Eyes-inspired Star Wise shows the boys letting loose and having some fun. The latter, with its introductory prelude, shows the quartet’s attention to detail and eschewing of musical cliches even when dealing in well established formats.

Bert Seager wrote all of the songs on this recording except for the free improvisation Equanimous Botch. The band used this one to warm up at the start of the session. It affords the listener an opportunity to peek into the engine room and witness, up close, the inner workings of this fabulous self-propelling apparatus. What the output lacks in focus it makes up for in originality. As Hieronymus Bosch said: “Poor is the mind that always uses the inventions of others and invents nothing itself.”

All told this is a quietly confident opus which insinuates itself with lyrical ease into the deeper recesses of your heart. It will surely inspire others to put aside map and compass and rely, instead, on one’s innate sense of being. (Review: Senan O’Reilly)

Jason Yeager/Randal Despommier

Once

When New Orleans-born jazz alto saxophonist and classical composer Randal Despommier moved to New York City in the summer of 2013, he teamed up an with award-winning jazz pianist/composer from Boston, Jason Yeager, to explore improvisational arrangements of classical repertoire.

During the jam sessions, they would mess around with jazz standards, preludes by Scriabin, and folk songs and arrange, rearrange, and sometimes ‘de-range’ pieces, like two Rimbaud hipsters.

Some of these “derangements” include Despommier’s Cherokee-meets-Le Sacre du printemps (entitled “Rite of Cherokee”), described by the saxophonist as something of a primal Bop dance.

Yeager’s version of Danse de la fureur is a fiery, adventurous atonal saxophone and piano/rhodes duet that draws from the sixth movement of Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time. These high-octane fusion works on All At Onceness are counterbalanced by two original compositions: Despommier’s The First Flowers, an ethereal, lyrical setting of a poem by Hermann Hesse, and Yeager’s Telekinesis, a playful, Kafkaesque jazz vocalise interpolated with collective improvisation from the ensemble.

Critical to the standout originals are the contributions of vocalist Aubrey Johnson, whose exquisite tone and deep improvisational prowess are particularly strong on the closing track, Despommier’s arrangement of Bartók’s Bagatelle Op. 10 No. 4.

In this work, following a scintillating solo by Johnson, Despommier joins the fray as a vocalist, in the majestic choral section that closes out the album. Lighting a creative fire under the front line is the top-notch rhythm team of drummer Jay Sawyer (Freddy Cole, Itamar Borochov) and bassist Danny Weller (Jason Palmer, Radio City Music Hall Christmas Orchestra), who contribute imaginative musical commentary to Telekinesis, Bagatelle and Rite of Cherokee.