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

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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.

Martin Wind

 

Martin Wind’s Light Blue features old friends: Anat Cohen (clarinet), Ingrid Jensen (trumpet), Matt Wilson (drums), Scott Robinson (multi-reeds), Bill Cunliffe (piano), Gary Versace (piano, organ), Duduka DaFonseca (drums) and Maucha Adnet (vocals).

There are milestones in a musician’s career, and life for that matter, which pass without acknowledgement. What with rehearsals, travel, and recording sessions, a busy professional rarely has the opportunity to note a watershed moment.

With Light Blue, Wind registers the significance of this moment in time. This recording comes some 25 years after recording his first release as a leader, Gone With The Wind, and Light Blue is being released shortly before he turns fifty. Since that initial outing, Wind has released another 18 albums as a leader or co-leader and he has become one of New York’s most in-demand bassists.

Wind recorded Light Blue with engineer Matt Balitsaris at Maggie’s Farm in April 2017 in between a myriad of gigs including backing singers Dena DeRose and Ann Hampton Callaway, Ted Rosenthal’s Monk Project, showcasing his quartet in Los Angeles, and performing with Pat Metheny and Matt Wilson at the Wichita Jazz Festival.

The remainder of the year found him touring with Matt Wilson’s Big Happy Family (performing Honey And Salt, the poetry of Carl Sandburg), presenting Schubert’s Trout Quintet and the premiere of his composition Looking Back with the American Chamber Ensemble, and performing George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue with Ted Rosenthal and Phoenix Symphony.

Besides being a master musician, Wind penned the ten compositions heard on Light Blue. There are seven new pieces and three that are new versions of some of his classic compositions, such as 10 Minute Song and Cruise Blues, both from his quartet recording Salt ‘N Pepper (2008), and A Sad Story from Gone With the Wind (1993). His skills as an arranger are evident here, as they were on the critically acclaimed Turn Out The Stars, on which Wind performed music written or inspired by pianist Bill Evans with his quartet, plus the Orchestra Filarmonica Marchigiana

Mayu Saeki

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Hope

Flautist/composer Mayu Saeki’s debut recording, Hope, breathes and resonates with beauty and optimism. Hope tells the story of Saeki’s journey to NYC from her native Tokyo. There she left a complete life for an uncertain future in New York City.

Shortly after arriving, armed only with extensive classical training and mentorship, determination and hope, not to mention an abundance of talent, the opportunity presented itself to be a part of Chico Hamilton’s group.

She toured and recorded with Hamilton, appearing on several albums, including Revelation and Euphoric (both were released in 2011 from Joyous Shout! records), until his passing in 2013.

Hope from Brroklyn Jazz Underground Records feels like the fifth or sixth offering from a veteran on the scene. Saeki certainly had an advantage, recording with Aaron Goldberg, Joe Sanders, John Davis and Nori Ochiai (a former student of Goldberg’s and a fine modern jazz pianist in his own right), but her self-assurance comes across without dubiety.

Her solo on the title track bears a joyful swagger (immediately following a gem of a solo from Mr. Goldberg). Her playing, specifically the intro, solo and outro, on Soshu-Yakyoku are also moments to behold, as they encapsulate the sincerity and soul of this album.

And, her band mates are on board completely, and given ample space to express their brilliance. Check out Joe Sanders’ breathtaking playing on Do You Know, and behold drummer John Davis’ brilliant, flowing solo over the vamp of the same tune.

Goldberg is flawless throughout, but a highlight is his accompaniment and solo on the opening track, Dilemma. Libertango and Oblivion showcase Mayu’s classical training and her love for the music of Astor Piazzolla (with Oblivion displaying Mayu’s expertise on piccolo flute).

Gaia Wilmer

Migrations  introduces the music of Brazilian composer and saxophonist Gaia Wilmer, an emerging voice in the contemporary jazz communityDrawing inspiration from Brazilian music, its harmonies, rhythms and melodies, and from contemporary jazz, Gaia creates a unique and colourful world of music that is both cerebral and emotional.
She draws inspiration from composers such as Hermeto Pascoal, Guillermo Klein, Kenny Wheeler, Vijay Iyer and Maria Schneider, and the pieces generate their shapes and feelings from the idea of home.
The opener, After Them, was the first piece written for this octet between Gaia attending concerts and master classes by Vijay Iyer, Maria Schneider and Geri Allen, and draws its inspiration from those experiences. It alternates between one main bass line and a rhythmic idea in the piano inspired by Iyer’s music.
The shapes and textures of the lines, both in the bass and in the top melodies come from impressions of Schneider’s melodies and orchestrations. The melody evolves into a flute solo by Yulia Musayelyan which leads back to the opening bass line, and the return of the main melody.
Criancada started as an exercise, playing with constant structures and developed in to an energetic tune with a joyful melody that plays with the relationships between 3/4, 6/8 and 6/4 and the different ways of feeling those meters. The title of the tune means, “a bunch of kids”. The solo section follows the same idea with Leandro Pellegrino on guitar and Gustavo D’Amico on tenor saxophone interacting with each other.
The title piece,  Migrations, was written after a Guillermo Klein concert in Boston and features Raphael Lehnen on bombo legüero and Song Yi Jeon on voice. Written specifically for these artists and inspired by Klein’s music, this piece was the first one written after the group was settled.
Centered around the interval of a third, the piece starts with an acappella introduction, developing this intervallic motif. The composition was also inspired by the Kenny Wheeler album, Music for Large and Small Ensembles.
Helen came from exploring modes found in scales other than the common major. The ostinato, the chords and the melody are based on the mixolydian b6 mode from the melodic minor scale. It is the only composition on the album (with the exception of Hermeto Pascoal’s “Acuri”) that was written for a smaller ensemble and not specifically for the octet. It is dedicated to Helen de la Rosa, the drummer who first played the tune.
Cha is a ballad written for love and friendship, and explores free improvisation between the wind players. It starts with a free duet with Gustavo D’Amico on soprano saxophone and Gaia on alto that leads to the main theme. It also features solos by Mayo Pamplona on bass and Vitor Gonçalves on accordion.
The harmonic ideas of the energetic  No Talking arose from the constant structure and geometric atmosphere of “Giant Steps”. In the first section, the main motif is transposed and developed in myriad harmonic ways, while separated by a minor third. The second section presents a contrasting idea that is also transposed and developed but this time by major thirds.

Tomas Fujiwara

tomas

 

Triple Double

Bandleader, composer, and drummer Tomas Fujiwara possesses a musical dexterity that might go unnoticed if not for its ripple effect. He has brought his rhythmic and compositional imprint to a wide variety of settings: as a member of the collective trio Thumbscrew and in a long-standing duo with Taylor Ho Bynum. While these collaborative efforts could define and sustain him, a more ambitious musical intelligence emerges on closer inspection.

Tomas’s instincts as a bandleader for assembling combinations of players have enlivened not just his own bands but have generated new collaborative relationships throughout the creative music scene.

For instance, Michael Formanek’s renowned ensemble includes the entirety of The Hook Up. This understanding of how to assemble a band – the different approaches and timbres a group of players bring to a given context – is, in its way, akin to writing conventional melody and harmony, or to understanding how to combine silence and sound in an improvisation. Tomas’s new recording, Triple Double, showcases this gift: viewed as a double trio or a triple duo, its heart lies in the contrasting, shifting and regrouping of the players’ instrumental voices.

Triple Double debuts two encounters on paired instruments: trumpeter Ralph Alessi and cornetist Bynum; and on drums, Tomas and Ger Cleaver. Additionally, it features Brandon Seabrook and Halvorson, two avatars of contemporary electric guitar.

Seen another way, the sextet brings together two longstanding trios: Tomas’s own group with Alessi and Seabrook, and another with his long-time collaborators Halvorson and Bynum. The album features all the possible permutations in a churning group music, highlighting both Tomas’s compositional strengths and the distinct musical personalities of each performer.

Through a variety of approaches, including grid patterns, mirrored ensemble play, and a subtle interplay of structure and freedom, Tomas’s compositions offer each musician the chance to display their own formidable technique and vocabulary. The variety of groupings, instrumental shading, and formal contours present a mutable orchestra conforming itself to the composition’s needs.

The opening cut, Diving for Quarters, offers a succinct illustration of this vision. Based around a fifteen-beat cycle, the music draws the listener in with Halvorson and Seabrook’s exotic opening improvisation. Brass is featured next, with Bynum coercing a statement of the melody from his cornet before Alessi weaves his way to the foreground. The piece closes with a drum duo and Tomas and Cleaver demonstrate why they are two of the most in-demand percussionists in creative music.

The album’s philosophical center piece, For Alan, is another drum duo and features a recording of ten-year-old Tomas in a lesson with his mentor Alan Dawson.

The album shifts from the more freewheeling feel of the first half to something more evocative: in the second half of the album, melody comes to the forefront, anchored by more grounded rhythmic forms. The change in mood may also reflect a deeper message – as with previous albums, Triple Double has Tomas’s family history in mind.