Thu, 16 October 2014
A rising star gets her chance to shine tonight when Alicia Olatuja celebrates the release of her solo debut CD Timeless with a performance at the BRIC Ballroom in Brooklyn, New York. Ms. Olatuja and her pure, shimmering voice have been on the fringes of the music scene for the past few years. It was her voice, rising through the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir, which moved so many people during President Obama’s inauguration in 2013. And her stage performances in productions on stages from The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.to Edinburgh’s Fringe Festival have garnered universally positive reviews.
The aptly named Timeless may move her into a different musical level. Backed by her core band of her husband Michael Olatuja on bass, Jon Cowherd on piano, David Rosenthal on guitar and first-call jazz drummer Ulysses Owens, Jr on percussion, she has put together a collection of songs that showcase her wonderful soprano voice. In tunes as diverse as a lively “Serrado” to a moving “In the Dark”, she gives performances that remind us what great singers sounded like before the world became infected with “American Idol” over-singing and “The Voice” over-emoting.
I hesitate to call this a “jazz album” in the classic form. There is no scatting, no unusual settings or vocal improvisation and pyrotechnics that one expects from an album by, say, Diane Reeves or Karrin Allyson. However, as with the likes of Lizz Wright and Gretchen Parlato, there is a wonderful understatement in her delivery that allows her to shine. It doesn’t hurt that she has brought in some of today’s top jazz stars for guest shots. Gregoire Maret’s harmonica gives Wonder-ish warmth to the cover of “Stay Gold”, and Christian Sands’ piano accompaniment to a moving “Over the Rainbow” gives the tune some needed stability. Best of all is a gorgeously staged duet with Christian McBride, the spare and moving “Speak the Words”. Here’s hoping her stage performance tonight allows her to continue to build musical momentum.
Category:general -- posted at: 1:42 PM
Wed, 15 October 2014
It’s always a pleasure to see jazz musicians who have performed and recorded as sidemen for years get the chance to step up and be leaders on their own recording projects. Otis Brown III is the latest such musician – the top-flight drummer, with dozens of credits and work on Grammy nominated albums, releases The Thought of You earlier this month.
Brown’s maiden voyage features an impressive roll call of artists including a core band consisting of artists with whom he either attended school or broke into the scene with. These names include pianist Robert Glasper, trumpeter Keyon Harrold, saxophonist John Ellis, and bassist Ben Williams (most recently of the Pat Metheny Unity Band). Organist Shedrick Mitchell and guitarist Nir Felder making special appearances, as do singers Bilal, Gretchen Parlato, and Nikki Ross.
You may already be familiar with Mr. Brown’s dexterity as the drummer in a number of Joe Lovano’s projects, most notably his Us Five quintet, recording three albums with that band, including the Grammy-nominated Bird Songs.
Brown has been on a number of top-flight releases this year. He was a key member of the rhythm section to deliver Afrobeat inflections to The Lagos Music Salon by Somi, and joined John Ellis is making as members of Anne Mette Iversen's Double Life for her Brooklyn Jazz Underground release So Many Roads.
I spoke with Otis as The Thought of You was getting ready to drop, and we discussed the song selection for the CD, including the multi-part title track, whether he has difficulties playing drums for vocalists, and how a Shania Twain country-pop hit came to be a key song on the CD. Podcast 449 is our conversation featuring music from The Thought of You and other Brown recordings including:
Otis Brown III – “The Thought of You (Part II)” and “You’re Still the One (featuring Gretchen Parlato)” from The Thought of You.
Somi – "Four Women” from The Lagos Music Salon.
Joe Lovano – “Drum Song” from Folk Art.
Direct download: Podcast_449_-_A_Conversation_with_Otis_Brown_III.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 12:30 PM
Tue, 14 October 2014
"My aim here was to make a record with my friends. Every single recording session was nothing but fun. Surrounding myself with people I enjoy being with made the sessions effortless. Everyone came prepared and ready to play. All were great musicians and they came to the studio to give everything they had." – Stanley Clarke
The inclusion of young players in a new band a few years back gave Stanley Clarke a needed spark of creativity. Stanley Clarke Band was praised on this blog, and the CD won a Grammy® Award. Since that recording, Clarke has kept the youthful infusion of talent going, adding teenagers like pianist Beka Gochiashvili and drummer Mike Mitchell to his touring band.
Rather than release an all-new project, Clarke has led his protégés though his songbook – much of which was first written and recorded before they were born. The results, called Up can be mixed. “School Days” has nothing new to offer, even though guest Jimmy Herring (Widespread Panic, Allman Brothers Band, Jazz is Dead) lends a credible solo. “Brazilian Love Affair” serves as a moving tribute to the late George Duke, a long-time Clarke friend and collaborator, but again, opens no new ground.
Instead, it’s the melodic group of tunes called “Bass Folk Songs” and the delightful closing duet with Chick Corea of “La Cancion de Sofia” that shine on this collection. Again a revisit, the latter tune is touching in its straight forward presentation, and wonderful in its reimagination. Guest shots from stars like Herring, Joe Walsh, and Stewart Copeland are nice, but it’s when Clarke makes it personal that he is now at his finest.
Category:general -- posted at: 1:00 PM
Mon, 13 October 2014
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: 2:07 PM
Wed, 1 October 2014
One of the most criminally overlooked vocalists in jazz may just be ready to get some overdue attention. Although she was featured on the Grammy winning CD The Mosaic Project by Terri Lyne Carrington, Carmen Lundy is often left off the list of top female performers of today.
Backed by a myriad of special guests Including Patrice Rushen, Geri Allen, Randy Brecker, Simphiwe Dana, Bennie Maupin, Carol Robbins, and Warren Wolf, she is releasing Soul To Soul, a passionate new song cycle on Afrasia Productions on September 22nd. Soul To Soul is Ms. Lundy’s 14th album, and in many ways is the next chapter in her critically-acclaimed career as a singer, songwriter, and producer; and a visual artist. Call it a return to her roots, but also an exploration of these roots
The journey to make the CD found Carmen literally composing, co-composing and arranging eleven of the thirteen tracks and then playing and recording all the instruments - including bass, drums, piano, guitar and percussion - in her home studio to get a working “feel” for how the music might sound. She then “sweetened” the songs by adding string sounds and other software instruments to elaborate and experiment with the aural mood of each track, interpreting and identifying with each track’s sound individually as well as part of the overall song sequence. On the final CD, Lundy plays guitar on all tracks, piano and Rhodes on many tracks, and drums on two.
Podcast 448 is our conversation, featuring musical selections from Soul to Soul, including "Grateful, Pt.1", "Kindred Spirits", "Daybreak" and "Sardwgna".
Direct download: Podcast_448_-_A_Conversation_with_Carmen_Lundy.mp3
Category:podcast -- posted at: 2:00 PM
Fri, 26 September 2014
Kenny Wheeler, one of the giants of British jazz, died last week at the age of 84.
Born in Canada in 1930, the trumpeter and composer joined the London jazz scene after moving to Britain in 1952. He played in groups alongside the likes of Ronnie Scott, John Dankworth and Tubby Hayes as well becoming part of the free-improvisation movement.
In later life, he was the founding patron of the Junior Jazz programme at the Royal Academy of Music and was the subject of a year-long exhibition by the Academy Museum. He was honored by the Annual Festival of New Trumpet Music (FONT) in 2011, and made a rare New York appearance at that time.
Podcast 447 celebrates the musical vision of Kenny Wheeler, concentrating mainly on his body of work released on ECM Records, where he recorded right albums from 1975 to 1990. He guested on at least three other ECM releases during this period.
My favorite Wheeler recording is his 1968 debut on Fontana Records with the John Dankworth Orchestra, Windmill Tilter: The Story of Don Quixote. His take on the timeless Cervantes novel, the recording was long considered the “holy grail of British jazz” since it inexplicably went out of print and was not released on CD until 2010. A nine-part suite, it featured strong ensemble playing, along with two quintet tracks featuring pre-Miles Dave Holland on bass and John McLaughlin on electric guitar. If you haven’t heard it, check it out immediately, and see why singer Norma Winstone once called Wheeler “the Duke Ellington of our times.”
New England Conservatory's Jazz Studies Department Chair Ken Schaphorst remembers Kenny Wheeler talking about composition at a master class at the school.
The process I go through to write or compose a new melody is this-I get up about 7:00 and don't wash or shave or anything, but put on a bathrobe or dressing gown and take a couple of biscuits, a tea, and sit at the piano which is an old slightly out of tune upright. Then I play through some 4-part Bach Chorales. After that I try, with my limited technique to play through some Bach 2 or 3 part Inventions or maybe Preludes. Then I fumble through some more modern music such as Ravel, Debussy, Hindemith, Bartok or maybe the English Peter Warlock.
And then begins the serious business of trying to compose something. This consists of improvising at the piano for anywhere from 1/2 hour to 3 or 4 hours or even more. What I think I'm looking for during this time is something I'm not looking for. That is, I'm trying to arrive at some semi-trance-like state where the improvising I'm doing at the piano is kind of just flowing through me or flowing past me. I don't mean at all that this is any kind of a religious state but more of a dream-like state. And then, if I do manage to arrive at this state, then I might play something that catches the nondream-like part of me by surprise. It may only be 3 or 4 notes. But it's like the dream-like part of me managed to escape for a second or two from the awake part of me and decided to play something of its own choice. But the awake part of me hears that little phrase and says "What was that? That's something I didn't expect to hear, and I like it." And that could be the beginning of your new melody.
But there is no guarantee that you will reach this semi-dream-like state. After many hours you may not get there. But you might take a break, or you might have a little argument with your wife, and go back to the piano a little bit angry and bang out a phrase in anger which makes you say "Wait a minute! What was that?" There doesn't seem to be any sure way of reaching this state of mind where you play something that surprises yourself. I just know that I can't start the day all fresh at the piano at 7:00 and say to myself "And now I will compose a melody." It seems I have to go through this process which I described.
Song selections for the Podcast include:
Kenny Wheeler Quintet – “Everybody’s Song But My Own” from Flutter By, Butterfly.
Kenny Wheeler – “Peace For Five” from Deer Wan.
Kenny Wheeler, Norma Winstone and the London Vocal Project – “Humpty Dumpty” from Mirrors.
Kenny Wheeler Quintet – “Hotel Le Hot” from The Widow in the Window.
Kenny Wheeler, Keith Jarrett, Dave Holland and Jack DeJohnette – “Smatter” from Gnu High.
Kenny Wheeler, Lee Konitz, Bill Frisell and Dave Holland – “Kind of Gentle” from Angel Song.
Kenny Wheeler with the John Dankworth Orchestra – “Don No More” from Windmill Tilter: The Story of Don Quixote.
Thu, 25 September 2014
Today is the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah, the celebration of the New Year 5775. The traditional greeting for the day is "L'Shanah Tovah" - "A Good Year".
Bassist David Chevan of the Afro-Semitic Experience has been working on some jazzed up versions of music associated with the High Holidays for the past few years. I' ve written before about his CDs Days of Awe and Yizkhor: Music of Memory, both of which are full of traditional materials done in the fascinating way he and his partner, pianist Warren Byrd, have become known for.
Click here for a rehearsal recorded. July 29, 2010 featuring Byrd, Chevan, and Cantor Jack Mendelson performing "Avinu Malkeinu", a song asking "Our Father, Our King" for his compassion and blessings for the New Year, Chevan explains about the recording:
This recording came to be because about two weeks ago I recorded a rehearsal with Warren Byrd and Cantor Jack Mendelson. One of the pieces we looked at was Avinu Malkeinu. Funny thing about playing standards . . . give a listen, we didn’t even talk this one through, we just began playing and this is what came out! If you listen hard you can hear Jack’s air conditioner puttering away in the background.
Category:general -- posted at: 2:00 PM
Mon, 22 September 2014
One of the highlights of the early Fall Jazz season will be the release of a CD lead by the exciting tenor saxophonist Mark Turner. Lathe of Heaven is his first album as a leader in a decade, but is his third appearance on ECM Records in 2014, after gracing sessions with Billy Hart, and Enrico Rava and Stefano Bollani. Turner has recorded three CDs for ECM in the past, as part of the trio Fly, with bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jeff Ballard.
His new quartet features trumpeter Avishai Cohen, bassist Joe Martin and drummer Marcus Gilmore, and together the group makes some astonishing music. Long touted as “the thinking man’s improviser”, Turner never fails to deliver thoughtful, and yet physical solos. His band is more than up to the task, particularly trumpeter Cohen, who has shared the bandstand with him in the SFJazz Collective for years.
Podcast 446 is our conversation about all three ECM sessions, as well as his past work (and future plans for) Fly. Song selections from these CDs include:
Mark Turner – Title Track and “Sonnet for Stevie “ from Lathe of Heaven
Billy Hart Quartet – “Sonnet for Stevie “ from One is the Other.
Stefano Bollani – “Alobar e Kudra" from Joy In Spite Of Everything
Fly – “Salt and Pepper“ from Year of the Snake.
Sun, 21 September 2014
Temple University Libraries, concert with noted Philadelphia-based jazz
Offering: Live At Temple University documents a legendary concert by John Coltrane at Temple University's Mitten Hall
Category:general -- posted at: 2:00 PM
Fri, 19 September 2014
Can jazz become culturally relevant again? That provocative title kicks off a new column called "The Big Question" on allaboutjazz.com. Founder Michael Ricci wants your input, so check out the initial posting by click this link.
Not to surprise anyone, but the initial posting is a bit grim. Here's a sneak peak of a depressing statistic:
Writing in The Root.com, Frank McCoy painted a gloomy picture for the idiom, "It's even harder in jazz today as CD/album sales have plummeted. In 1999 the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) said that jazz sales were 3 percent of all recording sales. By 2008 they were 1.1 percent. In 2000 Soundscan reported that 18,416 jazz albums were sold; nine years later, fewer than 12,000 jazz-genre albums were purchased.
Category:general -- posted at: 1:23 PM