Wed, 24 June 2015
We haven’t had a good jazz super-group in a couple of years now. The last time I could really put that tag on a group was the Five Peace Band, led by pianist Chick Corea and guitar legend John McLaughlin, who formed their first group together since playing with Miles Davis decades earlier. They added Kenny Garrett on saxophone, Christian McBride on bass, and Vinnie Colaiuta on drums for a terrific one-off album and tour.
This year’s candidate for super-group status comes from the appropriately named Heads of State. After years of playing in various combinations, we finally get a working band of saxophonist Gary Bartz, bassist Buster Williams (both Herbie Hancock alumni), pianist Larry Willis and drummer extraordinaire Al Foster. Their debut album, Searching for Peace, is a wonderful mix of standards and Bartz originals, played by masters at the tops of their games. The band will be headlining some of the biggest festivals this summer, including stops at the Montreal Jazz Festival and the Main Stage at Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival on Sunday June 29th.
I spoke with Buster Williams about the group, and he shared his enthusiasm for the working band. Williams is among our most durable and innovative bass players, mastering the art of double bass accompaniment for singers like Dakota Staton, Sarah Vaughan, Nancy Wilson and Betty Carter; and holding down the groove for artists like McCoy Tyner, Dexter Gordon, Roy Ayers, Stanley Turrentine, and his early mentors, Gene Ammons and Sonny Stitt. He backed Miles Davis, and then with Herbie Hancock’s Mwandishi Sextet, he helped revolutionize electric bass playing with classics like “Tell Me a Bedtime Story.” Williams was nominated for a Grammy Award for his work with pianist Hank Jones and drummer Tony Williams on Love For Sale, the first of Jones’ records credited to the appropriately named "The Great Jazz Trio."
Podcast 486 is my conversation with Buster, as he talks not only about the new CD, but recalls the recoding of a number of his great back catalogue, including the classic Jewel in the Lotus CD with Bernie Maupin. Musical selections include “Impressions”, “Crazy She Calls Me” and the Bartz-penned “Uncle Bubba” from Searching for Peace; “Past is Past” from Jewel in the Lotus; the title track from Herbie Hancock’s Fat Albert Rotunda; and Nancy Wilson signing the blues on “(They Call It) Stormy Monday” from her Something Wonderful CD.
Direct download: Podcast_486_-_A_Conversation_with_Buster_Williams_of_Heads_of_State.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 2:00 PM
Wed, 24 June 2015
“Prolific” would be an understatement to describe the recorded output of saxophone player Ivo Perelman. Over the past 30 months, Ivo has released at least ten CDs under his own name on the Leo Records Label, most of them fascinating avant-garde improvisations on the tenor sax.
His output almost came to a sudden halt last year when he began to experience pain and bleeding from his mouth. He discovered that he had damaged his larynx by the heavy use of notes in high registers, exacerbated by the use of equipment that was not conducive to his schedule. He was forced to take a break, but luckily found that rest and a change in gear fixed the potentially career-ending injury.
During this hiatus, he began listening to opera, particularly singers who had suffered similar problems with their larynx. This led him to re-discover the music of Maria Calls, diva par excellence. He soon had a “new hero”, and the style and fire of her recordings led to his new double-CD Callas, featuring one of Perelman’s longtime collaborators, Matthew Shipp on piano.
That might be a lot for most musicians, but Ivo released two other CDs last week as well. Tenorhood is his opportunity to salute the spirit of his favorite tenor sax players, from Ben Webster to Sonny Rollins, and from John Coltrane to Albert Ayler. Taking a page from Coltrane’s book, the CD is a set of duets with drummer Whit Dickey, and rather than recording say, “Oleo” as a tribute to Rollins, he instead channels Sonny’s spirit and approach in an improvised portrait of both the man and the player.
Lastly, and perhaps most adventurously, Perelman recorded Counterpoint, a trio setting with two masters of avant-garde string sounds – violinist Mat Maneri and guitarist Joe Morris. The result is a dynamic – and challenging to the ear - series of improvised conversations between three masters, at times sounding quite unlike anything I have ever heard.
Podcast 484 is my conversation with Ivo Perelman, as he discusses his background and his growth as a musician from his childhood in Brazil through his short stint at Berklee ending with his new home in New York. Musical selections from the new CDs include the opening “Part 1” from Counterpoint; “Tosca” titled in honor of one of Maria Calls’ greatest roles from Callas; and a tribute to one of the great saxophonist of our time, “For Coltrane” from Tenorhood.
Direct download: Podcast_484_-_A_Conversation_with_Ivo_Perelman.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 1:00 PM
Tue, 23 June 2015
If it’s the start of summer, then it must be time for the Summer Jazz Festival season to begin in earnest, and for me that means the Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center June 27-28. This year’s festival keeps with prior year’s thematic goals of presenting both marquee names and the up-and-coming stars of tomorrow, jazz next to classic R&B and blues.
“The Hang,” and the Festival has come to be called, is in a wonderful setting. A USA Today and 10 Best readers’ poll has given Saratoga Performing Arts Center the distinction of being named Best Outdoor Music Venue in the country. Add to the fine acoustics of the main stage the intimacy of the Gazebo Stage plus world class food and arts & crafts, and you have got all the elements for a great weekend.
Saturday has what I see as the stronger of the two days. The Main Stage will be graced by Theo Croker, Monty Alexander’s Harlem-Kingston Express, Pedrito Martinez, the Christian McBride Big Band, the Al DiMeola Electric Band, Cassandra Wilson, and Frankie Beverly & Maze. The Gazebo has an ace lineup including Croker; Mike LeDonne Groover Quartet featuring Eric Alexander, Peter Bernstein, and Joe Farnsworth; Duchess featuring Amy Cervini, Hilary Gardner, and Melissa Stylianou; Steve Wilson and Wilsonian’s Grain featuring Orrin Evans, Ugonna Okegwo, and Bill Stewart; and the Omer Avital Quartet.
On Sunday they do it all over again, with a highly diverse Main Stage lineup including Etienne Charles; Django Festival All-Stars including Samsom Schmitt, Pierre Blanchard, and Ludovic Beier ; Super group the Heads of State featuring Gary Bartz, Larry Willis, Buster Williams, and Al Foster; bluesmeisters Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters; Snarky Puppy, and a one-two closing punch of the neo-soul of Erykah Badu and the Latin fire of Sheila E. The Gazebo Stage will host Charles; the Yosvary Terry Quartet featuring Osmany Paredes, Yunior Terry, and Obed Calvaire ; KellyLee Evans; the Benny Green Trio with David Wong and Rodney Green; and Sonny Knight & the Lakers.
Podcast 485 features promoter Danny Melnick taking us through the various artists, and giving you the background you need to more completely enjoy the festival. Musical selections from artists performing at the festival include:
Duchess – “There Ain't No Sweet Man That's Worth The Salt Of My Tears” from Duchess.
Money Alexander’s Harlem-Kingston Express – “Regulator (Reggae-Later)” from Harlem-Kingston Express Volume 2: The River Rolls On.
Al DiMeola – Title Track from Elysium.
Cassandra Wilson – “Good Morning Heartache” from Coming Forth By Da
The Heads of State – “Soulstice” from Searching for Peace.
Snarky Puppy with The Metropole Orchestra – “Flight” from Sylva
Direct download: Podcast_485_-_Freihofers_Saratoga_Jazz_Festival_preview_with_Danny_Melnick.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 2:00 PM
Sun, 21 June 2015
The Official Straight No Chaser Song of Father’s Day is, of course, Horace Silver’s “Song for My Father”. A hard bop classic, the original was released in 1965 and featured Silver on piano, Joe Henderson playing the unmistakable melody on sax, Carmell Jones doubling Henderson on trumpet, Teddy Smith on bass and Paul Humphries on drums. It’s got a Brazilian flavor to it, a Bossa Nova bounce that has become a well-deserved standard. The cover artwork pictured here features a photograph of Silver's father, John Tavares Silva, to whom the title song was dedicated
Lyrics were written to the tune, which is purely instrumental in this recording. I'd like to share them with you today to honor the memory of my father, Bert Siegel, who passed away a few years ago.
If there was ever a man
Category:general -- posted at: 3:00 PM
Sun, 21 June 2015
By the time you've read this posting, the Summer Solstice will have occurred. For those scientifically inclined, that's the moment when the sun's apparent position on the celestial sphere reaches its greatest distance above or below the celestial equator, about 23 1/2° of arc. At the time of summer solstice, the sun is directly overhead at noon at the Tropic of Cancer. Or, you can simply say it's the first day of summer.
So let's celebrate this day with the appropriately titled song "Summer Solstice", the title track from saxophonist Azar Lawrence. Lawrence has been unjustly ignored in recent years, given his strong background. Beginning at the age of 19, he has been supporting acts as diverse as Woody Shaw (he played on "The Moontrane"), War, Earth,Wind & Fire and Ike & Tina Turner. He played sax for Elvin Jones for two years, and was part of McCoy Tyner's band for another five years.
His most notable recording as a sideman came when he was chosen by Miles Davis to perform with his band at Carnegie Hall, concerts that would eventually be released on album as Dark Magus.As a leader, Lawrence has released six albums, most notably his 2010 release Mystic Journey.
Category:general -- posted at: 2:00 PM
Thu, 4 June 2015
Podcast 483: His Final Interview, Part One - Talking with Bob Belden About His Ground-Breaking Trip to Iran
A conversation with Bob Belden can often come across much the same way as his music – “unrelenting, unforgiving, taking no prisoners.” At least that’s how Belden describes the sounds he and his group Animation played on their recent visit to Iran. That auspicious trip – two years in the planning – came in mid-February, and marked the first American musician to play Iran since the country's 1979 revolution set a former US ally on a political and military collision course with Washington and other capitals across the world.
Regrettably, this would prove to be Bob's final interview, and our final chance to talk. He was foubd dead of a heart attack in his New York City apartment just a few short days later. We are all a little less jazzy for his loss.
Belden, he is quick to point out in our talk, was no politician (he heldthem in very low regard) and no celebrity in the 21st century sense, even in the jazz world. While Belden earned his stripes as a Grammy-winning saxophonist, arranger, composer, bandleader, producer and essayist, he was hardly spoken of in the same way that say, Wynton Marsalis or Joshua Redman are mentioned, despite his equally ambitious projects, on and off the bandstand.
So perhaps it was inevitable then that a musician like Bob, refusing to take no for an answer and working outside of “the jazz establishment,” would be the one who would bring Jazz to Iran during this period of thawing relations between our countries. The resulting visit by Belden and Animation featured a performance of the traditional Iranian anthem at the United World Wrestling Greco-Roman World Cup in Tehran; a visit to a music school in the city of Isfahan (Ellington and Strayhorn would approve!) and culminated in a sold-out show at Tehran's Vahdat concert hall as part of the Fajr International Music Festival.
Podcast 482 is our conversation about that trip, featuring his very strong opinions on politics, culture and the jazz world. The tune that Bob and his band - drummer Matt Young, bass player Jerome Parker Wells, trumpeter Pete Clagett and keyboard player Roberto Veraspegui – opened their set with at Vahdat, “Urbanoia” from Transparent Heart, is featured as well.
Consider this Part One of my conversation, as the rest will appear in a podcast when Animation’s new CD is released in early summer. Rest in peace my friend, and take your place writing arrangements for the celestial big band.
Direct download: Podcast_483_-_A_Final_Conversation_with_Bob_Belden_Part_One.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 4:00 PM
Thu, 4 June 2015
The great jazz tradition of family members – and brothers, in particular - continues this month with the release of the new CD from Ralph and Dr. Dave Lalama, the Lalama Brothers, The Crepuscule Variations (Or Songs Our Parents Gave Us). The brothers had released a fine CD entitled Erie Avenue a few years back, but this time have made the recording a true family affair. The recordings are all duets between Ralph’s sax and Dave’s piano, joined on a number of tracks by Ralph’s wife, vocalist Nicole Pasternack Lalama.
The results are wonderfully intimate presentations of tunes from the Great American Songbook, supplemented by a few Sixties standards like “The Shadow of Your Smile.” Dave explains in the podcast that these were songs they learned literally at their mother’s feet, listening as the professional singer turned housewife sang her way through her daily chores. When she passed, Ralph and Dave’s father – a weekend drummer in his own right - gave them a list of songs that she had loved, and the result is this tribute CD of sorts.
Both Ralph and Dave are veterans of the jazz scene, having made their bones as featured players in Big Bands and as teachers in New York schools and Universities. You’ve heard Ralph with Woody Herman, Buddy Rich, Joe Lovano and the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, and Dave has been the musical director for singers like Eddie Jefferson and Anita O’Day. Nicole is a perennial favorite at NYC's Birdland with Lew Anderson's All American Big Band.
It was a treat to get all three performers on the line together for Podcast 480, where we discuss the genesis of the project, why Dave chose the title of the CD, and which tune they think is the best on the CD (hint – a Bacharach & David classic). Musical selections from The Crepuscule Variations include “The Shadow of Your Smile,”; “All of Me”, “A House is Not a Home” and “Here’s that Rainy Day.”
Mon, 25 May 2015
Today is Memorial Day in America, a time to pause and reflect on those in our armed forces who paid the ultimate price in serving their country. Formerly known as Decoration Day, it originated after the American Civil War to commemorate fallen Union soldiers. By the 20th century Memorial Day had been extended to honor all Americans who have died in all wars.
Other than arrangements of certain military anthems and patriotic songs, there are not a lot of appropriate songs to post on a jazz blog for this solemn day. So, in the spirit of world-wide empathy, here is Charlie Haden's Liberation Music Orchestra and "The Ballad of the Fallen".
Recorded in 1982 and released the next year, this avant-garde big band recorded their version of songs from the Spanish Civil War and other 20th century civil conflicts in Latin America, including the controversial revolutions in Chile and El Salvador. “The Ballad of the Fallen” is a reworked version of a folk song from El Salvador, which includes a song by Sergio Ortega called “The People United Will Never Be Defeated”, with an original introduction penned by Carla Bley.
The album was the winner of Down Beat's 1984 Critic's Poll as Best Album of 1983. Band members included Carla Bley (piano); Charlie Haden (bass); Don Cherry (pocket trumpet); Jim Pepper (flute and saxophone); Paul Motian (drums); Dewey Redman (tenor sax); and Mick Goodrick (guitar).
Category:general -- posted at: 2:00 PM
Wed, 20 May 2015
One of the great joys I have in writing this blog and preparing podcasts is the friendship that I sometimes strike up with jazz musicians. I am proud to say that Bob Belden was my friend, and it is with great sadness that I report his passing of a massive heart attack. He was 58.
I had spoken to Bob just a week ago, and recorded two lengthy podcawsts with him, about his trip to Iran and his new CD. And now he is gone.
It will take me a while to sort out my feelings about his passing, so in the meanwhile, here is a wonderful obit from Jazztimes.
I will miss Bob Belden.
Category:general -- posted at: 8:43 PM
Wed, 20 May 2015
Bruce Lundvall, the former CEO of Blue Note Records and a man with an uncanny ability to identify talent in jazz music, died May 19, 2015. He was 79 years old, and had been living in a senior assisted living center in New Jersey for complications related to his battle with Parkinson's disease.
Lundvall is credited with signing acts as varied as Herbie Hancock, Wynton Marsalis, Dexter Gordon and Stan Getz in jazz, and Natalie Cole, James Taylor, and Anita Baker in pop and soul. He helped revive the moribund Blue Note label in the 1980’s by re-signing veterans like Freddie Hubbard and McCoy Tyner and bringing into the fold contemporary jazz artists such as Dianne Reeves, Cassandra Wilson, Michel Petrucciani, John Scofield, Charlie Hunter US3 and Medeski Martin & Wood.
His tenure at Blue Note was not without criticism, as for every Greg Osby, Jason Moran or Ambrose Akinmusire he signed, there were more commercial artists like Amos Lee, Willie Nelson and Al Green coming to label known and prized by so many for its jazz artistry. His signing of Norah Jones, hardly a jazz heavyweight, nevertheless allowed much needed exposure to the revived label, culminating with Ms. Jones’ winning eight Grammy Awards in 2003. He resigned from Blue Note in 2010, eventually replaced by musician Don Was, who has continued the practice of signing non-jazz artists.
He was the subject of a 2014 biography by Dan Ouellette, entitled Bruce Lundvall: Playing by Ear. Lundvall is survived by his wife and three sons. A private family service will be followed by a forthcoming public service, details will be announced shortly. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that a donation be made to the Michael J. Fox Foundation.
Category:general -- posted at: 2:05 PM