Thursday, December 05, 2019

Music for Commuting: Fred Farell - Distant Song

Fred Farell: Distant Song (Whaling City Sound)
Farell (vocals/lyrics) Richie Beirach (p/comp) David Liebman (ss/ts/comp) June 2015

David Liebman; Richie Beirach

I ran into Distant Song by chance while browsing Liebman’s discography online. I’ve been enjoying listening to Liebman lately, and his pairing with Beirach is of particular interest - add in a vocalist singing their pieces and it was bit of a no-brainer for me to grab it.

There's a pretty good story behind the recording. Farell comes in contact with Beirach in the early 1970s and begins studying with him. He starts singing the compositions of Liebman and Beirach, has religious awakening, drops out of music, 40 years later he reconnects with Liebman and Beirach to record an album of those songs. And the results are really solid.
As I don't have much from earlier in the careers of Lieb or Beirach,  I’m not familiar with the pieces (although I just heard “Places” on the first Open Sky album), so I need to get around to sourcing some of the instrumental versions. It will be interesting to see how knowing these vocal versions first affects my take on the originals.

Distant Song is an album of ballads. The 10 pieces (five each from Lieb and Beirach) are relatively brief which keeps things moving along, but I wouldn’t have mind something a little more up tempo for variety (a minor complaint). The two instrumental pieces - "Forgotten Fantasies" and "Zal" - break things up a bit.
 It must be a challenge for the composers to hear their work with some other meaning attached to it. So often you end up with these corny lyrics just so a vocalist has something to sing (just sing the melody!). But in this case, Farrel does a great job capturing the mood of Beirach's and Liebman's pieces.


“Countrysides and Towns go by,
Like passing dreams,
Reality to me becomes the Pain of Leaving You.”

Lonnie’s Song

“But, I see Your Loss was meant to help

Us to grow and show The Way.”

With one exception, Farell 
doesn't improvise, he sings the straight melody with feeling, a nice tone and phrasing

. I don't mind that at all, and in many ways prefer it than listening to a singer that feels compelled to scat in order to be a jazz singer. Beirach takes on the more dominant role (mostly due to accompanying and soloing throughout ), while Lieb contributes short solos with nice melodic touches, along with the odd obbligato or two. Sometimes I get a little bugged with the way Lieb was recorded (is he in a booth?... you can almost hear the separation) and then other times it doesn't bother me at all! So Distant Song turned out to be a really nice surprise. Maybe not a disc with widespread appeal, definitely one for fans of Liebman/Beirach and those interested in lyrics. But he's a nice singer so perhaps your mainstream jazz vocalist fan would enjoy it too. 

I would like to delve a bit deeper into the Liebman/Beirach duo recordings.... add it to the list.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Arthur Street Loft Orchestra: Jeff Henderson

While I tend to pick and choose the gigs I attend (and sometimes work dictates what I can get to), I like the variety that the Arthur Street Loft Orchestra series has produced over the past year or so. What other series features Jeff Henderson's group one week and then follows up with the Rodger Fox Big Band seven days later?
New Zealand Jazz

The Wellington jazz scene is lucky to have Jake organizing this series - without which a lot of music would not have been created and heard. I know it took a while to draw in consistent crowds, but attendance is consistently strong now. And on Monday (18 Nov), a full house was in attendance to hear Jeff's work tackled by a 20-piece ensemble comprised of (including doubles) 4 basses, 2 tubas, 2 bass clarinets, 2 trumpets, euphonium, cello, 2 violins, drums, percussion, soprano sax, vibraphone, a couple of stringed instruments that I don't know the name of, plus Jeff conducting and blowing some clarinet too (the largest group of the series so far?). At the end of the set Jeff took an auctioneer-like approach to rattle off the all the names.
It was a night for something completely different (but not entirely unexpected from Jeff) and it was thoroughly enjoyable. The highlight for me was a section (probably about half way through the set) that featured Bridget Kelly blowing some melodic bass clarinet over the top of the four basses. As additional instruments joined in (starting with Cory's vibes and then Blair's bass clarinet) Bridget's bass clarinet was gradually consumed by the ensemble with the section wrapping up as Jeff wailed over the dirge-ish full ensemble.

It's always a treat to have a roomful of people come out to listen to improvised music and it was nice not having to rush off at the end of the gig, giving me the chance to catch up with both Jake and Jeff - keep up the good work chaps.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Music for Commuting: Lewis Porter Phil Scarff Group

Lewis Porter (p) Phil Scarff (ss/ts/sopranino/tamboura) John Funkhouser (b) Bertram Lehmann (d)

I’ve been meaning to check out Three Minutes to Four by the Lewis Porter/Phil Scarff Group for a while now and last month I finally got around to it. This week it was back on again getting a fresh listen along with the rumble of the road and an ever increasingly loud muffler. I remember Lewis mentioning this group several years ago, so they had been together at least a few years when the album - the group's first - was recorded (2015). And the resulting sound is that of a very cohesive unit.
I'm always keen to hear different soprano players and, outside of a few YouTube videos, Scarff is new to me. He has a classic, focused soprano tone with a bubbly, buoyancy (particularly on uptempo pieces). But he can draw out a round, woodiness too (part 1 of "Bageshri-Bageshwari" and "Raga Shree" being but two examples). He reserves this for the Indian pieces but it would be great to hear him apply this tone colour to the some other material too. He sticks to soprano on the Indian pieces but I wouldn’t mind hearing some tenor on these pieces.

Porter's contrafact ("Long Ago") is based "Long Ago and Far Away." Porter writes in the liner notes it's a song he associates with Art Pepper. Funnily enough, I do too. And I ending up listening to versions by Pepper on The Art of Pepper Vol.2 and Intensity - I hadn't listened to either for quite some time.

On an album with pieces featuring tone rows, dedications to Olivier Messiaen and adaptations of works from Southern India, “Strode Rode” seems a little out of place. But it's still a fine album and I'm going to keep my ear out for more from Scarff.

Tuesday, October 08, 2019

Straight Horning: Steve Lacy - Hooky

Steve Lacy Solo SaxophoneI had a fun at the monthly hang with friends listening to jazz records. This month the focus was vocalist. My selections were "The Things You See in New York City" from Tranceformation's In Concert and "Places" from Fred Farell's Distant Song (and interesting disc on which he sings pieces by David Liebman and Richie Beirach). Others played tracks from the likes of Cecile McLorin Salvant, Lizz Wright, Mark Murphy, Roberta Gambarini, and Bessie Smith. We finished the evening with part of a DVD of Manhattan Transfer that was pretty cringe-worthy. It really isn't my bag so to end the evening the car ride home featured something with a bit more intensity of purpose (I came prepared!). I first heard Steve Lacy's Hooky when my mate Craig lent me his copy. It was right around the time I was getting into Lacy.... almost 20 years ago (ouch!), and that week I gave it plenty of spins. I really dig his tone on this one. Tonight, "No Baby" and the Tao Suite kept me company once again. The CD player in my car is coming to the end of it's life and it wouldn't eject the disc tonight so maybe I'll be hearing a bit more Hooky tomorrow! I've been holding out, but I made need to invest in a bluetooth speaker if the CD player dies on me.

Monday, September 30, 2019

NZ Jazz: Thanks Mike!

Okay, so I'm wrapping up this series. It seemed fitting to end with Mike Nock as the series kicked off  with his then newly released Vicissitudes back in September, 2017. I decided to change things up a bit. Instead of focusing on a single album, this month I listened to all of Mike's recordings in my collection. There was no rhyme or reason, I just grabbed a the next disc on the pile. I started with Changing Seasons (trio with Brett Hirst and Toby Hall) - the groove felt right to kick off the month - and ended with Kindred (duo with Laurence Pike) - a recording with which I have mellowed out to many times since picking it up a few years ago. In between everything else got a spin or two. In comparison to some artists, Mike's discography is a manageable size (with plenty of variety too), although there are still plenty of holes I need to plug - Yusef Lateef's 1984 is the only thing I have with Mike as a sideman. I want to call particular attention to the duo works with the likes of Frank Gibson Jr., Marty Ehrlich, David Liebman, Roger Manins, and Laurence Pike - wonderful recordings.
New Zealand Jazz
As I mentioned last month, I'm pulling the plug on this series. I may return in the future (I still have a stack of albums waiting for me) - we'll see. Off the top of my head, some albums from the series that stood out included Jim Langabeer's Secret Islands, the two albums from Unwind - Unwind, and Orange (there's another on the way that I look forward to hearing), Mike Nock's Beginning and End of Knowing, Lucien Johnson's West of the Sun, and, more for the historical interest than the music, Jazz Concert 1950. Before I sign off the series, I just want to say "Thanks Mike!"

Monday, September 23, 2019

Arthur Street Loft Orchestra: The Big Troubles

New Zealand Jazz
Last Monday night saw the final installment of season seven of the Arthur Street Loft Orchestra. It was great to have a packed house with standing room only (get there early folks!). It has taken a while to build the following but they seem to get solid audiences on a pretty regular basis now. Hats off to Jake.

This week, John Rae was back with The Big Troubles, a group comprised of strings (2 each of violin, viola, cello and bass), brass (2 trumpet, 3 trombones), reeds (3 sax, 1 clarinet), vocal, guitar and drums. Unsurprisingly, it was a night of good vibes and plenty of energy. Maybe it's just the flow on effect of having 20 musicians on the bandstand, but there seemed to be a real buzz in the room before the music started.

That energy carried through into the performance, and it was more about the collective energy rather than listening for delicate inner moving parts (although they do exist). There were some nice solo moments too - Ben Hunt's plunger work and Al Campbell's blues solo - but it was Tristan Carter's violin solo was my pick for the evening (with bonus points applied for the scarcity of string soloist on the local jazz scene). Vocalist, Eugene (what's his last name?) had a couple of features (the same two tunes as the last time I heard the group). Once again, the blues was excellent. Last time I heard them I wasn't convinced by their take on “Crazy He Calls Me”, but it must be growing on me (the vocals and the arrangement) as I started getting into it this time around. The balance of the band seemed better, so maybe that helped.

After a short break, ASLO will be back for season eight. If you're in Wellington on a Monday night, they're well worth checking out.
Arthur Street Loft Orchestra

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Friday Night Swagman

New Zealand Jazz
It was nice to get down to Raumati Social Club on Friday night to catch Swagman play their monthly gig. Things were a little more chilled out than normal which suited me fine as I sat in the far corner and mellowed out. As usual, the second set ramped things up a notch (or three) and although the crowd had thinned by the end the music kept roaring. Swagman marks the return of Gabe following bit of a hiatus from performing, and I'm enjoying getting to hear him on a pretty regular basis. He seems increasingly at ease on the horn, exploring and pushing things out. Joe's uke-bass sound is a treat, as is his 12-string. Brent was his usual grooving powerhouse. I wasn't aware of his playing before moving home but I'm glad to finally be catching up with it. All washed down with a North End Abbey Single - pretty good night really.