Saturday, December 28, 2013

Recent Listening: End of 2013

It has been a while since I last checked in. Here are a few albums that have been making the rounds.

When I stumbled upon Owls Talk (Hote Marge 2010) I had know idea who Alexandra Grimal was. It was the other personnel that grabbed my eye - Gary Peacock (b) Paul Motian (d) & Lee Konitz (as). Grimal splits time between tenor and soprano, and I feel the latter suits her best. Lyrical and open interplay from all, plenty of space and in general the album has an unhurried feel to it. Very nice recorded sound too.

Le Vent et la Gorge (Leo 2012) is the latest from the Frank Gratkowski Quartet with Gratkowski  (as/cl/ cl) Wolter Wierbos (tb) Dieter Manderschied (b) Gerry Hemingway (d).
The first part of the album is the 8-part suite "Harm-oh-nie," mixing up composed and improvised material -which at times is very hard to differentiate (a good thing). The piece tends to alter movements of held notes/multiphonics/harmonics/glissandi with more rhythmically aggressive movements. The movements are quite short, most fall between 3 and 5 minutes and this helps keep things moving.
The second part of the album is made up of four pieces, three of which are longer works (between 9 and 17 minutes) - I have only given these an initial listen. Perhaps I will report back once I've spent some more time with them. I'm sure the quartet members long association together (formed from the Gratkowski trio in 2000)  plays a role in the ensemble sound they create. This blurb from Gratkowski's website sums up the group well, "In the music of the quartet, I am trying to form a synthesis of composition and improvisation where all instruments have equal functions to build a unified whole."

The Rock On The Hill (Nato 2011) by the trio Lol Coxhill (ss) Barre Phillips (b) JT Bates (d) has been as nice surprise. It has only been in the last year that I have started listening to Coxhill and I find his playing quite fascinating. Not nearly as virtuosic as Steve Lacy or Evan Parker but he is most definitely his own man. There's something about his tone that draws me in. The seven improvisations that make up the album move through moments that are lyrical, abstract, calm, minimal, light, and there's even some groove in there. It's an album with plenty of space and the trio work very well together with Coxhill & Phillips taking the lead. A good one to check out if you have an interest in less frenetic free improvising.

Friday, November 01, 2013

WKCR Frank Wess Memorial Broadcast

Columbia University's WKCR 89.9FM is commemorating the life of Tenor Sax/Flautist Frank Wess with memorial broadcast from 6pm Thursday October 31 - 9pm Friday November 1st (Eastern Time). Tune in!

Thursday, October 31, 2013

recent listing: october contrafacts

Lately I've been listening to a few contrafacts (tunes written on the chords of other tunes).  For the most part I have been looking for pre-bop contrafacts. Drop me a line if you know any good ones.

First up was checking out some tunes based on changes from "Tiger Rag" (which shares plenty in common with "Won't you come home Bill Bailey") - Duke Ellington was a fan - "Daybreak Express," "Hot & Bothered," "Braggin' In Brass" & "The Slippery Horn" come out of "Tiger Rag."
A couple of others "Tiger Rag" based tunes I've come across include Louis Armstrong's "Hotter Than Hot" and Sidney Bechet playing "I'll Take That New Orleans Music" (Wilbur DeParis).

There are plenty based on "I Got Rhythm".... "The Jeep Is Jumpin" (Hodges/Ellington) "Apple Honey" (Woody Herman) "Seven Come Eleven" (Charlie Christian) "Shag" (Sidney Bechet) "Chant Of The Groove" (Coleman Hawkins).

Coleman Hawkins wrote a few contrafacts - "Bean Soup" (Tea For Two) "Bay-U-Bah" (Sweet Georgia Brown) "Bean At The Met" (How High The Moon) and I listened to his takes of a couple by Thelonious Monk too - "Rifftide" (aka Hackensack (Lady Be Good) & "Stuffy" (aka Stuffy Turkey (Stompin' At The Savoy).

Another based on Stompin' is "Byas A Drinkby Don Byas. He'ss a player I haven't listened to that much. I remember giving his famous duo with Slam Steward on I Got Rhythm quite a few listens, but that was some time ago.

A few different versions of "Moten Swing" (You're Driving Me Crazy) have been on, including Jay McShann (featuring Bird), Gene Ammons, Eddie Durham and Sonny Stitt.

The Count Basie band on "Dickies Dream" (I Found A New Baby - which seems to share a bit in common with "I Hope Gabriel Likes My Music" though I haven't sat down and tried working it out.)

Charles Minugs' band playing "Take The A Train" and "Exactly Like You" at the same time. This is from the album "Mingus Revisited" (aka Pre-Bird - Mingus wrote the pieces before he had heard bop) I hadn't heard this album in ages - I'll have to find time to have a listen to the rest of the album.

I didn't really listen to many of the bop melodies. One I did check out was Charlie Parker's "She Rote." For this the melody is over of pedal tone and the blowing in on the changes from "When I Grow Too Old To Dream" - I've been listening to Nat Cole's version with Stuff Smith and another by Roy Eldridge.

Aside from contrafacts I have also been listening to artists improvising on standard forms without stating the melody (and renaming the tune in the process). Again, I've pretty much been sticking to pre-bop stuff. If you know of any others - from any era - please let me know (I have the Tristano work pretty well covered).

A couple of favourites to start of with - Roy Eldridge & Chu Berry on "Sittin' In" (Tiger Rag) and "Forty-six West-52" (Sweet Georgia Brown)

Not as well known as his 1939 version Coleman Hawkins' "Rainbow Mist" (Body & Soul) from 1944 is worth checking out. Another one from Hawkins in the mid-40s is "Hawk Variations." I'm not totally sure on this one yet - it sounds as if Monk's "Round Midnight" makes and appearance in the 2nd half but I'm not sure of the 1st half yet..... suggestions? This is an excellent (and surprisingly not very well known) solo saxophone performance. Apparently this was recorded as a promo for Selmer saxophones.

Couldn't pass up a couple from Lester Young too - "Lester Swings" (Exactly Like You) and "Lester Blows Again" (Honeysuckle Rose).

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Hamilton College Jazz Archive

For those of you interested in jazz oral histories be sure to check out the Hamilton College Jazz Archive. A couple of hundred interviews covering a wide range of artists from Michael Abene to Danny Zeitlin and Nat Adderley to Snooky Young.

Here's a little bit from the talk with clarinetist Kenny Davern.

Monk Rowe: Was there a point where you said music is going to be my career?
Kenny Davern: Right.
MR: A definite...
KD: A definite — I can remember it like it was yesterday. 
Kenny Davern & Bill Payne
Photo by Mark Weber

There used to be Ted Huesing’s bandstand. Ted Huesing I think originally was a sports car enthusiast or whatever. And he had, he played popular music like from three to six everyday, I forget what the station was, WJZ or WOR or something like that. And the last 15 minutes he played Dixieland band music. And I liked that. I liked the way those bands sounded. I liked it especially because the clarinet was free. And then on Saturday mornings from 11 to 12 he’d play a whole hour of all these different people, you know, Dixieland jazz bands, whether it be Tony Parenti or Wild Bill Davison or you know, you name it, whoever was around at that time. And one day he played a Muggsy Spanier recording of Muggsy Spanier’s Ragtime and they were playing “Memphis Blues.” And I was just standing in the kitchen listening and I heard this, because the radio was on top of the ice box. And I heard this instrument growling and grunting and [scats], and this beautiful background like the band playing whole notes. And it was Pee Wee Russell playing clarinet. Well you know you can go look at paintings, you can read books, you can see movies, you can listen to music, and if you haven’t had a musical experience from any one of those things you’re never really going to be hooked. I mean if a book can make you laugh and cry and the same with a painting or whatever, if you can experience something — prior to that you just listen, you know, like a fan. Yeah that’s good, yeah. But if it doesn’t really grab you emotionally — and I stood there transfixed looking at that radio. And I said that’s it, I want to do that for the rest of my life. I was about 14.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Jazz Review

Recently, I sent this link to some friends and thought I may as well post it here too.

The Jazz Review was published between 1958-1961.

Lots of interesting articles including album reviews by musicians - The February 1959 issue has Cannonball Adderley reviewing albums by Ahmad Jamal and Tony Scott and Bill Crow reviews Adderley, Paul Bley and Ray Charles.

The same issue contains a review of Warne Marsh's self-titled album on Atlantic. Possibly one of Marsh's longest reviews.... about 75% of which is dedicated to his tone (reviewer Mimi Clar is not a fan!). Great album - be sure to check it out!

Currently there are about half a dozen copies online (PDF files) - they intend to upload the journal's entire run.

Jazz Studies Online has plenty of other articles and book excerpts
Here's Barry Ulanov's feature on Lennie Tristano from the August 1949 issue of Metronome.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

NYC September 2013

I'm slowly catching up on things. I spent the first week of September in New York City - it had been awhile since I was last in town (Easter I think). It's well after the fact and a bit light on details but here's a run down on the weeks happenings.

Grakowski & Heberer 
First stop was the  Downtown Music Gallery. I try and make it there each time I'm in town, though this was my first time at one of the in-store concerts they host on Sunday evenings - nice vibe and plenty of CD browsing (and some buying) before the show. Performing in store was the duo of Frank Gratkowski (alto sax) & Thomas Heberer (cornet/trumpet). I really enjoyed this yet. Great to be up close to the music in a (very) small space. The pair played a set of improvised duos. I found out that these two have a playing history going back to their teens - and it showed with plenty of common ground shared. I must remember to check if they have recorded together (I forgot to ask them!). Picked up a copy of Frank's latest album "All At Once" - just released on Relative Pitch Records. I've only had time to give it one spin - a saxophone trio disc with Phillip Greenlief & Jon Raskin - but I've liked what I've heard so far. I joined the duo and some friends for dinner in Chinatown.

After dinner we walked up to Nublu for Frank's second gig of the night. Got to have a good chat with him about projects he has under way including the few weeks he had just spent at CNMAT (Center for New Music & Audio Technologies). He's been working on his project "Artikulationen E" solo alto sax with live electronics and 8-point surround sound. In fact Frank has built his own wireless electronics controller that attaches to his alto (see pic). For the 2nd gig Frank was part of percussionist Joe Hertenstein's "Future Drone"with Anthony Coleman (fender rhodes) Ken Filiano (b). This is a gig that I would have dug a lot more had it not been so loud. The main culprit was the rhodes - and it brought the rest of the group with it. When the volume was lower I could hear everyone and there was plenty of interesting music happening. But too often the volume took away the enjoyment.

Tender Trap Jam Session
Monday night I joined friends at the Tender Trap jam session in Brooklyn. They're had a regular set followed by a jam session there for some time now. It's a sweet scene - friendly and welcoming. Last time I was in town I wasn't able to play due the problems with my hand/arm so it was nice to get a few tunes in. The only jam session I've attended with four violinists! Take your horn down if you are in the neighborhood or just take your ears and have a beer.

Tuesday morning I joined Will and Carol at B&H to check out some microphones. What a crazy place - I still can't get over that I'd never heard of them. Following that it was off to Carol's for a duo session of standards and free improvisations. It seemed an age since we and played together but things came into place nicely. The free stretches seemed to move into some new places. I must remember to bring my recorder next time I'm in town.
After the session we headed downtown to hear our friend Nick playing a pre-show duo gig at the Signature Theatre. The acoustic was very live (a large space with plenty of concert and wood). Nick's alto sound filled the space and he was barley breathing into the horn. Very relaxed, melodic playing.

Zach Brock Quartet - 55 Bar
I spent Wednesday afternoon out in Newark meeting some of my classmates and sat in on the first of the Duke Ellington classes. I'm sure I'll blog a bit about school in the future.
That evening it was off to Greenwich Village and the 55 Bar for the Zach Brock (violin) Matt Penman (b) John Beasley (fender rhodes) and Obed Calvaire (d). Two sets of mostly Brock originals - plus one from Beasley, Herbie Hancock's "Eye of the Hurricane" and a ballad "You've Changed" (I think). The quartet was tight and bass & drum combo were particularly locked in. Nice catching up with Matt - hadn't seen him since he played in Chicago with the SFJAZZ Collective.

Kept things fairly mellow on Thursday. In the morning I caught up with Richard, a sax playing friend from New Zealand who has just moved to NYC to study towards his Masters Degree. Then it was off out to Brooklyn for a hang, session and lunch with Nick. Hanging and playing with Nick always provide plenty of surprises and laughs. Spent the night with my wonderful hosts - Will & Jennie - dinner and drinks. All in all a fun week - plenty of music and friends - and that's a good thing indeed.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Chicago Jazz Festival 2013: Saturday

Saturday followed a similar pattern as Friday - check out a couple of gigs in the marquee's before the evening concerts on the main stage.

Gregory Porter
The Nick Mazzarella Trio started off my day. Mazzarella's burning alto was teamed with his regular rhythm section paring of Anton Hatwich (b) Frank Rosaly (d). They jumped straight into a high energy set of originals from the leader. A ballad made a welcome appearance about four tunes in, providing some contrast to the searing bite I have come to expect from Mazarella. I wasn't digging the live sound today - loud, boxy and metallic. It may not have been helped by the fairly empty tent . The crowd was down on the day before - not helped by the weather (it had been raining all day and started pouring not long before the set started). Mazarella's tone in particular suffered - while it is edgy and biting, I found the P.A sound made it one dimensionally bright. I felt for the trio as it really didn't do their sound any justice.

I left the set slightly early so as not to miss the start the Hamid Drake Quartet with Kidd Jordan (ts) Cooper-Moore (p) and William Parker (b) over in the southern tent. Murphy's law..... they started late! It was amateur hour during the set up. With a large crowd waiting the band made efforts to set up and sound check as music pumped through the P.A. No surprises then that when the music got underway the mix was terrible. In general it was a loud, wash of sound - no clarity at all. Parker's bass sounded like I giant amplified rubber band and the piano was obnoxiously bright and way too high in the mix. After a long free improvisation, they finally worked out that the bass was humming. I changed seats, then moved to the back of the tent. No improvement. I left. This must have been close to the worst live sound I have heard. Very disappointing. 
Rudresh Mahanthappa's "GAMAK"
The evening of concerts on the main stage started off with vocalist Gregory Porter (v) and his band of Chip Crawford (p) Aaron James (b) Yosuke Satoh (as) Emanuel Howard (d). I arrived during the set and could hear the crowd applauding well before I could see them. The rain during the day had cleared and a large audience had turned out - in the seated area and on the lawn. Lucky for me there were a couple of  empty seats down at the front of stage so I set up camp there for the night. It was a nice group and I can see why Porter gets plenty of attention and the crowd were really into it. The band backed him up well - bass and drums were a good pairing and the some nice comping from the piano. The odd one out, for me, was the alto to Satoh - his tone and phrasing seemed to be coming more from a "smooth jazz" type thing. While he played well and offered contrast to Porter's vocals I felt someone more in classic "Chicago-tenor" mold would have rounded the group out more seamlessly. 

Saturday Night's audience
Second up on the main stage was Rudresh Mahanthappa's "GAMAK" with David Fiuczynski (g) Francois Moutin (b) Dan Weiss (d). Mahanthappa's seamless blend of jazz-isms & Karnatic-isms (!), Moutin holding down rock solid bass, Fiuczynski's rock sensibilities, and rhythm mastery from Weiss combined for set of driving, high energy music (Off-kilter Indian-jazz-rock was written in my notebook). Lots of chops on display - both sax and guitar are lighting quick - but the music was interesting. If you are after something different, the group released an album at the start of the year. Weiss's drumming was the stand out to me. I've heard a few recordings he's been on but I believe this was the 1st time I'd heard him live (I'd need to double check my notebooks.... I may have heard him with David Binney). Music just seemed to be flowing out of him with minimal effort - wonderful. 
Rounding out the night was the Jason Moran: Fats Waller Dance Party. Moran (p/fender rhodes)  along with Earl Travis (b) Joshua Roseman (trb) Leron Thomas (trpt) Charles Haynes (d) Lisa E. Harris (vocal) Martin Sewell (g) and members of the Organic Magnetics dance company put a modern spin on classic tunes by Waller. This was really well put together but not my thing at all - at least not on that night... perhaps my mind was on the early start on Sunday morning to head to NYC? I renewed my membership with the Jazz Institute of Chicago and took my opportunity to get a head start on the exiting crowd.

Some final thoughts......Though this particular post has bit of a negative feel, I did enjoy the first three days of the festival. I would have been at the fourth had I not been NYC bound. The festival does a nice job mixing up the program. It seems like there is something for everyone - mainstream, up and comers, veterans, local artists, traditional groups, freer music, school bands - a nice cross-section of the jazz spectrum. The weather was the biggest hassle - hot, humid and sticky one day, thunder storm the next - but people still turned out. You can't beat the price - free admission! Combine that with the Millennium Park location (in the heart of downtown Chicago) and I'm sure it brings in a lot of listeners that wouldn't normally go to such gigs. Lets hope there is a flow on effect for the live scene. The volunteers I dealt with were great too.
The Main Stage - Saturday Night

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Chicago Jazz Festival 2013: Friday

Friday after was spent checking out some of the gigs in the marquee's in Millennium Park before the evening concerts on the main stage.

Mike Smith (as) Quartet with Jordan Baskin (p ) Jeff Hamann (b) & Brian Ritter (d). Straight-ahead blowing on standard tunes - That is Smith's thing. Not (m)any surprises here. The main reason I got along was to check out the Powell Silver Eagle saxophone in action!

Drummers Hamid Drake & Michael Zerang with the Tsukasa Taiko Youth Unit.
This was something completely different. As the Japanese Drum Ensemble played through it's routine Drake and Zerang, set up on either side, improvised along with them. I thought it came together quite nicely. Hamid Drake was the festival's Artist In Residence and it was great to see him working with kids - with added bonus points for not going down the "high school big band with featured soloist" route. While we're on the subject, there was a stage dedicated to school bands - unfortunately every time I stopped by it was been sets!

The evening concert on the main stage was delayed by about 40mins due to a big storm. Thunder, lightning, and rain…. apparently - we were evacuated to a tunnel under the park so I couldn't see any of it. Anyway, they got the concert going as soon as they could.

First up was Geof Bradfield's "Melba!" - a large ensemble suite dedicated to Melba Liston. 
Bradfield (ts/ss/b.clar) Ryan Cohen (p ) Victor Garcia (trpt/perc) Joel Adams (try) Mike Allemana (g) Clark Sommers (b) George Fludas (d).  Randy Weston joined the group for his composition "Africa Sunrise" (as there was a clap of thunder). I had a hard time getting into this gig. All very professional, nice and clean, but something was missing. One of those gigs where it seems no one makes a mistake - perhaps the focus on composition tempered the spontaneity.

The second show of the night was something I was quite keen to hear. I had read that this work (here's a  link to a page on the work) had been highly praised but hadn't managed to give it a listen yet. Wadada Leo Smith's "Ten Freedom Summers"
Joining Wadada Leo Smith (trpt/conductor) were his Golden Quartet (Anthony Davis p, John Lindberg b, Pheeroan akLaff  d) the string ensemble Pacific Red Coral  (Shalini Vijayan & Mona Tian violins, Andrew McIntosh viola, Ashley Waters cello, Alison Bjorkedal harp) and video artist Jesse Gilbert. 
Here are some translations from my note book scribbles (very messy!)
- Didn't over-write / over-use the strings. Enjoyed what he wrote for them
- Shared the music around the ensemble
- Trumpet sounded great
- At times the rhythm section and string group operated separately… it seemed about 20mins before the entire group were playing together.
- Video artist made a nice contribution…mostly video of the band with abstract lines moving over the top, or just the lines on their own.

Following the concert Wadada Leo Smith as presented with "Trumpeter of the Year" & "Musician of the Year" awards from the Jazz Journalists Association.

It was a powerful concert and perhaps the programmers got things a little muddled when assigning time-slots, as the set following paled in comparison.  A shame really, as this was another group I was keen to hear - Charles Lloyd & Friends feat. Bill Frisell
Alongside Charles Lloyd's tenor sax and alto flute and the guitar of Bill Frisell were Reuben Rogers (b) and Eric Harland (d). Pianist Jason Moran (p ) guested on the first two tunes. This set seemed to take a long time to get off the ground. It felt like they were just hitting their stride as the set was coming to an end. Jazz can do that to you sometimes!

Chicago Jazz Festival 2013: Thursday

First up - apologies for being slack with the updates. Now I'm playing catch up.
Chicago Jazz Festival: August 29 - September 1st
I could only get along to the first three days as I was in NYC from September 1st. Here's a brief rundown of some of what I heard. Hopefully I can remember the ins and outs of it all - sometimes my notebook is a little vague. 

Thursday: Chicago Cultural Center
Arrived during the set by Fat Babies - a retro Chicago-style group playing traditional jazz from the 1920's & 30's - Beau Sample (b) Alex Hall (d) Jake Sanders (banjo) Paul Asaro (p) Dave Bock (tb) John Otto (alto sax/clar) Andy Schumm (cornet) & John Doyle (tenor sax). The over-flowing crowd had me listening from the staircase… an obstructed view but the band we sounding good.
Then headed upstairs for Randy Weston's solo piano set. I can't say I'm a huge fan of Weston's (though I have barely scratched the surface of his music). Not much written in my notebook here. The set had it's moments, he played well but I left feeling a bit like "Ok, I've seen Randy Weston…. next."

The evening concert in Millennium Park was Jack DeJohnette's Special Legends Edition Chicago. A title like that needs some weight behind it….and there was - joining DeJohnette (drums) were Muhal Richard Abrams (piano) Larry Gray (bass/cello) Roscoe Mitchell (alto/soprano/sopranino saxes, recorder and flute) and Henry Threadgill (alto sax/bass flute). 
I often feel wary of the "all-star" groups thrown together for festivals this set did not disappoint. Playing original works by Abrams, Mitchell, DeJohnette and Threadgill and a free improvisation (I think) for the encore, it was a very cohesive set of uncompromising music. Wonderful to hear these guys till going strong and taking the music places. A great opening night for the main stage in front of a sizable crowd (I was down the front was it was a bit hard to judge numbers on the lawn).

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Michael Moore Quartet at Constellation

Saturday night was spent at Constellation. The venue's excellent programming continued with the Michael Moore Quartet. Joining the alto saxophone and clarinet of Moore were locals Josh Berman (cornet) Jason Roebke (b) Frank Rosaly (d).

There was an intimate feel musically and atmospherically. The quartet huddled together, close to the hushed audience in the darkened concert hall (my notebook was surprisingly readable when I opened it this morning). The acoustics allowed for the quartet to play quietly and clearly, though there was still plenty of clarity when the dynamic level shifted gears.

The two sets of all original material from Moore had a nice mix of freedom and form etc. Considering the material was new to 3/4 of the band they still managed to create a create a fine ensemble sound.  In particular, Moore and Berman were a pairing I would like to hear more from - their blend was superb.

I've been lucky to catch Moore in concert about half a dozen times over the last 8 or 9 years. In fact, the very first time I hear him was in concert in at the jazz festival in Wellington - a quartet with Han Bennink (off the top of my head the rest of the personnel escapes me... anyone care to fill me in?). Moore has a melodic conception and tone that a greatly admire - a player who has developed a personal approach to the instrument and to improvisation.

You can find many of Moore's recordings on his record label - Ramboy Recordings. Also, be sure to check out this playing with the ICP Orchestra and Clusone Trio.

Monday, August 19, 2013


Frank Gratkowski Trio Gestalten (JazzHausMusik 1995) Frank Gratkowski (as/b.clar) Dieter Manderscheid (b) Gerry Hamingway (d/perc)
The line up of sax/bass/drums has long been a favorite of mine. Though I am still working my way through his fairly extensive discography (there is still A LOT left to hear) Gestalten is the Gratkowski album I have listened to the most over the years.

Leaps from the sax create a “push & pull” type effect. The accompaniment features spacious playing from the bass (in some ways an eco of the sax) and minimal fills from drums. Each players’ part breathes freely, no member encroaches on the other two and everyone sticks to shorter phrase lengths.

Alongside the quite busy playing from sax and drums, the Bass is quite a contrast - almost as if he is playing a ballad and the others are up tempo. He utilizes plenty of space. Around the half way mark a slow and dirge-like section appears as the sax wails on top with the drums at his side (urgent but not over powering). The bass remains very much in touch with (not detached from) the trio - very effective. The entire range of the sax comes into play - a distorted bottom end (reverse altissimo?), right through to stratospheric whistles. A short pianissimo burn finishes things off.

A bass feature emerges from the whispers of the trio, working its way to pointed higher register sounds contrasted with bent and sliding notes. The accompaniment - key sounds and air from sax with textural rattles and accents from drums - builds until it becomes a three way dialogue about 2/3rds of the way into the piece. Some great light-toned lines quietly burst free from the sax. The finish is somewhat abrupt. 

"Con Affetto" 
A ballad featuring rich arco tones from the bass and quiet, low register counter lines from the bass clarinet. A nice, economic use of notes for the duration of the piece. Throughout, Hemingway manipulates the pitch of his drums (not a cymbal to be heard) to create a glissandi-like backing. 

"Dancing Derwish”
Urgent bass gets things underway basing his lines on a repeated figure. The intensity gradually rises as the bass clarinet enters alternating clean and distorted sounds, at times very throaty. Manderscheid's fingers really start to fly backed by some great low volume playing from Hemingway (his use of dynamics across the album is impressive). He gets some room to strut his solo playing later in the tune.
Often on this album, the continuity is such that it is difficult to separate the compositional from the improvised sections. For example: following the bass solo when bass clarinet enters, over a solid groove from bass & drums, could easily be composed. 
At 11 and a half minutes this is the longest track on the album. Most sit between four and six minutes with only one other over 10. For those of you that find longer pieces (particularly free improvisations) hard work, take note.

"Stag Rustler" 
A mysterious beginning - at times it's difficult to differentiate between the players parts. Amidst the clicking, clacking, blowing, and occasional low end rumble, a melody makes a brief. The melody retreats and the 'background' intensifies before dropping out altogether and the melody takes us out. Composed by Hemingway

Melodic microtonal playing from sax (at times producing a flute like tone quality). When I tune into the bass & drums low volume backing of the sax, I find them wonderfully in sync. A delicate, haunting ballad.

“Duck Hunt”
A piece of contrasts - starting out quiet(but busy) high register arco bass, light textural percussion and airy, vocalized sounds from sax until 3 and a half mins when alto grunting appears. The saxophone takes on an abrasive, gritty & distorted tone and the notes gather pace. The bass playing becomes more angular, sliding and stark. A wash of sound from the drums covering the whole kit - unrelenting until the seven and a half minute mark when the trio suddenly cuts down to a whisper for the final two minutes - watery breath sounds, stringy bass and scraping drums (at times mimicked by the sax).

Solitary bass clarinet opens up the piece. The use of dynamics is impressive - from barely audible to loud (not raucous). Scraped cymbals accompany with very occasional arco bass punctuations (he makes each one count). A nice wind down and finish to the album.

General observations:

Form/StructureAs mentioned above it is often difficult to distinguish the improvised from the composed. Form is an important element in Gratkowski's work and here he is playing with artists that can realize improvised structure. The compositions (4 by Gratkowski, 1 by Hemingway & 4 group improvisations) play an important part in the form also - the shape of the album as a whole. Each contain different moods, textures, intensities, tempos, densities and relationships between players.

TextureWhile Gratkowski doesn't expand his arsenal like he does on some albums (no clari/contra bass clari here) he still creates a variety of textures. Playing with clean and distorted tone, mixed articulations, dynamics, air & key sounds, smears, varied tonal color, multiphonics, microtonality etc. 
Plenty of variety from the rhythm section too. The bass uses pizzicato and arco, scratching sounds, percussive playing, string sounds, slides, bends, harmonics, pulse and non-pulse playing. The drums make use of all the sounds available on the kit, varies attack, pulse/non-pulse, rumbles, crashes, rustles, swings,busy at times but rarely overpowers the rest of the trio. 
All three make great use of space and dynamics across the album. 

Unity - A trio of 3 equal parts. As a sax player, my focus is drawn towards the horn. But everyone is on the same wave length and plays a crucial role in shaping each piece.

To my knowledge this trio only made one other album - "The Flume Factor" (I'll add it to my list) - before evolving into a quartet with the addition of Dutch trombonist Wolter Wierbos.

Nick Mazzarella Solo

Corbett vs Dempsey have hosted a number of concerts this year and I have tried to get to as many as possible. On Saturday afternoon the gallery presented a solo concert by alto saxophonist Nick Mazzarella (nestled amongst artwork by Peter Br√∂tzmann).
Brotzmann: Untitled (Landscape) 2012

The hour long set filled the gallery with Mazzarella's searing, overdriven tone containing plenty of bite and vocalized distortions (and the occasional bell chime).

Mazzarella is lightning quick around the horn and his use of trills, repeated phrases, sequences and the gallery's acoustics, created a "wall of sound" that, at times, reached near breaking point.

The opening piece, with it's wide intervals, sudden dynamic shifts and space was another example of his awareness of the room to help his notes harmonize/overlap/clash with themselves.

When his notes bent and swooped an acidic, barbed Johnny Hodges came to mind. 

I would have liked to heard him explore the quiet end of the spectrum a little more. When he did, it was particularly effective - another dimension was added to his sound and the subtleties of his pitch inflections and dynamic range were more pronounced.

Mazzarella's trio is playing at Chicago Jazz Festival Saturday 31 October 12.30pm

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Dana Hall's Black Fire

At this years Straight Ahead Jazz Camp (see my post here) Dana Hall presented an excellent lecture on the music of Andrew Hill. It was during that lecture that he mentioned this gig:

Dana Hall's Black Fire: The Andrew Hill Project 
This concert was part of the Made In Chicago: World Class Jazz Concert Series at Millennium Park.
A smaller version of the group made its debut at the Hyde Park Jazz Festival last  year. Last night the expanded group consisted of:
Dana Hall (d) Orrin Evans (p)  Geof Bradfield (ts) Justin Thomas (vibes) Clark Sommers (b) Nick Mazzarella (as) Russ Johnson (trpt) Jose Davila (trb)

A nice sized ensemble - big enough to allow plenty of variety in the arrangements and small enough to draw on the flexibility of a small group.

The group played one long set (1.5 hrs I think) that contained plenty of variation - uptempo, latin, ballads, collective improvisation, rubato sections, featured soloists.

- Not Sa No Sa (The Day The World Stood Still)
- Dusk (Dusk)
- Artemis - an original by Hall commissioned for the event.
- Dedication (Point of Departure)
- Noontide (Passing Ships)
- Catfish (Invitation) - possibly..... I may have mis-heard him announce it
- Ode To Von (Smokestack)
- Spectrum (Point of Departure)
- Symmetry (Andrew!!!)

Hall has assembled a fine group, with a nice mix of musical personalities to play the challenges of Hill's  material. Hopefully they have more opportunities to get the music out there.

My listenings have been pretty much limited to Point of Departure, Black Fire, Time Lines, Dusk and Joe Henderson's Our Thing. It's been a while since I have listened Hill, perhaps it's time to revisit them?

Great to see a big crowd too - plenty in the seats and on the lawn. Let's hope it encourages people to get out to more live music.

They don't look that pleased but the music hadn't started yet

Monday, August 12, 2013

Notebook 2: One Free Note

Here's part two from the Notebook Series (Part one is here).  

This exercise was part of my lessons with Richard Tabnik. What struck me was the simplicity, fun, and effectiveness of Richard's ideas.
Symphony for Jazz Trio
He introduced this exercise to me when we started working on free improvisation. It most definitely had a flow on effect when I played tunes too - loosening and opening up the lines I played. 

Over the years I have worked on it by myself, with friends (great for duos), used it as a daily warm up, and applied it to tunes (this is something I want to do more of). 

Start with a single note. Hear and feel the note. Play the note - it can be loud, quiet, long or short - whatever you feel in the moment.

Relax, breathe, listen and play your next free note.

The note is what it is in that moment - don't aim to control it. Let it be free. Listen to it as you play. 

Stay playing single notes until it feels right to move on to two notes - Don't rush, take your time.

Now's the time for two free notes. The process is the same. Play the note you hear in the moment, listen to that note and then play your second free note

Hear and feel the note-to-note connection between the two notes!

Relax, breathe and listen before moving onto your next two free notes. It becomes quite meditative.

Again, continue until it feels right to move on to three free notes. And so it goes on through up to seven free notes - phrased in one breathe with rhythm, articulations, dynamics, tempo etc as you feel them in the moment.

Once you spend some time playing seven free notes it feels quite natural to move into free phrases - these do not need to be more than 7 notes (they can be though).  Approach the free phrases the same way as you have the 1-7 notes groupings.  Relax, breathe, listen and then play a free phrase - repeat.

Working your way back down from free phrases to seven free notes all the way back to one free note can be a blast. How does playing one free note differ now to when you started?

Find someone to trade free notes with - this is a blast. I have done this with a couple of friends, working from one note up to free phrases. Just simply trade notes - you play one free note, they play one free note etc. Eventually one player will change to two free notes, then three free notes and so on.

As I said earlier, this was passed onto me by Richard Tabnik - a wonderful alto player. Be sure to check out his music. His latest recording is Symphony for Jazz Trio (New Artists Records 2012) with Adam Lane (b) and Roger Mancuso (d) - a 2CD set featuring live and studio recordings of his three movement work "A Prayer For Peace" (plus half a dozen other pieces too).  His work and teaching have had a profound impact on me - Thanks Richard!! 

Here's the original notebook page typed up.
* One Free Note (RT) *
  • Play It => 1 note! (could it be any easier?)
  • Hear It
  • Feel It
  • Long, Short, Slow, Fast
  • FF, pp
  • Free It
  • Sing It
  • ! Be Relaxed !
  • 2 Free Notes, 3, 4, 5 etc (up to 7)
  • One Free Phrase (hear it, feel it)
  • Another
  • Another
+ Great to play/trade with another person/other people
+ Try it when playing a session/on a tune
+ By the time you have done 7 free notes for a while, Free Phrases will naturally flow - trade Free Phrases with someone.
+ After playing 1, 2, 3 etc Free Notes after Free Phrases work backwards... Free, 7, 6, 5 etc to 1 - it's quite a different feeling.

Friday, August 09, 2013

Quicksand - Spectral Reflections - Dizzy

Lately, Frank Gratkowski has been on the playlist. I find myself listening to his music in blocks - spend a week or two listening to a few of his albums and then take a break.

First up is his trio disc Quicksand (Miniscus 1999) Gratkowski (as/clr/b.clr) George Graewe (p) Paul Lovens (d/singing saw).
I bought this album late last year and it had been a good four or five months since I had last listened to it.
I am always amazed by the variety of sounds Frank can bring out of his horns, but usually the thing I enjoy most is his line playing - "Green Fuse"  has some nice alto lines with Graewe's piano playing likewise and Loven's drums interjecting and implying various pulses.
The energy is ramped up until the lines lead to breaking point. Things drop down with piano and drums moving into a lengthy duet with clarinet joining them in to round out the piece. The playing and interaction throughout the set is on a high level. For the most part this is fairly high energy free improvisation, but there is enough variety to keep things interesting. The music breathes and is nicely paced. Very nice sounding live recording too.
I find the length of the album refreshing - 44 minutes.

Frank Gratkowski Quartet - Spectral Reflections (Leo 2001)
Gratkowski (as/clr/contrabass clr) Wolter Wierbos (trb) Gerry Hemingway (d) Dieter Manderscheid (b)
The quartet covers a lot of ground over the six tracks - Abstraction ("Blonk"), Swing ("Annaherungem III"), Ballad ("Fenster"), Rhythmic intensity & full throttle blowing ("Loom"), Mysteriousness ("Spectral Reflections"). "Homage" combines many of the above - starting as a haunting ballad with arco bass and angular clarinet, adding vocalized sounds from trombone and minimalist textural playing from drums that gradually become more rhythmic. The trombone and clarinet move into a pointed dialogue with sparse accompaniment that gradually builds into full on swing from the rhythm section while the horns team up and dance on top. They then get a bit a solo space - with some particularly potent clarinet playing - before things drop back down and the piece wraps up with trombone and clarinet. I have heard a fair bit from the individuals in this group but haven't heard much of this quartet - time that changed I say. I would like to hear in concert.
Last December, Leo Records released a new album from the quartet - "La Vent Et La Gorge" I am yet to hear it.

Dizzy Gillespie's early years have had bit of a run over the last few days.
His first solo on record - "King Porter Stomp" from 1937 with the Teddy Hill Orchestra. "Pickin' The Cabbage" from 1940 with Cab Calloway & His Orchestra - was this his first recorded composition?
Coleman Hawkins 1944 recording of Gillespie's "Woody 'n' You" with Dizzy alongside other key players of the new music... Oscar Pettiford (b) and Max Roach (d).
"Blowing The Blues Away" from 1945 as part of Billy Eckstine's Big Band - Dizzy follows some extensive trading between the tenors of Dexter Gordon and Gene Ammons.
Then it was on to some his early work as a leader - sextet sessions from 1945 including "Groovin' High" & "Blue 'n' Boogie" (this was the first Dexter Gordon recording I heard) and the session from a couple of weeks later (this time with Charlie Parker) "Dizzy Atmosphere" & "Groovin' High." 

Town Hall, NYC, June 22 1945 (Uptown 2005)
Charlie Parker (as) Dizzy Gillespie (trpt) Al Haig (p) Curly Russell (b) Max Roach (d) Sid Catlett (d)... sits in on the last couple of tunes (a great contrast between the drum generations) Don Byas (ts)... fills in during the first tune until Bird arrives to much applause from the audience (seems he was gaining a loyal following).
A historically important and great sounding live recording - burning through classic repertoire - "Bebop", "A Night In Tunisia", "Groovin' High", "Salt Peanuts", "Hot House."
Each time I listen to this album I always ask "Why haven't I listened to this more?" If you haven't already, be sure to check it out.

The announcements from Symphony Sid Torin are cringe worthy, though they do fill in a few details and give some context to the time.
Diz and Bird played appeared at the Town Hall the previous month - is there another discovery for fans in the future?

I finished things off with some of classics from Dizzy's Big Band"Manteca" and George Russell's  "Cubano Be" & "Cubano Bop."