Friday, March 27, 2015

Eugene Marlow's Heritage Ensemble Reimagines Popular Hebraic Melodies, Mosaica

You have to hand it to pianist-arranger-bandleader Eugene Marlow and his Heritage Ensemble. He takes Hebraic folkways and makes them into vibrant modern jazz. Who else could breathe real life into "Hava Nagila" the way he does and then let the band scorch it with a Latin fire? Well, the list would be small. Eugene Marlow is at the top. His Heritage Ensemble comes at us again on Mosaica, subtitled Marlow's Heritage Ensemble Reimagines Popular Hebraic Melodies (ME II Enterprises).

The band is as strong as ever with Eugene taking a central role in the piano chair, the ever-buoyant Bobby Sanabria playing his usual key part as the Latin sparkplug on drums and percussion, Michael Hashim a blazing presence on soprano and alto, Frank Wagner on acoustic and electric bass, Matthew Gonzalez on percussion and special guest Shira Lissek on vocals, sounding great.

The material many will recognize if they have grown up in a Jewish neighborhood and/or of course are Jewish themselves. But this is music that goes well-beyond the local to make universal significance out of it all. Then again, of course the local done well is but an instance of the universal in action. No matter. The point is that Eugene's pianism and arranging brilliance and the band's vivid talent and heat make for music EVERYBODY should hear.

Then also all should remember the horrors of Kristallnacht as a cautionary tale, something that must not happen again on whatever terms. The final piece is a heartfelt tribute to those who suffered the horrors of that night.

This is masterful. This is exciting music. The Doctor is in the house!! Don't miss it.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Fortuna / Goldsbury / Minchello / Grassi, the Last of the Beboppers

I get to hear albums these days that in the days when I had money to spend I would probably never have considered. A nice example is The Last of the Beboppers (FM 018) by Maciej Fortuna (trumpet), Mack Goldsbury (tenor sax), Mark Minchello (organ) and Lou Grassi (drums). The album features an original or two by each plus an arrangement of Bach's "Minuet in G."

It's straight-ahead all the way on this one. The compositions serve up a hard-bop stew and the players all gather their own expressive means to realize music in the tradition but originally so. Goldsbury has fire and brimstone in his tenor, Fortuna plays a hard but lyrical trumpet, Minchello gives us the Hammond sound updated and Lou Grassi drums with conviction. I've never heard Lou in this context but he sounds very comfortable and inventive, as do the others.

Do we need more straight-ahead jazz? Not just for its own sake. But when it comes across sincerely and clearly and there is something original in all they do, it is welcome. I am glad to have it and hear it.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Harris Eisenstadt, Golden State II

Harris Eisenstadt is a unique voice on the modern jazz scene. He is a composer of sophisticated smarts, a bandleader who knows how to bring out the unique qualities of the players he gathers about him, and a drummer who has his own way.

Golden State II (Songlines 1610-2) is a second volume of small group performances recorded live in 2014 at the Vancouver International Jazz Festival. The combination of five quirkily interesting avant compositions and the unique instrumentation of Michael Moore, clarinet, Sara Schoenbeck on bassoon, Mark Dresser on bass and Harris on drums gives the music a timbral openness which with the improvisational personalities of the individuals of the quartet make for a singularity we can appreciate.

There is a jazz heat and a new music explorative bent which combine in ways that define the Eisenstadt style. It is music of an obvious seriousness yet there is also a sort of post-Braxtonian sense of humor one must hear to appreciate.

And all four players give us their personal profiles in ways that evoke Duke Ellington's ability to fashion music well-suited for the individualities of his players.

It all comes together in ways that make you grow into the music steadily as you listen. Make no mistake, Eisenstadt writes some excellent ensemble jazz and the quartet comes through vividly.

Highly recommended.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Giovanni di Domenico, Alexandra Grimal, Chergui

I won't say there will be a time when I "know it all." Doing these reviews can be a humbling experience because there are so many excellent players-artists out there that I would probably know nothing about unless otherwise exposed, thanks to the labels and artists who send their work. And each has a musical world, some are very unexpected, some familiar, some in between.

An excellent example is the duo of Giovanni di Domenico and Alexandra Grimal and their 2-CD set Chergui (Ayler 141-142). I reviewed something with Giovanni on it a while ago. This is my first brush with the duo.

Alexandra is on soprano and tenor sax; Giovanni plays piano. These are compositional-free pieces, most written by di Domenico, one a collaboration, and a few by Ms. Grimal. Most are for the two together; a few are solo showcases for each artist.

The music has jazz inflections but in many ways is in a new music zone that reflects modern avant classical without necessarily embracing it. It is the "in betweenness" that sets the music off in part as exceptional. That and the fully formed qualities of the playing.

It is music to listen to closely--not background music in any sense. And the more you listen, the more there is to appreciate. There is much that is atmospheric; all has spirit but it is not a "blowing session" so much as it is a carefully thought-out articulation of musical worlds.

I must say this set impresses me greatly. If you are looking for the new and the very good-excellent, this set is that! Listen and ye shall be rewarded.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Matt Criscuolo, Headin' Out

Matt Criscuolo has been an up-and-coming sax man for a number of years. I've reviewed his albums on Cadence and here I believe. With his new Headin' Out (Jazzeria Records Matt 2014) it's fair to say that he is now there-and-going. The comparison isn't quite right but on alto he manages to capture mature Cannonball and Johnny Hodges. Again, that isn't quite true, but there is something older and something newer that he channels into Criscuoloism. The band is hot. Matt blazes forth with his alto, Tony Purrone plays a hell of a guitar, and Preston Murphy on bass and Ed Soph on drums swing like crazy.

There are good originals by Matt, one by Tony, and the not often-played standards "Little Niles' by the great Randy Weston, "Sippin at Bells" by early Miles (in a nice arrangement), and Billy Strayhorn's perennial "A Flower is a Lovesome Thing."

This is bop and after blazing with everybody in gear. Matt comes across with a sureness and that oddly old-newness. Tony has chops to spare, know...swinging is the order of the day.

This one has that something strong that puts you in its pocket and keeps you there.

Matt is now an official heavy! Nice record!

Friday, March 13, 2015

Tony Malaby Tamarindo with William Parker and Nasheet Waits, Somos Agua

In the hubbub of new music I am exposed to daily I sometimes take a little bit to realize the full stature of an artist. That has been true of Tony Malaby, soprano and tenor saxophonist extraordinaire. Although I have appreciated (and reviewed) a fair amount of his music, the cumulative impact of his recent output only hits me now. He is a player to be reckoned with, an avant jazz voice of importance and originality.

The latest album has given me that boost over the wall into real recognition. It is Malaby and Tamarindo. The album is entitled Somos Agua (Clean Feed 304).

The trio setting is an especially good one. New York's premiere avant bassist William Parker gives the trio a vibrant front-line presence and distinctively inventive rhythm teammate to the ever articulate drummer Nasheet Waits. Tony Malaby floats atop this formidable partnership in free-flowing focus, timbral color and hip lining.

This is a free date that has strong connections to the jazz lineage and an articulate dialogue that flows and overflows with a kind of open clarity you don't often get. These are three of the masters of modern improvisation so that should not surprise. But they are also very primed to high expression throughout the session.

There are no lulls, no preliminary gropeings. They get to it straight off and stay right in there.

Excellent performances from some of the very best! Needless to say that makes this one pretty indispensable.


Thursday, March 12, 2015

Matt Bauder and Day in Pictures, Nightshades

Tenor-man Matt Bauder is one of those jazz artists that sneaks up on you. Before you know it he is doing something great. And then you look back and realize he's been doing that an awful lot. This once again is true--of his quintet "Day in Pictures" date Nightshades (Clean Feed 289). It's a group of heavies in Matt, Nate Wooley on trumpet, Kris Davis on piano, Jason Ajemian on double bass and Tomas Fujiwara on drums. Each brings with her/him his/her own way, as anyone who follows the scene will know.

And then from the first number, "Octavia Minor," there is that hip Blue Note-Impulse-new-thing period sound in the tunes, with just enough structure and melodic suggestiveness to set the tone for what amount of looseness and what amount of tightness follows in the solos. That's pretty much true across the board.

The head compositions do what they do like that and at the same time stay in your head. And these players respond to the implications of each piece with excellent work, individual expressions of the best sort of jazz kind.

This is the sort of music, I think, that is beyond a time period and into a permanence of hipness. I believe this album will still sound good in 50 years, and would have sounded good 50 years ago, too.

Listen to Matt give us his testimony on the tenor. It's very together. But everybody is that--a very well-matched five-some.

I won't say more of the place of this album in some grand scheme, because who am I to say what people will single out in 50 years? For me, right now, this is music I am very glad to hear. It is the jazz of the right-captured-moments. And so it hits me on top of the head with the command to "listen"! And the more I do, the better I feel about the music.

Don't let this one slip past you. It has that something all excellent modern sessions should have. The solid sending plus the unexpected twists and turns of the creative approach and lots of talent.