Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Myra Cures the Summer Doldrums

The flood of new releases has dwindled to a trickle--appropriate for our drought-stricken state, I suppose.  But thankfully, Myra Melford is offering to quench our collective thirst with a series of videos from her spring residency at the Stone.  She's releasing them at the rate of one per week.  Here's an introduction:


And here she is with drummer Allison Miller:

And with flutist Nicole Mitchell and drummer Tyshawn Sorey:

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

News of Past Guests, May-June 2015 Edition

Remember that terrific new Dafnis Prieto Sextet album we told you about? The New York Times' Ben Ratliff likes it a lot, as does Kevin Whitehead, who reviewed it on NPR's Fresh Air:

Several days later, Anat Cohen's cover of the Flying Lotus tune "Putty Boy Strut" wound up on NPR Music's "Songs We Love" feature.

And then, to complete the NPR-RJA Trifecta, who should show up on NPR's Tiny Desk Concert but big-shot pianist Vijay Iyer and his trio:



(Iyer also appeared on NPR's Jazz Night in America, in a set broadcast from New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Some guys get all the good gigs!)

Brand-New Releases Dept.: David Berkman returns to his old label Palmetto with a sextet that includes bassist Linda Oh and drummer Brian Blade, performing his first studio collection of new originals in over a decade. It's called Old Friends and New Friends. Listen to one track here and another below:



Drummer Antonio Sanchez returns with a double-album of trio music, Three Times Three, and his trio-mates include pianist Brad Mehldau, guitarist John Scofield, saxophonist Joe Lovano, and bassists Matt Brewer, Christian McBride, and John Patitucci.  Liner notes and track samples at the CamJazz label website; cover story in the July issue of DownBeat; and (okay--I guess this makes it the NPR quad-fecta) All Things Considered story right here:


And our old friend Scott Amendola brings out a recording of his orchestral work Fade to Orange, commissioned by the Oakland Symphony, built around his trio (with Trevor Dunn and Nels Cline) and performed back in 2010.  You can order it at Scott's online store.  Here's the EPK:


And finally (for now), a slew of upcoming albums.  First, John Hollenbeck's sequel to Songs I Like a Lot, entitled--pay close attention now--Songs We Like a Lot:

Canada Day vibraphonist Chris Dingman's The Subliminal and the Sublime:

And Dave Douglas's foray into electronica, High Risk (there's also a video EPK):

Then, a trio of albums on the British label Whirlwind. Here's the title track from the debut album by guitarist Matthew Stevens (Linda Oh's Sun Pictures):

Pianist Ivo Neame (Phronesis) has a new one called Strata:

And Joel Harrison's Spirit House went into Fantasy Studios in Berkeley just days after they visited Arcata back in April 2013. Here's a sample of the results:

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

News of Past Guests, April 2015 Edition

Don't let anybody tell you Sheila Jordan is yesterday's news.  Here's The New Yorker's preview of her weeklong run with the Steve Kuhn Trio at Birdland at the start of April, from "Goings On About Town":
An acolyte and friend of Charlie Parker, the singer Jordan absorbed bebop from the source, but she's also a committed modernist whose style has evolved with the ensuing decades. One of the key collaborators who assisted Jordan in her artistic growth is the equally inventive pianist Kuhn, who leads the trio supporting her at Birdland this week.
(Cameron Brown is the longtime bassist in that trio, by the way.)

A few years ago, Dave Douglas and Joe Lovano teamed up to start a band, "Sound Prints," devoted to music inspired by the legendary Wayne Shorter.  (The quintet also includes pianist Lawrence Fields, bassist Linda Oh, and drummer Joey Baron.) They've finally committed that project to wax--er, bits--in the form of an album for Blue Note recorded live at the Monterey Jazz Festival.  Here's a taste:



Hey--remember how, last time, we told you about Myra Melford's new band/project/album, Snowy Egret? On April 11th, she talked about it with Arun Rath on the weekend edition of All Things Considered:


And remember how we also gave you a preview of the Dafnis Prieto Sextet's new album? Now you can buy it--at Amazon, on iTunes, or at CDBaby.  And here's the video EPK, together with a studio performance of one of the album's strongest tracks, "Blah Blah":




Saturday, March 21, 2015

News of Past Guests, Spring Supplement


Too many things going on for one (March) blog post, it being the season of renewal and rebirth and all.
First: our old friend Myra Melford is only the latest RJA alum to be asked to program a week's worth of shows at John Zorn's performance space The Stone, a tiny venue of outsize prestige on Manhattan's Lower East Side.  Call it a mid-career retrospective: duets with Allison Miller, Ben Goldberg, and Marty Ehrlich.  Reunions of her 90s Trio, her Crush Quartet, The Same River, Twice (her quintet with Dave Douglas), and the Be Bread Sextet. And a release party for her newest CD, whose name, like the group that plays on it, is "Snowy Egret" (Ron Miles, cornet; Liberty Ellman, guitar; Stomu Takeishi, bass guitar; and Ted Poor sitting in for Tyshawn Sorey on drums).  Man, we wish we could be there!  Consolation: two tracks from the new album--"The Strawberry" and "Language"--are streaming at Fully Altered Media.




Next RJA vets at The Stone, by the way: weeklong residencies by Scott Amendola and Ben Goldberg in April.

Speaking of Ben Goldberg: he, too, has a new album out--a recording of Orphic Machine, a song cycle commissioned several years ago by Chamber Music America and the Jewish Music Festival. The players include lots of old friends, starting with...Myra Melford and Ron Miles, plus David Breskin, Greg Cohen, Nels Cline, Carla Kihlstedt, Ches Smith, Rob Sudduth, and Kenny Wollesen.  Check out "Line of Less Than Ten" and "Care," also courtesy of Fully Altered Media. Here's a video on the making the album:



And here's "Care" performed live at Freight & Salvage in Berkeley in 2012:


(Details: Ben Goldberg's Orphic Machine "Care" from Black Parrot Productions on Vimeo)

And speaking of publicists and streaming: the set by Dafnis Prieto's Sextet (say that three times fast!) at the Zinc Bar may be the best thing we heard at this year's WinterJazzFest in New York. Thanks to Two for the Show Media, you can preview the group's new album, Triangles and Circles, in its entirety:



Other new albums: saxophonist Tony Malaby (Ralph Alessi's This Against That, Chris Lightcap's Bigmouth) has a new one, Scorpion Eater, with a new quartet, Tubacello. (Sitting in the quartet's drum chair: John Hollenbeck.) Kevin Whitehead reviewed it for NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross:



(If you're a Spotify sort of person, you can preview the whole album at Clean Feed's website.) Also: saxophonist Donny McCaslin has a new one, Fast Future, with an old quartet--or at least the same one that played on his last album, the superfunked-up Casting for Gravity. Hear the title track and order the album at Greenleaf Music's Bandcamp Store, and hear Donny talk about making it with Dave Douglas on the Noise from the Deep podcast.

Finally (for now): Anat Cohen, whose new album we told you about last time, appears on NPR's Jazz Night in America with her band Choro Aventuroso on Wednesday, April 1 (no foolin'!).  And Uri Caine was at New York's newest jazz club, Mezzrow, recently, playing a duet with bassist Mark Helias. The club, started by Small's impresario Spike Willner, specializes in piano-bass duos. Here's the evidence (thanks to Karen for the tip!):


Saturday, February 28, 2015

News of Past Guests, March 2015

It's been awhile.  So without any further ado:

Antonio Sanchez's arresting score for the Oscar-winning Birdman was disqualified--on an ill-conceived technicality--from consideration for a well-deserved award.  Still, you can buy a copy of the score for yourself and appreciate it all you like.



In better news: the results of the 2014 Expanded Jazz Times Critics Poll came out in the March 2015 issue, and who should we find at the top of the list?  Best New Artist: Melissa Aldana.  Artist of the Year: Miguel Zenón.  Farther down: Best trumpeter: Ambrose Akinmusire.  Tenor Sax: Mark Turner.  Alto Sax: Miguel Zenón again.  Clarinet: Anat Cohen.  Violin: Regina Carter.  Drums: Brian Blade (Joel Harrison).  Female Vocalist: Cécile McLorin Salvant.  Podcast: A Noise From the Deep with Dave Douglas.  We'll try not to break our arms patting our own backs--but you gotta admit, we do know how to pick 'em.

And elsewhere:

Joel Harrison, who organized the Alt Guitar Summit in New York in February, speaks with guitar god Nels Cline on the latest episode of his podcast, Say What You Mean.

Also in February, René Marie was Michael Feinstein's guest on NPR's Song Travels, performing duets with Michael and talking about Eartha Kitt.

On March 4, Anat Cohen performed on NPR's Jazz Night in America with her group Choro Aventuroso, which plays the improvisatory Afro-Brazilian instrumental music known as "choro." You can stream that program by following the link above, and you can order the band's new album, Luminosa, at the Anzic Records Bandcamp store (and preview three tracks from the album right here):



And speaking of new albums, trumpeter Eddie Henderson (The Cookers) and The Vijay Iyer Trio both have new releases.  (The New York Times says Iyer's album, Break Stuff, "confirms his stature in jazz's contemporary vanguard, along with the dynamic excellence of his working trio.") The new incarnation of Harris Eisenstadt's "Golden State" features Trio M's Mark Dresser and Humboldt's own Michael Moore on Golden State II (you can stream two tracks and download one at the Songlines Records website.) Dafnis Prieto's Sextet--who played maybe the most exciting set we heard at this year's WinterJazzFest in New York--has some terrific new tunes on Triangles and CirclesAnd guitarist Rez Abbasi, the subject of a feature in the March issue of DownBeat, has a fantastic new record with his Acoustic Quartet. With a nod to the late, great Bill Dixon, he entitled it Intents and Purposes. It's available from all the usual suspects: iTunes, Amazon, eMusic, etc.--and, if you're an audiophile, at HD download sites like Pro Studio Masters and Qobuz. Here's the Video EPK:



Chris Lightcap's Bigmouth just released Epicenter on the always hip Clean Feed label.  The title track and two others are available for streaming:





Finally, to our great shame, we never got around to plugging what was probably our favorite album of 2014, Michael Blake's brilliant, swinging tribute to Hawk & Prez, Tiddy Boom:


Monday, January 5, 2015

Michael Quam, one of our founding members of the RJA, has this to say about the year 2014 and jazz:



My Favorite Jazz CDs of 2014 (Michael Quam)

It’s that time of year, basically November through January, when people are publishing their “best of” lists.  I can’t say which were the best jazz CDs of 2014, since I’m keenly aware that I didn’t hear many fine recordings.  But I can say which ones I found most compelling.

Because of publishing deadlines, many of the “best of” lists in the jazz press included recordings from late 2013.  So, I’m going to begin my list with A Trumpet in the Morning (New World Records 2013) by Marty Ehrlich’s Large Ensemble.  This work involving 24 musicians is brilliantly conceived and performed with dramatic orchestral passages and impassioned solos.  The title track is a concerto for J.D. Parran who narrates Arthur Brown’s poem and plays both soprano and bass saxophones.

Felipe Salles’s Uganda Suite (Tapestry) employs an octet for this five-movement work.  Each movement is named for and creates a musical image of one of the iconic wild animals of East Africa (buffalo, elephant, leopard, rhinoceros, and lion).  Salles is a fine soloist on reeds, and has invited Dave Liebman to join him in this recording.  His traditional quartet is augmented by African musicians playing indigenous instruments and percussion.  The music is often thrilling.

One of the tracks on Floating by the Fred Hersch Trio is titled “Arcata.”  Hersch composed this number after he performed here in November 2013.  It’s a lovely piece, as are all the other tracks of this elegant and lively performance.  Once again, the trio with John Hebert on bass and Eric McPherson on drums, is a perfect example of jazz as a creative conversation.

Chicago is home to some of our finest jazz vocalists, for example, Patricia Barber and Kurt Elling.  Add to that list the wonderful Dee Alexander, with her rich alto and her deep sense of rhythm and nuance.  We’ve waited five years since her last album, but now we have Songs My Mother Loves (Blujazz), and her mother has impeccable taste: along with several beautiful standards, her selections include songs by Julian Priester and Tommy Turrentine, Junior Mance, Billie Holiday, Max Roach and Abbie Lincoln, and Juan Tizol.  Alexander can shape a song and improvise with the best, and her band is the finest of mainstream Chicago jazz musicians.

Ever since his Lucky Thompson project, it’s been clear that Michael Blake has a deep respect for the giants of the tenor sax.  His latest, Tiddy Boom (Sunnyside), is a tribute to Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young (with a nod to Wardell Grey).  He’s put together a quartet of terrific New York downtowners: Frank Kimbrough on piano, Ben Allison on bass, and Rudy Royston on drums.  And his compositions are not retro imitations, but engaging tunes that bring the contemporary spirit of those tenor sax ancestors to life.

Each year trumpeter Tom Harrell issues an album, usually of original compositions played with great elan.  And each year that record makes it onto many “best of” lists.  This year was no exception.  Trip (High Note) is unusual for Harrell, his first without a pianist.  The addition of Mark Turner on tenor is a strong element in the quartet’s sound.  At the center of the CD is a six-part suite based loosely on a Don Quixote theme.  Harrell sounds amazing, as usual.

My favorite big band album of the year is Mother’s Touch by Orrin Evans’ Captain Black Big Band (Posi-Tone).  From track to track, burners and ballads, the band is a high energy machine propelling the soloists (especially Tatum Greenblatt on trumpet, Stacy Dillard on tenor, and Evans himself on piano) to new heights.  Of special note: the closing track “Prayer for Columbine.”

As more young jazz musicians from the Caribbean come to the States, we are experiencing a revolution in what “Latin jazz” can be.  Cuban pianist David Virelles’s new record Mbókò: Sacred Music for Piano, Two Basses, Drum Set and Biankoméko Abakuá (ECM) is a celebration and imagining of Abakuá, “a magic-religious male initiation society in Cuba, based on a West African ethnolinguistic identity and its emblematic masked dance performance.”  Even without this background, the music itself, especially Virelles’ remarkable piano work, is riveting, highly charged and mysterious.

Another example of the forms Cuban influence can take in the American jazz setting is The Invasion Parade (Mack Avenue) by Alfredo Rodriguez.  Rodriguez on keyboards is joined by bright stars like Esperanza Spalding, Pedrito Martinez, Henry Cole and Roman Filiu.  You may recognize several of the tunes, standards in Latin jazz, but Rodriguez has found fascinating reharmonizations.  The Latin feel is still rhythmically powerful.

Trio 3 (old lions Oliver Lake on alto, Reggie Workman on bass, Andrew Cyrille on drums) has been recording and performing together for quite some time.  In the last few years, they’ve been inviting guest pianists to record with them, notably Geri Allen and Jason Moran.  Their latest is called Wiring (Intakt) by Trio 3 + Vijay Iyer.  As one might expect, there’s some free blowing, but also some very moving ballad work.  Iyer plays on all tracks and contributes four compositions, most notably his three part “Suite for Trayvon (and Thousands More).”

Although the roots of jazz remain American, as creative improvised music it has become an international art form.  Some of my favorite European jazz musicians are Italians, and trumpeter Paolo Fresu is high on my list.  He plays in a variety of settings, but his quartet has been together for thirty years (hard to believe—they seem like such young guys), and this year they issued a CD called 30 (Bonsaï) which is an excellent example of their musical rapport and the range of their compositional skills.  Every member of the quartet contributes at least two numbers, and their spirited performance is delightful.

This past year I had the pleasure of discovering a new European jazz group, the Matthias Tschopp Quartet.  This Swiss band has released their first album, Plays Miro (Unit Records), nine Tschopp compositions inspired by specific paintings by Joan Miro.  Tschopp on baritone sax is clearly the leader, but he gets fine support from his rhythm section, and the pieces are inventive and evoke the images of the paintings’ titles.

The “best of” lists sometimes include historic reissues.  I haven’t heard most of those that appeared this year, but one caught my attention, and I’m glad I bought it: The Giant Is Awakened (Flying Dutchman) by the Horace Tapscott Quintet.  Horace Tapscott was a legendary jazz pianist who eschewed fame in New York to remain in South L.A. leading community jazz groups and developing young musicians.  This recording was first issued in 1969 as an LP, and then disappeared.  The quintet has two bassists, a drummer, and a young Arthur Blythe on alto.  They’re playing Tapscott’s compositions, and the music is as fresh as if it were recorded just yesterday.







Monday, December 15, 2014

OPTT (Other Peoples' Top Ten) for 2014

For the first time in a long time, we're not publishing our favorite recordings of the past year. (No external incentive. Come back, Bob Doran!) But we can point you towards plenty of other people who have done--and we can promise you that there's significant overlap between their faves and ours. We can also promise you that past and future RJA guests are well represented on almost every list.

More lists appear on the interwebs every day (expected soon: The [London] Guardian, KQED), and we'll add 'em as we see 'em.