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Raul Midón certainly does things his own way.
Originally from the Land Of Enchantment — New Mexico — Midón began his remarkable career in the late '90s by cultivating his own recipe of jazz, rock, flamenco, and more into an experimental joy ride, which has seen him shred, pound, clap, and croon his way into a one-man-band.
His efforts landed him on "The Late Show With David Letterman" in 2006 in support of his major label debut album, State Of Mind. Eight studio albums later, Midón began work on the album that would earn him his first GRAMMY nomination, 2017's Bad A** And Blind, a project aptly named for its creator (and a title endorsed by soul singing legend Bill Withers) given the musically adept Midón has been blind since birth.
But Midón's inventiveness and tenacity have shaped his artistic vision that sees beyond the lines and notes of traditional music. And while his nod for Bad A** And Blind comes in the Best Jazz Vocal Album category, his music continues to resist the boundaries of classification and instead strives for something more simultaneously direct and universal.
"Like with all my records, this album is for those who are interested in going beyond notions of genre," Midón said. "It's for listeners with open ears, open minds, open hearts."
The drive to push beyond the notions of genre has led Midón down an experimental path, throwing harmony and melody into the blender and throwing the standard cookbook out the window, experimenting with various modes, psychedelic textures and adventurous techniques.
“As a listener, you don't need to know anything about the Phrygian or Dorian modes to get this music," Midón said. "It just sounds different, intriguing, exotic.”
The musical polymath shared with us that when he found out about his first career GRAMMY nomination, he was "in the basement working" when his wife called with the good news. Midón thought it was a mistake at first — but it was true. Nearly two decades into his career, his vision and dedication to his art have put him in the running for music's highest honor on Music's Biggest Night.
Read the full piece from: Grammy.com
John Beasley gets his best ideas using two tools: his iPhone and a pair of walking shoes.
Both were essential while composing his Grammy-nominated album “MONK’estra, Vol. 2” (Mack Avenue), a second volume of new works that reimagine Thelonious Monk melodies within a big band setting. Beasley, a pianist, conductor and arranger as well as composer, would take breaks to take long walks. Suddenly, a song’s complete architecture would appear, which he would sing into his phone to transcribe later.
“Once I’d input it in, it would lead to another rabbit hole,” he said, laughing. Thanks to his live band, the experimental process had grounding. Beasley found himself writing for specific musicians, which would then give him the opportunity to hear playback immediately. The project evolved into a time machine that collected ideas born more than 60 years ago with those that hint at other flavors: Afro-Cuban rhythms, hip-hop, New Orleans funk. (Beasley’s Monk’estra with special guest Grégoire Maret on harmonica appears at Orchestra Hall for an SCP Jazz concert Jan. 26; opening is tenor saxophonist Melissa Aldana.)
Beasley’s MONK’estra project is ambitious. It involves a 16-piece big band, plus numerous special guests: tenor saxophonist Kamasi Washington, singer Dianne Reeves, jazz violinist Regina Carter, trumpeter Dontae Winslow, among others. They serve as dynamic instruments to help recast Monk melodies away from their original bebop framework to new and often unexpected territories. The first volume, released in 2016, was also Grammy-nominated; the current set is up for best large jazz ensemble and best arrangement awards.
Beasley says Monk’s music lends itself to such playfulness because “he harmonically leans toward the 20th century.” “His music is very pliable as well as audacious and playful, so it sets up a template to be able to incorporate contemporary rhythms that combine with that 20th-century harmony.”
Even though he didn’t intend it, he acknowledges that both MONK’estra volumes also serve as ways to introduce young people to Monk’s work. The genre-flipping is a natural fit for a generation used to swiping through decades of music on their phone. “Young people are doing the same thing they’ve always done, having one foot forward and one foot in the past,” he said.
Beasley, 57, has the credentials to dabble with a late master’s works. His resume includes stints with several other jazz icons: as a keyboardist for Freddie Hubbard and Miles Davis, as well as Sergio Mendes, Herbie Hancock, Chaka Khan, Steely Dan and many others. His year-long stint with Davis came when Beasley was only 28. He recalls being floored at the dedication Davis showed toward every manner of his work, even at such a late stage in his career.
“We would be on the road, and he would listen to every concert off a board tape every night and have comments for everybody. He would keep tweaking it,” Beasley said. “In hotel room, he would be painting a canvas on the floor and then go to his couch and practice his trumpet. He would talk to valet about designing clothes. It seemed to be constant art all the time.”
Beasley understands the allure of being pulled in different directions. Besides his jazz credentials, he also is a successful film composer and performer (the James Bond films “Spectre” and “Skyfall” as well as “Finding Dory,” among others), and music director for such pop franchises as “American Idol.”
The Monk project remains his standing passion. Besides the Chicago performance, he will debut a cinematic presentation of the music at Walt Disney Hall in Los Angeles on March 9, which will feature archival footage of Monk himself “playing” alongside the band.
His Chicago performance will have a set list but he is open to “scorching it,” depending on the crowd. “I know it’s a symphony hall, but I hope people will get up and shake their booty a little bit and clap along,” he said. “I love that.”
Read the full piece from: CSO
The irreproachably hip, fiendishly virtuosic Cécile McLorin Salvant continues her one-woman revitalization of the once-grand vocal-jazz tradition with another fine showcase for her savvy and adventurous approach to both song selection and interpretation. Dreams And Daggers is at once a step forward and something of a victory lap for the fêted chanteuse: It’s a double album, but that’s less a signal of expanding ambitions than an opportunity for Salvant—and, especially, her top-flight backing trio—to stretch out over an eclectic set of standards, nearly all of it recorded live at the Village Vanguard. The erudite curation favors Salvant’s well-established modes: ribald and/or proto-feminist pre-war blues; smirking takes on outmoded would-be kitsch (“If A Girl Isn’t Pretty”); sprightly romps by folks like Berlin, Dorough and Loesser; lesser-heard ballads; fascinating artifacts like Kurt Weill/Langston Hughes aria “Somehow I Never Could Believe.” She makes it all her playground, offering sometimes acrobatic but always sensitive readings. Regrettably, Salvant’s own compositions—often the poetically affecting highlights of previous albums—take a backseat, limited to a handful of brief, haunting vignettes (with gorgeous string arrangements) interspersed throughout, which suggest a variety of themes (desire, uncertainty, gender, race) without quite elucidating them.
Read the full piece from: Magnet Magazine
If Cameron Graves played electric guitar instead of piano, his debut solo album, Planetary Prince, would be a heavy-metal record. Graves’ playing style is most notable for its relentlessness, and his supporting musicians prove equal to his ferocity. Drummer Ronald Bruner Jr. and alternating bassists Stephen “Thundercat” Bruner and Hadrien Feraud animate this scorching collection of funk, rock, and hip-hop grooves, demonstrating the ability to sustain unhinged momentum without ever sounding forced or redundant.
Although it was released in February, Planetary Prince was recorded in a single 11-hour session during the same studio residency that produced tenor saxophonist Kamasi Washington’s 2015 magnum opus, The Epic. As members of the Los Angeles-based jazz collective The West Coast Get Down, Graves and his sidemen — some of whom he’s been playing with since high school — all contributed to Washington’s record. But despite the overlap in personnel, Graves has no difficulty in establishing an independent identity. In fact, the pianist’s compositional voice is so distinctive and narrow that many tracks risk sounding nearly identical at first. “Satania Our Solar System,” “The Lucifer Rebellion,” “The End of Corporatism,” “El Diablo,” and the title track are all built on knotty, off-kilter chordal vamps with urgent, often odd-metered rhythms that sound like tremors from some massive, pent-up source of energy.
Fortunately, variety in form keeps the music fresh. Some pieces open with florid piano improvisations that resemble romantic-era cadenzas — likely a product of the bandleader’s classical training — while others launch into the beat like an alarm clock. Trombonist Ryan Porter, trumpeter Philip Dizack and, naturally, Kamasi Washington lend a soulful grandeur to tracks including “Adam and Eve” and “Isle of Love.”
Thrilling technicality, earnest passion and an acute sense of style justify even the record’s over-the-top moments. Some listeners might grow exhausted by the ceaseless intensity with which Graves realizes his cosmic aspirations, but the band members most certainly do not. Planetary Prince is an 80-minute explosion of musical ideas that reflects the musicians’ decades of prior collaboration.
— Asher Wolf
Read the full piece from: Jazziz
All the regulars at the Village Vanguard know the rules: no photography, no texting, no talking or unnecessary noise during a performance. Operating in the same location since 1935 and virtually unchanged over those years, the Vanguard is the closest thing to a holy space in the world of jazz. The prestige of being booked at the club is tantamount to sanctification, and the experience of seeing musicians play there has a quality of bearing witness. There’s quiet and stillness and an air of reverence in the room, no matter who’s onstage—or so there had been at the dozens of shows I’ve attended at the Vanguard until this fall, when I saw Cécile McLorin Salvant.
A full month before the event, I started to notice that something extraordinary was in the works. As soon as I got the announcement that Salvant would be playing a week of duo shows at the Vanguard, accompanied by the pianist Sullivan Fortner—two sets a night for six nights—I logged on to the club’s website to make a reservation, only to find that all 12 shows were sold out. News of this sort would be the opposite of news for Beyoncé or Taylor Swift, but it’s rare for even the biggest stars in jazz, the bigness of their stardom being a relative matter. I e-mailed the club manager, asking if there was standing-room space available, and was told my only option would be to arrive early and get in line with the people hoping for cancellations. I did just that and waited on the sidewalk on Seventh Avenue for nearly an hour—and then everyone on the line was sent away. There were no cancellations for this show.
Two nights later, after going through the same routine twice more, I finally got in through the door and squished my way into a seat in the grossly, thrillingly overpacked space. The crowd was a mix of smartly put-together millennials and jazz bigwigs. I spotted Renee Rosnes and Bill Charlap, two pianists who have also headlined the Vanguard this year, a few feet from the stage. Off to one side of them, there was the jazz singer Catherine Russell, and not far behind her was a table full of musicians from the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. It was like a summons had gone out to assemble people certified as cool.
I had seen Salvant perform once before, a year and a half earlier, in a one-off night with Fred Hersch in his annual “Duo Invitation Series” at the Jazz Standard, another New York club. Salvant was 26 at the time; she was celebrated for having won the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz International Vocals Competition and had already released three albums—including one, WomanChild, for which she’d earned her first Grammy nomination. I found her impressive overall but a bit tentative onstage, and I thought she sounded too much like Billie Holiday. She sat on a stool, nearly motionless, for most of that show, and closed her eyes or looked down at the floor much of the time she was singing. For the ballads that dominated the set, Salvant’s minimalism came across as internalism—rumination appropriate to the material. I walked away thinking of her as a promising young heir to the Holiday tradition.
What I experienced at the Village Vanguard in October was something more than the fulfillment of that promise: I saw Salvant transcend the conventions of multiple traditions in jazz singing, including Holiday’s, without abandoning the tenets of emotional maturity, deep musicality, and rhythmic drive that distinguish jazz. Onstage at the Vanguard, as well as on her latest album, Dreams and Daggers, Salvant made a kind of jazz that honors the history of the music while speaking with ringing, stinging cogency to a 21st-century audience.
In place of reverence, quiet, and stillness, there was an atmosphere of shared excitement. If the regulars remembered the rules about keeping quiet, it didn’t show. And there seemed to be many more newcomers than regulars in the place—unbridled fans cheering in full voice during a song, picking up on Salvant’s cheeky humor and laughing along, even calling out requests, an act of apostasy at the Vanguard. About halfway into the set, someone yelled for “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was,” the Rodgers and Hart ballad that Salvant reconsiders on Dreams and Daggers—a double-CD set of standards, vintage obscurities, and new songs written (or co-written) by her, including some tracks recorded at a show at the Vanguard in late 2016 that I didn’t attend. Salvant’s pianist responded, “You read our mind,” and a woman in the audience called back to them, “You’re reading mine!”
At the end of the set, about half the audience rose to give Salvant a standing ovation, something I had not seen in the venue in years—not since the first show that the pianist Barry Harris played after suffering a stroke. On my way out, I saw the Vanguard’s longtime owner, Lorraine Gordon, sitting near the exit with her daughter Deborah, who has taken over the club’s day-to-day operations. “It hasn’t been so hard to get into this place since Barbra Streisand,” I said, referring to the evening in 2009 when Streisand booked the Vanguard for a show recorded and filmed for a live album and DVD. (The room was stocked that night with the likes of Bill and Hillary Clinton and Barry Diller.) Lorraine, now 95, smiled a little smile and said, “I like this girl better.”
Deborah, gesturing to the line of people waiting to enter for the second set, added, “And look—she’s a star!”
There are jazz singers today more famous than Cécile McLorin Salvant: Diana Krall headlines major theaters like the Beacon in New York City and performing-arts centers around the country, and others like Kurt Elling, René Marie, Dianne Reeves, Janis Siegel, Esperanza Spalding, and Cassandra Wilson are all established success stories in vocal jazz. (I’ve put Elling first on this list going alphabetically, not because he’s one of a small handful of men to rank among the most popular singers in jazz.) Quite a few young or youngish singers have gotten serious critical attention in recent years: Laila Biali, José James, Jo Lawry, and Jen Shyu, among others. And a group of gifted lesser-knowns have the potential to break through next: Nancy Harms, Aubrey Johnson, and Camila Meza, among those I’ve seen and admired thus far. So what does Salvant have, what does she do, to earn her status as jazz’s most exciting new star?
A major element of her success in this taxing discipline is her unfailing technical proficiency. A singer since childhood, Salvant took lessons in both voice and piano and went on to study music at the Darius Milhaud Conservatory in France. (She also took some classes in law.) She has superb intonation and can hit a note dead on. She also understands the greater wisdom in varying her pitch for expressive purposes—for instance, lowering a tone to communicate misgivings or regret. At the Vanguard, she did this deftly at multiple points in Billy Strayhorn’s “Lush Life,” for instance, singing the last word in the phrase “I was wrong” so low on the register that you could see her there in that small dive.
Salvant has superb breath control and command of dynamics. She knows how to lower her voice to a near-whisper to draw listeners into her inner world, or belt out a phrase with full lung power. Even more impressively, she uses these techniques only for their emotive capacity—never merely to demonstrate how fancy she can get. And she rarely scats; Salvant gives the impression that music is important to her as a vehicle for bringing out the meaning of words.
The marvel of Cécile McLorin Salvant is the complexity of her point of view as an artist. Like most jazz and cabaret singers, she works in a milieu that is essentially interpretive rather than expressive. She sings songs that others wrote at various points in the past, including material that a great many other singers have sung and continue to sing. While she has written or co-written some songs, the bulk of her repertoire consists of popular standards (“The Trolley Song,” “You’re My Thrill”) and deeper cuts (“Growlin’ Dan,” “Tell Me What They’re Saying Can’t Be True”). But she chooses her material so astutely, and interprets it so adroitly, that the songs come across like the personal expression of an idiosyncratic individual with an utterly contemporary sensibility.
Salvant has a gift that I’ve never seen developed so well in a singer of vintage material. She accomplishes two seemingly incompatible feats simultaneously: taking on a standard with a palpable respect for the intention of the material and bringing forth the essence of the song, while at the same time communicating a second meaning, an analytical or ironic commentary. It’s almost as if she has two selves, the first one singing for all she’s worth and the other standing alongside, offering her own thoughts.
Among the highlights of the Vanguard set I saw was a torch song called “Gone Again,” best known, to the degree that it’s known at all, through a recording by Dinah Washington (under the title “He’s Gone Again”). The lyric, co-written by Gladys Hampton, wife of the legendary vibraphonist Lionel Hampton, is a plainspoken statement of regret for hanging on to an unreliable man. Salvant put the idea across clearly and potently, seeming to embody the song’s ill-treated woman, while—with no more than a slight squint as she sang “I’m his completely” and an arched eyebrow for the words “I miss him”—she sent out another set of meanings.
With her ability to tease out such complexity in every song, Cécile McLorin Salvant has created a repertoire twice as deep as other singers’. How wonderful, and strange, that a singer can nowadays achieve a kind of stardom for such a thing.
Read the full piece from: The Nation
“My father would have approved your arrangements for MONK'estra because he wrote these compositions for musicians to take it and improvise on them. You’ve kept his compositional integrity. You’re carrying on this tradition. Anybody that has a love for my father’s music and has put in time like you… has my admiration.” — T.S. Monk
Read the full piece from: Festival Peak
This is what consensus in jazz looks like now: In winning the vote for 2017's best new recording in NPR's Fifth Annual Jazz Critics Poll, Vijay Iyer's Far from Over was named on 53 of 137 ballots — almost twice as many as either Steve Coleman's Morphogenesis or Tyshawn Sorey's Verisimilitude, which finished second and third, respectively. (Thelonious Monk's music for the 1960 French film Les Liaisons Dangereuses, unused by the director Roger Vadim and released only this year, made a whopping 66 ballots to finish first in Rara Avis, a category reserved for reissues and vault discoveries. Then, Monk is settled law.)
Read the full piece from: NPR
Cécile McLorin Salvant is also a master curator, deconstructing American artifacts like a bomb squad technician (see her 2013 cover of Valaida Snow's "You Bring Out the Savage in Me"). This double LP is less about crate-digging cultural critiques than re-imagining classics hiding in plain sight. A mix of live recordings made last year at the Village Vanguardm with her sharp trio and studio recording backed by strings, it's a showcase for her jazz bonafides: her playfully cocky, abstractly virtuosic swing on Irving Berlin's "The Best Thing for You (Would Be You)," her sexy time-warping on Rodgers and Hart's "I Didn't Know What Time It Was." She also finds humor and tragedy in the queer subtext of Noel Coward's "Mad About the Boy" and smirking, simmering anger in the double-standard of "If a Girl Isn't Pretty." And with Salvant, 28, now writing her own stuff – including "Fascination," a chamber-music setting of Langston Hughes' writing – it also shows a fully-formed artist still evolving. Will Hermes
Read the full piece from: Rolling Stone
She didn't attend any of the prestigious jazz conservatories and schools, she almost missed the deadline for the most important jazz vocal competition which gave her the first break.
In 2010, the well storied panel judged her the Thelonious Monk Award and she's been attracting plaudits ever since.
She made her recording debut in 2013 with WomanChild, grabbing Grammy nominations.
NPR Music and Downbeat magazine shouted her praises and in 2015 she hit pay-dirt and the Grammy for Best Jazz Vocal album for the follow-up, For One to Love.
Now Cecile has stepped up to the plate with a wide ranging new release in Dreams and Daggers.
It's a peach of an album; well, two albums really. There's a generous track listing of 23 songs across the two records, among them a number of Cecile McLoren Salvant originals mixed with standards from Noel Coward, Irving Berlin, George Gershwin and Rodgers & Hart.
The settings are mostly a small combo of piano, double bass and drums, giving Cecile plenty of room to demonstrate that her voice is a very special instrument. The other tracks also feature a string quartet.
In both formats Cecile's voice is the stand-out sound; rich and offering subtle phrasings and a range that's impressive.
Dreams and Daggers will offer you a high level of reward and you'll want to add the name Cecile McLoren Salvant to your future watch-list.
Read the full piece from: Hamilton News
1. Cécile McLorin Salvant, Dreams and Daggers (Mack Avenue Records)
In the past year or so, Cécile McLorin Salvant has evolved from a talented singer to a stunning master, and this double album—two hours of music, most of it recorded live at the Village Vanguard—catches her at the pivot. She sings standard ballads, buoyant show tunes, dirty blues, Kurt Weill operas, and more, stamping it all with a distinctive voice and a theatrical flair. She’s a storyteller, mining their lyrics for wit and drama that other singers, even great ones, glide by. It’s the best jazz vocal album in a decade, maybe longer. Oh, and she’s 28 years old.
Read the full piece from: Slate
When you meet Stanley Clarke, the first thing you notice are his hands. These aren’t conventional palms and metacarpals, but flesh and blood phalanges as giant as foam fingers sold at sporting events. Oven mitts that could make a basketball look like a ping-pong. Or an electric bass shrunk to violin size. Do you remember that episode of The Simpsons where Bleeding Gums Murphy tells Lisa her fingers are too stubby to be a virtuoso? This is the exact opposite. Stanley Clarke was either predestined to be one of the greatest bass players of all-time or re-enact this photo.
We use “legend” these days to describe anyone with a modestly high Klout score and Gucci Goggles, but few adjectives feel more accurate to describe a man so musically inventive that Bill Evans, Miles Davis, and Ray Manzarek all wooed him to join their bands. If a real legend is someone who defined the time and influenced subsequent generations thereafter; Clarke’s picture might as well be in Miriam Webster’s–complete with the levitating afro of the Return to Forever Era.
While his visionary predecessors Scott LaFaro, Charlie Mingus and Ron Carter revolutionized bass playing for the post-bop era, Clarke teleported the instrument to the astral plane—the galactic warp expected when one of your most immortal songs is titled “Vulkan Princess.” Conventional hagiography rightfully insists that Clarke liberated the bass from the confines of steady rhythmic accompaniment. He proved the bass slap could be a lead weapon, as dynamic as the electric guitar wail. Yet that doesn’t quite capture the full scope of Clarke’s chimerical imagination.
Listen to his modern standard, “Lopsy Lu.” The bass lines dip and dive like an aquatic mammal who learned to swim on Soul Train, burbling and plummeting to abyssal depths and effortlessly soaring to perform dazzling aerial feats above the water. It’s rock, jazz, funk, R&B, pop, and occasionally proto hip-hop—which is partially why he’s been sampled by 2Pac, Jay-Z, Mos Def, Wiz Khalifa, Danny Brown, and DJ Shadow.
Among to the first to realize that that genre isn’t real, Clarke emerged as both the first of the fusion generation and the last of the classic jazz godheads. Before turning 25, the Philadelphia native had supported Horace Silver, Art Blakey, Stan Getz, Dexter Gordon, Joe Henderson, and Pharaoh Sanders. He was slated to be the first to integrate the Philadelphia Orchestra before opting to form Return to Forever with pianist Chick Corea, which catapulted Clarke to crossover stardom, and laid the foundation for a revered solo career.
In between, full-length collaborations materialized alongside with his close friend, the late George Duke, and a stint in the New Barbarians alongside Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood of the Rolling Stones. In the late 80s, Hollywood took notice and he composed the scores for everything from Pee Wee’s Playhouse to Passenger 57, Boyz N’ The Hood to What’s Love Got to Do With It.
Clarke’s canonical work has long been celebrated, but his mentorship to the younger generation of jazz greats is less known. He’s sustained the tradition of Miles Davis as well as any of his peers, constantly integrating precious virtuosos into his backing band, ensuring a sustained vitality and ensuring the lineage lives on. You can see that most clearly in his mentorship of Kamasi Washington, Ronald Bruner Jr., Cameron Graves, and other members of the West Coast Get Down. In particular, you can hear his impact most profoundly through the cosmic pulse of Thundercat.
“I look at Stanley Clarke as a sort of predecessor and I wouldn’t exist if I didn’t know about [him] like that,” Thundercat said in an interview several years ago. “I look at him also like an uncle and I’m always around him now too.”
In person, the avuncular vibe is readily apparent. We meet in his hotel suite several hours before a sudden downpour forces a cancellation of a Sunday night headlining set at the Detroit Jazz Festival earlier this year. Between his towering height and retired decathlete caliber physical fitness, the 66 year old jazz-fusion pioneer looks at least a decade younger than his birth certificate. In the course of an hour-long conversation, we discussed everything from what it’s like to collaborate with Keith Richards and Paul McCartney, to his early years in jazz, to his role in shaping the contemporary West Coast jazz scene.
Noisey: One of your earliest steady gigs was playing in Pharaoh Sanders’ band. What do you remember about that experience?
Stanley Clarke: I played with him about a year-and-a-half back in the New York days. I love playing with Pharaoh, man. It reminds me of the energy that Kamasi has now, because Pharaoh sold a lot of records [too], and kind of filled that void of what I call ‘Afrocentric, Spacetronic music.’
There’s always a void that has to be filled for that every ten or twenty years or so. Pharaoh was that guy back then. It was great. We used to travel and play a lot of colleges. I remember one time we did a show in Harlem out in the street, just in the street. A 3-hour show. We played like 2 songs
What was the jazz scene like in New York when you first moved there in the early 70s?
It was the tail end of the romantic New York vibe. Everybody was there. Miles, Herbie, Wayne Shorter, Monk was still alive. Everything was there. Any night you could go somewhere and see someone. Jazz was a real thing then, it was thick. There were like four, five major jazz clubs and then sort of the B jazz clubs—there had to be 10 of those—then another 10 of these other smaller places. And of course you had the big concert halls.
How was that different from the West Coast jazz scene of that era?
We kind of viewed them as a lighter version of us. We figured they had better drugs or something, just lighter. We would go out there, the music was a little more laid back. I mean a lot of that has to do with the environment too. New York was thick, congested, lots of people, quick, and so the music was a little harder.
What led you to move to LA in 1975?
Herbie Hancock. I think Wayne Shorter came out first, but Herbie Hancock came out right after, and when he came back to New York he looked so healthy. He had on a Hawaiian shirt. He was glistening and happy. He said something really funny, he said, “Man you get fresh orange juice out there in California.”
So then me and Chick [Corea] decided to come out and buy houses and it was kind of a shock for me. Everything was half tempo, and it was a greater distance to get to some places. At first I didn’t like it so much, but me and Chick, our band was always travelling a lot. So we came back and it was kind of a vacation. It was laidback.
What do you think about was about your connection to Chick that allowed for such a successful creative partnership?
It’s something that somebody could do a study on, but I think that it’s just one of the beautiful things about being a human being. Some humans, they just see each other, it has nothing to do with sexuality or anything. Sometimes you meet a person and you connect, sometimes you don’t. I think it’s the basic reason why really interesting creative things get done. Shit, it could be a smell for all I know.
Keith Richards once described his relationship with Mick as not being a friendship, but being a brotherhood and sometimes you fight with your brothers, but you’ll always be blood.
Me and Chick have definitely had those points where you wanna’ hate somebody and you can’t. It takes an effort to hate. I think about long marriages between men and women where there’s a bit of battering going on, on both sides, but you see them both at 80 and they’re smiling before they eventually die.
It’s that same thing. I have that with Chick. It’s good, we haven’t played together in about a year now, but then you start thinking, and oh shit we gotta play again together. It just happens, it’s just the way it is.
What was your experience like with Keith Richards?
I really admired him. Certain musicians I call soldiers. Their whole thing is about putting the music out. It doesn’t matter how rich or poor they are, when you talk to them you don’t even get a sense of materialistic things. There’s certain rappers, certain pop artists, certain types of entertainers you meet, and you get a sense, ‘oh he’s rich, he wants you to know he’s popular.’
And then there’s other guys like Keith Richards. Paul McCartney’s like that too. I’ve recorded with him, been around him, and he’s just like a normal guy sitting in a room. And we’ll be in a room with a whole bunch of other guys and not trip out. Like Prince, bless his heart, but he was a guy that was gonna’ let you know, he’s Prince, period. I’ve heard Elvis Presley was like that too. But some guys, it doesn’t really matter. Keith is like [the first type] and I loved working with him and all those guys.
Did you go down to Jamaica to record at his studio?
Yeah, I spent a couple years playing with those guys in the New Barbarians. We went to a lot of places. I think the first electric bass player I ever took notice of was Bill Wyman. He looked so bored. I said, ‘man I’m never gonna be like that. He looked so bored that I wasn’t even sure he was playing.
I started out playing acoustic bass. Electric bass was just something I played later to play at the parties in high school. Still to this day, when I pick up the electric bass, it’s more of a fun thing. Acoustic bass is more serious.
You originally had a very old world bass teacher as a child in Philadelphia, right?
Yeah, Mr. Rossi man. Old school Italian guy, you played a wrong note and he’d hit you with a paddle. He was that guy. But I’m glad I had him as a teacher because definitely my fundamentals were put in. I’ve taught my share of bass players. Sometimes kids will expect more things out of their teachers—whether it’s music, tennis, or football. There’s certain kids and I was like this, that would rebel against their parents. Not because of lack of love. It’s just something to do.
So if you were in football and you had a great coach or music teacher, you look for certain things. And sometimes if you were a good music teacher like Mr. Rossi was, he would spot these things and teach things a young kid needs to learn. Values. Commitment, discipline. And I passed it on to my students.
I remember one time I was doing an interview for NPR radio in Philadelphia, and I was talking about this and that and this and that, and a call came through, and it was from him. He was about 89, and he got on there and just shut me down. ‘Don’t get too big for your britches!’ I said, “Yes sir, Mr. Rossi, that’s right.”
So teaching in music is a good. I’ve taught a lot of bass players, a lot of famous bass players. Mr. Rossi used to tell me, ‘One day you’ll teach.’ It’s just something you gotta keep passing down to people. I just think it’s a good thing, it keeps the planet hopefully from blowing up quickly.
Who was your favorite bass player when you were younger?
Ron Carter. Just pound for pound, he’s the most recorded acoustic bass player, and there’s a reason for that and it wasn’t just because he was popular. You don’t record 5000 records only because you’re popular. You record because you can do the music. So he was not a specialist, like some guy who just plays funk or some guy who just plays...Ron played all sorts of things.
He was a great inventor of basslines. And he understood the function of the bass really well. Great sound. A very stoic kind of individual. Took me a long time to get used to him, he was like the high school principal of the year.
We just did a duet show at the Blue Note couple months, and I’ve really grown to really love Ron because he’s the kind of guy that you’d want to pattern yourself after if you’re a young musician. He’s got his basics in, his fundamentals are in, and he’s a good guy. A no nonsense kind of guy. I like that.
It feels like you have to know the rules really well before you break them.
Then you gotta just go. Charlie Parker said that best: study, study, study and then forget about it.
When did you fist learn to forget about it?
I was forgetting things probably from the beginning. I was preparing myself to be an orchestral bass player. Jazz was something I could do and I surely liked playing rock n’ roll and funk music and R&B music at that time. But I was really preparing to play in the orchestra, and actually Chick Corea talked me out of that.
Before I met Chick Corea, I was actually gonna audition for the Philadelphia Orchestra. And then, Chick says, ‘man, we can make our own group, we can write our own music. To hell with Bach and Beethoven, we’ll write our own stuff. ‘
I said, ‘they’re just composers, we’re composers too.’ It was a nice way to put it, a little extreme, but there was some truth in it. Somebody’s gotta compose new stuff, so we sure did, and that whole Return to Forever road was a lot of fun. It was really a mish mash or hybrid of all these things coming together. I kinda miss that now, but I think that has a lot to do with the musicians.
Because the record industry has collapsed so much, you don’t really see people taking a long time doing recordings anymore. Everyone’s rushing in the studio now.. Maybe they have to sign less people, and give more money to certain people… something, but their products have suffered.
Do you have a few favorites of your records?
I like the first one Return to Forever album. That was quick, it was done in a couple hours, but we had played around the world for about a year. And then the other record I liked was, Light as a Feather, the one that has “Spain” and all those other tunes, that was nice.
But we spent a long time doing that Romantic Warrior record, and that was like a million-selling record, and no one was singing anywhere on it. I remember when we finished that record we were hanging out with these guys from Yes in England.
They were playing their new record; we played our new record. And it hung with their record. They had a guy singing and we didn’t, but sound-wise it was right there.
But I remember we spent a long time doing it, and really got into the art of recording. And that’s gone, that’s totally gone, unless you wanna put your own money up. It’s very hard to get a record and go, ‘wow, that sounds amazing.’
How do you feel about the LA jazz revival?
You mean, The West Coast Get Down? All those guys were kids when I first recognized them. I remember I was scoring a TV movie, and they wanted some kids to do something live. I think Clint Eastwood had something to do with the production. Something called the Clint Eastwood Theater.
So I had this big call for all the young people to come in, and funny man, every one of those guys in the West Coast Get Down came. Kamasi [Washington], he was a little fat guy, Cameron [Graves] was little. They all came by. Ronald Bruner. And I got to know them, and I saw them grow up.
I’ve been telling people about them for a long time. I told a guy at Capitol Records, who had just signed Robert Glasper. I said he’s cool but you need to check these guys out. He was like ‘ehhhh.’ I knew it would eventually come around. Flying Lotus took notice of those guys, and Thundercat [became big].
There’s a few of them that are step outs. Like [Thundercat], he has not even begun what he can do. He just has to get his thing together. He’s very talented. And he’s a great producer and writer. And he did a lot of putting things together on that Kendrick Lamar album that was really nice. He hasn’t even begun, there’s some other kind of music that’s in him too.
I’m proud of those guys personally. Miles [Mosley] has been coming over for years too and I’m just really happy these guys are doing so well because it’s important for the music to continue.
It’s become arguably as critically and commercially relevant as most rock music.
It was the same thing with us when Return to Forever came out. The height of the fusion stuff in the seventies, we were more popular than 70 percent of the rock bands out. I remember we were playing this theater in New York, a 3000-seat theater, and we played two nights. Each night we had to play 2 shows, so you got 6000 people every night.
I remember the promoter for the Madison Square Garden said that he had this band over there called Styx, these guys with blond hair who were singing some songs. And he said, I should’ve put those guys over here and you guys in the Garden. But it just was not something you would think of, to put a band like ours in Madison Square Garden, but we could’ve done the Garden that night.
It’s interesting how when the West Coast Get Down got that Kendrick cosign, people’s perception shifted.
Yeah and they had to not stop. It’s so easy to give up in music. That’s why I was telling you earlier, there are certain guys who are soldiers, and they don’t give up. They fight until they win or die, so those guys are like that. Those guys were serious. They were like no, this is what I’m doing. I’m not gonna go work at Macy’s. Sometimes becoming a great musician is about how long you can starve at first.
This is neither here nor there, but I’m really interested in the stories that you’ve told in the past about your great-grandmother.
She was 102 or something when she died, and I was about 13. She was around at the end of the Civil War, and was coherent all the way up to the end. She was an African and [Native American] Indian woman. So she had an interesting way she looked at life—very diet-oriented obviously, to live that long.
She was just very simple and very spiritual. It wasn’t traditional Christianity. it was more like the gods. She said all this was bullshit, she said it’s all untrue. In her own way, she was saying everything is all surface, we’re getting taught surface stuff, but the reasons why certain things happen, aren’t often the true story. Like the Civil War—yeah, it was to free the slaves, but it was more about money. I could write books about her.
She predicted MLK’s assassination, right?
Yes, but it wasn’t really a big thing that she predicted it. It was just that she heard him on TV. We had just gotten a TV, and she was used to hearing mainly white people on TV. All of a sudden, she goes, ‘is that a colored man on TV?’
I say, ‘yeah, Martin Luther, the King! And she goes, ‘oh, they’re gonna’ shoot him dead.’ It was that straight Indian thing, just straight. No other stuff. It just wasn’t that difficult to predict, she just didn’t look at life with all the filters that I had even had at 12 years old. She carried food around in her stockings. She could see things.
Here’s what I believe. I believe that if you live long enough, you have enough information to make predictions because you have to have knowledge of the past.
So here’s a woman that’s thinking in her late nineties, and she has all this stuff, and all the stuff she heard from her mother, her African father, and Indian mother. She had 150 years of knowledge and was speaking with that sitting behind her.
What do you predict?
I think that the United States, and all these big countries, we’re just gonna’ keep going. We’re on a pattern. The guys who are behind the scenes are making money. We’re not gonna’ blow up the North Koreans. None of that’s gonna happen. It keeps everybody scared. That’s the biggest thing I can say in a couple seconds, that they keep all the people ignorant and afraid and up tight. That’s not good for music, it’s not good for art, it’s not good for thinking.
If you have fear in the universe, to that degree you’re blind, and politicians do it for a reason and they’re very successful at it. I do believe that one day, much more of the populist political party will come up. I don’t even think they’ll even call it a political party. It’ll just be an uprising of people who work.
I think the whole race thing is a really clever way of keeping people separated. I think something as simple as a DNA test will help people. I have relatives that look like you. I have relatives that look like Miles Davis. So I think that once that happens, so people take their attention off their bodies—because there’s way too much attention on these bodies, physical skin and color and all that stuff.
I hope I’m still alive when that happens. I hope you’re alive when that happens, but I’m in good shape. I’m just keeping my body good so I can see shit. I wanna’ see some of this shit because I do believe in another 20 years, some wild shit’s gonna’ happen.
You have your wars and skirmishes but a lot of that to me just has to do with the leaders wanting to have that on their resumes. Trump is trying to figure out what we can blow up, cause he has to blow some shit up. All of them. Obama, as nice as he supposedly was, still did plenty of warring. That’s part of that gig.
What are the things that have made you happy?
For me, at this point it’s really simplistic. When I come off the road and go home, I see my family and we live in the mountains, so I just sit and look at the view and see some animals. And just see the framework of life without the bullshit. There’s a framework of life, and it’s great.
We build buildings, problems, all these different things. I like to see just nature, see how life goes naturally. It’s fun and kind of relaxing to me. But I also like getting into the shit. I like getting in the mix, and mixing it up a little bit. It’s a game. Life is definitely a game for me. The dirty, the good or whatever, if you just keep yourself together and you’re smart, you can maneuver through it.
Read the full piece from: Noisey
Billy Childs: Rebirth Mack Avenue Records
The year is almost over and once again it’s time to highlight some of the best jazz that I have heard in 2017. There are undoubtedly many fine albums that I have not had the opportunity to have listened to, so I am sure some deserving offerings will unfortunately go unrecognized by me and not make it to my best of 2017 compilation. That being said, I found a plethora of amazing, creative, diverse and inspiring recordings that I did get the privilege of listening to and my list includes some of what I consider the very best.
There were some notable debut releases by rising stars in this genre. Probably the most impressive vocal debut was that of Jazzmeia Horn on her A Social Call. The woman just killed it with her superb instrument, amazing control , a rare sense of poise and vocal elasticity that was just a pleasure to be heard. Young Atlanta area drummer Dave Potter made a surprising debut with his polished and propelled straight-ahead session, You Already Know. The Hazelrigg Brothers fired a fine opening salvo with their crossover album Songs We Like. Latin musicians made some terrific music this year with alto saxophonist Miguel Zenon’s Tipico, Cuban pianist David Virelles’ Gnosis and flutist Nestor Torres Jazz Flute Traditions all leaving us with some memorable music.
So, with no further ado here are my top picks for jazz for 2017 in no particular order. Where possible, there is a sample video or recording for you to listen to. Happy holidays and pleas continue to support live music and live jazz in particular.
Notes on Jazz Best of Jazz 2017: If my feet were put to the fire to name the album that most impressed me this year it would have to be pianist/arranger/composer Billy Childs superb Rebirth. The album was a fountainhead of creativity played at the highest level.
Read the full piece from: Huffington Post
Clarinetist Dave Bennett brings the clarinet out of its Swing Era past and gives it a modern yet melodic environment as he teams up with producer Shelly Berger for eleven well chosen or co-crafted tunes.
The simpatico team of Dave Restivo/p, Reg Schwager/g, Jim Vivian/b, Pete Siers/dr and Davide DiRenzo/perc deliver an autumnal and pastoral mood here, starting with the nocturnal title track which features Bennett’s Waterford crystal clear tone as well as the agonizing and melancholy “A Long Goodbye” that is like a cry into the night.
Bennett shows that he’s got the chops, however, tearing through the mercurial “13 Fingers” like a hot knife in butter, while “Falling Sky” takes you on a journey beginning with earthy blues and landing on a misty cloud, and the closing “Heavy Heart” floats like a dark nimbus before the storm.
This guy has a lot to say, and he says it well. Any trips to So Cal?
Read the full piece from: Jazz Weekly
In 2015, Kamasi Washington, the powerful saxophonist who brought the West Coast Get Down to critical attention, unleashed The Epic, a daring three-CD set that, like this album, busts genres. Now Washington’s main keyboard man, the virtuosic Cameron Graves, unleashes Planetary Prince, an ambitious foray into the mystical and the extraterrestrial.
The album title derives from The Urantia Book, a 1955 publication about the “master universe” that builds on the “world’s religious heritage,” according to the Chicago-based Urantia Foundation. Planetary Prince expands on a four-track EP Graves released in 2016.
This long album stars Graves’ rolling, florid piano even as it showcases Epic stalwarts Washington, trombonist Ryan Porter and brothers Ronald Bruner Jr. and Stephen “Thundercat” Bruner, respectively, on drums and bass. Trumpeter Philip Dizack, trombonist Ryan Porter and bassist Hadrien Feraud also provide bite and body.
Graves is a master, laying intricate melodic lines over driving drums and cymbal chokes. “Satania Our Solar System,” the opener, is devilish, like “El Diablo,” a distant relative of “Caravan,” Juan Tizol’s signature piece for Duke Ellington. The music continues through permutations to form a suite rich in repeated yet varied motifs. A war between good and evil is at the heart of this otherworldly and exhilarating recording, and if the production verges on the overblown at times, the excess is far more glorious than wretched.
Read the full piece from: Downbeat
Seven years ago, when she was just 20, Salvant won the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Vocals Competition and her career took off. She was greeted by critical acclaim and prestigious awards, including a Grammy for Best Jazz Vocal Album for her 2015 record, For One to Love.
The songs on her latest album, Dreams and Daggers, released Sept. 29, range from a 1968 show tune from Funny Girl to a 1928 down-home blues song by Bessie Smith, showcasing her wide musical arsenal.
"I am so excited that there is so much in American music," Salvant says. "There are so many different styles, and vibes and situations. And I embrace that, and I love that.”
Salvant grew up in Miami, the daughter of a Haitian doctor and a French mother. As a girl, she was trained in classical voice. After high school, she spent a year at a conservatory in the south of France where she began to study jazz.
"Early on, I started becoming really, really interested in these voices in jazz that were coming more from the tradition of blues and folk music," she says. "Where it doesn't really matter how pristine and agile the voice is, as long as there's a story being conveyed.”
Jazz journalist Fred Kaplan, who profiled Salvant in The New Yorker earlier this year, believes that she has a masterly grasp on exhibiting a wide emotional range in her music.
"Her blues are blue. Her swings swing," Kaplan says. "She has vast, almost operatic range.”
He also says that Salvant digs into a lyric like an actress.
"She finds things in a lyric that other jazz singers kind of glide by," he says. "'Mad About the Boy' — if you just looked at the lyrics, you'd think this is really a song written by a crazy person. Or a song narrated by a crazy person. And she gets into that. It is a mad song.”
Salvant's digging usually brings a modern perspective to old songs. On the record, she sings a Josephine Baker song in French, "Si j'etais blanche" ("If I Were White"), in which the singer asks, "Must I be white to please you better?”
"This is a song that is almost 100 years old," she says. "And when I heard that song my first reaction was, 'This is hilarious and this is so bold.' And I felt that before, you know, wanting to be white. I know what that feels like, growing up. You have Barbie Dolls, and you have — you watch a TV show, you watch a movie, and you want to be the blonde princess and you're not.”
Salvant may not be the blonde princess, but she has enjoyed a fairy tale career. It's been nothing but rave reviews and accolades — and she's only 28 years old.
"The great frustration is, of course, that there are not enough people my age, people younger than me in the audience," she says. "There are not enough black people in the audience. Not that I have any problem with any other demographic but, you know, that's something that I see and feel — I don't see people like me a lot in my audience.”
To fix that, Salvant says she's trying to figure out a way to come up with an even broader range of songs to draw them in.
"To make things more inclusive and diverse," she says. "That would be a wonderful next step.”
Read the full piece from: NPR
The double Grammy nominated Monk'estra big band lead by conductor/arranger and pianist John Beasley performed Sunday night in SFJAZZ's spacious Miner Auditorium. Released in September of this year, Beasley's Monk'estra Vol. 2 (Mack Avenue Records, 2017) had garnered some serious attention. This was also a special occasion commemorating Thelonious Monk's centennial and the audience was giddy with anticipation. Fans were treated to an inspiring session of Monk's classic songs reimagined and enlarged for orchestra. The impressive Monk'estra had taken part in the Monterey Jazz Festival's milestone 60th Anniversary a few weeks earlier (See my MJF60 review here and check out my fellow contributor Dave Kaufman's Monterey 2017 Sunday images here). Beasley had just flown in Sunday morning from his New York shows to prepare for the evening's performance, and was surprisingly energetic after the cross country flight.
The sixteen member Monk'estra consisted of: leader Beasley; Trumpets-Bijon Watson, Jamie Hovorka, Rashawn Ross, Brian Swartz; Trombones-Ryan Dragon, Francisco Torres, Wendell Kelly, Lemar Guillary; Woodwinds-Bob Sheppard, Danny Janklow, Tom Luer, Tommy Peterson, Adam Schroeder; Bass-Ben Shepherd; Drums-Kendrick Scott. Songs for Monk's catalog included his signature "Epistrophy"; "Played Twice," "Ugly Beauty/Pannonica," "Skippy," "Criss Cross," "Light Blue," "Gallop's Gallop," "Ask Me Now," "Oska T," "Evidence," " 'Round Midnight" and "Brake's Sake."
The prolific band leader's personal arrangements were an eye opener that showed his genuine appreciation and understanding of Monk's singular musical viewpoint. His Monk'estra captured the unconventional, quirky and playful nature of the celebrated pianist's original compositions, and provided generous space for Beasley's interpretations. During the concert, various members of Beasley's "collective" contributed resounding solos throughout the evening.
Beasley also noted the cacophony of sounds and unexpected changes that made Monk's work unique. In one of the tracks, Beasley captured the ugly energy of street violence in the introduction and related it to the current Black Lives Matter movement.
Susan, one of SFJAZZ's many patrons, provided her keen impressions of Monk'estra's provocative music. "When I came here, I thought of three things because I see a moment in my life and everything is very critical and changing. I see truth, integrity and I see spirit. I saw all of those things, and it's such a man's spirit. I saw a very sophisticated vision for how to put the music together, orchestrate the music in a very sophisticated way. I don't think it's easily relatable necessarily, but I think it's always interesting." These comments summed up the day's compelling presentation by John Beasley's Monk'estra. Beasley's Monk'estra set was a dazzling display of fresh interpretations scaled to take full advantage of his sixteen piece ensemble. The enlightening set closed with vigorous applause from the house.
All About Jazz talked to John Beasley after the show and he shared his thoughts on the delightfully eccentric Monk.
All About Jazz: What drew you to Thelonious Monk?
John Beasley: I'm not a paint-by-numbers person nor musician. When I was around 11 years old, my dad put on this Monk album called "Work" featuring Sonny Rollins on the stereo. I remember listening and laughing because his songs were catchy, whimsical, and mischievous. Monk wrote with such originality and put his witty personality into his writing and playing. He was hip to an 11 year old.
His music didn't sound like what his peers were playing. He was an outlier. He faced a lot of criticism for his unique improvisational style, his singular musical vision, his crunchy dissonances, open spaces, intervallic jump, off- kilter rhythms, and disjunctive succession of phrases, but he wasn't looking for approval from anyone, not musicians, not the public, not critics. That's takes audacity.
One hundred years later, Monk, like a lot of geniuses, he is more understood, appreciated, and celebrated.
AAJ: How has Monk's work informed and developed your writing and outlook on life?
JB: Monk gave me the courage to play what I hear in my head, which you can listen to in my albums MONK'estra Volume 1 and the sequel Volume 2. My arrangements are a sum of all of my musical and life experiences.
AAJ: What are your favorite Monk compositions and why?
JB: Well, that's a tough question. They all have there own personalities and character. A couple that I love that I have not arranged for MONK'estra are: "Reflections," "Monk's Dream," "Boo Boo's Birthday," "Off Minor" and "Trinkle Tinkle."
AAJ: Thank you for sharing John and much success with the new album.
Read the full piece from: All About Jazz
As musical movements go, rock and jazz seem to be running out of new ideas, most of the stylistic pathways in both genres having been explored to their logical conclusions. In rock in particular, every stream of inspiration has been followed past its headwaters, every droplet of inspiration wrung from established forms.
Jazz, however, seems to be finding new energy in reinvigorating old forms, and none more prominent or promising than the big band. Groups such as John Hollenbeck's Large Ensemble and Darcy James Argue's Secret Society, each comprising 18 players, have brought exciting new dimensions to a musical form that, with few notable exceptions (eg, Woody Herman, Gil Evans, Charles Mingus), was left for dead with the emergence of bebop after World War II.
Seven years ago, Christian McBride—perhaps the most ridiculously productive artist in all of music today, let alone just jazz—released a big-band album, The Good Feeling, that won a Grammy Award. It's a happy occurrence that bassist McBride occasionally finds the time to turn his considerable energies toward big-band music. Brimming with confidence and packing a considerable ego, the dapper McBride's dance card is incredibly full. He leads a straight-ahead jazz quintet, Inside Straight; a more out, free-jazz–leaning quartet, New Jawn; a fusion ensemble, A Christian McBride Situation; and, finally, the Christian McBride Trio. He also finds time to be a radio host on SiriusXM and NPR, compose original music, teach jazz classes, serve as artistic director of the Newport Jazz Festival, and revel in being one of the highest-profile cigar aficionados alive today.
His new big-band release, Bringin' It, does exactly what its title implies: following in the path of hard-charging historical outfits like Basie and Ellington, his Big Band is a new-century take on swing music.
Bringin' It opens with McBride's "Gettin' To It," a big, funky number featuring trumpeter Freddie Hendrix in a fast solo that stays in the instrument's showy high register, and is followed by a less ostentatious yet no less meaningful solo from tenor player Ron Miles. As in most of the record, everything here is underlaid by the leader's commanding sense of rhythm. His own bass solo is economical, and funky phat in the extreme.
The two other fine McBride compositions here are "Youthful Bliss" and another funky blues, "Used 'Ta Could," in which a party atmosphere, complete with tambourines and handclaps, alternates with solos by lead alto saxophonist Steve Coleman and lead trombonist Michael Dease. McBride has previously recorded all three tunes with one or another of his smaller ensembles.
While the originals have attitude, it's in the covers that this band and McBride's arrangements shine brightest. The elegant slow take of Johnny Mercer and Jimmy Van Heusen's standard "I Thought About You," for whose arrangement McBride credits the influence of the great Maria Schneider, is a highlight—as is a sweeping, sepia-toned arrangement of Bob Hilliard and David Mann's "In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning," in which McBride uses a bow and Dan Pratt turns in a tasteful, understated tenor sax solo.
Skittering bird- and animal-like noises from alto sax and piccolo player Todd Bashore open a take of McCoy Tyner's "Sahara" that features exuberant charts for the horn sections before pianist Xavier Davis ranges up and down the keyboard, playing heavy, Tyner-like chords.
If there's one iffy element, it's McBride's wife, singer Melissa Walker, whose take on country singer Jerry Jeff Walker's "Mr. Bojangles" is odd for a jazz album, and not entirely successful. Her fairly pedestrian performance doesn't stretch the music or her voice in any meaningful ways.
Recording a big band can be as tricky as the music's complex arrangements. This album was recorded at the now-defunct Avatar Studios, the best room in New York City, and the sound is as big and brash as the music: beautifully defined, with admirable depth and clarity.
The one side of McBride's many-faceted talent that Bringin' It showcases more than any other is his skills as an arranger for big band—not an easy feat in any age. Perhaps being the rhythmic foundation of any group he plays in has given him insight into how sections should ebb and flow, who leads and who follows, and what he wants the overall sound picture to say and resemble. For the final number, "Optimism," he gives up the arranger's chair to its composer, Steve Davis, who plays trombone in McBride's Big Band and is McBride's connection to one of his chief influences.
"I saw that last Jazz Messengers band that Steve was in," McBride says in the press materials for this release. "Blakey was a huge influence on me, and because of that, Steve and I share the same compositional and arranging DNA. You see, even though I've been influenced by every great big band and every great arranger I've ever heard, three of my greatest influences—not just as composers but also as improvisers—are Freddie Hubbard, Wayne Shorter, and Cedar Walton. I mean before, after, and during the period when they were with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers."
He's that rare jazz bassist who's a genuine leader. The success of Bringin' It begs the question: What can't Christian McBride do? — Robert Baird
Read the full piece from: Stereophile
It seems safe to posit that Cécile McLorin Salvant is not only the most successful female jazz singer to emerge since the turn of the millennium but also the most dynamically skilled, an opinion that this double-disc set of live recordings solidifies. On board are her regular bandmates—drummer Lawrence Leathers, bassist Paul Sikivie and, the essential yin to her yang, pianist Aaron Diehl. The Catalyst Quartet adds strings on select tracks. Captured in New York, these exquisitely molded sessions span September and December 2016 dates at, respectively, the Village Vanguard and the DiMenna Center for Classical Music, in Hell’s Kitchen.
Rather unique among live offerings, Dreams and Daggers does not focus on revisiting earlier studio work. Indeed, among the 23 tracks, only one, “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was,” is culled from McLorin’s prior albums. More than a dozen fresh covers extend from Ida Cox’s “Wild Women Don’t Have the Blues” and Bessie Smith’s “You’ve Got to Give Me Some”—Salvant alone with guest pianist Sullivan Fortner—to a double-dip into the Bob Dorough songbook for “Devil May Care” and “Nothing Like You.” She twice nods to the poetry of Langston Hughes, and indulges her penchant for quirkier Broadway fare with a lilting “If a Girl Isn’t Pretty.” Four of five originals serve as brief, clever interstitials. The fifth, “More,” defines a marvelously theatrical, strings-drenched yearn for heightened romantic fulfillment.
Read the full piece from: JazzTimes
The original tunes are a mix of reflective melancholy — Blood Moon and Heavy Heart — to blazing riffs — 13 Fingers.
Bennett is a favorite on the jazz party circuit. I’ve seen him a number of times at the Arbors Jazz parties. Currently he’s scheduled to appear this year at Suncoast JazzFest, San Diego Jazz Festival and the Sarasota Jazz Festival. He’s performed at Carnegie Hall and other prestigious locations.
To this reviewer, the CD his highly pleasing and, in addition, it passed the “kitchen test.” That is, when the spouse comes from the kitchen and says, “I like it; who is the performer?”
Blood Moon—Bennett & Shelly Berger
A Long Goodbye—Bennett & Berger
Falling Sky—Bennet & Berger
Wichita Lineman—Jimmy Webb
(Back Home Again in) Indiana—McDonald and Handley (public domain)
13 Fingers—Bennett & Berger
Down in Honky Tonk Town—McCarron and Smith
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly—Morricone
In My Life—Lennon & McCartney
Heavy Heart—Bennett & Berger
Read the full piece from: Jazz Pensacola
The Grammy nominated volume one won plaudits for its inventive and successful attempt to redefine Monk’s compositions for the twenty-first century in a big band setting, and incorporating a variety of styles not normally associated with Monk. Volume two carries on the pioneering work and does a fine job of re-reading the Monkbook so to speak. Thelonius Monk recorded sparingly in a larger ensemble format and his best known album in this milieu is the 1959 Town Hall album, while a live performance from 1963 was captured at a New York Philharmonic Hall concert.
What impressed this writer was how well researched Beasley has been in listening to previous attempts to interpret Monk and taking from these disparate sources. There is for example a nod to a late 1950’s Steve Lacy tribute to Monk on ‘Played Twice’, with soprano saxophone soloing from Bob Sheppard.
Contemporary funk and rap feature on the opener, ‘Brake’s Sake’, with trumpeter Dontae Winslow then reverting to a rap commentary on Monk, and this clearly indicates that Monk is relevant to a younger audience. An Ellington-inspired big band reading of Monk is illustrated on various pieces, but no better than on ‘Light Blue’, which has a strong 1950’s feel with Beasley this time operating on organ and a fine tenor saxophone solo that is not indicated on the otherwise fine discographical notes.
Guest musicians contribute to the bigger picture with violinist Regina Carter excellent on ‘Crepuscule with Nellie’, which is a a gentle mid-tempo take on the original with contemporary flavours. For some welcome vocal input, singer Dianne Reeves contributes, ‘Dear Ruby’, with a lengthy intro that includes leader Beasley on piano. This writer would like to hear more of John Beasley the soloist on a separate project, but on other pieces he does stretch out on occasion.
One minor disappointment is the muted contribution of Kamasi Washington whose fast-paced soloing on ‘Evidence’ backed by unison reeds, has precious little to distinguish itself and sounds muffled. In contrast, percussionist and bata soloist drummer Pedrito Martinez graces a Latin jazz take on ‘Criss Cross’, and this is, perhaps, a nod on Beasley’s part to the wonderful Jerry Gonzalez and the Fort Apaché Band album ‘Rumba Para Monk’, that is richly deserving of a second follow up album project. Inner sleeve notes by jazz journalist Neil Tesser place the project in a wider context.
Read the full piece from: UK Vibe
On this week’s Rhythm Planet show, I catch up with the multi-talented pianist/conductor/arranger John Beasley. Beasley and his big band, MONK’estra, have gained widespread renown and two Grammy nominations for their creative re-imagining of the music of Thelonious Sphere Monk in John Beasley Presents MONK’estra Vol. 1. As it happens, October 2017 marks the centennial of Monk’s birth and it seemed the perfect time to bring John back into the studio to talk about the success of the project and the recently released John Beasley Presents MONK’estra Vol. 2.
On volume 2, Beasley again leads a 16-piece big band of crack jazz musicians playing Monk’s classic song with a twist. Not content to just use only the original Monk charts, he reimagines them with new arrangements and clever improvisations, filled with humor. The sound of this band is totally fresh. Beasley’s reinterpretations stay true to the originals, yet explore new vistas that Monk would have loved. It’s close to the bone of the Monk classics, and it presents a new and complex musical tapestry. This time they’re also joined by guest artists like Dontae Winslow, Regina Carter, Kamasi Washington, and Dianne Reeves, adding to the diversity of sound and influences on the album.
Monk’s son, drummer T.S. Monk, told Beasley, “My father would have approved your arrangements for MONK’estra because he wrote these compositions for musicians to take it and improvise on them. You’ve kept his compositional integrity. You’re carrying on his tradition. Anybody that has a love for my father’s music and has put in time like you have with his music has my admiration.”
We start the music with “Brake’s Sake,” a song about Monk and the world he lived in, a racist America against which he struggled. On this track, trumpeter Dontae Winslow adds a rap commentary on current events and movements such as Black Lives Matter. Another track we hear called “Dear Ruby” features the elegant poise of Dianne Reeves, with Beasely on piano. Guest percussionist Pedrito Martinez supplies the Afro-Cuban beat on “Criss Cross.” Songs like “Light Blue” echo Duke Ellington and Johnny Hodges. The final cut on the album, simply called “Work,” echoes Miles Davis’ Sketches of Spain.
I could say more about John Beasley and his brilliant work on the two volumes of MONK’estra, but Quincy Jones said it better:
“Thelonious Monk was one of a kind, and so is John Beasley. He hears things in Monk’s music that no one imagined! And he can make an orchestra sing like an uncaged bird.”
A septet version of the MONK’estra is about to embark on an international tour, heading for Japan, Berlin, Belgium, Austria, then back to the U.S. They perform at Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles on March 9, 2018. See the full tour schedule here.
Read the full piece from: KCRW
It’s a cliché of modernism that one generation’s avant-garde assimilates into the next generation’s mainstream. But seven decades after Thelonious Monk helped lay the foundation for modern jazz, he retains the power to rearrange our ears, to recalibrate our notions of what sounds correct and consonant.
As a pianist, composer and arranger, Monk’s genius was both evolutionary and disruptive. He didn’t reject, ignore, or deconstruct the music that came before him. Translating the two-handed Harlem stride piano style in his own sly and gnomic image, he created a unique body of some 70 compositions that have proven endlessly resilient and enduringly revelatory, influencing artists in jazz and far beyond.
A series of concerts around the region over the coming weeks celebrate Monk’s centennial, starting with the Danilo Pérez Trio’s performance Oct. 8 at Café Stritch, which kicks off San Jose Jazz’s fall concert series. Pérez’s trio with bassist Ben Street and drummer Adam Cruz also performs at Kuumbwa on Oct. 12 and SFJazz on Oct. 13, a show that opens a block of programming at the center celebrating Monk’s legacy.
The Panamanian-born pianist first delved into Monk’s music in the mid-1980s while working with vocalese legend Jon Hendricks, who wrote lyrics for numerous Monk compositions. The experience left him more bemused than impressed. “I didn’t really get it,” says Pérez, 51, who has spent the past 17 years touring and recording with saxophonist Wayne Shorter, the most significant composer in post-Monk jazz.
“His music didn’t resonate with me, because Monk makes a case for a concept and sound experience that was completely new from what I grew up with in classical music and jazz,” Pérez says. “I had never heard anyone sound as revolutionary. I thought he was really making mistakes.”
Pérez experienced a Monkian epiphany when he subbed for Eric Reed on a 1996 Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra tour focusing on Monk’s music. The Wynton Marsalis-led ensemble set several Monk standards to New Orleans second line rhythms, “and that’s what made it click for me,” Pérez says. “I heard my folkloric music in it. I heard the Caribbean and pan-African connection and the way it fit into a lot of the grooves and rhythms I was studying from West Africa. It was a revelation!”
The following year he recorded “Panamonk,” a visionary project that infused Monk’s compositions with Pérez’s Caribbean rhythmic perspective, and he’s touring with his trio to mark the Impulse! album’s 20th anniversary.
Pianist Jason Moran experienced his own Theloniousian lightning bolt at 14, when a recording of Monk’s classic ballad “’Round Midnight” seized his imagination and sparked his passion for jazz. The MacArthur “Genius” Fellow reprises his fascinating 2007 multimedia project “In My Mind: Monk at Town Hall” at SFJazz on Oct. 14.
Co-commissioned by SFJazz, “In My Mind” is based on Monk’s storied 1959 concert at New York’s Town Hall, which featured Hall Overton’s probing arrangements for a 10-piece ensemble. Moran’s Big Band Wagon tackles the same pieces as part of a production with video, still images, and contemporaneous audio recordings by photojournalist W. Eugene Smith (Moran returns to the Bay Area to present “In My Mind” at Stanford on Nov. 11.
Los Angeles pianist John Beasley’s 15-piece MONK’estra, which performed a superb set last month at the Monterey Jazz Festival, plays SFJazz on Oct. 15 focusing on arrangements from two recent eponymous albums. Beasley seeks to infuse Monk’s music with contemporary cadences while evoking the challenges faced by the composer as a black man in a rigged environment.
“He’s a very mysterious figure in a way,” Beasley says. “His music was certainly radical for the time. We’re just catching up now. His son T.S. Monk told me that Monk wrote these tunes for musicians to put themselves in and that’s what I try to do with these arrangements.”
Pinning down Monk’s influence is almost impossible because it’s so pervasive. But pianist Randy Weston, 91, was one of his closest disciples, and he created a body of jazz standards that clearly bare Monk’s imprint. As part of the Koret Discover Jazz Series, SFJazz presents a four-installment weekly class at the SF Conservatory of Music that starts Oct. 18 with Weston, an NEA Jazz Master, joining instructor Cory Combs to talk about Monk’s approach to the piano.
In his autobiography with Willard Jenkins, “African Rhythms,” Weston admitted that he, too, didn’t get Monk at first, “but he eventually opened the door for me, showed me the direction for our music, where we maintain all the traditions of African music and we create from there.”
Read the full piece from: Mercury News
The young jazz singer’s live double album showcases the gravitas, humor, and modernity she brings both to classic standards and her own compositions.
At just 28, jazz vocalist Cécile McLorin Salvant has already been lauded by the music industry, including its figurehead Wynton Marsalis, who said that a singer of her caliber only comes by “once in a generation or two.” To be positioned among the ranks of Billie Holiday, Joni Mitchell, and Nina Simone—artists who place greater emphasis on telling a story that is universal over technical skill or prowess—takes gravitas, having a sharp wit about her and an old soul. Judging from the complex range and emotional heft that Salvant delivers on Dreams and Daggers, she has lives of experience already under her belt.
As a singer and composer, Salvant has always been comfortably nestled between a bygone era and the present day. This plays well to her strengths on her new double live album as she reimagines the work of Loesser, Rodgers, and Hart for today’s audiences. Salvant returns us to “simpler” times, when just a singer and her acoustic band could command no less than your full and undivided attention and, more importantly, when there were lyrics that implored you to utilize all of your senses in order to feel no less than the gamut of human emotion.
With a Best Jazz Vocal Grammy already on her mantle for her third album, 2015’s For One to Love, the Miami-born French-Haitian singer returns to us a little wiser, taking a deeper dive into the material she’s become known for. It is by far the boldest move of her career, one that pays off handsomely. On Dreams and Daggers, Salvant combines the well-known standards she’s already cut her teeth on (notably, her breakout version of the 1939 classic “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was”) with new original songs that explore love in all of its murkiness and splendor. It marks the coming of age for an assured young woman and artist who cradles every song with nurturing hands, full of caution and warmth.
“You’re My Thrill” pinpoints the moment when love is at its most abundant, as suggested by the bountiful spread of fish, assorted vegetables and exotic fruits laid out before us in the track’s accompanying video. Salvant’s delicate phrasing reveals her penchant for drama on the 1933 standard. Though evocative of the version made famous by Billie Holiday, it is still rooted in the present, thanks in part to its revamped, tension-filled string arrangement, courtesy of bassist Paul Sikivie. Her clever reworking of Nöel Coward’s “Mad About the Boy” also reveals her talent for reinterpretation, the way that she fully embraces a standard, like wearing the clothes of an old lover. As pianist Aaron Diehl lurks about, establishing the dark mood with a spare refrain, the ominous tone becomes wonderfully juxtaposed against Coward’s song of infatuation. Salvant takes full advantage of that fact as she rather unexpectedly, and angrily, belts out “Mad! It’s pretty funny... but I’m mad,” forewarning us all on how often infatuation can border on insanity and obsession.
Incorporating the blues into her live repertoire, especially one that consists mainly of standards, shows off Salvant’s expansive musical pedigree while paying homage to the earliest known feminists who unapologetically sang of love’s many trials and tribulations. On “Sam Jones’ Blues,” in the span of three-minutes, Salvant unleashes her “alter ego,” one who is brazen and revels in the bawdiness of the little known Bessie Smith tune: “You ain’t talkin’ to Mrs. Jones/You speakin’ to Miss Wilson now!” Though it marks a distinct departure from her pointed yet articulate and intimate phrasing, on the live album, Salvant wisely forgoes complete emulation. Instead, she finds deeper meaning, playing with the candor and suggestiveness of the music of Smith and Ida Cox, tapping into yet another facet of her vast range and personality as a vocalist.
Recorded live at New York’s renowned Village Vanguard just a year ago with her bandmates Diehl, Sikivie and drummer Lawrence Leathers, Salvant also incorporates new original music on the set. To juxtapose newer compositions against what many consider to be part of the Great American Songbook is indeed a high-wire act, especially when jazz standards continue to outsell newer works. But given our current climate, thankfully, we are now seeing a resurgence in artists who are pushing the boundaries of how jazz can evolve and still have great relevance in the 21st century. On songs like “More” and “The Worm,” Salvant asserts her own thoughts on love (“Do you love me? Do you think I’m pretty?”) not as an authority on the subject, but rather ensuring that her opinions are valid and are part of the ongoing conversation.
Much of how we operate today encourages that we further desensitize and distance ourselves from anything (and anyone) that can potentially disappoint or hurt us. But where does it end? That’s perhaps one of chief questions raised by this ambitious effort—how can our humanity continue to thrive and flourish without love? As she reimagines the through line of modern-day romance and heartache in jazz, Salvant is at her most versatile and expressive on Dreams and Daggers, choosing songs that wholly capture and embrace the full spectrum that is love—from the initial yearning to the relentless ache and betrayal.
Read the full piece from: Pitchfork
It was almost exactly a year ago that I first heard Cecile McLorin Salvant at the Village Vanguard. I came home and wrote a blog for this space, wondering how I could have missed her ascent (she'd already won a Grammy and other prizes) and deeming her the best jazz singer around, standing among the greats of all time. I went back to see her, dragging along my wife and two friends, the following Sunday—the late set, the final set of his week-long stint—and she was better still. (That set inspired me to pitch a profile of her to The New Yorker, which was published this past May.)
As it turns out, her label, Mack Avenue Records, had been recording her sets all that weekend, and the Sunday late set comprises roughly half the tracks on the resulting album, Dreams and Daggers, which is out this week as a 2-CD or 3-LP package. It is, as far as I know, the best jazz vocal album in a decade, maybe in longer than that.
Salvant, who recently turned 28, can do it all: she sings standard ballads, upbeat bop and pop, feisty anthems, earthy blues; before turning exclusively to jazz, she also studied Baroque and classical singing, and her teacher told me she could have been top-ranked in that field, if she'd wanted. She has precise articulation, an operatic range, and emotional range too: she inhabits her songs, as an actress inhabits her character in a play.
While interviewing her for my New Yorker article, she told me that the Vanguard dates had marked a turning point in her development. Before then, she would sometimes display her vocal acrobatics for their own sake—a tic that made her wince when she heard the playback. She thought it made her sound desperate. Shortly before the Vanguard week, she came up with a tactic to let her relax: she would pretend that she was old; desperation is a young person's game; old people have nothing left to prove.
It worked. On Dreams and Daggers she roams leagues beyond her previous albums, WomanChild (which won a Grammy nomination) and For One to Love (which won the Grammy). "I want to be natural and free and adventurous," she told me in the New Yorker interview, and she sounds all of those things.
Her bandmates—Aaron Diehl on piano, Paul Sikivie on bass, Lawrence Leathers on drums—are in top form too: spurring, lyrical, and inventive in a way reminiscent of the finest trios backing Sarah Vaughan or Ella Fitzgerald.
Most of the album comes from the final weekend of her Vanguard stint, much of it from that final Sunday set. Interspersed are a few songs, recorded later in a studio with a string ensemble behind her. There is not a dud on this album; there are several instant classics, notably her interpretations of "Mad About the Boy," "Sam Jones' Blues," "Somehow I Never Could Believe" (from an obscure Kurt Weill-Langston Hughes opera), "I Didn't Know What Time It Was," "Wild Women Don't Have the Blues," "You're Getting to Be a Habit with Me" . . . I could go on.
Salvant is back at the Vanguard this week, this time in duets with pianist Sullivan Fortner (who guest-played on a couple of songs from the album), a very different stylist from Aaron Diehl—more spare, at times pugnacious in a good-humored way, and just as keen a listener. I saw their opening set, on Tuesday, and Salvant just keeps getting better: more self-assured, more intimate, more joyous, more virtuosic but always in the service of the music and its story—as she put it, more natural and free and adventurous.
Back to the album: The engineering was by Damon Wittemore and Todd Whitelock, and this is one of the best-sounding live-at-the-Vanguard albums in years. The CD is excellent; the LP is better. The difference? On the CD, Salvant's voice is upfront, vivid. On the LP, it seems more "live," in the same space as the band, surrounded by air; you hear more of Sikivie's note-stretching fretwork on the bass, more of Leathers' subtle cymbal-swishing, more of Diehl's pedal work.
Here's an example, trivial but revealing. On "You're Getting to Be a Habit with Me," the encore of Sunday's late set and the last track on the album (and by the way, a cover that now competes with Sinatra's for definitiveness), each musician leaves the stage as the song fades out—first Salvant, then Diehl, then Leathers, then Sikivies—and the crowd (a very buoyant crowd, that set) claps and cheers with each exit. When Diehl leaves, several people shout "Woooh!" On the CD, the wooohs merge; on the LP, they sound distinct—in space and in tone—and one of them sounds very much like my wife, coming from the same spot in the audience (two tables back on the left) where we were sitting (footnote 1). I asked her if she had indeed shouted "Woooh!" when Diehl left the stage, and she said that she had. Now that's high fidelity!
An indulgent PS: On the LP of Phil Ochs' notorious live concert at Carnegie Hall, recorded in 1970, when he's talking back at the audience, which has been booing him for dressing like Elvis Presley, you hear an avid Ochs-defender shout, "Yeah!" That was my wife at age 15. Her "Woooh!" and her "Yeah!" will be alive to the cosmos for as long as needles track grooves.
Read the full piece from: Stereophile
McBride has just released a follow-up, aptly titledBringin’ It. A new salvo from a band that always comes out swinging, it’s also a proud showcase for his evolution as a composer-orchestrator. So for this installment of Take Five, I asked Christian — who among other things is our host at Jazz Night in America — to share his top five big band recordings, with remarks.
“I had to be careful when I was thinking about this, that I didn’t pick my favorite five tracks as they relate to the bass,” he said, when we spoke by phone last week. “Originally I was going to pick Duke Ellington’s ‘Jack the Bear,’ or something else from the [Jimmy] Blanton era. Or some [Charles] Mingus pieces. But then I said ‘Naw, it’s gonna be too bass heavy. I’ve got to think about the bigger picture, and what influenced my thinking about orchestration.’”
Here are his picks, in no particular order, and in his own words.
Oliver Nelson "Patterns For Orchestra”
Oliver Nelson was probably the first big band arranger-orchestrator that I paid close attention to. Blues and the Abstract Truth was a very important record for me as a teenager. And that recording sort of sparked the interest in learning how to orchestrate for a big band, even though it was not a big band album.
This track, I discovered later. I knew that Oliver Nelson was big on patterns. (In fact, he’s got a song called “Patterns” that he recorded on soprano, and a book called Patterns For Improvisation.) On this track, he uses these very angular and wide-ranging patterns going between the woodwinds and the brass, on top of a blues sequence. Listening to what the trombones play, I can only assume that when he put the music in front of their faces, they probably got a little angry. It sounds very difficult. Nevertheless, it was fascinating to think that he would do something like that. These demanding lines for trombone, and the entire orchestra in general.
Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra "Don't Git Sassy”
Thad Jones is a very interesting balance of tradition and experimentation. I know he’s not usually thought of as an experimentalist, but if you really pay attention to his orchestrating, you hear these dissonances and these unusual ideas. The way that Oliver Nelson had these angular, far-reaching lines, Thad Jones did that with harmony. There’s all kinds of great details in this tune: these double diminished chords he uses, and he arbitrarily goes from a major-seventh chord to a dominant sharp-ninth chord. At some point, you sit back and think, “That’s wonderfully strange.” There’s a part in the saxophone soli there, where for one bar they hit this D-flat major seven, which is this really pretty, sweet chord inside all this funk. Just the imagination that Thad Jones had — that he was able to come from the Basie background and then start his own group, which in many ways tipped its cap to the Basie sound but was very forward-thinking in terms of harmony and melody. If there’s a Bible for modern jazz arrangers, this song is definitely in it.
Count Basie Orchestra "Jessica's Day”
I first heard this song on a Cannonball Adderley recording, Jazz Workshop Revisited. So I always knew it as a fast, burning tune. Then I heard the Dizzy Gillespie Big Band version from ’56, which I believe is the actual original version. Then when I heard this Basie version, it knocked my socks off. In the midst of the legend that Quincy Jones has become in American culture, I think many of us who forget that he’s one of the greatest arrangers of all time. This whole album, One More Time, which is all Quincy Jones charts — theoretically I could probably pick any track from the record. There’s the legendary tightness of the band. It’s some of the greatest arrangements played by one of the greatest bands in one of the greatest periods for that band. As far as the orchestrating itself, I don’t think there are any unison lines at any point during this performance. Every single note is widely orchestrated and arranged to such a degree of excellence. I have a copy of the score. The way he’s able to use flute along with the muted trumpet, which sort of became the sound of the New Testament Basie Band, I just think it’s some wonderfully executed arranging. Quincy was studying with Nadia Boulanger at that time, and I think you hear some of that influence in the end, which is downright Baroque.
Gil Evans "Ella Speed”
It was another Gil who turned me on to this record years ago, and that was Gil Goldstein. We were talking about big band arranging stuff. He said, “I’m sure you’re familiar with the Gil Evans & Ten album.” I wasn’t familiar to extent I should have been. He said, “There’s a track on there called ‘Ella Speed,’ and I think you should check that out. In fact, I have a copy of Gil’s score for that.” Much like the fascination I had for Blues and the Abstract truth, here’s a recording where there’s eight horns in the ensemble. It’s not a full big band, but in many places it almost sounds like a double big band. Gil Evans is always able to make a band sound really, really big. Not loud, but full. His usage of middle brass is some of the most masterful technique of any style of writing. This was the first record of Gil’s that I heard outright, as opposed to the stuff he did with Miles Davis. Just to hear him cut loose, and to hear his real writing, I gained a whole new respect for him.
Maria Schneider "Giant Steps”
At some point in the early ‘90s, Maria had her regular gig at Visiones. I remember hearing this amazing music, and it just wasn’t your standard big band sound. It was coming out of that Gil Evans sort of thickness (and at that time, I didn’t know that she had studied with Gil). But when I finally got to work with Maria – she called me for a gig sometime in the early 2000s – playing some of that music of hers, and getting on the inside of it from the bass chair, she instantly became somebody whose brain I wanted to pick constantly. She not only shared Gil Evans stories but also a lot of her own ideas about orchestrating: about extended harmony and putting instruments in not necessarily comfortable ranges, depending on the kind of sound you want to achieve.
I was at the North Sea Jazz Festival one year. (I’ve never gone public with this story, but now is as good a time as any.) This must have been 2002, 2003. So Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter were there. I’m backstage with those guys, and I overheard them speaking about Maria and this arrangement of “Giant Steps.” Like, “Who in the world would think to put ‘Giant Steps’ over a D pedal? I never heard of such a thing!” They went on and on about it. Maybe a couple of years later we were all in a room together. And man, the way Herbie and Wayne were fawning all over Maria, it was almost like a comedy movie. They were all, “Oh, we’ve never heard anyone who writes like you!” And: “Gil gave you the keys to the castle!” Maria’s sitting there all demure, like, “Oh, fellas, stop!” Mind you, at this table it was also me, Pat Metheny, Dave Holland, Brian Blade. Man, Wayne and Herbie had no time for anybody but Maria Schneider. They got back on the “Giant Steps” thing. Wayne was like “That’s just so ingenious – a D pedal! Maria, what made you think of that?”
Well, I had asked Maria the same question. What chords did you come up with for the melody? Her answer was so surprising: “I just made ‘em up.” There was no method or anything? “No! Just make up something, as long as it blends well.” I remember thinking: “Yeahhhh. Dig that!” And I thought, “Well, that makes more sense as to why it works over a pedal.” So back to the night Herbie and Wayne were fawning. I got so jealous. They had gone on for so long, like a straight hour. I remember saying “Well, dammit, I’mma write my own arrangement over a pedal.” That’s where I came up with the treatment for “I Thought About You,” from my new recording. So Maria Schneider in a much broader sense influenced that arrangement, though it really came down to the fawning of Herbie and Wayne.
Read the full piece from: WBGO
The young jazz vocalist Cécile McLorin Salvant’s arrival on the jazz scene began when she entered and won the 2010 Thelonious Monk competition, which annually spotlights a different instrument. That year was a vocal contest. Singing was not the 21 year old’s intended career choice.
Following her well-publicized win the buzz was sustained but of course there are no guarantees in either art or show business. The story of what happened next as well as the remarkable singer’s background is well told in Fred Kaplan’s in-depth New Yorker profile and in less detail in the AnalogPlanet review of Ms. Salvant’s Grammy nominated Mack Avenue Records debut. Her second album,For One to Love, even more ambitious and eclectic nabbed a Grammy.
The next logical step in the recorded part of Ms. Salvant’s career was to record a live album with her trio (Aaron Diehl, piano, Paul Sikivie, bass, Lawrence Leathers, drums). Salvant and her management team chose to record at New York’s legendary Village Vanguard, an usual choice for a vocal recording, though of course there’s a landmark precedent for a piano, bass and drums trio recording produced in the intimate club. At times for but a few bars the trio seems to be channeling the classic Evans trio.
Salvant’s three night Village Vanguard stand September 9th, 10th and 11th 2016 is documented in this nearly two hour, triple LP set, which includes a few short studio tracks with string augmentation that serve as links to the standards.
The eclectic and imaginative A&R work spotlights Salvant’s elastic vocal and emotional range, which ranges from sassy, playful and coquettish to somber. She covers the Broadway show tunes like “Never Will I Marry” taken as a breezy romp, Irving Berlin’s “The Best Thing For You (would be me)” and “Let’s Face the Music and Dance”, Rodgers and Hart’s “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was” and other light hearted fare but also “Somehow I Never Could Believe” a dark Kurt Weill/Langston Hughes collaboration and Gershwin’s “My Man is Gone”. She gets the laughs on Jule Styne’s “If A Girl Ain’t Pretty” (from Barbra Streisand's "Funny Girl"), and the personal chills on “You’re My Thrill”. She also wraps her tongue around two tunes popularized by Bessie Smith that are "naughty". There are two Bob Dorough tunes too. The set ends with Ida Cox’s ribald blues “Wild Women Don’t Have the Blues” and shows that she can belt it out too. Back for the encore she covers the standard “You’re Getting to Be a Habit With Me” after which the crowd goes wild. They loved her and you will too. If you zone her out (not easy to do) and pay attention to the trio, you’ll feel the same about them too.
If you’re hoping forWaltz For DebbyandSunday at The Village Vanguardsonics here, don’t worry, you get them and more. Yes, the piano, bass and drums are captured naturally both timbrally and spatially but more to the point is the exquisite presentation of Ms. Salvant’s voice, which is out front riding on a velvety cushion of air. As she works the microphone the room acoustics enter naturally behind her. It’s quite a remarkable engineering job by Damon Whittemore and Todd Whitelock, mixed by Whitelock at ValveTone Studios. Mark Wilder mastered at Battery Studios. Kevin Gray cut lacquers from 192/24 bit files. RTI pressed. Yes, the sound more than favorably compares with those famous Bill Evans albums. You're in the club with Cécile and her trio and it's a place you'll want to be!
Read the full piece from: Analog Planet
Last September, as Cécile McLorin Salvant prepared to take the stage of the Village Vanguard with her trio for the last night in a vaunted Tuesday-through-Sunday run at the jazz mecca, her drummer, Lawrence Leathers, gave a pep talk. By Salvant’s own admission, the first five nights were merely OK. Now, as Salvant huddled in the club’s claustrophobic kitchen-turned-dressing room with Lawrence, pianist Aaron Diehl, and bassist Paul Sikivie, it was time to step up.
“He was like, ‘Guys, we’ve got to do this, I don’t know what’s wrong with everyone!’ ” she says, over a glass of Chardonnay on the Lower East Side. “I’m making it the clean version, but some words were said.”
Suitably amped up, the group then went out and worked their way through a set of standards that make up the bulk of Salvant’s rollicking new double album, Dreams and Daggers (out September 29). “It was fine,” she said of those first five nights. “Do you know when you’re like, ‘It’s fine’? You don’t want that. I’d rather it be a train wreck and it has a thing than, ‘It’s fine.’ ”
Whatever Salvant found on that final night, it was more than fine, and this week, beginning Tuesday, September 26, she’s back at the Vanguard with a weeklong headlining slot. “The Vanguard is a character in this story,” the 28-year-old Salvant says of the album. “It’s part of the sound. And the people there — we should have written their names down.”
Indeed, during “You’ve Got to Give Me Some,” when Salvant sings, “Lovin’ is the thing I crave/For your love, I’d be your slave…” a woman in the audience belts out, “Careful!” The crowd cracks up. That tune was popularized by Bessie Smith, as was the hilarious “Sam Jones Blues.” (“You ain’t talkin’ to Mrs. Jones/You speakin’ to Ms. Wilson now.”)
Not that the record is all fun and games. Salvant’s rendition of “My Man’s Gone Now,” from George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, is so wrenching that the audience delays its applause, as if out of respect. In “Somehow I Never Could Believe,” a piece from Street Scene, the mid-twentieth-century opera by Kurt Weill and Langston Hughes about life in a New York tenement, Salvant relays the same kind of intensity. (In lieu of liner notes in Dreams and Daggers, she simply uses another Langston Hughes work, the poem “Fascination.” She also has an artistic hand and did illustrations on the back cover, as well as all the handwriting, even down to the FBI warning.)
Salvant, who just moved to Brooklyn from Harlem, was born and raised in Miami in a French-speaking home. Her father, a doctor, is Haitian; her mother is French — and is the principal at a French school in Miami. Having started singing formally at age eight with the Miami Choral Society, by her late teens she had moved to Aix-en-Provence, France, to study law as well as classical and baroque voice. Since then it’s been a whirlwind of acclaim: In 2009, she recorded her first album, Cécile; the next year she won the prestigious Thelonius Monk Institute of Jazz’s International Competition back in the United States. By 2014, her second CD, WomanChild, was a Grammy nominee for Best Jazz Vocal Album. And last year, with For One to Love, she won the award outright.
“She is able to understand and express a complex relationship to the text,” says Sikivie, about Salvant’s precocious vocal dexterity. “She makes the song her world and then uses her well-developed instrument to let others feel genuine emotions from that world, reveal the lessons from that world. And she has a marvelous and confident sense of taste.”
Salvant rarely sings in French, she tells me, but she did at the Vanguard, interpreting Joséphine Baker’s “Si J’étais Blanche” (“If I Were White”), a song about, in Salvant’s words, “a black woman wanting to be white,” which is also on the album.
When she was growing up, Salvant — who says she has the darkest skin in her immediate family — was in the awkward position of being ridiculed by both blacks and whites. She says black kids told her, “If you’re darker than this, you’re ugly.” Whites asked her, “Why are you trying to act white?”
“I’ve always been attracted to songs about identity,” she says. “I’ve always been interested in how people interact with each other, and power dynamics, and how we tell people that they’re lower or how we try to control people. Those are the songs I connect with the most.… I do it through humor.” Then she cites songs from the new record. “ ‘If a Girl Isn’t Pretty’ is, to me, a political song. ‘Somehow I Never Could Believe’ is a feminist, political song, but it’s not in your face. It’s not, like, ‘We need rights.’ I’m more interested in asking the questions, and then people can discuss it.”
The new album isn’t exclusively live tracks from the Vanguard. There are short originals dispersed throughout, with Salvant’s lyrics and music by her bassist, Sikivie, who did the string arrangements for the Catalyst Quartet. “I see them as little passageways or little remarks on what just happened,” she says. “Most of the songs I wrote were reactions to the standards on the album.”
For instance, after “If a Girl Isn’t Pretty” — from the 1968 musical Funny Girl with Barbra Streisand — comes her own original “Red Instead,” where she sings: “I can’t really change the way I am/I can be bolder/Sharpen my dagger/Cut through the multitudes/And make it bright red instead.”
At this week’s Vanguard gig, Salvant will not be accompanied by her regular sharply dressed trio, but instead only by pianist Sullivan Fortner, who was in the audience that Sunday last year and played with her on “You’ve Got to Give Me Some.” She calls Fortner “such an amazing musician,” and recorded an album with him earlier this year that will be out in 2018. “I’m trying to get him to sing,” she says. They’re going to do standards, yes, but also a song each by Aretha Franklin and Stevie Wonder. Michael Jackson might also be in the mix.
On display will be her impeccable articulation, sly phrasings, and that distinctive way she has of conveying different characters and voicings within a song, as if she’s playing different roles.
“I’m just a frustrated person who wishes they could be an actress,” she says. “I think that’s what I always wanted to do, and I never really pursued it, partly because of how I look. For a black woman who looks like me, roles are,” she pauses, “interesting. You have a certain area where you can express yourself, and if it’s outside that, it’s not working.… So I think deep down, that’s my passion, the theater. The music is an outlet for me.”
Read the full piece from: Village Voice
Vocal jazz is as popular as ever, and as critically underrated as ever -- no surprise, given that the majority of its practitioners are women. With her Friday afternoon set, McLorin-Salvant showed once again how foolish that divide is with a truly exceptional rendition of Duke Ellington’s "Sophisticated Lady" -- an interpretation that somehow shed new light on a standard performed at the festival since its inception. On Big Bill Broonzy’s "Black, Brown and White" and folk song "John Henry," she used her gift for theatricality as a tool to make the audience look inward, presenting each line with clarity and feeling but without compromise. It was a master class in entertainment as confrontation: impossible to turn away from her captivating performance, which made it impossible to ignore the enduring relevance of each song’s straightforward indictment of American society.
Read the full piece from: Billboard
Pianistic influences seem to include both Bud Powell and Chick Corea, and there is in fact a tribute to the latter on, ‘Armando’s song’, which is a thinly disguised homage to Corea’s very own 1970s opus, ‘Armando’s Rhumba’, but what is interesting here is that the composition is performed by Sands as a straight ahead piano trio number without any hint of Latinization. That said, Sands is interested in how Latin music and jazz interweave and overarches one another and he does explore Latin rhythms and more specifically their connection to Africa on, ‘¡Oyemé!’, which showcases some lovely bass and percussion work.
Elsewhere, bop hues are evident on, ‘Bud’s tune’, this time in reference to the great Bud Powell and this piece is performed by the trio with blues inflections from the leader and some fine polyrhythmic licks from the drummer. An interesting choice of standards emerges on, ‘Use me’, the Bill Withers’ song which is taken here at a relaxed mid-tempo with a jazz-rock tinged guitar solo from Gilad Hekselman, who features on three numbers, and is very much in the vein of John Scofield. The album ends with a ballad, co-written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, ‘Somewhere out there’, that is again a piano trio with great subtlety on bass and the softest of percussion. Christian Sands is a new name with a promising feature and this recording will certainly enhance his growing reputation.
Read the full piece from: UK Vibe
"I don’t know what I hope to revive, but these are the things that interest me in life. I like human things. I like hand made things. I like things where you can feel the touch of a human being. This is why I love acoustic music. I love instruments. I love being able to have that immediate connection which we cannot have behind a screen. So this is why the idea of live performance, with acoustic instruments, with a certain amount of error- human error- is something that’s really interesting to me and really important to me. I think it’s important to a lot of people. You see it in food, too, you know? A lot of people are getting interested in cooking again and going to the market and getting organic things, and I feel like I want to feel that in music and culture as well. And I think it’s needed."
Read the full piece from: PBS “The Open Mind”
McLorin Salvant thinks her own inspiration carries on to the inspiration she and her band feed the audience. While there’s not a particular emotion or takeaway she aims for audiences to leave with, she does want them to walk away with a “strong feeling” — negative or positive.
“Of course, I’d love for people to leave feeling happy or joyful or forgetting a little bit of their problems, but sometimes it’s good to be reminded of our problems, too,” she said.
Called a “millennial shaking up the jazz world” by Vanity Fair, McLorin Salvant said there are many obstacles standing in the way of reaching most millennials and the average consumer in general, despite music’s power to cross generational and cultural boundaries.
“We live in a time where people need some kind of visual, attention-grabbing thing to catch them,” she said. “I think a lot of people are just following whatever is on the Top 40. Unfortunately, whatever is on the Top 40 is not the highest quality art ... So you have this general atmosphere of young people being fed a certain kind of music, and it’s hard to access other (genres). Even with the internet, there’s so much out there, it’s hard to find what you like, or even know what you like.”
Then there’s the reputation of jazz music, that it’s too difficult, intellectual, boring or just for older people, she said.
“There’s just a lot of things going against millennials getting to jazz, but thankfully things are moving and changing, and people are paying more attention,” McLorin Salvant said. “Hopefully with time, we’ll be able to connect with more young audiences.”
Read the full piece from: Centre Daily Times
In the press materials for bassist Christian McBride’s new big band album, he cites bandleaders Duke Ellington and Maria Schneider as strong influences on his large-ensemble work. McBride’s artistic debt to those two musicians reflects his desire to be part of a jazz tradition while also pushing it forward. His 2011 big band album, The Good Feeling (Mack Avenue), generated rave reviews, and most of the players on that album are back for Bringin’ It. McBride has said, “[L]ike Duke Ellington used to do, I can write for my guys because I know their sound and style.” Nine of the 11 tracks here were arranged by McBride, who included three original compositions in the program. (All three are songs that he had previously recorded with a smaller ensemble, so it’s clear that he wants to continue refining his acumen as an arranger.) A judicious yet bold arranger, McBride knows exactly when he or one of his trusted bandmates should inject a solo into a tune. Trombonist Michael Dease offers a growling, greasy solo on the McBride original “Used ’Ta Could,” a party tune so addictive that it should be accompanied by a warning label. Carl Maraghi’s baritone sax solo adds some mighty muscle to a winning rendition of Wes Montgomery’s “Full House.” On a lovely arrangement of “In The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning,” the leader’s tasteful arco work and Brandee Younger’s harp add intriguing textures, as though McBride is telling the listener, “I have a lot of dazzling colors on this palette, and I know how to use them properly.” The album concludes with trombonist Steve Davis’ arrangement of his own composition “Optimism.” It’s a toe-tapper incorporating surprising twists and shifts, spiced with Todd Bashore’s arresting alto sax solo and Davis’ fluid trombone solo. McBride is a busy, multifaceted artist who’s constantly juggling projects, and the release of Bringin’ It gives his big-band fans a reason to celebrate.
Read the full piece from: Downbeat
John Beasley considered the late Walter Becker an essential mentor and a key figure in his own career.
The Grammy-nominated keyboardist, composer and arranger started working with Becker on Rickie Lee Jones' 1987 album Flying Cowboys, which led to Becker signing Beasley to Windham Hill Jazz and producing his first two albums, 1992's Cauldron and 1993's A Change of Heart. Beasley -- whose credits include Miles Davis, Chaka Khan, Dianne Reeves, John Patittucci and many others -- also worked played on Becker's 1994 solo debut 11 Tracks of Whack and worked with Steely Dan from 1993-2000.
He was at the 38th annual Detroit Jazz Festival on Sunday, launching his latest album John Beasley Presents MONK'estra, Volume 2 when he learned of Becker's death.
Steely Dan's Walter Becker Toiled in Relative Anonymity -- But Not to Musicians
I'm shocked. I wasn't ready for it at all, and it happened. I found out in the morning and I was dealing with checking everybody in, so I was kind of preoccupied. I had breakfast with Adam Rogers and Bob Sheppard; The three of us knew and worked with Walter a long time ago, so we kind of commiserated and gave each other a big hug and went back to our day.
Walter was a mentor to me. Of course I was a Steely Dan fan, and I met him when I was in my mid-20s and he hired me as a young guy to play on this Rickie Lee Jones record and we kind of hit it off. I wasn't really able to be there that long; That was when Miles Davis called me, and I didn't know what to do. So I talked to (Becker) and he, of course, said, "Well, you gotta go," so he kind of pushed me out the door. And while I was out with Miles he got a production deal at Windham Hill and he signed me to my first record deal and produced my first two records, and we became really close.
I worked on several other projects he produced, and he always had interesting things to say and I started to realize that all those left turns in Steely Dan music, that this was the guy that maybe inspired all those kind of fast turns -- left turns, I called them back then -- the uneven phrases, maybe, or sort of a jump or modulation out of nowhere, that kind of thing. He was so creative and unusual that way. he wasn't like your normal songwriting form or anything like that. He loved those surprises.
And in the studio he always had interesting things to say, very witty things to say about the music -- but all positive. It was never, "This sucks, you gotta do this" or "You gotta do that." He had a way of getting everybody laughing but, of course, a sarcastic way of looking at your own music -- and his own music -- that kind of kept you in check.
He was a great editor, kind of cutting fat out of a tune. I remember tracking with him and working with Peter Erskine on a tune of mind and working out the drum pattern, and he always came up with something that I never would have thought of but that made total sense, mostly with the rhythm section or the forms of the tunes. At the time I was also doing studio work, movie stuff and pop records, and polyphonic synthesizers were everywhere. Walter didn't like the notion of an analog pad or a string pad or anything like that. He liked a drier production, and I came to love that. He knew how to streamline a track so that the rhythm section always felt good, and I got a sense of how to program a synthesizer in a way that didn't cloud the track in a way.
I spent many months in Maui working on 11 Tracks of Whack and I lived in the house in the back of his house and spent a lot of time in the car driving to the studio with him, just becoming friends and getting to know his family. So we became pretty close. He listened to a lot of music and he had a very wide palette of music that he liked. He loved mainstream jazz, so we were always listening to Tommy Flanagan and he turned me on to Paul Bley and he loved Rick Garland. But the next CD he'd pop into the car would be, like, a ska band or even a punk band. Walter would always find interesting artists in a particular genre, even, like, gangsta rap. That was kind of unexpected to me, but it opened my horizons because I was listening to the jazz and funk of the day, and he introduced me to a lot more than that.
I used to love the mystery that those guys had, he and Donald, the same way I loved it about Miles Davis. (Becker) wasn't mysterious once you got to know him, but I loved that their personal was, to me, so mysterious. When he had his imprint on Windham Hill he wanted everybody's portrait to be on the cover of their albums. I was like, "No, man, I want to be like you guys. I don't want my picture on there. Let 'em wonder what I look like." The compromise is my first record has a very dark photo of me on there, but I really was like, "No, I want to be like you guys."
I haven't really heard much of him in the last seven or eight years, unfortunately. He was a bit of a recluse the last few years. I just hope he was OK. I hope he didn't struggle. It didn't really hit me until (Sunday) night and (Monday) morning, until I was at the airport and reading the New York Times obituary and flying and had some quiet time. I'm still kind of processing it. He meant a lot to me and always will.
Read the full piece from: Billboard
Joyner was born in 1980 in Norfolk, Virginia, the son of Dianne Joyner Barnes and Jackie Charles Ray Smith. Joyner inherited some of his musical gifts from his professional bass player father.
Joyner grew up in a Christian household while developing most of his musical sensibilities from singing in the church choir and playing drums behind up-tempo gospel songs.
In his teens, the saxman relocated with his family to Syracuse, NY, where he studied saxophone and played in the band under the leadership of his music teacher and mentor Lou Adams. While in high school, Joyner competed in the NAACP’s Afro-Academic, Cultural, Technological and Scientific Olympics or ACT-SO, (geared towards African Americans demonstrating academic, artistic and scientific prowess and expertise), taking top honours three years in a row in the categories of Instrumental Contemporary, Composition and Classical Music.
After high school, he moved back to Virginia, where Bishop Michael Patterson of the World Harvest Outreach Ministries in Newport News made him head of the music department. Joyner not only sharpened his keyboard and production skills in this capacity, he also had a chance to play for audiences in Nigeria, Sudan, and Kenya on a missionary trip in 2002. This experience helped the young saxophonist grow quickly as a musician and, by age 21, he had joined keyboardist Marcus Johnson’s band with which he toured from 2001 to 2004.
The year 2003 was a pivotal year for Joyner. An opportunity to play with the legendary Bobby Lyle gave him the chance to play at the Bermuda Jazz Festival, which also had Angela Bofill among the line-up, and it was she who suggested that Joyner participate in the 30-city tour with Ronnie Laws, Jean Carne, and herself that year. It was also the year that Joyner married his wife Lola, and together they relocated to Los Angeles, CA, so that Joyner could try to further his career in the music business.
In 2005, Joyner released his debut solo album, the independently-produced This Time Around. The album helped boost his profile, and, in 2007, he signed to trumpeter Rick Braun’s Artizen Music Group in time to release his sophomore album, BabySoul (my personal favourite, check out the understated funk groove of “In Love Again”). The first single “Stay with Me tonight” featured guitarist Peter White and reached #17 on the Billboard Contemporary Jazz Charts.
The following year, 2008, Joyner was named Smooth Jazz News Debut Artist of the Year and was featured on the cover of BMG magazine as his career began to blossom.
At the beginning of 2009, Artizen Music Group, founded by saxman Richard Ellliot and trumpeter Rick Braun, was bought out by a larger record company, Mack Avenue Records, which also acquired several other smaller labels. Joyner went on to release his third album Lil Man Soul under Artistry Music, a contemporary jazz subdivision of Mack Avenue Records.
His first single from that album, “I’m Waiting for You” was an instant No.1 hit on the Billboard Contemporary Jazz Chart. It remained at the number one spot for 12 straight weeks. “I’m Waiting for You” went on to become the No.2 song of the year on the billboard charts and was also nominated for Song of the Year 2010 at the American Smooth Jazz Awards. The second single entitled “Take Me there” was released early 2010 and went to the No.1 spot on the Billboard Contemporary Jazz Charts and remained there for 6 weeks straight.
Later that year, Joyner released his fourth album, the self-titled funk/pop/groove mix including Paul Jackson Jr on guitar and Kayta Matsuno on acoustic and electric guitar. The year 2010 was also the year that Joyner was presented with The Keys to The City by Mayor Stephanie Miner of Syracuse NY for Outstanding Achievement in Music along with a Proclamation of August 5, 2010, as “Jackiem Joyner Day.”
Revisiting his non-secular roots, Joyner issued the gospel-jazz Church Boy in 2012, which featured contributions from Kirk Whalum and Jonathan Butler. In 2014, Joyner released his fifth studio-album, and third for Mack Avenue, Evolve. An adventurous mix of smooth jazz and gospel, Evolve marked the first time Joyner wrote, arranged, and produced every track. Evolve also featured appearances from Gerald Albright and Keiko Matsui. That release placed his infectious melodies amidst futuristic electronic soundscapes.
Joyner’s latest release Main Street Beat, his sixth album, if you don’t count his 2005 independent release, coincides with his tenth anniversary as a recording artist. Of his latest release, Joyner says he approached crafting Main Street Beat with a three-pronged purpose. “I wanted to create something upbeat, fun to listen to and something to dance to. Main Street Beat originally started off as a straight funk record that eventually became some of that but a whole lot more as I allowed the creative process to have its way with me,” said Joyner who plays tenor, alto, soprano, and baritone saxophone on the release, often enriching the tracks by laying layer upon layer of horns to form a powerhouse sax section.
Now a proud father, the first single from the new album (“Trinity”) was named after his daughter. (Given his love of science fiction, dare I wonder if the Matrix had any influence here?) “My little girl played a huge role in inspiring this album. Having Trinity around during the writing process sparked an enormous font of creativity and really kicked my writing into high gear. The first single, named after her, really captures the excitement and joy of being a dad as well as the exciting little girl that she is. Trinity was right there in the studio during a lot of the writing process. Her jumpy and bouncy upbeat little self is really reflected on this album,” said Joyner.
The Smooth Jazz Ride’s very own Ronald Jackson sums Joyner up beautifully when he says “Jackiem Joyner is a saxophonist with a firm grip on some of the sweetest melodies and driving grooves ever to be delivered to the contemporary genre. Not only is he perfectly fitted for the genre and mightily skilled, he is a humble, kind, and down-to-earth artist who has his direction clearly in sight.” I’d like to add: And he can write a bit too!! – Steve Giachardi
Read the full piece from: The Smooth Jazz Ride
Thelonious Monk was born 100 years ago this October. The tributes and revisitations are about to start rolling in. Leading the pack is “John Beasley Presents MONK’estra, Volume 2,” released Friday, from one of the pianist and composer’s least-secret admirers. Mr. Beasley is himself a mutable pianist and crafty arranger, and this album — like the first volume — carves up and dissects Monk’s famous bebop melodies. Monk’s music was already about displacement, counterintuition, refusal cloaked as humor; with his 16-piece band, Mr. Beasley laces 10 of those crooked themes into funky, often-Caribbean rhythms, pulling them into today and back to a taproot. On “Criss Cross,” the master conguero Pedrito Martinez adds bounce and body; the conversation gets special on Mr. Beasley’s rambunctious solo. - GIOVANNI RUSSONELLO
Read the full piece from: NY Times
One of last year’s finest releases was John Beasley’s Big Band album Monk’estra, Volume One. A master arranger, Beasley put together a who’s who of musicians to turn the Thelonius Monk library of tunes into something more innovative and thought provoking than they had been in years. A pair of Grammy nominations followed, so it was hoped that an encore set would soon appear.
Wait no longer.
Monk’estra, Volume Two is here, and it was well worth the wait. Digging deeper into the Monk catalogue, and allowing members of the band and select special guests to stretch out a but have made this is a delight. Whether it’s Dontae Winslow turning “Brake’s Sake” into a whirlwind with his trumpet solo and rap interlude; a sultry “Dear Ruby” artfully sung by Dianne Reeves; or the innovative medley of “Ugly Beauty” and “Pannonica”, this is an album that rewards a careful listener at every turn.
We’ve come to expect this sort of top notch work from John Beasley, who has earned acclaim for his work as Music Director for The Thelonious Monk Institute gala concerts. Every April 30th, he produces and directs the International Jazz Day concert in a global city bringing together all-star jazz artists to perform. The White House concert "Jazz at the White House" earned Beasley an Emmy nomination for Best Musical Direction.
Beyond his direction and arranging, he writes and records television and movie scores, and finds time to work in small ensembles as well. He has been part of touring bands for Miles Davis, Freddie Hubbard, and Sergio Mendes, as well as rock bands like Steely Dan. He never ceases to amaze.
Podcast 590 is my conversation with John about the Monk’estra, which I had the pleasure of seeing live at the venerable Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in London earlier this summer. Musical selections from the new CD include “Brake’s Sake”, “Ugly Beauty/Pannonica” and “Evidence”.
Read the full piece from: Straight No Chaser - A Jazz Show
It might seem strange for a very young woman, growing up thousands of miles away from jazz capitals like New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, to be singing standards from the years before World War II. But Cécile McLorin Salvant, perhaps the brightest star among jazz singers under 40, and whose retro glasses make her look like a clerk at a hipster vinyl shop, has always had old-school tastes.
“I like things that are handmade,” Salvant, a 27-year-old Miami native who opens for Brian Ferry at the Hollywood Bowl on Saturday, says by phone. “I’m really into analog photography. Anything that’s handmade has always been a passion of mine. The handmade, homemade quality makes it seem human. And I’m really into history, including the history of American popular music, in all its contradictions.”
In some cases, she’s crooning numbers that have long been part of the jazz canon, for singers and instrumentalists: “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was,” Cole Porter favorites like “Easy to Love,” Fat’s Waller’s immortal “Jitterbug Waltz.”
In other cases, these contradictions include songs that are mid-century-sexist — David-Bacharach’s “Mad Men”-era “Wives and Lovers” — or weirdly racist, like “(You Bring Out) The Savage in Me.” In her originals, she upends the travails of modern romance by giving the tales vintage trappings, utilizing the layers of the past to bring out the deeply layered meanings in the songs — the ways, for instance, in which gender roles have or have not changed.
Two years back the Guardian in the UK described “a mischievous intelligence” and called her style “more heightened music theatre than jazz”; in some ways Salvant is as much actor as director: She says she finds these numbers “funny and fascinating,” offering serious tonal challenges to the singer. “I like to see how things play out in history.”
Salvant, whose father is a Haitian doctor and mother a French-Guadeloupean educator, began singing in several other styles before she even came to jazz. In fact, the first time she heard Billie Holiday, as a kid, she was frightened: “Late in life, her voice was that of a scary witch.”
Salvant later came around and found Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, Bessie Smith and others to be major inspirations.
But the teenage Salvant was drawn more immediately by classical and Baroque singing.
“Baroque music is about the jagged edges of music,” she says. “Those songs are 400 years old, but they still work.”
After high school she moved to the south of France, taking voice lessons at the Conservatoire Darius Milhaud. A visit to a class taught by a jazz saxophonist, and her interest in improvisation — once a major part of classical music but harder to find more recently — put her on a new path.
Still, her interests remain wide, from the novels of Virginia Woolf to the poetry of Langston Hughes to the choreography of Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker. “I get excited by jazz singers, but that’s such a small percentage of what I’m influenced by. I’ve always been really influenced by people who have contradictory influences in their work, and somehow it comes together in a cool way. I love clashing things.”
Salvant broke out hard in 2013 with the “WomanChild” LP, three years after winning the Thelonious Monk Vocal Jazz Competition. She's toured consistently, including gigs at Catalina’s and the Playboy Jazz Festival, but has released only one album since — “For One to Love,” which won a Grammy last year.
In reviewing the work, The Times’ Mikael Wood wrote, “her feel for subtext makes her one of the smartest (and funniest) interpreters going. In ‘Stepsisters’ Lament,’ from ‘Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella,’ the wide-open quality of her voice makes you believe she’s identifying with the song’s narrator, who can’t understand why men routinely opt for ‘a frail and fluffy beauty’ over ‘a solid girl like me.’”
At the end of September she’ll release an unusual double album: Some of “Dreams and Daggers” (released, like the others, on Mack Avenue) is live, some is in studio with a string quartet, and much of it involves original numbers. Salvant aimed to write new songs that bridged the recording’s standards like “You’re My Thrill” and “My Man’s Gone Now.”
Here, again, this 20-something Bessie Smith fan is being old-school: She admires the way artists like Solange and Frank Ocean make albums designed to be listened to all the way through Salvant calls it “a renewal of the idea of a whole work of art.”
Overall, with a style that is intimate and reasonably understated for a jazz artist — she seems a natural for a place like the Village Vanguard or Largo at the Coronet — the Bowl poses a challenge. She’s sung there and in huge outdoor venues before, but admits that these places can be tricky. “We like our sound to be as acoustic as possible, and it can be hard to get the balance right. It’s so enormous — you have to remind yourself there are people out there.”
The Bowl booking of Salvant behind Ferry is, as she calls it, “kind of a crazy mix”: A 71-year-old English art-rock singer who loves Charlie Parker, following a black jazz singer, a third his age, with a European education and affinities. On second thought, says Salvant: “Whoever came up with this … is kind of brilliant.”
Read the full piece from: LA Times
Multi-instrumentalist, bandleader and composer Joey DeFrancesco trades his traditional trio lineup for a quartet on the 2017 full-length album, Project Freedom, out now via Mack Avenue Records. With his signature Hammond B3 organ at the foundation of each arrangement, DeFrancesco and his band The People stretch out across genres. Pulling from the tried and true spirituals of the church, the freedom songs of American folk, the abiding sorrow of the blues and the swing of straight ahead jazz, they combine their talents to create a sonic ode to spiritual uplift that resonates immediately and stands as a resounding call to arms in trying times. Joey DeFrancesco explains what Project Freedom is and how it came to be.
Revive Music: Project Freedom opens with “Imagine” (Prelude) — a pretty emphatic statement about the tone of the record. That moves into the title track, which references a somber spiritual (“Go Down Moses”) before the band essentially throws off a burden and breaks out. What discussions were you having with yourself at the inception of this project and what role did “Freedom Songs” of the past play in it?
Joey Defrancesco: Everything you just said. There’s no question about the times that we’re in and things that have been going for many years. Musicians always express themselves through song. In jazz, in particular, but really any improvised music. There’s a lot of emotion in it, so whatever you’re doing and whatever’s going on in your surroundings, comes out in your music. Being traveling musicians, we’ve gone to places that were very risky to go to at certain times and we went anyway. Everywhere we play, no matter what was going on, people get the music and they feel it. They feel the sincerity of our wish peace and unity for everyone through the music. Nowadays, with much more of a public eye on things and the internet making people even more aware of all of the horrible things that are happening, I felt like I could take it a step further to bring more awareness and attention to the fact that people should be living in unity and peace with respect for one another.
RM: “The Unifier” is a song that rhythmically and melodically captures a number of styles — from jazz, blues and soul, to roots and drum & bass. It feels like a literal and figurative coming together that positions you as orchestrator. Was your goal with this project to unify sounds? People? What?
JD: All of those things. When the music and the melody come to mind, that was what was in my head. The tune goes in so many directions within itself, but it is also like a big warm hug. It starts with a funky “come on over” type of vibe, then there’s a mystical second part where you imagine people feeling each other out and getting to know one another — questioning each other. Then there’s the next part and it comes back together like, “We’re all cool. We’re all together.” You feel that in the music and that’s how it ends.
RM: Your instrument of choice for the duration of Project Freedom is the Hammond B3 organ. How much did the history of the instrument as a major component in songs of uplift and resistance play into the decisions you made about the direction of the project?
JD: I’ve been playing the instrument for so long. I’ve been playing for 42 years, so it is part of me. An organ is a very spiritual instrument. That’s why it is used in churches and things like that. It is the perfect vehicle for expression — just like every instrument is — it is like having an orchestra at your fingertips. You can also make it sound almost like voices. It is kind of unlimited in what you can do. That all makes it an important part of the music. You can explore so much and go in so many different directions with it. I’m playing all of the bass on this project. I’m playing with my left hand and my foot. That guides the harmony. The cohesiveness of the band as a unit is another big component — everybody is on the same page with respect to what the project is about. Much of that comfortability comes from being together and playing constantly, because we all travel together on the road. So, the sound of the organ is a major part of that style of music and of me. It’s really a big part of everything I do, but it really lends itself to some of the material on the project as well.
RM: Can you talk about the spiritual undertone of Project Freedom and how that is reflective of your life at this point?
JD: I’ve always lived that way. Music has always had a huge effect on me, spiritually. Everybody has certain things that they like to listen to and that becomes the soundtrack of their lives. All of those things tie into the spiritual aspect of it too. Some music makes you feel more than others. It all is an emotional rollercoaster of good, beautiful things — but also things that resonate in a sad, respectful, emotional kind of way to make you reflect and pay homage to certain situations. That’s the way I like to live my life. I always have. I love different cultures and the music from those cultures. I like to learn things. It all blends into one big, beautiful thing. I would just like everyone to see that. I know that’s the goal for a lot of people, but if I can just get 5 or 6 more people to see that, it’s better than nothing.
RM: How important were the musical traditions of the church as well as American folk and blues to the composing and creative process?
JD: Very important. That’s important on every project I do because it is the basis of what I do. Really, it is the basis of all music. No matter what it is. The blues and the spiritual aspects combine with emotions and the sounds of everyday life. That all comes out in the music. It is a spiritual journey. It is an homage to life and people that face adversity. It is an encouragement to stay strong. There is a lot of negativity in the world, but there is a lot of positive too. Try to focus on that. Without offending anybody, I wanted to do what I wanted to do and I didn’t care about what anyone thought. There’s a lot of respect and love in the music. This is the record I wanted to make. The timing was just right to speak up and remind people to pay attention to what is going on in the world, but also to just be cool.
RM: Do you feel that the movement toward breaking with genre is important to the growth of music at this point in history?
JD: Definitely. Of course it is. All of those things are. That’s how a lot of music has come about over time — because of difficult situations and people getting through things by pulling from different sources of inspiration creatively. Music was developed and protected by mankind because it is something you can’t take away from people. Music and rhythm — people are always going to find a way. Everything that happens in your environment influences musicians. All of the things going on now are impacting music. There is music around us constantly. It evolves as an extension of the people. In these times, especially, we need as much as we can. We need something to make us feel good in order to focus on getting through a lot of the things that are happening. That will also make music evolve, because we are pushing the positive aspects of the human experience by innovating with the tools we have.
RM: How did your band, The People, come together?
JD: About two and a half years ago, I put the trio together with Jason Brown on drums and Dan Wilson on guitar. We start at the beginning of January 2015 with that group. We toured extensively and made a trio record called Trip Mode, which meant many things to us. After touring that entire year, this project started coming to life. With a lot of things happening in the world and our goal of gearing our music toward the work of unifying people, we started working. I wanted to do a little more than usual. I started thinking about it and I began to hear a fourth voice in the melody. That’s when we added saxophonist Troy Roberts to the lineup. Troy is a great addition to the group. We recorded a record last July 2016, then we toured the quartet in January of this year.
RM: How do they contribute to the mix, especially with respect to translating the themes that you explore in the project — things like peace, unification, resistance and transcendence?
JD: The stew was already brewing with the trio. We threw Troy in. The minds of the musicians are wide open rhythmically, melodically, spiritually — there are no limits. Everybody is listening to something different, every day, by the hour. You’d think we’re all listening to straight ahead jazz, but none of us are. We’re all listening to a variety of things from all over the place. It could be country. It could be hip-hop. Those influences come out in the music. They bring a lot to the table because they are so open. Sometimes they are ahead of me in their thinking and those are the types of groups you try to put together — people that have very open minds. We might go anywhere at any given moment and they have to be prepared for that. Dan learned to play guitar in church, which is a very integral part of the music we’re playing. Troy is from Australia. He’s been in the states for about 10 years. He is schooled in the tradition but he has an exploratory mind and an interest in using effects, which fits well with what we are doing. A lot of the things we are doing are things that have been done before. Music moves in cycles. Things go away for a while — certain styles of playing — and then you find a new avenue to innovate in a new way with the things on the shelf That influences people that might not have been paying attention to a certain style or sound the first time it came around. Then that informs the next thing.
RM: “One” in particular, conjures Miles Davis, who was an early mentor of yours. Can you talk about his role in your music, but also how his philosophy and spirit of exploration inform music today?
JD: He’s a huge teacher — Miles. I was fortunate to be around him at a very great period. It was the latter part of his life but he was in a good place, mentally. He had a clear mind. We could talk about so many different things. When I worked with him it was amazing. When I started playing with Miles I was 17, which is very young. I was already playing professionally for about 8 years before that, in and around Philly. When I saw how Miles was leading the band, I realized I was leading bands in a similar way. Obviously I was very young and didn’t have the knowledge Miles Davis had, but there was an immediate camaraderie because of that. The way he led the band and how he picked musicians was a big influence. Even if he had never played the trumpet, his talent at putting a group together was one of the greatest things that he did. Forget about his trumpet playing…he was one of the greatest to ever do it. He was beyond a trumpet player. He transcended the instrument to become a second voice. That is what every musician tries to do. He had a huge influence on me. I play the trumpet because of having been around him. That sound of his was the sound I wanted. I always wanted my own ideas on the instrument, but the tone is important. It also influenced my keyboard playing, because of the breathing involved in playing. It forced me to have a different respect for space. His approach to music is legendary. It influenced all of us. I was just lucky to be around him and have a personal relationship like that. It was pretty great.
RM: How do you feel about the project and its importance or potential impact at this time in history as so much violence and uncertainty underscores everyday life for people around the world?
JD: I hope the human concept of peace and unity is what people receive. That’s the goal, is for them to get a slice of that from the music. From anything that I do. This particular project is a wake up call. If you don’t understand anything about loving one another, hopefully this can help. Any percentage of positive change is good. That’s why anybody that can do a small part is important. When all of us come together, it just gets bigger and bigger.
Read the full piece from: Revive Music
A trinity of influences shaped saxophonist Jackiem Joyner’s creative process as he began writing and recording “Main Street Beat,” his sixth album due June 30. The award-winning hit-maker initially set out to make a funk record. He wanted the collection to pay tribute to his ardor and appreciation for the Motown sound. Thirdly, the self-produced set was inspired by the presence of his first-born child, Trinity, who was by her daddy’s side in the studio each and every day. “Trinity,” the energizing first single named for her “bouncy and bubbly little self,” arrives at radio ahead of the album and is bolstered by the fanciful fretwork of guitarist Steve Oliver.
A high-energy set showcasing Joyner’s impassioned horn play on tenor, soprano and alto sax, “Main Street Beat” evolved into much more than a funk record with R&B, contemporary jazz and pop nuances seeping into the mix. The grooves – many of which are infused with the soul power of a muscular sax section laid down in layers by Joyner – are undeniably danceable while his innate flair for crafting catchy hooks and buoyant melodies are prominent in the nine new songs that he penned for the project.
I am thinking that we should just take the Smooth Jazz genre and rename it R&B. This music is R&B right now. I mean, I would take Joyner, Boney James, Rick Braun, Norman Brown and Candy Dulfer over any of the R&B artists that are currently on the scene.
Just take Main Street Beat as an example.
The set opens with Main Street. It is an uptempo track that sets the tone for the entire album. It has an energy about it…one of anticipation. I think that comes from the first verse, where Joyner’s horn plays over the funky drum patch. When you hear the hook, you know you have a winner.
Back To Motown is up next. With a title like that, you kind of expect an old school feel to the track. That is exactly what you get. Back To Motown has a mid-tempo grove, and it is one that you will initially play on repeat to take in all of that goodness.
This brings us to one of the two remakes on the album. Can’t Stop The Feeling is the Justin Timberlake song. I really like the original, and this interpretation is just as good. The vocals are there on the chorus, so you can still sing along to this infectious groove. Listen to the bridge about two-thirds of the way through, and you will love the way Joyner plays that horn.
On Trinity, there are two stars on the track: the sax and the acoustic guitar. These two instruments play well together over another mid-tempo groove. Steve Oliver is the talent behind the guitar work. I have always loved the tone of his guitar. His sound is very unique.
Read the full piece from: Jazz World
Do jazz fans have “American Idol” to thank for one of the most acclaimed big bands currently performing?
Unlikely as it may seem, John Beasley’s tenure as the associate music director and lead musical arranger on “Idol” led to his discovery of the music notation software Sibelius, which in turn led him to form his multi-Grammy-nominated Thelonious Monk tribute band. The 15-piece MONK’estra will perform a San Diego Symphony Bayside Summer Nights concert here next Thursday, Aug. 24, at Embarcadero Marina Park South.
“After the first season of ‘Idol,’ I was still writing arrangements by hand and the volume of work was ridiculous,” recalled Beasley, whose recording credits range from Miles Davis and Steely Dan’s Water Becker to Carly Simon and Indian violin virtuoso L. Subramaniam.
“I asked the (music) copyist on ‘Idol’ what software I should use, and she recommended Sibelius. A couple of years later, on a break, I had some time and wanted to experiment with learning the program better and doing 20th century harmony with a big band.”
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But Beasley didn’t have enough free time to compose new pieces of music. So he decided to use Sibelius to re-orchestrate “Epistrophy,” a 1941 Monk song that sounds just as fresh and vital now. Almost instantly, he said, a light bulb went off and the door to a brave new musical journey opened.
“At first, I thought I’d whip something together and just learn to program,” recalled Beasley, who used to perform regularly at San Diego clubs with guitarist Peter Sprague and saxophonist Tripp Sprague.
“But it became a really deep experience, discovering how pliable Monk’s music is and how it could stretch. It became something personal and a creative rabbit hole to go down. I guess that was sort of the impetus that got me into MONK’estra.”
Monk was a singular pianist, composer and band leader. He is perhaps second only to Miles Davis — whose 1959 album, “Miles Davis and the Giants of Jazz” features Monk — as an American music icon whose work transcends jazz. Together with Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Max Roach and an elite group of other innovators, he helped create bebop, the deviously intricate style that revolutionized jazz in the 1940s.
Monk’s music is by turns playful, quirky, graceful and profoundly moving. His compositions are marked by zig-zagging melodies, unusual rhythmic twists, intricate harmonies and a unique sense of playfulness.
Grammy-nominated keyboardist, composer, arranger and band leader John Beasley may be the only jazz a
Grammy-nominated keyboardist, composer, arranger and band leader John Beasley may be the only jazz artist whose credits include Miles Davis, Freddie Hubbard and a long stint working on "American Idol." (Photo courtesy DL Media)
“I like the word ‘playfulness,’ because I’ve been saying ‘humorous’ and playful is more accurate,” said Beasley, who was not yet a teenager when he got hooked on Monk.
“My dad had ‘Work,’ the 1954 Monk record with Sonny Rollins. That one really struck me, as a 10- or 11-year-old, as being humorous and playful. And it had unusual instrumentation, including a French horn. My dad being a bassoonist, I knew what a French horn was and knew it wasn’t common in jazz.
“I remember looking at the album cover for a long time and just staring at Monk. And I think (the song) ‘Nutty’ is on it. As a kid, that got my attention; here’s a guy writing a song called ‘Nutty!’ ”
Monk’s enduring musical legacy
Today, 35 years after his death, Monk’s many classic songs — which include “ ’Round Midnight,” “Blue Monk,” “Straight, No Chaser,” “Ruby, My Dear” and “Bemsha Swing” — remain some of the most played and beloved in (and out of) jazz.
In addition to countless jazz artists, Monk’s songs have been covered by such varied admirers as Phish, Chaka Khan, Peter Frampton, Dr. John and former San Diegan Frank Zappa. His records have been sampled by Wu-Tang Clan, Gang Starr and other savvy hip-hop acts.
The captivating debut album “John Beasley Presents MONK’estra” Vol. 1” was released in 2016 by Mack Avenue Records. It earned two Grammy nominations for its musical excellence.
“The two Grammy nominations for the first album were a big surprise,” said Beasley, who often conducts his band while playing piano or keyboard synthesizers. “Getting booked to play at the Playboy Jazz Festival at the Hollywood Bowl — that certainly perked up other promoters’ interest.”
The upcoming “Vol. 2” features Beasley’s all-star big band, along with such guest artists as violinist Regina Carter, singer Dianne Reeves, percussionist Pedrito Martinez and saxophonist Kamasi Washington.
The 11-song album features Beasley’s ingenious arrangements of such Monk gems as “Evidence,” “I Mean You,” “Crepuscule with Nellie” and “Work,” the title track of the 1954 Monk album that captivated MONK’estra’s leader as a pre-teen.
His brassy ensemble’s San Diego concert next week will feature selections from both MONK’estra albums. They wil be performed by a talent-packed lineup that includes drum dynamo Terreon Gully and Steely Dan sax veteran Bob Sheppard, Beasley’s former colleague in the late trumpet great Freddie Hubbard’s band.
“You go to a concert to be moved,” said Beasley, who served as musical director for Steely Dan’s 1996 “Arts Crime” tour.
“Our music is all-inclusive, at least in my head. We have all kinds of options for all kinds of people. Monk’s music is funky and soulful, swinging and audacious.”
Reflecting the times, then and now
The opening song on the new MONK’estra album, “Brake’s Sake,” features a socially inspired rap by trumpeter Dontae Winslow.
Beasley stresses that MONK’estra’s concerts are about creating first-rate music and uplifting audiences, not engaging in politically charged polemics.
But he believes artists have a responsibility to intelligently reflect the world around them and to help bring about positive change. And his band’s new album draws some of its inspiration from seeking to reflect the social realities Monk faced at a time when much of the United States, sadly, was still very segregated.
“Musicians have been speaking out about resistance for a long time,” said Beasley, who cited Max Roach’s “We Insist! Freedom Now Suite,” Herbie Hancock’s “The Prisoner” and Charles Mingus’ “Fables of Faubus” as a few examples.
“My hope is this music we’re making with MONK’estra — and music in general — can help people think and feel, and be part of this healing process. I don’t preach at people; I just point out what the story might be behind a song, because the history is important.”
The veteran keyboardist laughed when asked if, early on, anyone had told him he was crazy to form a 15-piece Monk big band, let alone assume the dizzying financial risk of taking it on the road.
“Oh, nobody had to tell me. I knew it on my own!” he said.
“It’s hard. Most of the time we feel like we’re just working for the airlines, to be quite honest, because air fares are extremely high. The airlines have had windfalls from low fuel prices for the last 3 to 4 years, but they haven’t (lowered prices). A huge part of our budget is not for paying the musicians; it’s for travel.”
The 1964 live album “Miles & Monk at Newport” devoted one side apiece to concert performances by bands led by Monk and Miles Davis, whose band Beasley joined in 1988. He still cherishes the musical wisdom the mighty Davis imparted to him, on stage and off.
Lesson from Miles Davis — and ‘American Idol’
“Miles didn’t like piano players to solo using both hands, because he felt — and I think he’s right in a lot of ways — that we tend to accompany ourselves with our left hand in a way that makes it cluttered for the rest of the band.
“He’d say: ‘John don’t use your left hand, man.’ He got frustrated with me one night, walked behind me and grabbed my lefty hand while I was taking a solo.”
Davis listened intently to the playing of his band members and would make comments to them, based on his observations, prior to concerts. One of those comments provided an epiphany for Beasley.
“Before a show, he said to me: ‘John, if you cant comp (play accompaniment) like (piano giant) Ahmad Jamal, don’t play.’ I thought to myself: ‘I haven’t heard Ahmad comp that much (because) he plays in trio. A couple of days later, I thought: ‘Ahmad’s trio is super-orchestrated. So maybe Miles wants me to think like an orchestrator when I play.’
“Then, I thought about how Ahmad will make a big statement, then back off and use a lot of space. I started doing that and Miles began to react in a positive way. So that was a huge lesson for me.
“Miles would also say stuff like: ‘Don’t feed me chords while I’m soloing.’ What he meant was to really accompany him and don’t make him solo off you. Freddie Hubbard used to say the same thing. Between those two guys, I really went to school on the art of comping!”
And what did he learn from his “American Idol” tenure, when he worked with mostly inexperienced young vocalists?
“ ‘Idol’ taught me a valuable lesson in addressing the question: ‘How can I serve the artist better,” Beasley replied. “I knew that before, but it was so much more obvious with amateur singers. A lot of those kids has never played with a live band before; they only knew karaoke.
“I learned how to write and arrange so that, No. 1, it relieves their nervousness. I thought about: ‘How can I make them sound better? How can I write a string line that stays away from the melody, in case their singing strays?’ And, also, getting to know these kids and giving them confidence, so they could go out there and deal with all that negativity that they are thrown, and still be able to make music.
‘I really had compassion for all those contestants. Even now, when I go off on tour with a (jazz) quartet that is playing every night, I think: ‘What can I do to make all this better?’ So that was a valuable lesson I took with me from ‘Idol’.”
Read the full piece from: San Diego Union - Tribune
Christian Sands, although still young has already built a strong reputation in the USA. In 2012 he became an official “Steinway artist” and his work with Christian McBride’s Inside Straight band helped garner him international attention. Sands started his professional career at a young age however a defining moment came when at the age of 14 and still at high school, he attended the Jazz in July summer workshop at the University of Massachusetts where he attracted the attention of Dr. Billy Taylor who would become Sands long time mentor. He later went on to receive both a bachelor’s and master’s degree from the Manhattan School of Music.
Sand’s previous releases as a leader are to say the least mainstream and while the performances are excellent the albums are not that adventurous and show an artist still developing his craft. With “Reach” this is definitely not the case. Reach shows a level of artistic maturity usually found in artists that have spent far more years on this earth than Christian has.
For this album Christian has put together a trio with bassist Yasushi Nakamura, one of New Yorks up and coming bassists and drummer Marcus Baylor known largely for his work with the Yellowjackets. Also on the album are guest appearances by Gilad Hekselman on guitar, Marcus Strickland on tenor saxophone and bass clarinet, and percussionist Cristian Rivera. To top off this stellar line-up the album was co-produced by grammy award winning producer Al Pryor and famed bassist Christian McBride.
The Album opens with “Armando’s Song”, a straight ahead up tempo track that introduces the Trio and largley sets the tone for the rest of the album. I particularly enjoyed the interplay during Baylor’s drum solo. The following track titled “Song Of The Rainbow People” once again features the trio however changes the mood to “Soulfull” and shows Christian exploiting the full range of the piano.
Marcus Strickland joins the trio for “Pointing West,” another up tempo straight ahead track juxtaposing complex rhythm with straight ahead four on the floor. “Freefall” is something different adding synthesised textures to the mix, an atmospheric track that features a beautiful tenor solo by Strickland and overdubbed Bass Clarinet featured both in the backgrounds and unisono melody.
The next cab off the rank is “Óyeme” and see’s percussionist Cristian Rivera make his first appearance. This Afro Cuban inspired track grooves from the opening bars and features a strong solo from Sands before landing in a Montuno based rhythmic fiesta.
The Trio setting returns for Sand’s homage to Bud Powel “Bud’s Tune” before introducing guitarist Gilad Hekselman in “Reaching for the Sun”, a track that Sands says he wrote with Gilad in mind. This “easy latin” flavored tune is is somewhat of a departure stylistly form the rest of the album but is the perfect lead in for his version of the Bill Withers track “Use Me”. This track is a far darker blues influenced tune providing a perfect vehicle for Hekselman and Sand’s to let loose.
The third track on the album featuring Gilad Hekselman is the Hip Hop inspired “Gangstalude”, in my mind the least successful track on the album. Closing out the set is “Somewhere Out There.” a song made famous by Linda Ronstadt and James Ingram, that won Grammy® Awards for “Song of the Year” and “Best Song for Film” for it’s use in the 1986 animated film ”An American Tail”. In the liner notes Christian stated:
“I was looking for a ballad and I didn’t want to do Strayhorn or Porter,” Sands says. “I wanted to play something that was not that familiar. So I was talking to my mother and she said, ‘What about the song from the movie with the mouse that you used to watch when you were a kid?’ She used to sing it to me when I was four or five years old and my dad would play piano. So I told her she was genius; I don’t think this has ever been done as an instrumental. When people hear this, I’m hoping they go, ‘Oh, yeah, I remember this.”
I enjoyed this album from top to tale and have to admit it’s held pride of place in my daily playlist for some weeks now. The liner notes state that Reach, is “one more milestone in Sands’ auspicious career” and I could not agree more. I look forward to hearing more from this amazing young pianist over the coming years. I highly recommend this album.
Armando’s Song; Song Of The Rainbow People; Pointing West; Freefall; ¡Óyeme!; Bud’s Tune; Reaching For The Sun; Use Me; Gangstalude; Somewhere Out There.
Christian Sands: piano; Marcus Baylor: drums; Yasushi Nakamura: bass; Gilad Hekselman: guitar (7-9); Christian McBride: bass (8); Cristian Rivera: percussion (5); Marcus Strickland: tenor saxophone (3, 4), bass clarinet (4).
Read the full piece from: Jazz In Europe
“I’m partial to jazz with a little bit of grease in it,” Mr. McBride told the audience in his affable baritone, as the applause died down. “Sometimes we get a little too into this gluten-free lifestyle.”
In March 2016, Mr. McBride became artistic director of the now 63-year-old festival — taking the reins directly from its 91-year-old co-founder, George Wein — so his metaphors matter. Mr. McBride, the 45-year-old bassist, is one of jazz’s uncontainable talents, able and eager to play almost anything, but he’s also one if its traditionalist standard-bearers. When he talks about grease, or carbs, he’s talking about the blues.
Lots of comparable festivals across the United States book pop acts as headliners, using jazz for its credibility and paramusical value. But Newport hasn’t stretched its rope very far, relying on its identity as the pre-eminent presenter of improvised music, and enjoying a reliable audience.
Mr. McBride wants to talk about how that role can be used. He’s sensitive about jazz becoming a marketing device, but also about the idea that it might be seen as a broad-brush label for experimentalism in American music. To him, jazz means something more like blues tradition, boldly extrapolated. Speaking backstage after the end of his set, Mr. McBride explained that he thinks a jazz festival in 2017 ought to include some kindred sounds from around the way.
“Henry Threadgill or Naturally 7 or One For All or DJ Logic, whoever it is — there’s some sort of a spiritual, unspoken, musical bond there with all of it,” he said, naming an avant-garde pioneer, a gospel-tinged a cappella group, a straight-ahead jazz sextet and a turntablist, all of whom were on the bill at this year’s festival.
The Roots — not likely to have been booked by Mr. Wein — closed the festival on Sunday afternoon, charging from Herbie Hancock acid-funk (“Actual Proof”) to a hard-bitten original (“Get Busy”) to a rollicking “Jungle Boogie.” More than in years past, the main stage featured music to move to. The pianist Jason Moran brought his Fats Waller Dance Party, making a ricocheting funk jam out of old repertoire and allowing the vocalist Lisa Harris to reinhabit the classic self-possession anthem “Ain’t Nobody’s Business If I Do,” paring down the lyrics, letting her sighs and her body movements communicate her pride.
And the saxophonist Maceo Parker reprised a handful of tunes from the James Brown songbook, playing whiplash funk with an eight-piece group that was locked like lattice.
Mr. McBride’s choices made other arguments too. He elevated a number of musicians from his native Philadelphia, where jazz’s inheritance machinery is especially strong; the music there retains an intergenerational coherence without passing through the filter of the academy.
The pianist Orrin Evans, a Philadelphia native, made his first appearance as a band leader at Newport. (That fact should astonish you; he’s been worthy for about 20 years.) He finished a set of characteristically chunky and waggish solo piano at the sole indoor stage with a tender reading of Trudy Pitts’s “Blessed Ones the Eternal Truth,” a plea for sanctified fellowship; Mr. Evans sang guilelessly, drawing up chords from the keys in a simple, quarter-note rhythm. As the song progressed, more treble and sunlight crept in; by the end the room was silent and rapt around him.
On Sunday afternoon, Mr. McBride reassembled the Philadelphia Experiment, a trio of cross-pollinated talent, featuring Questlove, the Roots’ drummer, and Uri Caine, the keyboardist. (DJ Logic joined on turntables as a special guest.) The group dug a trench of groove and hardly ever emerged, though it switched the feel and redialed the intensity level often.
A spilling crowd showed up for this show, though it overlapped with both Mr. Moran’s set and one from the young soul-jazz trumpeter Theo Croker. The Experiment’s audience was remarkably young, reflecting Newport’s recent emphasis on selling discounted tickets to students. All told, there were more student buyers than in any recent year, organizers said. The festival drew upward of 9,000 total attendees on Saturday, slightly fewer on Sunday and roughly 4,000 on Friday. No stage ever lacked a quorum.
The festival is held each year at Fort Adams State Park, a Civil War citadel on a bluff in the Narragansett Bay.It’s exposed to the elements, but after some early rain on Saturday cleared up, the weekend became bucolic. The setting is a draw, but the festival — with four stages across the fort, and a total runtime of over 20 hours — doesn’t fit as a simple line item on a vacation itinerary.
Since the 1950s, it has offered a reliable read on the spinal center of jazz. Considering that, the slightly younger (and, to a lesser degree, more racially mixed) faces this year felt like a part of a broader trend in jazz — and therefore, even more auspicious. It also made the hunger for fresh talent onstage — long a trope of jazz consumerism — seem more apt, less despairing. Amir ElSaffar, the Iraqi trumpeter and santur player, has played Newport before, but never with his Rivers of Sound orchestra, an intercontinental group with improvisations wafting up from loping, odd-meter melodies.
And the pianist Christian Sands, 28, a habitual McBride sideman, led his own slashing quartet, delivering airtight compositions and punctilious improvising. His instrumentation of piano, electric guitar, acoustic bass and drums gives Mr. Sands’s music — groove-drenched, gospelly and smartly plotted — a balance of physical body and electric charge. The band opened its Friday afternoon set with “Song of the Rainbow People” and “Pointing West,” both originals, leaving enough on the field to sidestep the accusation of flawlessness (yes, Mr. Sands is that kind of player).
On Saturday afternoon, the bassist and vocalist Esperanza Spalding and the drummer Terri Lyne Carrington brought together Mr. Sands, Mr. Moran and Vijay Iyer for a tribute to the influential pianist Geri Allen, who died this year, and who had been their trio-mate. The three pianists took turns; on Allen’s “Unconditional Love,” Mr. Sands’s quick runs and sharply articulated arpeggios cut a stark contrast with Ms. Spalding, whose playing and singing were like two flushes of wind.
She sang a solo in her distinctive style, a kind of vowel-dominant scatting, all open, airy sounds; for punctuation, she uses a hard “e,” not a “p” or a “k.” There’s something childlike and dreamy about it,not bratty or teasing or seductive, like jazz singing is often meant to be. That she’s doing all this while accompanying herself on bass is almost unreasonable.
Ms. Carrington’s unceasing lift on the ride cymbal can be seen as a constant homage to Allen, whose playing was effortlessly propulsive. But it wasn’t until Mr. Moran took the piano chair that Allen’s spirit seemed to almost re-enter the park. On the ballad “Lucky to Be Me” and a mid-tempo reading of “Nothing Like You,” his left hand painted in misty watercolor, and the band fell into a dream state, past and future entwined.
Correction: August 7, 2017
An earlier version of this story misstated the day the Geri Allen tribute was performed. It was Saturday afternoon, not Sunday.
Read the full piece from: NY Times
The new set debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Contemporary Jazz chart this week. Main Street Beat is the latest in the series of albums from Joyner, whose 2012 Gospel-jazz project Church Boy earned critical acclaim among Jazz and Gospel music fans.
Jetting back and forth from his suburban Los Angeles base, Joyner is taking Main Street Beat, boasting nine of his inspiring original compositions, directly to audiences across the U.S. so they can enjoy the jazzy new tracks that reflect his ardor and appreciation for the Motown sound while celebrating his joy at becoming a first-time father. Joyner’s current single, “Trinity,” a sweet tribute to his baby daughter, climbs to No. 16 on Billboard’s Smooth Jazz radio chart this week.
The Main Street Beat concert trek began close to home in nearby Pasadena in early June before taking flight for shows in major cities, including Cincinnati, Birmingham, San Diego and Philadelphia. Fireworks flew in front of a crowd of 40,000 when Joyner hit the stage at a Fourth of July event presented by Los Angeles urban radio station KJLH.
A high-energy set showcasing Joyner’s impassioned horn play on tenor, soprano and alto sax, Main Street Beat is an R&B and contemporary jazz nuanced project Gospel music fans will love. The grooves – many of which are infused with the soulful power of a muscular sax section laid down in layers by Joyner – are undeniably catchy while his innate flair for crafting memorable hooks and buoyant melodies are prominent in the new material he penned for the project. Guesting on the album are a pair of noteworthy guitarists: Steve Oliver, who appears on the first single named for the first-time father’s new daughter, “Trinity,” and Chicago hitman Nick Colionne, who strums his electric jazz guitar with trademark panache on “When You Smile.”
1. Main Street
2. Back To Motown
3. Can’t Stop The Feeling
5. When You Smile
6. Southside Boulevard
7. That Good Thing
10. Don’t Make Her Wait
11. Get Down Street
Jackiem Joyner Social Network & URLsFacebook – https://www.facebook.com/jackiemjoyner/
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Twitter – https://twitter.com/JackiemJoyner
Website – http://jackiemjoyner.com/
*Album music stream available for review by request.
Buy linksiTunes – https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/main-street-beat/id1234653301
Amazon – http://a.co/3Luzh2C
Jackiem Joyner’s Main Street Beat Tour
July 27 / Atlanta, GA / Album Release Party / Suite Jazz Series
August 5 / Trenton, MI / Jazz On The River
August 12 / Sacramento, CA / The Hangar At McClellan Park
August 19 & 20 / Copper Mountain, CO / Genuine Jazz Fest
August 25 / Muskegon, MI / Jazz In The Park at Hackley Park
September 28 – October 1 / Algarve, Portugal / Smooth Jazz Festival
October 22 / Stockton, CA /University Plaza Waterfront Hotel
November 4 / Melbourne, FL / Jazzo
November 9 & 11 / Hampton, VA / Jazz Legacy Foundation
For more information, including Joyner’s concert itinerary, please visit www.JackiemJoyner.com.
About Jackiem Joyner
Born in Norfolk, VA and raised in Syracuse, NY, Jackiem Joyner came through the church choir before taking up the saxophone in high school. After high school, Joyner returned to Norfolk, where Bishop Michael Patterson of the World Harvest Outreach Ministries in Newport News made him head of the music department.
His 2007 debut Babysoul earned Debut Artist of the Year honors from Smooth Jazz News. His sophomore set Lil Man Soul spawned two No. 1 singles on the Billboard chart and won the Song of the Year trophy for “I’m Waiting For You” from the American Smooth Jazz Awards.
His self-titled 2010 album solidified his position as a consistent hit-maker. Joyner’s critically acclaimed 2012 Gospel-Jazz release Church Boy featured tracks with Israel & New Breed, Kirk Franklin, Jonathan Butler, and Tye Tribbett. His new project, Main Street Beat, which debuted at No. 1 on Billboard’s Contemporary Jazz chart, coincides with his tenth anniversary as a recording artist and is now available.
Read the full piece from: EurWeb
Right before Salvant released her first album titled Cecile, she was the grand prize winner in the Thelonius Monk International Jazz Competition. Salvant’s third album For One to Love received a Grammy for Best Jazz Vocal Album in 2016. Soon enough, New York natives will have the opportunity to listen to her angelic voice in September. Mack Avenue Records will have a launching event in New York .
This is an artist you should study in 2017!
To learn more about this talent and unique vocalist, check out her site: http://www.cecilemclorinsalvant.com/
Read the full piece from: Singers Room
A packed house at the Hudson stage heard Beasley and company take free flight in celebration of the centennial of Monk’s birthday with freshly arranged tunes from last year’s MONK’estra, Vol.1 on Mack Avenue as well as new arrangements on MONK’estra, Vol. 2, scheduled for release Sept. 1.
The band delivered the rhythmically charged ”Gallop’s Gallop,” featuring drummer Peter Erskine, and introduced a rousing version of “Criss-Cross.” But a sure highlight of the evening was a romp through “Skippy,” which Beasley said was the “hardest” tune of the set because “it goes in a lot of different places.” And that it did, with atmospheric trombones, kicking rhythms and feisty sax solos.
Talking between shows, Beasley noted that the tune itself is relatively simple. “Monk used to play [a solo version of] ‘Tea For Two,’ then he recorded it by re-harmonizing the melody and finally wrote another melody over that to make it ‘Skippy,’” he said. “Then I took it from there with my arrangement.”
Beasley talked about the project, noting that he had played Monk before in different settings, including on bassist Buell Neidlinger’s Thelonious album in 1987 and in a duo recording with guitarist Steve Cardenas on 1994’s 10/10 Tribute To Thelonious Monk.
The big band setting almost came as an accident after the arranger found a new toy: the Sibelius music notation software that he was using while serving as the associate music director of the TV show American Idol (for Carrie Underwood in 2003 and lead arranger thereafter for over 10 years).
“After the season ended, I decided to do a 20th-century big band chart using Monk’s ‘Epistrophy,’” he said. “I quickly found out that I could stretch Monk’s form, make stops and starts. I realized how pliable his music was and how open he was to interpretation. Arranging is improvisation, so I went from there.”
He assembled a band of friends to perform this tune and others. After playing the music for a couple years under the name MONK’estra, he invited Monk’s son, T.S. Monk, to come hear the band and give it his blessing.
“T.S. is always protective of his father, but he was totally cool with what we were doing,” he said. “He said, ‘I give you my blessing because the band is the step that my dad wanted for his music. He told me that he wrote his music to be vehicles for self-expression.’”
So, with Beasley’s interpretations of Monk’s unique quirkiness, offbeat actions and punchy dissonances, has he received any detractors?
“I was fully expecting to hear people complaining about ‘’Round Midnight,’ the way I made it electric with a Glasper-esque vibe, but no one has said a thing,” he said. “I think they approve. Really, I think we’re just now catching up with what Monk was doing harmonically. It takes people time to get into different kinds of composing.”
Next up is Vol. 2, with new music and guest spots by Kamasi Washington, Regina Carter and Dianne Reeves, who sings “Ruby, My Dear” (she also guested in MONK’estra’s second show at North Sea, giving voice to the lyrical, moody “Ask Me Now,” to which Beasley had written lyrics). And the shows just keep on coming, including the Detroit International Jazz Festival on Labor Day weekend; the Monterey Jazz Festival on Sept. 17; and a Monk centennial celebration at the Jazz Standard Oct. 12–14.
Read the full piece from: Downbeat
This past December, there was a buzz in the air at An die Musik Live!—the tiny, 90-seat jazz haven perched on the second floor of a Mount Vernon townhouse. Onstage, a murderers’ row of locally reared jazz talent was assembling for a concert that would be part holiday show and part homecoming. In the midst of it all, exchanging warm greetings and playful ribbings, was vibraphonist Warren Wolf. Though raised in West Baltimore and a current resident of Reisterstown, Wolf doesn’t play his hometown all that often. As one of today’s most in-demand jazz musicians, you’re much more likely to find him gigging around the globe than tuning up in Timonium, or some such place. But he’s happy to be here tonight.
“You know, it’s good to leave home, and it’s good to come back,” Wolf says later. “You have to reconnect with your people regularly. There’s something about those DMV musicians, those players from D.C., Maryland, and Virginia. There’s a fire to how we play, and we like to play with each other, because we share that.”
Tonight, Wolf has formed a quartet with three fellow Baltimoreans-turned-jazz-hotshots—drummer Quincy Phillips, bassist Kris Funn, and pianist Alex Brown. As the set begins, Wolf, wearing a close-trimmed Afro, thin goatee, and dark blazer over an open-collar white shirt, demonstrates the skills that led the voters in DownBeat Magazine’s 2016 Critics Poll to name him one of the five best vibraphonists in the world.
As his two mallets begin their rapid up-and-down motion, the felt ball at the end of each stick multiplies into a blur. Aided by the whirring motors beneath the instrument’s wooden, xylophone-like keys, every note he strikes boasts the sustained vibrato that gives the vibraphone its signature chime. Out of that blizzard of notes emerges a strong melodic pattern that, once established, is endlessly restated in new variations. It’s that combination of physical dexterity and lucid musicality that has launched Wolf out of Baltimore’s local orbit and into the national galaxy of jazz stars.
“[Bassist/composer] Curtis Lundy turned me onto Warren 11 years ago,” says Bobby Watson, the legendary alto saxophonist. “Curtis said, ‘You have to hire this guy—he’s a beast.’ He’s another child prodigy. He’s such a nice person, but he’s always playing his butt off. . . . I always told him, ‘I’m glad I got you now, because you’ll be hard to get in the future.’”
In September, Wolf will unveil his new duo with fellow vibraphonist Joe Locke. And then in November, the same week he turns 38, Wolf will introduce his new quintet during shows in New York and Switzerland. Meanwhile, Wolf will continue to teach at Philadelphia’s Temple University.
“I hear people saying, ‘Oh, Warren’s big-time; he’s playing with all those famous people and making big money,’ but I don’t let that stuff affect me,” Wolf says. “I don’t mind going down to HomeSlyce Pizza here in Baltimore and playing for $60 and some free pizza at the Wednesday night jam session that Todd Marcus runs. I like the freedom of a situation like that, because a lot of the time when you’re touring, you don’t get to play as freely as you’d like. You have to stick to what you’re selling, so you have to play the latest record.”
“But who I am— and who my father trained me to be—is a complete musician.”
Wolf’s latest record, last year’s Convergence, is his third album with the high-profile jazz label Mack Avenue Records and the best proof yet of how high he has climbed in the jazz world. It features the young vibraphonist leading an all-star quartet comprised of pianist Brad Mehldau, guitarist John Scofield, drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts, and five-time Grammy Award-winning bassist Christian McBride.
“I sat down with my manager, Andre Guess, and Denny Stilwell, the president of Mack Avenue,” Wolf recalls, “and we agreed that as great as the first two records were, we wanted to do something that would put my name in a different context, that would raise the bar. So we decided to get some of the best players available. . . . It was time to show that Warren can hang with the best.”
Wolf acquitted himself just fine, writing six strong compositions that pushed his guests to work hard. He also showcased his talent for reinterpretation, arranging old standards by Stevie Wonder and even Frédéric Chopin.
“Sometimes you have to change it up,” Wolf says. “A lot of guys just want to play their own songs and don’t pay attention to what the audience wants. So much jazz is all this swing and a lot of drums over and over again. Okay, but let’s include something else, too.
“For this album, that ‘something else’ was Motown and classical music,” he continues. “When I was a child, I toured with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and we played John Corigliano’s Pied Piper Fantasy. Now I’m hearing all those styles inside me, and I want them all to come out in my music. A lot of people put me in this box called ‘a jazz musician’ because I play so fluently through changes. But who I am—and who my father trained me to be—is a complete musician.”
Wolf grew up in Edmondson Village in West Baltimore, running through the alleys where he and his friends would nail crates to the telephone poles and play basketball. From the very beginning, his musical diet was varied. He consumed ’80s R&B via his sisters, hip-hop with his friends, and just about everything else from his father, Warren Wolf Sr. The elder Wolf was a social studies teacher in Baltimore—working at Northern High School, Booker T. Washington Middle School, and Paul Laurence Dunbar Middle School, among others. But he was also a percussionist who led a group called Wolf Pac that played at local clubs such as the Sportsmen’s Jazz Lounge in Howard Park. He had always dreamed of becoming a full-time musician, and he wanted to make sure his son had that chance.
“When 5:30 hit, that’s when practicing started,” Wolf recalls. “From 5:30 to 6:30 it was piano. From 6:30 to 7:30 it was drums. From 7:30 to 8:30 it was vibraphone. It was like that five days a week from the time I was 5 until I was 17. It was hard, because what kid wants to be stuck in the basement practicing when he could be outside playing? But when I played a solo with the Rock Glen Middle School Band, people clapped and later came up to say, ‘Warren, you sound really good.’ I got off on that, so I kept practicing.”
One effective technique involved playing along to his father’s cassettes of classical concertos. “Those violinists can play really fast, but I was determined to keep up, wrong notes or not,” Wolf says. “That built up my speed.”
Though Wolf considers himself equally proficient on vibraphone, drums, and piano—and still plays all of them onstage and in the studio—he got the most attention for his vibes work, if only because there’s a lot less competition on that instrument.
“It’s important for me to . . . let the world know that a strong music culture comes from Baltimore.”
“Honestly, I think of myself as a vibraphonist-slash-drummer,” he told DownBeat in 2013. “But . . . the vibes have given me the most recognition, so I lean in that direction. . . . It’s an instrument you don’t see every time. At almost every show I play, at least one person comes up and says, ‘Wow, I’ve never seen a xylophone out front before.’ I say, ‘Thanks, but it’s not a xylophone.’”
All of his practice paid off when Wolf was accepted into the Baltimore School for the Arts and then the Berklee College of Music in Boston, pushing him out of the comfortable nest of Baltimore and into a give-and-take with some of the best college-age jazz musicians in the world—and with some of the world’s best working jazz musicians on the faculty. The education happened not just in the classroom but also at Wally’s Cafe, a Boston jazz venue where Wolf got to test himself against the best players of his generation. It’s an irreplaceable experience, and Wolf believes too many Baltimore musicians make a mistake in never leaving town to be challenged and heard in the wider jazz world.
“You just have to do it,” he says. “My sister said, ‘I’ve got to figure out how to get out of Baltimore and make some bigger connections.’ I told her, ‘There’s no secret; you just raise a little money and go do it.’”
Wolf graduated from Berklee in 2001 and stayed in Boston, teaching at Berklee, playing in a band led by Rachael Price—now the lead singer for the famed Americana quartet Lake Street Dive—and waiting for the phone to ring. It required some patience, but eventually the job offers started coming in from jazz luminaries, including—most crucially—Christian McBride.
The McBride connection—along with playing on a album by saxophonist Tia Fuller—got Wolf his record deal with Mack Avenue, which in turn gave him a visibility that led to guest appearances with established artists and an invitation to join one of the most unusual ensembles in jazz: the SFJazz Collective. SFJazz, San Francisco’s nonprofit jazz institution, sponsors a resident octet that each year records a two-CD, 16-track album devoted to one composer.
Each of the eight members contributes a new arrangement of a piece by that composer as well as an original composition in the composer’s style. Then, they play that music at the SFJazz Center and on national and international tours. Wolf has already participated in the albums devoted to Joe Henderson, Michael Jackson, and Miles Davis. Most unusually, the SFJazz Collective is provided with the rarest commodity in modern jazz: subsidized rehearsal time.
“That’s so important,” says Wolf. “Most of the time in jazz, someone brings in a lead sheet; you play the melody, then each person solos, you play the melody again and you’re done. Next song. It’s totally not like that with the SFJazz Collective; there’s time to create music that’s through-composed. It keeps the music fresh.”
Wolf left Boston in 2004 to return to the Baltimore area. After you get to a certain level in jazz, he points out, you’re traveling all over the world anyway, so it really doesn’t matter where you live, as long as you’re close to an airport. Wolf, his second wife, and their two children now live in Reisterstown, not only because Maryland is cheaper than Boston or New York, but also because he feels more comfortable being close to family and the community of musicians he grew up with. Those ties have seemed especially important since his mother, Celeste, died two years ago.
“My mom was the backbone of the family,” he says. “She treated everyone as they would want to be treated. When she retired as a supervisor for Baltimore Gas and Electric, she needed something to do, so she taught herself piano. My dad was always there for me, but he was all about the music. My mom taught me how to love, because she was a very loving person.”
For any artist from Baltimore, two big challenges are knowing when to leave, and knowing when to come back. Wolf feels he did both at just the right times, and that he now enjoys an international career because he never lost the special flavor of his Baltimore roots.
“It’s always important to know where home is, and for me that’s Baltimore,” Wolf reflects. “It’s important for me to bring the Baltimore music style to the world, to let the world know that a strong music culture comes from Baltimore. And it’s important for me to play a few local shows per year to always give my fans a world class show that the city doesn’t receive too much.”
Read the full piece from: Baltimore Magazine
Like any pianist and composer in the jazz idiom, John Beasley owes a substantial debt to Thelonious Monk. Unlike most, he chooses to express that influence in large-canvas terms.
Several years ago he formed the MONK’estra, a Los Angeles-based big band, in order to play Monk’s music with contemporary flair.
MONK’estra, Vol. 1 was released on Mack Avenue last year, garnering two Grammy nominations and critical acclaim. In the wake of that release, Beasley took the band on tour, before returning to the studio to make MONK’estra, Vol. 2. That album will be released on Sept. 1, weeks before what would have been Monk’s 100th birthday.
The album represents not only a franchise sequel but also an expansion of Beasley’s mission with the project. “You start thinking of Thelonious and his era, of what it took just to be a jazz musician during that time,” he mused, in a press statement. “I wanted to push the story out there that maybe some jazz fans had forgotten about.”
That impulse finds traction right out of the gate, on a version of “Brake’s Sake” with some socially charged rapping by trumpeter Dontae Winslow. (“We went from Prohibition to heroin addiction / From lynching to life in prison...”)
Beasley is an accomplished composer for film and television, and he has been the musical director for every International Jazz Day All-Star Global Concert. He brings coolheaded insight to his orchestrations, drawing on a big-band syntax refined by the likes of Quincy Jones.
With MONK’estra, Vol. 2, Beasley also welcomes a handful of marquee guest soloists, like violinist Regina Carter (on “Crepuscule with Nellie”), percussionist Pedrido Martínez (“Criss Cross”) and singer Dianne Reeves (“Dear Ruby,” a reinvention of “Ruby, My Dear”). An exuberant arrangement of “Evidence” features two swing-for-the-fences solos, by the questing tenor saxophonist Kamasi Washington and the erudite trombonist Conrad Herwig.
Beasley had different hands on deck when the MONK’estra recently gave “Evidence” a spin at the Blue Whale in Los Angeles. In the video below, which has its premiere here, Beasley sets up the tune with an impressionistic prelude on piano, before some knockabout improvising by alto saxophonist Danny Janklow and trumpeter Brian Swartz. (On drums, and a strong candidate for MVP of the clip, is Gene Coye, a Chicago native who works with Larry Carlton.)
John Beasley and the MONK’estra will perform at the Detroit Jazz Festival on Sept. 3, at the Monterey Jazz Festival on Sept. 17, and at the Jazz Standard in New York from Oct. 12-14.
Read the full piece from: WBGO
Jackiem Joyner has spent a lot of time on airplanes this month to pave the way for the arrival of his sixth album, "Main Street Beat," a steamrolling sax set that was released Friday by Artistry Music/Mack Avenue Records. Jetting back and forth from his suburban Los Angeles base, Joyner is taking the album he produced, boasting nine of his original compositions, directly to audiences in all parts of the U.S. so they can dance with him to the funky new tracks that reflect his ardor and appreciation for the Motown sound while celebrating his joy of becoming a father.
The "Main Street Beat" concert trek began close to home in nearby Pasadena in early June before taking flight for shows in major cities, including Cincinnati, Birmingham, San Diego and Philadelphia. Fireworks will be flying in front of an anticipated crowd of 40,000 when Joyner hits the stage at a Fourth of July event presented by Los Angeles urban radio station KJLH. He will fly back east again to play Akron, Ohio's BLU Jazz+ on July 7 and resume the busy coast-to-coast travel for a run of August concerts.
A high-energy set showcasing Joyner's impassioned horn play on tenor, soprano and alto sax, "Main Street Beat" was originally intended to be a funk record, but became more with R&B, contemporary jazz and pop nuances seeping into the mix. The grooves - many of which are infused with the soul power of a muscular sax section laid down in layers by Joyner - are undeniably danceable while his innate flair for crafting catchy hooks and buoyant melodies are prominent in the new material he penned for the project. Aptly, Joyner selected a pair of tunes to record that embody these elements: Justin Timberlake's euphoric "Can't Stop The Feeling" and Bruno Mars' old-school party jam "Treasure." Guesting on the album are a pair of noteworthy guitarists: Steve Oliver, who appears on the first single named for Joyner's daughter, "Trinity," and Chicago hitman Nick Colionne, who strums his electric jazz guitar with trademark panache on "When You Smile."
The release of "Main Street Beat" coincides with the tenth anniversary of Joyner's debut disc, "Babysoul." An award-winner and a Billboard chart-topper, the Norfolk, Virginia native is receiving accolades for the new collection. The influential SoulTracks declared that "Joyner is at his creative and funky best." Below is a sampling of the reviews:
"A summer soundtrack, top down, country driving, playing lead harmonies on alto reinforced by his exuberant sax section work has culminated in Main Street Beat being one of the best albums of 2017." - Exclusive Magazine
"To say this saxman has done it again is an understatement. His massive growth is, in and of itself, a work of art; a true form of musical poetry in motion." - The Smooth Jazz Ride
"He ups the ante to make this set something you don't just listen to in the background. Zippy, zesty and packing real punch, this is the kind of muscular sax playing that you can only find deep in the pocket. A winning set throughout." - Midwest Record
"A funky and swinging album!" - Keys & Chords
"With justifiable pride, Father Jackiem announces the birth of his daughter Trinity and lets us participate in the joy with the new album ‘Main Street Beat.'" - Sonic Soul Reviews
"Jackiem Joyner's Main Street Beat is creative, real, and organic as smooth jazz should be." - Smooth Jazz Daily
For more information, including Joyner's concert itinerary, please visit www.JackiemJoyner.com.
Read the full piece from: Jazz Corner
Released on Artistry Music the single “Trinity” features Steve Oliver on acoustic guitarist – as the voice of Trinity. When I asked if his daughter is showing signs of musical talents he indicated when Beyonce’ music comes on she breaks out singing and dancing so her instrument may be vocals. Billboard chart topping Joyner plays the tenor, alto, soprano and baritone saxophones.
“It’s a groovy and funky CD. The first five songs are upbeat. I stretched my writing playing more tenor for that Motown feel…takes you back to Motown,” said Jackiem.
Known as Lil’ Man on stage Jackiem Joyner enlisted Raymond Johnson (drums), Darryl Williams (bass), Kyle Bolden (guitar) and Carnell Harrell (piano) to form his band for the project or for at least six of the tracks. Jazz guitarist Nick Colionne is a featured artist on the “When You Smile” selection. Trombonist Nikolai Egorov is featured on the “Southside Blvd,” “That Good Thing” and “Don’t Make Her Wait” songs.
“Main Street Beat” is his sixth album. His first album release was in 2007 titled “Babysoul,” which garnered him the “Debut Artist of the Year” Smooth Jazz News Award. His sophomore album was released two years later, “Lil Man Soul” garnering him a #1 spot on Billboard Singles Chart and a “Song of the Year” American Smooth Jazz Award for “I’m Waiting for You.”
“I had this idea to play the drums. I knew I was going to be part of a band as a freshman in high school. Unfortunately or fortunately they had enough drummers and I had to choose another instrument. I chose the saxophone because it looked like the most expensive. My classmate chose the trumpet. People heard us in science class. (My teacher) He gave me a tape of Grover Washington Jr., Charlie Parker and Coltrane to listen to. I tried to play out what I heard. I advanced quickly. My teacher had the principle come listen and said, ‘…And it’s only been three weeks!’”
As they say the rest is HIStory. Jackiem Joyner is now on tour. He has performed at the Cincinnati “Celebration of Black Music,” Birmingham’s “Jazz in the Park” and at San Diego’s Mediterranean Jazz and Super Club. Check out the www.JackiemJoyner.com website for up coming show dates.
Gospel/Jazz vocalist Robert E. Person collaborates with Richard Smallwood on “I Give Your Praise” single.
Gospel/Jazz vocalist Robert E. Person releases his first single too, “I Give You Praise,” off of his upcoming album “Classic Covers” to be released in the Fall, 2017. The single is a 40 year old Richard Smallwood hit song. Robert was able to collaborate with Richard Smallwood on it.
“(Working with Richard Smallwood) It met and exceeded my expectations,” Person said when asked about working with a living legend such as Richard Smallwood. “I wanted to breathe new life to it without loosing the interiority to the song. I didn’t want to change it too much, but I incorporated as much live music as I could.”
Richard Smallwood is a pianist, singer and songwriter and is known for his choirs and hit songs. One song was made infamous by Whitney Houston in The Bodyguard movie titled “I Love the Lord.”
“I was so honored because he is so nonchalant. I’m a Washingtonian and I grew up listening to Richard. I know him from a far. I got up the nerve, courage and fear and asked him if I could record his song. He said, ‘Yes, it’s bigger than me. This song is 40 years old and is still relevant.’ It took a few months but it happened.”
Person began his career singing background for Josh Groban. He went on to perform for the Pope as well. An upcoming performance includes an August 27th date at the Mt. Sinai Baptist Church in Washington, DC. He recently performed at the Berean Baptist Church in DC, the Christian Tabernacle and the Indie Gospel Artist Alliance in Beltsville, Maryland.
Robert E. Person said he hopes his music brings peace to the world.
“We are still dealing with hate. The universal message of love is my message,” Person said seriously. “My last two albums centered around love but was just music. I decided to have a message this particular time stating that the word that God is Love, we are love. I don’t think we get enough love.”
Listen to Robert E. Person’s cover of “I Give You Praise” or learn more about his upcoming performances and his “Classic Covers” album release by logging onto his website www.RobertEPerson.com.
Read the full piece from: EURWEB
I'm always fascinated to learn what kinds of music influence a musician and how those are manifested in that artist's own creative output. Sometimes the references are obvious; other times, they're not so obvious, but make perfect sense once explained.
The latter is the case with singer-songwriter Raul Midón. His Guest DJ session offers insight into what inspires his mashup of soul, jazz and Afro-Caribbean music and results in one of the most eclectic collections of music we've presented on the show. Flamenco, tango, Spanish-language pop, Afro-Cuban rumba, South American nuevo canto — how often do you get all of that in one sitting?
We also talk about his new album, Bad Ass And Blind, which continues his streak of records that cross boundaries with ease and head-turning musicality. And, since Midón brought along so much great music that we didn't have time to cover it all in the show, you can read on for an extended playlist that includes all of his picks.
Read the full piece from: NPR
Joyner became the father to a daughter, Trinity, in the interim, and he notes that the baby girl had an impact on the creative process. And there is an exuberance that comes through on tracks such as the title track, which is one of the several tracks where Joyner overdubs his performances of the soprano, alto, tenor and baritone saxophones to create what he calls a layer of horns.
The track that Joyner titled in honor of his daughter is a more of a pensive number, and with the combination Joyner’s saxophone creativity involved in an instrumental give and take with Steve Oliver’s Latin tinged guitar solo work sets this track apart.
‘Smooth’ or contemporary jazz, the subgenre that employs many of the elements of R&B and hip-hop, has struggled to find its footing in the mainstream music landscape. Often, the genre has looked to an element that served acoustic jazz well in the past by seeking reimagine contemporary music in an instrumental jazz format, and Joyner goes that route on Main Street Beat, with covers of Bruno Mars “Treasure” and Justin Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop the Feeling.” These days, contemporary jazz is the genre where fans of instrumental funk come to get their itch scratched. That formula works better on the “Treasure” than on “Can’t Stop the Feeling,” a cut that sounds repetitive.
Joyner is at his creative and funky best, however, on his originals, such as the sensual and percussive groove on the instrumental ballad “Don’t Make Her Wait, and the old school funky plucking that serves the bottom for more layered-on sax creativity on “Get Down Street.”
Contemporary jazz has sometimes been content to go right down the middle of the road. A little bit jazz and little bit R&B. However, the best work in the genre stands on one side or the other. On Main Street Beat, Joyner stands firmly on the funk side, and that means that artist and father are in a pretty good place. Recommended.
Read the full piece from: Soul Tracks
“I’m badass / badass / badass and blind”: that’s the proclamation that pop singer/songwriter musician Raul Midón makes at the top of Bad Ass and Blind. Categorizing Midón is tough given the eclecticism he brings to the table. Ultimately, his niche fuses elements of jazz, pop, and soul, among other genres, throughout. Bad Ass and Blind settles somewhere in the realm of contemporary jazz or jazz-pop. As the title suggests, he is a badass, showing incredible musical restlessness throughout the album. It pays off more often than not.
Title track “Badass and Blind” kicks off the album energetically, chocked full of funky vibes. By far the most risqué moment of the album, Midón showcases his flawless set of singing pipes, as well as dropping some bars—rap bars. While the rapping is more tongue ‘n’ cheek as opposed to hard-nosed, he definitely talks some trash. Midón cleans it up on “Red Green Yellow”, an easy-going jazz-pop joint. No gimmicks or frills to be found here; just sound, clear vocals.
“Pedal to the Metal” packs more punch while maintaining that crisp and clean jazz shtick. While Midón may not channel his inner badass like he does on the seminal title track, he continues to shine. Among highlights are the electric guitar section and the harmonically unpredictable bridge. “Wings of Mind” is the first ‘traditional’ jazz track on Bad Ass and Blind. String bass strengthens this traditional identity, coupled with a hard-swinging groove, and furious comping piano truly sets the harmonic identity, particularly during the solo section. Even through the intensity, Midón maintains the utmost cool, never over-singing. He concludes dramatically, giving the song its biggest moment.
Midón remains easy-going on “If Only”, navigating through the harmonic changes like a pro. Despite its length, “If Only” packs a respectable punch, aided by the drum groove and overall tidiness of the production. Even the gritty electric guitar solo isn’t too gritty—it’s just enough ‘stank’ to propel things to the next level. “Sound Shadow” is brief but intriguing, with the accompaniment comprised of highly syncopated guitar, creating a driving effect. Oxymoronic, it’s busy, yet smooth as butter. Once more, he is on autopilot, adding the cherry on top.
“Jack” ranks among the most thoughtful moments from Bad Ass and Blind. A tender, sentimental ballad, Midón delivers the record with passion and indisputable authenticity. While the particular song doesn’t feature a notable climax, its pleasant and enjoyable sound is undeniable. Dedication and all things ‘warm and fuzzy’ remain the m.o. on follow-up, “You & I”. Aided by the gift of groove, there’s more ‘fuel for the fire’ compared to “Jack”. While the title and subject matter are arguably cliché, Midón sells them sensationally with his masterful instrument. “You & I” picks up more steam within the last minute, where he’s supported by backing vocals, not to mention employing a dash of falsetto.
“All That I Am” returns to jazzier stylings, similar to “Wings of Mind”. Swing has returned full force, giving Bad Ass and Blind another traditional moment. Even with old school in mind, there are enough quirks to keep the joint from sounding anachronistic. The piano solo, in particular, is superb. “Gotta Gotta Give” embraces more of a retro, funk-jazz sensibility. It’s not far-fetched from “Badass and Blind”, sporting the same swagger. Compared to “All That I Am”, “Gotta Gotta Give” is much more contemporary. Midón concludes with a classic courtesy of The Steve Miller Band: “Fly Like an Eagle”. He doesn’t play it straight—there are some altered harmonies to keep things interesting. Still, the classicism is maintained.
All in all, Raul Midón meets the expectations of the album’s title. Indeed, he’s Bad Ass and Blind. While this LP doesn’t reinvent the jazz script, some successful risks take place. Of course, that’s assuming one considers Bad Ass and Blind a ‘jazz’ album. If that’s the play, Midón doesn’t throw too much at the fan base. Sure, the rhymes and profanity are surprising, but beyond that, he focuses on his craft as opposed to his place in the rap game. Ultimately, this is a sound, well-rounded offering.
Read the full piece from: Pop Matters
Throwback soul, smooth R&B and contemporary jazz have long found convergence in the music of Raul Midón. On Bad Ass and Blind, his wryly titled new album, Midón serves a new batch of songs in his personalized hybrid style, pushing musicianship to the foreground. Some tracks lean a bit far into the crossover zone, but “Wings of Mind” features a coolly swinging band, with Gerald Clayton on piano, Joe Sanders on bass and Gregory Hutchinson on drums. Midón ventures some brisk acoustic guitar work, followed by a sharp trumpet solo by Nicholas Payton. Midón performs a free lunchtime concert on Thursday at MetroTech Commons in Brooklyn, as part of the BAM Rhythm and Blues Festival.
Read the full piece from: WBGO
Guitarist Kevin Eubanks is gifted with sublime talents on both electric and nylon acoustic guitar. He splits the album up divided between two bands, the first half with Orrin Evans/p-key, Dave Holland/b, Nicholas Payton/tp and Jeff “Tain” Watts/dr and the second half teaming Rene Camacho/b, MinoCinelu/perc, Bill Pierce/ts and Marvin “Smitty” Smith.
The first question has to be “why do drummers have to have nicknames?” That aside, The other one has to be “Where has Pierce been hiding since teaming with the Marsalis Brothers back in the 80s with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers?” He sounds wonderfully muscular on the Afro Cuban read of “Take the Coltrane,” sizzle with the leader’s guitar on the tribal groove of “Cuban Chant” and goes back and forth on the post bop modal read of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On.” He is breathy on the cozy “My One and Only Love” where Eubanks is at his sublime best, and since it is the guitarist’s session, let it be known that he does a rich pulse with Watt’s as they snap together for Payton’s hip horn on “Time Line.”
Eubanks is ebullient in mixing nylon with electric strings on the graceful “Poet” and dances around Evans dark keys with Holland on “Carnival.” This album is a real treat!
Read the full piece from: Jazz Weekly
With his luscious orchestrations, and his inherent ability to find beauty in whatever he composes, some have labelled him as a “Third Stream” artist-a term coined in a 1957 speech by jazz composer/arranger Gunther Schuller to describe the skillful combination of elements of classical music with the improvisational aspects of jazz. But Childs is more than an accomplished symphonic composer. His history includes playing his share of hard-bop piano alongside some of jazz’s great masters. His youthful experiences touring with the great trombonist J.J. Johnson and subsequently as a member of the iconic trumpeter Freddie Hubbard’s band made their indelible mark on his musical soul.
With the release of his latest recording, aptly titled Rebirth, Childs has renewed his love of the kind of group interplay that was the hallmark of those early Johnson and Hubbard groups. But this music is pure Childs, and it incorporates the orchestral feel of his own musical identity. Of the eight pieces of music on this recording, five are Childs originals. The title song is a Childs collaboration with vocalist Claudia Acuna, who also sings on it, and the remaining two songs are thoughtful rearrangements of Michel Legrand’s “Windmills of Your Mind” and Horace Silver’s seminal “Peace.”
For this recording Childs enlisted a group of musicians who are at the cutting edge of today’s contemporary jazz scene Steve Wilson on alto and soprano saxophones, Hans Glawischnig on acoustic bass and Eric Harland on drums make up the core group. The singers Claudia Acuna and Alicia Olatula, as well as trombonist Ido Meshulam and percussionist Rogerio Boccato are also featured on the album.
The songs, for the most part, dense, very conversational constructions that sing with lyricism and swim in the waters of syncopated rhythmic patterns that encourage magical interplay. The opener “Backwards Bop,” a cooking swinger that just surges with energy, features Glawischnig’s pulsing bass, Childs perceptive piano, some searing alto by Wilson and explosive drum work by Harland. The same roiling intensity, can be heard on the rapid-fire changes of “Dance of Shiva,” Harland often pushing with his relentless fusillade of sounds and Childs’ using stabbing piano lines that fire like the report of an automatic weapon.
“Rebirth” is a soaring piece of music. Child’s and co-writer Acuna have clearly found inspiration in the work that Chick Corea did with vocalist Flora Purim on Light as A Feather. Child’s piano stylings have a lusciousness that are all his own. Acuna- as fluid a voice as there is in jazz today- has an amazing instrument, using her impressive ability to rapidly modulate through complex passages while still eliciting great feeling. The entire group plays with great cohesion and synchronicity, whipping the song into a climactic frenzy. Wilson’s soprano and alto saxophones dance with grace and meaning. The music is topped off by a rousing trombone solo by Ido Meshulam and some crashing cymbals by Harland at the coda.
On the yearning “Stay,” Alicia Olatuja’s haunting voice creates a sense of poignant eagerness. The vocalist modulates the lyrics in some unusual and sometimes unsettling ways as Childs and his trio play with sparse sensitivity.
The piano concerto-like sound of Childs on his moving “Tightrope” is enhanced by a beautifully realized bass solo by Glawischnig.
Childs’ brief pianistic intro on “The Starry Night,” is a scintillating taste of what is to come. When the band enters, Wilson’s airy soprano is out front and flying. Listen closely as each band member brilliantly match the complex lines in precise synchronicity, Glawischnig’s bass, Wilson’s soprano, Harland’s dancing drums, all led down the path constructed by the magic of their leader. Childs strong use of chording and fluid filigreed runs are brilliantly orchestrated and expertly executed. Wilson’s soprano work floats weightlessly above the music like a bilious cloud.
On Michel Legrand’s “Windmills of Your Mind,” Wilson is featured on alto, and although he does an admirable job with Childs’ much more contemporary arrangement, I can’t help but to go back to the great Phil Woods captivating performance of this song with Legrand’s own orchestra on the album “Images” from 1975 as my personal choice.
In these times of turmoil what better anthem to resurrect than Horace Silver’s “Peace.” Childs opens the song with a piano intro that leads to a brief but beautiful alto statement of the melody by Wilson. Childs follows with his own piano solo, adroitly sensitive and emotionally brimming. Wilson returns with a very Desmond-esque sound and the two end this beautiful conversation in sublime unity.
Read the full piece from: Huffington Post
The 10 Best Jazz Albums of 2017 (So Far)
8) Jimmy Greene, Flowers: Beautiful Life, Volume 2 (Mack Avenue)
Tenor sax great Jimmy Greene continues to be a beacon of strength as he channels his grief of losing a child to gun violence into some of the most vibrant, lyrical jazz coming out of America today. Flowers: Beautiful Life, Volume 2 is a gorgeous testament to the vibrancy of his late daughter, 6-year-old Ana Márquez-Greene, which relishes in the playful energy of childhood with the assistance of not one but two phenomenal groups.
One, Jimmy Greene’s Love In Action, is a crew featuring Renee Rosnes on both grand piano and Fender Rhodes, bassist John Patitucci and drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts with the help of percussionist Rogerio Boccato and, on three of the six tracks featuring this ensemble, guitarist Mike Moreno.
The other is Greene’s quartet comprised of keyboardist Kevin Hays, bassist Ben Williams and drummer Otis Brown III. Both bands do a such an incredible job helping this loving and devoted father provide the kind of music that inspired his daughter to dance, keeping the vibrancy of her beautiful, young spirit alive and well in the hereafter.
Read the full piece from: Observer
On a Thursday evening a few months ago, a long line snaked along Seventh Avenue, outside the Village Vanguard, a cramped basement night club in Greenwich Village that jazz fans regard as a temple. The eight-thirty set was sold out, as were the ten-thirty set and nearly all the other shows that week. The people descending the club’s narrow steps had come to hear a twenty-seven-year-old singer named Cécile McLorin Salvant. In its sixty years as a jazz club, the Vanguard has headlined few women and fewer singers of either gender. But Salvant, virtually unknown two years earlier, had built an avid following, winning a Grammy and several awards from critics, who praised her singing as “singularly arresting” and “artistry of the highest class.”
She and her trio—a pianist, a bassist, and a drummer, all men in their early thirties—emerged from the dressing lounge and took their places on a lit-up stage: the men in sharp suits, Salvant wearing a gold-colored Issey Miyake dress, enormous pink-framed glasses, and a wide, easy smile. She nodded to the crowd and took a few glances at the walls, which were crammed with photographs of jazz icons who had played there: Sonny Rollins cradling a tenor saxophone, Dexter Gordon gazing through a cloud of cigarette smoke, Charlie Haden plucking a bass with back-bent intensity. This was the first time Salvant had been booked at the club—for jazz musicians, a sign that they’d made it and a test of whether they’d go much farther. She seemed very happy to be there.
The set opened with Irving Berlin’s “Let’s Face the Music and Dance,” and it was clear right away that the hype was justified. She sang with perfect intonation, elastic rhythm, an operatic range from thick lows to silky highs. She had emotional range, too, inhabiting different personas in the course of a song, sometimes even a phrase—delivering the lyrics in a faithful spirit while also commenting on them, mining them for unexpected drama and wit. Throughout the set, she ventured from the standard repertoire into off-the-beaten-path stuff like Bessie Smith’s “Sam Jones Blues,” a funny, rowdy rebuke to a misbehaving husband, and “Somehow I Never Could Believe,” a song from “Street Scene,” an obscure opera by Kurt Weill and Langston Hughes. She unfolded Weill’s tune, over ten minutes, as the saga of an entire life: a child’s promise of bright days ahead, a love that blossoms and fades, babies who wrap “a ring around a rosy” and then move away. When she sang, “It looks like something awful happens / in the kitchens / where women wash their dishes,” her plaintive phrasing transformed a description of domestic obligation into genuine tragedy. A hush washed over the room.
Wynton Marsalis, who has twice hired Salvant to tour with his Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, told me, “You get a singer like this once in a generation or two.” Salvant might not have reached this peak just yet, he said. But, he added, “could Michael Jordan do all he would do in his third year? No, but you could tell what he was going to do. Cécile’s the same way."
It was only because of a series of flukes that she became a jazz singer at all. Cécile Sophie McLorin Salvant was born in Miami on August 28, 1989. She began piano lessons at four and joined a local choir at eight, all the while taking in the music that her mother played on the stereo—classical, jazz, pop, folk, Latin, Senegalese. At ten, she saw Charlotte Church, a pop-culture phenomenon just a few years older, singing opera on a TV show. “This girl was making people cry with her singing,” Salvant recalled, sitting in her apartment, a walkup on a block of brownstones in Harlem. “I was attracted by how she could tap into emotions like that. I said, ‘I want to do that, too.’”
She grew up in a French-speaking household: her father, a doctor, is Haitian, and her mother, who heads an elementary school, is French. At eighteen, Cécile decided that she wanted to live in France, so she enrolled at the Darius Milhaud Conservatory, in Aix-en-Provence, and at a nearby prep school that offered courses in political science and law. Her mother, who came along to help her get settled, saw a listing for a class in jazz singing and suggested that Cécile sign up.
“I said, ‘O.K., whatever,’ ” Cécile told me. “I was passive—super passive.” At an audition for the class, she sang “Misty,” which she knew from a Sarah Vaughan album that her mother often played. After she finished, the teacher, who’d been accompanying on piano, asked her to improvise. She didn’t know what that meant, nor did she care. “I didn’t want to get into his class anyway,” she recalled. “I had poli-sci, law, classical voice—I didn’t have time.”
But the teacher, a jazz musician named Jean-François Bonnel, was astonished by her singing. “Cécile was something else,” he wrote to me in an e-mail. “She already had everything—the right time, the sense of rhythm, the right intonation, an incredible Sarah Vaughan type of voice”—a pure bel canto, with exceptional range and precision. Two days later, Bonnel ran into her on the street and told her that he’d come ring her doorbell until she signed up for his class. “I always obeyed my parents and my teachers,” Salvant recalled, with a laugh. She enrolled, and found that she liked it. “There were all these cool people with dreads and cigarettes,” she said. “It was very different from the classical-music program, with these precious girls, or the poli-sci school, which was full of rich kids from Saint-Tropez, very arrogant, politically on the right. I had nothing to say to those people. So I figured the jazz department would be like a good hobby—a place to make friends, like going to a community-theatre class.”
Soon, Bonnel formed a band for Salvant—he played piano, other students played bass and guitar—and, within three months, booked their first gig, at a local music hall. He also began putting Salvant through a crash course in jazz history. “He gave me recordings, twenty CDs at a time, which I played again and again,” she said. He started her with Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, and Billie Holiday—all of their albums, not just the ones her mother had played. Then came the early blues singers. “I listened to Bessie Smith’s complete recordings non-stop, all day,” she said. “I hated them at first, but eventually fell in love with her world. These songs were amazing. She sang about sex and food and savages and the Devil and Hell and really exciting things you don’t hear on ‘Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Cole Porter Songbook.’ I thought, This is great! All these great stories! I’d heard torch songs by Dinah Washington about ‘I’ll wait for you forever.’ But here’s Bessie Smith singing, ‘You come around after you been gone a year? Goodbye! ’ It was empowering.” She went on to albums by later singers who fused jazz standards with earthy blues, especially Abbey Lincoln, who brought political consciousness and dissonant note-bending to the saloon-song tradition. “After coming from Sarah Vaughan, Abbey Lincoln felt harsh and a little depressing, too edgy and cold,” Salvant said. “I slowly began to love that edge, and went through a period when I didn’t like Sarah Vaughan because she didn’t have that edge.”
Toward the end of that year, Bonnel and Salvant were driving back from a jazz festival in Ascona, Switzerland. On the road, “just for fun,” he remembers, she did impressions of the great jazz singers—Vaughan, Fitzgerald, Holiday, Carmen McRae. “It was incredible,” he told me. She mimicked not only the sound of their voices but also their phrasings, rhythms, breaths. Bonnel’s next task was to prod her into finding her own way with this material. In class, he told her to focus on the piano, molding the songs’ harmonies into her fingers and improvising new melodies on top of them.
At this point, she wasn’t intent on becoming a jazz singer. She had kept studying classical voice, and performed a few Baroque recitals in small churches. “The reason I turned to jazz was the gigs were coming in,” she said matter-of-factly. “If more gigs had come in with Baroque, I’d have tried to do both.” She recorded an album, called “Cécile,” with Bonnel’s band, and by 2010 she was singing throughout Europe. She figured that she’d give her jazz career three years to take off. She was twenty, young enough that, if things didn’t work out, she could go back to school and try something else—maybe history or literature or law.
One afternoon, Salvant and I went out for lunch around the corner from her apartment, at a small, brick-walled place called Il Caffe Latte, on Malcolm X Boulevard. Salvant, stirring an iced coffee, seemed unaccustomed to being out in the middle of the day. When she’s not on the road, she maintains a scholarly routine. “I’ll listen for an hour to a record of someone soloing, and I’ll sing along, improvising,” she said. “I’ve been listening to Benny Golson, Coleman Hawkins, Oscar Peterson, Sonny Rollins. When you listen to a solo a lot, it’s like you’re trying to get in a person’s brain. ‘Why did Coltrane do this instead of that?’ ”
Onstage, Salvant projects confidence and subtle theatricality; offstage, she’s warm, smart, and funny, but also reserved and nervous, her voice more nasal than smoky. As she tells it, she is not a natural performer. “The first year I sang before audiences, I closed my eyes the whole time,” she said. “After a while, I gave myself a challenge: try to look at people for a nanosecond, catch their eyes—see if I melt.” As Salvant’s mother watched her career develop, she was eager to see her succeed but didn’t want to push her toward a life as a professional musician. “I never thought she would go where she is now,” Léna McLorin Salvant, a tall, assertive woman who speaks with a pronounced French accent, says. “She’s an intellectual. I thought she would go into academics.”
Still, while Salvant was in school, her mother became interested in the Thelonious Monk competition, which is held annually—the closest thing that the commercially modest jazz industry has to “American Idol.” Each year highlights a different instrument, and in 2010 it would be a singing competition. Léna insisted that Cécile record an audition disk. “Cécile is very malleable, she’s very open, and I take advantage of that,” Léna told me. “I told her the contest would be a good experience.”
Cécile sent in a disk just before the deadline, and she was chosen as one of twelve semifinalists, out of two hundred and thirty-seven applicants. In October, she was flown to Washington, D.C., for the first phase of the contest, before a live audience, at the National Museum of the American Indian. She was twenty-one and completely unknown in her own country.
As she faced the crowd, she seemed tentative. Ben Ratliff wrote in the Times that she “looked like an English teacher wearing a sensible black dress with magenta ballet flats” and “stared inquisitively at the house: really stared, as in ‘it’s not polite to stare.’ ” Her mother, who was in the audience, heard people laughing. “They were saying, ‘Who’s she?’ and ‘She’s not glamorous,’ ” she recalled. “I thought, Oh, no, why did I put her through this?”
Salvant launched into “Bernie’s Tune,” a cool-bop anthem by Gerry Mulligan, followed by “Monk’s Mood,” a knotty melody by Thelonious Monk, and “Take It Right Back,” a raucous Bessie Smith blues. “She had people eating out of her hand—it was ridiculous,” Al Pryor, the A. & R. chief at Mack Avenue Records, who was also in the house, recalled. “I knew that I had to sign her up.” Rodney Whitaker, the bassist hired for the rhythm section that accompanied the contestants, knew she was going to win even during the pre-show rehearsal. “I’d never met anyone that young who’d figured out how to channel the whole history of jazz singing and who had her own thing, too,” he later told me. She and two other women made it into the finals. The next day, after a second round of competition, at the Kennedy Center, Salvant was declared the winner.
Afterward, she flew back to France to finish her law courses, but she quickly realized that New York was where a jazz singer needed to be. Pryor offered her a contract. So did Ed Arrendell, a prominent talent manager. In early 2012, she moved to Manhattan, on her own for the first time. “My concern was: How can I deal with the solitude of a creative life style?” she told me. “I’d been used to being a good student—get good grades, follow whatever structure I’m in. Now it was the idea of letting all that go, working from home—what a nightmare!”
Unnerved, she did what she was accustomed to doing: she enrolled in classes on composition and music theory at the New School, in Greenwich Village. But Arrendell was eager to jump-start her career. He sent her some names of pianists she might enjoy singing with. She particularly liked a YouTube video of a pianist named Aaron Diehl playing Fats Waller’s “Viper’s Drag”—precise, soulful, and joyous all at once. “It was exciting to see somebody play Fats Waller with a fresh take yet very much in the spirit of the music,” she said. “I’d been trying to do this for years—take something old and make it yours but still authentic—and here was someone who’d figured it out.” She called him, and they met. “He was very versatile, very serious, and didn’t seem to be an asshole,” she recalled. “Those were the boxes I checked off.”
Their first gig was at the Kennedy Center. More gigs followed, with Salvant fronting Diehl’s trio (including Paul Sikivie on bass and Lawrence Leathers on drums), and the musicians coalesced into a working band, on the road three weeks out of every month. She also recorded an album, called “WomanChild,” for Mack Avenue, which received a Grammy nomination for Best Jazz Vocal Album. (Her next album, “For One to Love,” won the award.) Meanwhile, she flunked her composition course at the New School because she had an out-of-town gig on exam day. She dropped out, no longer needing the academic structure.
Before a recent tour in France, Salvant stopped by Aaron Diehl’s apartment one afternoon to rehearse some songs. The two live in the same building, Salvant on the top floor and Diehl on the parlor and ground floors. “It’s like the pros of having a roommate without the cons,” she said.
Salvant wanted to try out a new discovery, a song from the nineteen-twenties called “Dites-Moi Que Je Suis Belle” (“Tell Me I’m Pretty”), by a cabaret singer named Yvette Guilbert. She played a YouTube clip of it on her phone, and sang along in a quiet, crystalline voice. They spent half an hour exploring ways to make it sound like jazz. Diehl picked out the chords, then tinkered with them, thickening the harmony; he added a pop-tune bass line, then discarded it in favor of a vamp that opened some space between choruses. Diehl is Juilliard-trained, academic in demeanor, attuned to the logical structure of a song. But he deferred to Salvant, partly because she’s the band’s leader and partly because, he told me, “she has much better ears than I do.”
Once they’d worked out a plausible arrangement, he asked her, “Will you be changing the phrasing of the melody?”
“I’ll do that however this ends up,” she replied. “But I want this to progress from shy and coy to desperate and a little intense and angry.” She’d read that the song was one of Sigmund Freud’s favorites, and her idea was to reclaim a frothy ditty as an enraged critique. They agreed to work on it more at their next rehearsal.
The singer Dee Dee Bridgewater, who was a judge at the 2010 Monk competition, told me, “I had never seen someone as young as Cécile invest in a lyric and tell a story in the manner that she did.” This impulse to dramatize a song, treating it less as a monologue than as a play, sets Salvant apart from other jazz singers, even from many of the great ones. “To me, performance is acting as a character on the stage,” Salvant said. “Trying to get inside a world for other people and getting them to join in—that’s thrilling.” As her early stagefright waned, she began to conceive of a song as a conversation between her and the audience. “I’m not just singing words that are strung together,” she said. “They’re a story. So who am I telling the story to? Not to the band. They’re into making it sound good. I needed to acknowledge there are people in front of me. They’re not my enemy. I’m sharing something with them.”
Salvant looks back on the week at the Village Vanguard—some of which was recorded for an album that will be released later this year—as a breakthrough. She dislikes listening to herself, and cringes at excess acrobatics: “It’s like I’m saying, ‘Listen! Please! Like this! I really worked hard on this!’ I don’t want that desperation in my voice. I want to be natural and free and adventurous.” In the weeks leading up to the Vanguard dates, she talked with the band about this habit and came up with a way to break it. “I said we should play like we’re old—people who have lived and now we’re natural,” she recalled. “I want to act sixty years old. Desperation is a young person’s thing. If I’m old, I’m not thinking, What can I be? I’m getting too old for that shit.”
Al Pryor, of Mack Avenue, told me that when he heard Salvant at the Monk competition he wondered how she had acquired such broad knowledge of the music. He said, “She seemed to be an old soul in a young woman.” Pryor was onto something. Salvant told me that, when she was a kid in Miami, her friends nicknamed her Grandma. “I walked slow,” she said. “I was interested in old things—old books, old music.” When she went through a death-obsessed phase, as many teen-agers do, she consoled herself by reading Guy de Maupassant. Aaron Diehl, who is four years Salvant’s senior, told me, “I look at her as an older sister.”
I asked Salvant if, like many musicians, she’d thought of covering contemporary pop songs. She winced. “It’s fine,” she allowed. “There are some new songs that I really like, but I never think, Maybe I’ll sing this song. I don’t care whether what I do is modern or of our time. I want to sing songs that have this timeless quality. I’m interested in history—how things differ, how they’re still the same. I love it when a song is a hundred years old but still connects.”
But, she said, “I’m finding it hard to find these songs. Maybe I need to figure out something new. Sometimes I’d like to be more outrageous—like write a musical play, or do a one-woman show, or design outlandish costumes and wear them, or somehow combine my visual art with my music.” (She sketches and paints on the road, and illustrated the cover of “For One to Love.”) “I have a notebook full of drawings and ideas. I call it ‘My Book of Imaginary Projects.’ If I tried them, I feel they’d be a catastrophe. But maybe I should try one.”
In a phone conversation after the Presidential election, Salvant said, “The current political landscape is making me feel I want to be messier, sing more political songs, write more political songs.” She’d recently given a lecture at the Chautauqua Institute, in upstate New York, on the history of race and women in popular culture. In it, she dwelled on the nineteenth-century phenomenon of black entertainers performing in blackface, which many have found demeaning but which she sees as a form of rebellion—African-Americans reclaiming their own stories. She talked about parallels to songs of the nineteen-thirties, like Josephine Baker’s “Si J’Étais Blanche” (“If I Were White”), and songs from the sixties, like Burt Bacharach’s “Wives and Lovers,” which warns women to be sexy for their men so that they don’t run off with someone else.
“A friend once asked me why I didn’t sing more feminist songs,” Salvant recalled. “I said it’s hard to find feminist jazz songs. But I thought about it, and I wondered if there were sexist songs that I could make fun of. I went online, looked up the ten most sexist songs in American pop history. ‘Wives and Lovers’ was the best. And Aaron happened to love that song. Rhythmically it’s great, and the words sound wonderful.”
She sang both songs at the Vanguard the night I saw her. She treated the Baker as a haunting dirge, lingering on the words “I’d like to be white / How happy I would be.” She turned the Bacharach into a subversive anthem of assertiveness, purring its opening lines with a mix of come-hither bounce and menace: “Hey, little girl / comb your hair / fix your makeup / Soon he will open the door.” In the silence after the song ended, I could hear sighs all around me, the collective release of an uncomfortable tension.
The lyrics of “Wives and Lovers” are “ridiculous,” Salvant told me later. “But they’re also things I really do. I’m not completely over the idea of needing to be presentable and looking my best. It’s advice that I’ll almost take, then say no. The songs that I sing and kind of make fun of—they have some kind of power over me. By making fun of them, I weaken that power.”
Later, while Salvant and Diehl were on tour in France, she wrote to me in an e-mail that they had been performing “Dites-Moi Que Je Suis Belle,” the Freud favorite turned feminist howl. The audiences seemed to get the irony, reacting with a “curious, nervous mood,” like the one that “Wives and Lovers” inspires in American audiences. But Salvant and Diehl wanted to work on it more. “I just want it to be leaner and more incisive,” she wrote. “Not sure if it has to even be funny. Also, wanting to do some digging for other songs like that, asking, ‘Am I pretty?’ I wonder if they are as rare as I think.”
Read the full piece from: New Yorker
Delivering on his promise to “Evolve,” the title of Jackiem Joyner’s last soul-jazz album, the saxophonist became a father since his 2014 release, an elation-inducing experience that informs the music he wrote and produced for his new Artistry Music set, “Main Street Beat,” due June 30. The first single from the funky, dance inspiring, Motown-influenced session that will be shipped to radio this month is the exultant “Trinity,” named for Joyner’s first child whose presence on the track is voiced by Steve Oliver’s incandescent acoustic guitar.
Joyner approached crafting “Main Street Beat” with a three-pronged purpose. “I wanted to create something upbeat, fun to listen to and something to dance to. ‘Main Street Beat’ originally started off as a straight funk record that eventually became some of that, but a whole lot more as I allowed the creative process to have its way with me,” said Joyner, a Billboard chart-topper who plays tenor, alto, soprano and baritone saxophone on the date, often enriching the tracks by laying layer upon layer of horns to form a powerhouse sax section.
The exuberant album opener, “Main Street,” exemplifies the mighty wall-of-horns approach with Joyner playing lead harmonies on alto reinforced by his sax section. Instead of tracking individually, Joyner brought the band – drummer Raymond Johnson, bassist Darryl Williams, electric guitarist Kyle Bolden and piano player Carnell Harrell – into the studio to record six tracks old-school style, including “Back To Motown.” Nick Colionne guests on “When You Smile” to flash his cool electric jazz guitar on the infectious mid-tempo R&B cut. Taking his alto sax chops out for a strut, Joyner cranks up the band for a fiery funk romp down “Southside Boulevard,” one of three tunes that adds Nikolai Egorov’s trombone muscle to the horn section. On a pair of urban joints – “That Good Thing” and “Don’t Make Her Wait” – Joyner plays soprano sax. He takes full command on the stormy “Addicted,” playing every instrument heard on the moody number. “Think James Brown on tenor sax” is how Joyner describes the super funky “Get Down Street.” A pair of high-energy pop-R&B covers – Justin Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop The Feeling” and Bruno Mars’ “Treasure” – complete the outing, songs Joyner elected to record based upon their buoyant, positive nature, which he says mirrors his young offspring’s personality.
“My little girl played a huge role in inspiring this album. Having Trinity around during the writing process sparked an enormous font of creativity and really kicked my writing into high gear. The first single, named after her, really captures the excitement and joy of being a dad as well as the exciting little girl that she is. Trinity was right there in the studio during a lot of the writing process. Her jumpy and bouncy upbeat little self is really reflected on this album,” said Joyner, who will launch the record with June concerts in Cincinnati (June 9 at A Celebration of Black Music), Birmingham (June 11 at Jazz in the Park), San Diego (June 25 at Mediterranean’s Jazz and Supper Club) and Philadelphia (June 29 at South).
The release of “Main Street Beat,” Joyner’s sixth album, coincides with his tenth anniversary as a recording artist. His 2007 debut “Babysoul” earned Debut Artist of the Year honors from Smooth Jazz News. Two years later, his sophomore set, “Lil Man Soul,” spawned two No. 1 singles on the Billboard chart and won the Song of the Year trophy for “I’m Waiting For You” from the American Smooth Jazz Awards. His self-titled 2010 album solidified his position as a consistent hit-maker. Revisiting his non-secular roots, Joyner issued the gospel-jazz “Church Boy” in 2012. “Evolve” placed his infectious melodies amidst futuristic electronic sonicscapes. Joyner’s music isn’t his only creative effort that ventured into extraterrestrial territory. Last year, the Norfolk, Virginia native who resides near Los Angeles authored his first book, the science fiction novel “Zarya: Cydnus Final Hope (Book 1). For more information, please visit http://www.JackiemJoyner.com.
Read the full piece from: Smooth Jazz Daily
Billy Childs, "Rebirth" (Mack Avenue) and Christian Sands, "Reach" (Mack Avenue)
This is two generations of superb mainstream jazz pianists coming from the same stellar mainstream Detroit jazz label.
Billy Childs, at the age of 60, made his first record in a group with J.J. Johnson and has performed with everyone from Freddie Hubbard to Diane Reeves and Gladys Knight. Paying tribute to Childs in the disc notes is no less than Vijay Iyer.
Christian Sands is less than half Childs' age but announces himself loudly as a powerful talent on "Reach." Childs' quartet on "Rebirth" features Steve Wilson on reeds, bassist Hans Glawisching and the very fine drummer Eric Harland. Claudia Acuna contributes a beautiful vocalise to the terrific title track of the record. The first cut on Sands' record is called "Armando's Song" and was inspired by Chick Corea (Armando is Corea's real first name.) What it introduces to us is a fluent, post-bop piano player and composer whose first mentor was Billy Taylor. In the Taylor (and Corea) mode, he's both a solid pianist and a very interesting composer whose original tunes are that great rarity in modern jazz composition -- so melodically and harmonically and modally interesting that rich and beautiful versions of them could be performed by other musicians.
These are very good jazz piano records, both.
3 1/2 stars (out of four)
Read the full piece from: Buffalo News
Raul Midón may have lost his sight but even a blind man can recognize his vision.
His new album entitled, "Bad Ass And Blind" isn't some artist gimmick. Midón was born premature and says that complications experienced thereafter when the hospital didn't cover his eyes - took his sight.
Don't feel bad for him because he's not. The guitarist infuses soul, jazz, R&B, latin vibes, and even hip-hop in his music. Bad ass and he has bars—that's rhymes for the uninitiated.
In fact, Midón has been a fan of hip-hop for many years. He lists Gil-Scott Heron, Grandmaster Flash, and new school emcee Kendrick Lamar amongst some of his favorites.
A son of an Argentinian man and African-American woman, Midón is a gentleman of many influences and he isn't afraid to take risks. A straight shooter, the New Mexico native calls it how he sees it. And for a guy that was born blind, Midón utilizes all his senses to ascertain the big picture. His newest album is another chapter archiving his sultry sentiment.
"Writing anything—a poem, a novel, or a story is all about the imagination," says Midon. "When you're blind, especially if you've never seen, you pretty much imagine the world. There's a whole aspect of the world, the visual aspect that you don't experience. So imagination is what takes you into those places. Through the spaces in your mind."
Much like his idol and co-collaborator Stevie Wonder, Midon has an arcane ear. While some artists don't take sound check seriously, at a recent show at the Highline Ballroom in New York City, Midon meticulously made sure his sound was crystal clear.
Related: How Prince Redefined Masculinity Through His Music, Onstage
Regardless if it's rehearsal or showtime, he's also adroit in showmanship. "Be careful when you try this at home. Might pull a muscle or something," Midon said while playing the djembe drum, guitar, and using his own voice as an instrument.
NBCBLK: How did the album cover come about?
RM: It came about because of the title. And actually my wife. I'm always talking about flying, you know, 'Ah, Superman!' So we actually got the shot. That was the challenging part to get the shot. I stood on a ladder and got shot from above, that was the way we got that shot.
There's a lot of great imagery on the new LP. You're speaking on the ideation of not being able to see, but you still have all these visions. Stevie Wonder called it Innervisions. It's all these things... I like how you mentioned you would be a race car driver if you could drive. Now if you could be a superhero, you already gave it away. Is Superman your guy?
Yeah, I used to like the Super Friends. I liked the idea—Aquaman, Superman, Batman, you know. [laughter] Spiderman... you know. I just think in ways when you become familiar with who you are and what your contribution is to the world, you're a superhero! You become connected with who you are.
How important is being connected to you?
It's important and it's also important to disconnect. This whole thing. Being out and doing publicity. I love it, but it is a stretch for me. I'm not a social person, generally. I like a lot of time alone. I don't like to be lonely, I mean I'm married, but I like alone time.
Bad ass and blind. Your new project is here. How do you feel about that?
It's great. There's been a lot more hype than I've had in awhile so I'm really happy about that. It's just been a good thing. I got a little bit of feedback about the album title and "oh maybe we shouldn't call it that" and I'm glad that I went bold with the title.
You're definitely a bold guy. Why are you "bad?"
Because I'm always trying to grow. I'm always trying to do things better. And when I go to do something, I go to do it really, really well. Whether it's writing, whether it's producing, playing. I don't want to just be good enough to have a guitar player just to play my songs.
I want to be good as I can possibly be. I don't wanna just be a good enough singer just to sorta make the notes, I wanna be great. That's why I'm bad!
Read the full piece from: NBC
When saxophonist Jimmy Greene released Beautiful Life in 2014, the album resonated as a poignant tribute to his daughter, Ana Márquez-Greene, who died in the Sandy Hook school shooting in 2012, at age 6. The same objective holds true of Flowers — Beautiful Life, Volume 2, just out on Mack Avenue. But Greene made the decision this time to focus less on the pain of loss, and more on the bright, playful spirit that his daughter always embodied. “Fun Circuits” is a fusionesque tune inspired (as he puts it in the liner notes) by “unabashed childlike exuberance and playful mischief.” You can hear those qualities in Greene’s solo, and in the playing of guitarist Mike Moreno and keyboardist Renee Rosnes. (Greene will perform this music at Scullers in Boston on May 25, and at the Newport Jazz Festival on August 4.)
Read the full piece from: WBGO
Jimmy Greene is a larger-than-life man, musician and artist. He’s also a larger-than-life father with a broken heart. In 2012, his 6-year-old daughter, Ana Márquez-Greene, was killed along with 19 of her classmates and six teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Connecticut. "Flowers—Beautiful Life, Volume 2" is his second recording since her passing, both touchingly dedicated to her memory. While the first volume focused on the sorrow of his loss, this one focuses on his memories of a child with a bright personality and a love of dance. There are 11 Greene-penned tunes in this program, and they all serve as postcards of a father’s love. “Big Guy” is an ode to Ana’s nickname for her father. “Stanky Leg” is a memorable toe-tapper. “Second Breakfast” was written in honor of Ana’s favorite meal. “Someday” is a beautiful ballad featuring Greene’s soul-dripping tenor saxophone and aching vocals by Jean Baylor. The set’s closing tune, “Thirty-Two,” comes in as a funk number sweetly dedicated to Greene’s teenage son. Greene’s songwriting is thoughtful, spot-on and heart-wrenching. And he has enlisted the help of an all-star cast to perform it. Jeff “Tain” Watts and Otis Brown III take turns on the drums. John Patitucci and Ben Williams hold down the bass. Renee Rosnes and Kevin Hays perform on piano and Rhodes. Mike Moreno is featured on guitar, and Rogerio Boccato adds percussion. And, the title tune is performed by vocalist Sheena Rattai. Playing this music can’t be easy for Greene. But with a little help from his friends, he somehow carves something of immense beauty from pure tragedy. God bless you, Mr. Greene. God bless Ana.
Read the full piece from: Downbeat
One of the true attractions of the B3, is that when it’s in the right hands, it can evoke sonic images of various parts of your childhood; baseball games, roller skating rinks, church and funky get togethers all rolling together. No one alive does it better than Joey DeFrancesco, and he takes you to Sunday Morning Revivals here with a team of Jason Brown/dr, Troy Roberts/ts-ss and Dan Wilson.
The team gets gospel bluesy with a humming Hammond and Roberts’ tenor on a bopping “Project Freedom” while Wilson hits the pulpit on “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” The tenor preaches it on “A Change is Gonna Come” while it’s time for Dodger Baseball on a splashy and hip“Karma. ” DeFrancesco doubles on trumpet, and sounds ultra relaxed on a Harmon-muted “One” while the team does some easy boplicity on “Better Than Yesterday” and get back to Bach on “Imagine (Prelude).” Fun, funky and finger licking good.
Read the full piece from: Jazz Weekly
Kevin Eubanks’ fourth release since the demise of The Tonight Show band is the work of an east coast musician with divided loyalties. The first half is a set of the guitarist’s own compositions brought to vivid life in a New York studio by a heavyweight group that includes bassist Dave Holland and drummer Jeff Watts.
The second is a set of re-imagined standards (including What’s Going On and Take the Coltrane), from a west cost group driven by old friend Marvin Smith in the drum chair.
Mouthwatering line-ups on paper don’t necessarily slake the thirst in the ear, but here, particularly with Watts and Holland behind him, Eubanks delivers a reminder that, despite the lengthy television detour, he remains a distinctive and creative guitarist.
Read the full piece from: Irish Times
The blind American singer, songwriter and guitarist Raul Midon is not a household name like his compatriot, hitmaker David Foster.
But at the Singapore International Jazz Festival on Sunday, he outclassed Foster as a musician - and as a person.
Midon (pronounced Moo-d'orh) came on just before Foster and proceeded to blow gig-goers' minds with his virtuosity. His jaw clenched in determination throughout, he had to be seen to be believed. His hands were a blur of decisive, frenetic fingering and strumming, which yielded a silky, toasty tone with flamenco-like inflections. He could easily have carried the third, and final, day of this festival on his own.
"All right, be careful when you try this at home," he told the audience right before launching into his signature move, which was to mimic a trumpet with a bebop vibe by humming through pursed lips - while simultaneously strumming his guitar and banging on bongo drums.
This was how he had brought the house down on the now-defunct Late Show With David Letterman in 2006. This evening's audience greeted his gift with deafening cheers and wolf whistles.
Eight of the 10 songs in his set were from his new album, Bad A** And Blind, notably the soulful strut Pedal To The Metal and the dreamy You & I. On his album's titular track, he sang defiantly: "From Budapest to Bombay…/I am more than just okay …/I am a ship of rock".
His sonorous tenor, showcased in the sweetly reflective Listen To The Rain and the throat-lumping Sunshine - I Can Fly, lulled listeners such that they got lost in his funky scats, their hearts lifting to his sublime falsetto.
Foster was the night's ostensible highlight but, after Midon, he proved a letdown. Billed with a total of six singers, notably the suave Brian McKnight and the shouty Chaka Khan, he performed less and mouthed off more.
Foster should have known by now that it is the music, not the ego, that matters.
For instance, he stopped Indonesia's Dira Sugandi, just as she was about to blast "And I-eee-iiii will always love you…" from The Bodyguard soundtrack, to point out to the audience that that was where they should start applauding her.
This was unctuously condescending to Sugandi, who could imitate Celine Dion and the late Whitney Houston serviceably.
He was just as condescending earlier when he trotted out a New York trio called Thirdstory. They could sing, in the way that frat boys can sing after a few drinks, but they could not harmonise well. When listeners did not respond to their plea to sing along, Foster intervened. "Let me show you how it's done… these are my people," he boasted.
Singapore's Nick Zavior erased everyone's memory of the trio with his sure, well-calibrated crooning of the Foster-Eric Benet song The Last Time. He wobbled on a few notes towards the end, but still made Singapore proud.
Before McKnight and Khan came on, Foster asked if anyone in the audience wanted to come up and sing one of his tunes. As arms flailed for his attention, he picked a portly, smartly dressed woman who called herself Rosie.
As she made her way to the stage, Foster harangued her: "You've got to walk faster, girl." When someone in the crowd told him that she was pregnant, he yelled back: "Oh. God… it's not my child, right?" Few laughed at this.
Rosie fanned her face with her fingers nervously, then unleashed a diva-worthy version of Got To Be Real. How the crowd roared.
McKnight was the other star in Foster's firmament this evening, enrobing Rock With You, Mornin' and After The Love Has Gone with his velvety voice.
Khan took over with her powerhouse pipes on Through The Fire. Somehow, she never got the memo that blasting one's way through tunes does not make for enjoyable listening.
Foster returned with a littleknown instrumental wrap and, for his encore, did a meditative piano solo. Few applauded after he finished.
Read the full piece from: Straights Times
Read the full piece from: NBC
Two guys walk into a bar. They might even be frenemies, as pianist Aaron Diehl joked to the audience, but they would have something in common — jazz-imbued music. If Ferdinand “Jelly Roll” Morton and George Gershwin had met in history, the result would be spectacular.
Enter Diehl, who presents the closest thing to such collaboration between the two: a repertoire of pieces from these two renowned composers in one concert. Calling upon the spirit of the early 20th century, Diehl and Adam Birnbaum opened the evening with a piano duet of experimental, unsettling rhythms. Full of elegant trills and syncopated chords, the two piano lines interlaced in an intriguing fashion in Gershwin’s Prelude No. 1.
The duet was soon joined by Paul Sikivie on the bass and Lawrence Leathers on the drums, followed by Riley Mulherkar on the trumpet, Evan Christopher on the clarinet, and Corey Wilcox on the trombone.
When vocalist Cécile McLorin Salvant joined in, her rhapsodic voice enchanted the crowd. Salvant’s lilting vocals were reminiscent of Ella Fitzgerald’s, with equal lyrical sensitivity and emotional expression. Her style, however, was clearly her own. Salvant’s sultry singing was more subdued in Gershwin’s “Boy! What Has Love Done to Me!” but her voice took on a life of its own with Morton’s “I Hate a Man Like You.” She bellowed Morton’s lyrics with a remarkable dynamic range and clarity. Her guttural delivery of the repeated “I hate a man like you!” delivered the same raw emotion that permeate the lyrics. It is no wonder the vocalist has been critically acclaimed in recent years.
The pianos’ chemistry found its brilliance in later pieces, particularly with Gershwin’s Prelude No. 2, but with the horns carrying the jazzy groove, the performance hall was colored with a newfound sense of thrill. In Morton’s songs “Mississippi Mildred” and “Black Bottom Stomp,” the various solo parts of Mulherkar’s trumpet and Christopher’s clarinet invigorated the atmosphere. Other notable selections included Gershwin’s “Ask Me Again” and “My Man is Dead,” both performed with the same vigor as the previous songs. Salvant’s vocals once again took center stage with Gershwin’s lyrics.
After a standing ovation and two encore performances, it was clear that the concert had something for everyone. The stage where Morton meets Gershwin linked two composers known for innovation in jazz. This haven of lyrical and instrumental intrigue enthralled both the music lover and passerby.
Read the full piece from: The Tech
Musical greats Jelly Roll Morton and George Gershwin probably never met, even though they were contemporaries in the early 20th century.
If that’s true, it’s a pity, but not a surprise: Gershwin lived in New York City, while Morton was from New Orleans. But both created seminal work from culturally diverse influences: African-American, South American for Morton; Eastern European and fellow Jews for Gershwin.
A while back, pianist Aaron Diehl decided that the two jazz pioneers should “meet” posthumously. It was a brilliant decision.
Diehl’s show, “Jelly & George” — featuring pianist Adam Birnbaum and vocalist Cécile McLorin Salvant — came to the Holland Center on Sunday night. It was clear from the start that it was special, not only for the pairing between two historic composers but also for the collaboration among three emerging jazz stars.
Diehl and Birnbaum opened with Gershwin’s instrumental “Prelude I,” illustrating the composer’s roots with riffs that sounded like city life mixed in with melodies you might hear at a synagogue. Almost without stopping they launched into “Jelly Roll Blues,” joined by bass, drums, trombone and clarinet.
That one-two punch was deliberate and enlightening, a signal that Jelly and George were compatible.
What followed was illuminative, as well as musically amazing and just plain entertaining. Diehl curated a lineup of lesser-known works by the famous and celebrated New Yorker while introducing the audience to a jazz legend who’s considerably more obscure.
With “I Hate a Man Like You,” engagingly performed by Salvant, we learned Morton had a way with words along with his intricate melodies.
“I hate a man like you ... you married me, then stayed out the first night. ... You’re grinnin’ in my face, then winkin’ at my friends.”
With “Boy! What Love Has Done to Me,” we heard a side of Gershwin different from the more classical elements found in his most famous works.
In the hands of Salvant, the song was lazy, bluesy and insouciant. She has a style all her own, with a unique way of phrasing and a light, youthful sound. Her accolades, including a Grammy Award, are well-deserved.
“Spanish Swat” taught us that Morton was an aficionado of “Spanish tinge.” He believed the Afro-Latin rhythm was one of the things that defined jazz. That piece — and some of Salvant’s vocals — featured quiet passages that were meant to be performed at the acoustically acclaimed Holland. And we discovered Diehl and Birnbaum also have earned their rave reviews. On two pianos they seamlessly performed music that would humble even the most facile fingers.
In fact, Diehl dominated “Finger Breaker,” a super-speedy, nearly sadistic solo. Morton wrote it toward the end of his career — when he was toiling in relative obscurity — to prove he still had it.
The ensemble did perform one widely known Gershwin work, “I’ve Got Rhythm,” but with their own playful spin. Each musician played a snippet of the melody as a tease to the entire piece. Before long they were jamming with some incredible improvisations. As if the concert wasn’t enough, Diehl stuck around afterward for a 15-minute talkback, fulfilling the Omaha Performing Arts mission to educate.
Read the full piece from: Omaha.com
Throughout their musical partnership (including 2015’s Grammy-winning “For One to Love”) pianist Aaron Diehl and singer Cécile McLorin Salvant have shared a knack for the theatrical — she with her choice of material, from early folk, blues, and vaudeville to Burt Bacharach, and he with his orchestral arrangements at the keyboard. At a Celebrity Series of Boston concert at Berklee Friday night, they were able to maximize their theatrical flair, in an evening that was as musically broad as it was emotionally deep, focused at every turn on narrative.
The program was “Jelly and George,” for Ferdinand “Jelly Roll” Morton (1890-1941) and George Gershwin (1898-1937).” The usual setup of McLorin Salvant and Diehl’s working trio, with bassist Paul Sikivie and drummer Lawrence Leathers, was for this project expanded to an octet, with trombone (Corey Wilcox), clarinet (Evan Christopher), trumpet (Riley Mulherkar), and a second pianist, Adam Birnbaum.
The second keyboard added another orchestral layer to these pieces by two pianist-composers, especially during the three duo-feature Gershwin preludes. But Diehl and Birnbaum also had plenty of fun trading lead and rhythm figures or, in one dreamy moment, unfurling chromatic scales like one continuous bolt of multi-colored silk.
Subsets of the band varied the arrangements, making cross references between Morton’s sophisticated New Orleans barrelhouse and Gershwin’s Broadway swing, with plenty of contrapuntal interaction among the horns, each piece colored by different mutes and sure dynamic shifts.
Although McLorin Salvant was featured on only five songs in the roughly 90-minute set, she was the binding agent. Her taste in rarities came through in Gershwin’s “Boy! What Love Has Done to Me” and Morton’s “I Hate a Man Like You.” Those songs showed off McLorin Salvant’s ability to modulate her voice like a horn and shade lyrics with ambiguity, provocation, and humor (“When I met you, I thought you was right/You married me and stayed out the first night”).
But the showstopper was no rarity: “My Man’s Gone Now,” from Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess.” Here McLorin Salvant’s wordless moans behind “old man sorrow” were like the chill wind in a graveyard at night, her final realization shattering. It capped a night of peerless musical storytelling.
Read the full piece from: Boston Globe
In 1991, Raul Midón, then a recent graduate of University of Miami's jazz program, was summoned to a vocal session in Miami. "I was called by people who I went to school with," he remembered. "There was a guy that they were working with who they didn't like, so I got asked to sub, and that was all it took. It was 1991, and it was for Carlos Mata, a soap opera star of some sort."
Since then, Midón, a singer and prodigiously talented guitarist who also happens to be blind, has assembled one of the more remarkable resumes in popular music. You can hear his voice on records from modern pop superstars (Shakira, Enrique Iglesias, Christina Aguilera) and classic crooners (Johnny Mathis). He has laid down guide tracks for the opera singer Pavarotti and contributed to house music from the esteemed New York producer Louie Vega. He's worked on the most commercial edge of the music industry, helping make Coca-Cola commercials, and created a series of idiosyncratic solo albums that draw from acoustic funk, soft jazz, yacht rock, '70s soul, and a long tradition of singer/songwriters unafraid to groove.
Last week Midón sat with a double espresso in the lobby of a hotel in midtown Manhattan and discussed his new album, Badass and Blind. He was dressed in light blue jeans mottled with white, a brown hooded sweater, a tan, fraying blazer with white pinstripes, and Aviator sunglasses. The fingernails on his right hand remained uncut; that's his picking hand. His mild voice was sometimes overwhelmed by the wild cackles of three young children playing in a nearby photo booth.
Raul Midon Returns With 'Don't Hesitate'
After breaking into the music business in 1991, Midón spent roughly a decade doing session work -- including a stint touring as a backing vocalist for Shakira, his first ever road jaunt -- that helped him realize that he was interested in fronting his own project. He started playing songwriter showcases in Miami sponsored by Warner/Chappell and landed a solo record deal in 2002. With the signing came $75,000, and that served to fund a move to New York City, where Midón worked with Vega, among others.
Brimming with adept coffeehouse soul, his 2005 debut State of Mind proved hospitable for guests as far apart as Stevie Wonder and Jason Mraz. Midón has made gentle adjustments to this trajectory on subsequent albums, including more of a full rock band approach on 2010's Synthesis and a live record in 2012.
His latest album may be a larger detour: he describes Badass and Blind as "the deep jazz" entry in his catalog. Several songs feature musicians he played with on the 2016 Monterey Jazz Festival tour, including Nicholas Payton on trumpet and Gregory Hutchinson on drums, who help Midón explore linear modal composition, where instrumentalists improvise around a mode or scale instead of a set group of chords. "[Linear modal composition] has a different sonic quality and feeling to it," he explained. "There's quite a few jazz pieces with it, but not songs. That's what I wanted to do -- compose things using that language but have them be songs."
There's also a different streak of experimentalism in the album, one borrowed from electronic music, that pops up in "Gotta Gotta Give." "When I'm not doing music myself, I want to listen to the weirdest most far-out stuff I can," Midón said. "There's this channel on internet radio called SomaFM, and there's a particular station that has the least amount of listeners called Earwaves that plays Steve Reich, Stockhausen, tape-loop stuff.
"'Gotta Gotta Give' has a little bit of that," he continued, referring to the zany electronic noises that zing through the back of the track. "It's got a bit of a quirky, avant garde thing to it." The lyric video for the song is premiering exclusively on Billboard above.
Midón balances the overtly musicianly quests on Badass and Blind with songs like "You & I," the sort of reassuring, creamy soul that comes to him so easily. "That one is all about what I think of as pop: writing a song with a hook, having it being accessible," Midón said. "There's nothing linear modal about 'You & I.'"
Then he backtracked: "Actually, that isn't totally true. Two chords are linear modal, now that I think about it."
After Midón finished the album and came up with the title Badass and Blind, he realized he didn't have a title track. He decided to write one, and the result is an amusing run-down of his many talents delivered over a slick guitar groove. Two-thirds of the way through the song, he suddenly breaks into a rap. The influence of hip-hop is rarely felt in Midón's catalog, and that's the point. "Rap with fancy chords is not too common," he said. "It's part of the whole, 'I'm badass' thing. I'm gonna rap, play a guitar solo, sing -- do it all."
Read the full piece from: Billboard
The “world famous” Troubadour is not the first venue that comes to mind for boundary morphing contemporary piano driven ensemble jazz. But then, the L.A. based collective known as the West Coast Get Down, has yet to do anything by the books. It’s been a heady 2017 already for these dudes coming on the heels of bassist Miles Mosley’s headlining date at the El Rey in January, drummer Ronald Bruner Jr.’s album release party at the Teragram a few weekends back and saxophonist Kamasi Washington’s post-Epic musical and visual installation for the Whitney Biennial in NYC.
Last week, it was pianist Cameron Graves turn to front this band of one/band of many, for the drop of his stellar CD, “Planetary Prince” on Mack Avenue Records (disclaimer, more astronomical adjectives could follow). Like Mosley before him, Graves got a well deserved shout out as one of 10 new artists you need to know this year by Rolling Stone, and for good reason IMHO. My ears have been pretty stuck on “Planetary Prince” the past few weeks. With eight tracks covering almost 80 minutes and the shortest clocking in at 7:28, there is an emotional arc to each built on piano driven themes established by Graves with expansive statements from all the players that run deep and always return home. Those players, saxophonist Washington, trombonist Ryan Porter, drummer Bruner, Jr. and his brother Stephen (“Thundercat”), and augmented by trumpeter Phillip Dizak and bassist Hadrien Feraud, deliver music with a certain cosmic urgency, with Graves’ melodies often tumbling out like some kaleidoscopic jar of jelly beans turned on its end. These are explorations that don’t so much swing, as they do swerve from one plane to the next. And, while the album is Graves’ baby, when Washington cuts loose, elevation ensues. The sibling rhythm section and Feraud are also unstoppable, constantly percolating, and tugging on Graves’ ivories, especially on the album’s opener, “Satania the Solar System”. “Planetary Prince” announces itself with the swagger of a toreador and you can feel Adam strut through the garden on “Adam & Eve”. “El Diablo” finds Graves’ percussive chording every bit the foil for Bruner, Jr.’s monster fills and the Star Trek pull of “Andromeda” is hard to deny. Floating and exhilarating, it’s easy to imagine it as a soundtrack to galactic scenery.
So, expectations were high going into a live setting. Get Down mates Bruner, Jr., Washington, Porter (and Dizak on trumpet) joined Graves, but unlike the album, guitarist Matt Haze and bassist Carlito del Puerto initially filled out the stage, with a few guests along the way. “Santania the Solar System” was a little looser than on the record with some real giddy up from the horns and a fine solo from del Puerto. Graves gave the WCGD backstory (Graves and Washington were in the “C” band in high school together, while Mosley was in the “A” band) before Mosley stepped in for “Lucifer Rebellion” with his full array of bowed effects, a tune that also featured Get Down drummer Tony Austin.
Graves and company had worked up a pretty good lather by the time legendary bassist Stanley Clarke was introduced by Graves (“ the best bassist ever”). Clarke recalled playing the room on one of the first Return to Forever tours (a show I happened to be at in 1976 that was nothing less than life changing), and how the West Coast jazz scene didn’t have the exposure of the East Coast scene. And when Stanley Clarke tells a crowd “these are the guys who are going to take us into the future”, it’s probably good to listen. And listen we did, as Clarke and Graves took extended flight on Joe Henderson’s beautiful “Black Narcissus”.
Graves rarely colored his tone with more than his ideas and approach, but on “El Diablo”, he used effects to coax a sound I can only describe as not out of place in Westworld or a Vincent Price flick (I’ll dub it “haunted saloon”). In between the lush and dreamy intro/outro to “Andromeda”, trombonist Porter drew one of the largest whoops from the audience with his solo, before the main set wrapped with “End of Corporatism” featuring another launchpad for Washington and a showcase for Bruner, Jr.’s deep, dense and dexterous ideas. I didn’t know coming in that Graves had some metal on the resume with Jada Pinkett-Smith’s led Wicked Wisdom (still trying to wrap my head around all of that) and made the musical context of the night even more unique. Graves brought her onstage before the band came back for their encore of “Adam & Eve”. That classical intro to a metal bop beat thing just made so much more sense now.
So, yes, I’m a fan of these Get Down constellations and yes, there were many musical highlights in the set. But I’ll tell you what really rang my bell. The Troub was packed with the young. The crowd was largely 20s (I being a minority grey hair), and they were digging it from start to finish. Jazz answers to no one, but it can get dusty just playing to the choir and the assumption the audience finds the music and not the other way around is pretty much blown up by these guys. Miles (Davis, that is) said, “Good music is good no matter what kind of music it is“ and with the West Coast Get Down, yeah, it’s good music, really good music, jazz music, that just happens to travel in light years behind their Planetary Prince.
Read the full piece from: Jim Brock Photography
Today, GuitarWorld.com presents the exclusive premiere of "Pedal to the Metal," a new song and music video by guitarist Raul Midón. The track is from Midón's new album, Bad Ass and Blind, which will be released this Friday, March 24, via Artistry Music.
Blind since birth, singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Midón has been shattering boundaries in the jazz and pop worlds for the past decade-plus.
Midón, whose career began as a background singer for Shakira, Julio Iglesias and Jose Feliciano before his unorthodox guitar skills became known, has since collaborated with Stevie Wonder, Herbie Hancock, Dianne Reeves and Bill Withers.
As for his guitar playing, there's plenty to get excited about in "Pedal to the Metal" and the rest of Bad Ass and Blind. Midón is so respected in guitar circles that he was the subject of a recent Guitar World lesson by Dale Turner, "The Unorthodox, Percussive-Slapping Style of Singing Guitarist Raul Midón."
"Midón first picked up a guitar at age 6 and grew up in a household where modern 'classical' music was heard just as often as flamenco and Argentine folk," Turner writes. "One key ingredient in Midón’s percussive guitar style points directly to these roots, a palm slap approach derived from flamenco techniques and Argentinian rhythms, where the open hand is used to rhythmically “pat” the guitar strings over the sound hole."
Bad Ass and Blind is available now for preorder via iTunes.
For more about Midón, visit raulmidon.com, and check out his free workshop at Guitar Center in New York City at 6 p.m. today (March 23).
Read the full piece from: Guitar World
Los Angeles is often described as an atomized metropolis where it’s nearly impossible to build a sense of community. The sprawling geography (and soul-sucking traffic!) certainly present daunting challenges, but new albums by two very different L.A. musicians highlight some of the enduring creative networks thriving in the Southland.
Percussionist/composer Alex Cline has been a quiet force on the L.A. scene for nearly four decades, and his sumptuous new double album Oceans of Vows (Cryptogramophone) flows from relationships that have defined his life (starting with his twin brother, guitarist Nels Cline). Long interested in setting the poetry of Vietnamese Buddhist monk and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh and verses from the Avatamsaka Sutra to music, he created two expansive suites of five pieces each for the Flower Garland Orchestra, a 14-piece ensemble conducted by new music pianist, Vicki Ray.
The music takes some patience. The forms are long and often develop slowly, with improvised stretches emerging seamless from the thrumming orchestrations. I love the way Cline uses twinned instrumentation. Every player has a counterpart. There’s Nels Cline and GE Stinson’s guitars, the electric violins of Jeff Gauthier and Miguel Atwood-Ferguson, and the keyboards of Wayne Peet and Yuka Honda, though Chi Li’s traditional Chinese instruments (two-string erhu, lower pitched zhonghu, and zither like zheng) stand out strikingly in the mix. The crystalline vocalist, Areni Agbabian, delivers the lyrics at an incantatory tempo and adds wordless vocal textures.
Meditative, roiling, and shimmering, the music draws you in, and often arrives at a breathtaking plateau. Enlightenment may not arrive with Atwood-Ferguson’s final solo on the nearly 23-minute closing piece, “The Ten Great Aspirations of Samantabhadra Bodhisattva,” but I felt like I’d completed a rewarding journey.
Atwood-Ferguson doesn’t play on pianist/composer Cameron Graves’ debut album “Planetary Prince” (Mack Avenue), but as a Kendrick Lamar collaborator he’s one point of connection between Graves’ West Coast Get Down and Cline’s crew. Like Cline, Graves has surrounded himself with artists he’s been making music with his whole life, and it shows.
Where Cline’s music seems to represent an inward journey, Graves is all about mixing it up in the world, and his music is inspired by a mysterious spiritual tome that appeared in Chicago in the 1920s called “The Urantia Book” (an esoteric text that also inspired Stockhausen and Hendrix).
He’s part of a new wave of jazz musicians who intersected with L.A.’s hip-hop scene, particularly Kendrick Lamar. Like Kamasi Washington he’s a founding member of the West Coast Get Down collective, and his piano work is all over The Epic.
Planetary Prince also features Washington’s burly tenor sax, trombonist Ryan Porter, bassist Stephen “Thundercat” Bruner, and his brother, drummer Ronald Bruner Jr. But if you’re expecting “The Epic, Part 2” you’ll be disappointed. Like Washington, Graves is bursting with ambition and has no shortage of ideas.
Listening to a piece like the torrential “El Diablo,” I kept thinking he’s learned a lot from the jazz rock fusion of the 1970s, in a good way, as if he took the guitar out of Chick Corea’s Elektric Band and added a horn section instead.
With his percussive touch, Graves locks in again and again with Thundercat and Bruner, a remarkable bass and drums tandem. His compositions drill down into grooves and then suddenly spring open, like the stunning “Satania” and the herky funk of “End of Corporatism.” Clocking in at a generous 80 minutes, Planetary Prince is a more fully realized statement than The Epic, which tended to sprawl and repeat itself. As impressive as it is, I get the sense that Planetary Prince is just one small chapter in the unfolding book of Cameron Graves.
Read the full piece from: KQED News
Four- time Grammy Award-winner Billy Childs has released his debut recording for Mack Avenue Records and it’s a keeper. The diverse compositions on Rebirth feature such notable artists as Claudia Acuna who co-wrote the title track with Billy Childs, vocalist Alicia Olatuja on “Stay” and who sang on Childs’ Laura Nyro project, his bandmates Steve Wilson on alto & soprano saxophones, Hans Glawischnig on acoustic bass and Eric Harland on drums. Ido Meshulam and Rogerio Boccato play trombone and percussion respectively on “Rebirth.” Billy plays piano and produced the recording as well as composed and arranged all 8 songs.
On Rebirth, Billy Childs reaches back to the nexus of his varied musical experiences. “Tightrope,” with its insistent pulse and melodic introduction features his classical influences while three songs from his Windham Hill (record label) days - “Stay,” “Backwards Bop,” and “Starry Night” are recast to reflect his artistic growth. The percussive electricity of “Backwards Bop” and “Dance of Shiva” harken back to his days with J.J. Johnson and Freddie Hubbard while the well-placed coloring in his comps to Alicia Olatuja’s vocals on “Stay” are styled from his days with Freddie.
Standout soloing by Billy Childs and Steve Wilson on the beautiful “Rebirth” is worth more than several listens. This song is absolutely beautiful with Claudia Acuna’s stellar vocalese and the band’s excellent accompaniment. Overall, this project is another winner for Billy Childs and deserves to be in your record collection.
Read the full piece from: Sounds of Timeless Jazz
There are actually two SXSW plays – Scratch House on March 16 and Stephen F. Austin Hotel on March 18. After that Midón has a few headline dates on the East Coast, and an appearance at Singapore International Jazz Festival on April 2. While he is in the Eastern Hemisphere he also plays three nights in Tokyo April 4-6 at Blue Note Tokyo.
The rest of his plan is mostly North America in April and Europe in May. The last date currently on the books is May 22 in Amsterdam.
Midón is blind, which would lead many to draw comparisons with Stevie Wonder, Jose Feliciano and Ray Charles. His jazz stylings and unique use of his voice as an instrument will also resonate with fans of Bobby McFerrin. Midón has been known to perform as a one-man band, playing drums, guitars and singing simultaneously during the live shows.
The next Raul Midón album, Bad Ass And Blind, drops next week on March 24. Midón wrote, recorded, played on, produced and engineered the album. Check out his cover of “Fly Like An Eagle” off that project:
About the album, Midón said: “Believe it or not I am a shy person especially when it comes to my blindness. This album, in general … represents a sea change for me when it comes to communicating with the public about my disability.”
Here is Raul Midón’s full schedule:
March 16 – Austin, Texas, Scratch House (SXSW)
March 18 – Austin, Texas, Stephen F. Austin Hotel (SXSW)
March 24 – New York, N.Y., HighLine Ballroom
March 25 – Boston, Mass., David end Recital Hall
March 26 – Ridgefield, Conn., Ridgefield Playhouse
March 29 – Reston, Va., Reston Community Center
April 2 – Singapore, Singapore, Marina Bay Sands (Singapore International Jazz Festival)
April 4 – Tokyo, Japan, Blue Note Tokyo
April 5 – Tokyo, Japan, Blue Note Tokyo
April 6 – Tokyo, Japan, Blue Note Tokyo
April 9 – Cleveland Heights, Ohio, Nighttown
April 14 – Detroit, Mich., Jazz Cafe at Music Hall
April 15 – Cleveland Heights, Ohio, Nighttown
April 16 – Evanston, Ill., SPACE
April 17 – Minneapolis, Minn., Dakota Jazz Club & Restaurant
April 19 – Denver, Colo., Soiled Dove Underground
April 21 – Los Angeles, Calif., Blue Whale
April 22 – Los Angeles, Calif., Blue Whale
April 23 – Oakland, Calif., Yoshi's Oakland
April 26 – Richmond, Va., The Tin Pan
May 2 – Le Haillan, France, L'Entrepot
May 3 – Massy, France, Centre Bailliart
May 4 – Colombes, France, L'Avant Seine Theatre de Colombes
May 5 – Vernouilette, France, L'Agora
May 6 – Sannois, France, Espace Michel Berger
May 9 – Toulouse, France, Salle Nougaro
May 11 – Rennes, France, Theatre National de Bretagne
May 12 – St Julien Genevois, France, Casino de Saint Julien
May 16 – Perpignan, France, Le Mediator
May 18 – London, England, Under The Bridge
May 19 – Paris, France, New Morning
May 21 – Rotterdam, Netherlands, Lantaren Venster
May 22 – Amsterdam, Netherlands, Paradiso
Read the full piece from: Pollstar
Sounds Like: The house pianist for the party at the end of the universe, pulling in signals from John Coltrane, J Dilla, Meshuggah and points beyond.
For Fans of: Kamasi Washington, Miles Davis, Stanley Clarke, Thundercat
Why You Should Pay Attention: A founding member of the West Coast Get Down collective that thundered to global renown with the release of Kamasi Washington's The Epic, Cameron Graves, 35, cut his teeth playing the classic works of Bach, Schubert and Chopin before he hit Hamilton High School in Los Angeles. There, he bonded with Washington over a shared love of John Coltrane, McCoy Tyner and the mainstream jazz canon. "I met him when I was around 15, and we both would just hang out and listen to Coltrane all day, and practice with each other," says Graves, "just 'shed on tunes like 'Giant Steps' and 'A Love Supreme.'"
Still, spare hours spent shredding out Van Halen and Slipknot tunes on guitar came in handy during Graves's stint in Jada Pinkett Smith's nu-metal project, Wicked Wisdom. Since then, he's also held his own alongside one of the heaviest pioneers of fusion jazz, bass virtuoso Stanley Clarke. Mix up those experiences, stir in a taste for Prince's revolutionary funk and J Dilla's mixing-board skills, then add a twist of cosmic insight gleaned from The Urantia Book, an esoteric tome that purports to sort out the whole of creation. The result is Planetary Prince, Graves's debut album as a bandleader, newly released on the Mack Avenue label.
He Says: "In sports, we always revere the most talented person on the field, the most talented person on the court, and it's through their extreme skills that we end up revering that person, and creating a celebrity out of that person. And that is exactly what my mission is, personally: to do that in music, to showcase the virtuoso and to try to make the virtuoso a celebrity again, because I think that's been lost in our society with all the … I kind of call it 'plastic music.' It's brought the bar down in terms of the talent and the quality of the playing."
Hear for Yourself: "Satania Our Solar System," the opening track on Planetary Prince, presents all the essentials: a classically poised introduction, a writhing beat equally beholden to slick funk and prog-metal, serpentine electric bass lines, and lean, tight jazz-combo interaction. Steve Smith
Read the full piece from: Rolling Stone
Cameron Graves' debut recording, Planetary Prince (Mack Avenue) is an original and refreshing "piano jazz" outing. It's horn sextet dynamics provide familiar entry points and references into the musical sphere Graves inhabits as composer, arranger, and performer, but the extreme energy levels and sophisticated ensemble dynamics confidently echo the great bands of the jazz-rock era; perhaps it's no coincidence Graves has been touring with Stanley Clarke's band for the past two years, and has also been an integral presence touring, recording, and performing with saxophonist Kamasi Washington.
The seven tracks which make up Planetary Prince are presented mostly in the format of extended instrumental suites: jazz mini-concertos with hints of neo-classical romanticism, infused with punchy, complex, and lush horn arrangements. Intricate melodic themes set up extended flights of fresh, inventive, and often herculean riffing, setting up a swiftly shifting foundation for a succession of inspired and soulful soloing. Graves' classical chops are often in evidence, but recall with a new perspective and youthful energy a prior generation of masters: names like Jarrett, Corea, and Hancock come to mind—and their fans find some astonishing pianistic pyrotechnics here, rendered within ambitious structures and crescendos, as well as a diverse sampling of hybrid grooves, drawing from rock, R&B, avant-garde, hip-hop, and Latin influences—and beyond.
Graves' choice of ensemble is classic a classic horn sextet with trumpet (Philip Dizack), trombone (Ryan Porter), and tenor saxophone (Kamasi Washington). The secret sauce that underpins a well-orchestrated storm of dynamics is the formidable rhythm section of drummer Ronald Bruner Jr. and one of two virtuoso electric bassists—Hadrien Feraud, and Stephen Bruner, aka Thundercat. Feraud, originally from Paris and now living in LA continually offers up a tasteful, restrained virtuosity as a fusioneer bassist and appears on all but two tracks. Ferraud has performed locally with Kamasi Washington, The West Coast Get Down, after gaining recognition earlier in his career recording and touring with John McLaughlin and Chick Corea.
Both Thundercat and Feraud have an uncanny synergy with the intermittently explosive drumming and an endless variations of pocket grooves served up by Ronald Bruner, Jr. The rhythm section throughout shifts effortlessly between atmospheric cruising and maxed-out warp drive, laying a deep foundation for Graves' release of extended torrents of spectacular piano riffs. Whenever you think their ferocity is about teeter out of control, Feraud and Thundercat's creative, but anchoring bass lines and chordal colorings balance like a fine wine with Bruner's endless vocabulary of inventive grooves. Feraud's talents have evolved and matured immensely since his debut tour with John McLaughlin's Fourth Dimension in 2006, and later with Chick Corea; he was also a featured guest soloist appearing on several tracks on Thundercat's bass-heavy debut album, The Golden Age of Apocalypse (2011). One of the shorter pieces, "The End of Corporatism" is a relentlessly up-tempo rococo celebration of fast and devious chord changes. Thundercat's acrobatic solo runs soar, always on the precarious edge of his brother Ronald's nuclear bursts of tom rolls and tsunami swells of cymbals. To hear the two of them locked in under the cascading arpeggios of Graves piano is pure jazz spectacle recalling the '70s jazz rock supergroups.
The longer suites that make up Planetary Prince each unfold with an opening piano "prelude," forming strong themes in slower to breakneck tempos, and alluring emotional canvases. "Andromeda," coalesces and delves into an extended, lush romantic ballad, evoking the grandeur of the milky way on a clear desert night, launching Graves' solo runs into myriad inter-stellar explorations. Throughout these pieces the horn arrangements frame the solo sections—sometimes majestic and mellow, and other times boisterous, punchy, and flamboyant. All six musicians can strip down Graves' conception and ideas its core, and expand a theme and its rhythmic underpinnings with virtuosic expression and emotional intensity over a long progression of chords. "Adam and Eve," encompasses a primal musical journey with a beautiful piano intro, reminiscent of Chopin, which shifts into a joyous barrage of horn motifs, and like all the pieces, sets the stage for Graves' mercurial piano runs. The melodic, rhythmic, and harmonic conversations and interactions found on Planetary Prince are dramatic, soaring, and captivating. As the tension builds I'm imagining what it might have been like to hear John Coltrane and McCoy Tyner blow over Keith Moon and John Entwistle.
Graves' debut release embodies a forward looking, jazz-grounded instrumental music. Graves leads us on a challenging and intoxicating musical journey of imagination, built solidly on the foundation of superb musicianship and craft. Given the range of experience each musician brings to the project, Graves commands a stellar vehicle with the power and imagination to transport listeners young and old to planetary vistas of beauty, struggle, and triumph.
Track Listing: Satania Our Solar System; Planetary Prince; El Diablo; Adam & Eve; The End of Corporatism; Andromeda; Isle of Love; The Lucifer Rebellion.
Personnel: Camon Graves: piano; Ronald Bruner, Jr.: drums; Stephen "Thundercat" Bruner: bass; Philip Dizack: trumpet; Hadrien Feraud: bass; Ryan Porter: trombone; Kamasi Washington: tenor saxophone.
Year Released: 2017 | Record Label: Mack Avenue Records | Style: Modern Jazz
Read the full piece from: All About Jazz
New York remains the popular and commercial center of jazz, but other cities are increasingly dictating its development. Young musicians in places like Philadelphia and Chicago — where systems for intergenerational exchange still thrive outside academia — are marrying established regional patois with a broad base of influences from across the black musical canon, and around the globe.
That’s borne out particularly in Los Angeles, where the saxophonist Kamasi Washington has led the charge onto the national scene. He has famously collaborated with Kendrick Lamar and Snoop Dogg, but two years ago, when he released a lauded triple-album, “The Epic,” he threw back the curtain on a crop of young jazz-trained musicians that hail from his hometown. The album featured a string section, a 20-person choir and a loose collective calling itself the West Coast Get Down.
This winter, four members of that crew released solo albums of their own — most of them recorded in the same monthlong stretch of communal recording sessions that produced “The Epic.” All four of these bandleaders appeared as sidemen on Mr. Washington’s album, and each has his own approach to retrofitting the jazz tradition. The breadth of their styles says something about the way a small scene can foster individual voices, and emphasize complementary roles.
Here’s a rundown of recent releases from members of the West Coast Get Down.
Mr. Washington is rightly seen as an heir to Los Angeles’ expansive, Afrocentric acoustic jazz tradition, which runs through Horace Tapscott and Butch Morris. The bassist and vocalist Stephen Bruner, known as Thundercat, relates to a different genealogy: namely the hazy, electric fusion that Stanley Clarke, George Duke and Patrice Rushen were making in the 1980s.
Mr. Bruner plays a six-string bass; in the deep end his sound is big and crumbly, but he often fingerpicks guitar-like harmonies on the higher strings. On “Drunk” — his third full-length, featuring cameos by Mr. Lamar, Michael McDonald and Pharrell Williams — the gravitational center floats in the air, where harmonies rarely resolve and synthesizers waft around his slap-happy falsetto.
But the laxity and wit in much of this music masks a melancholy. It’s something we’ve never heard so clearly in his music. “A Fan’s Mail (Tron Song II)” is not the first time he’s written a song to his cat — but this time, wistfulness takes center stage amid the wit. “It’s cool to be a cat,” he sings. “Everything the light touches/Is where I would roam.”
The drummer Ronald Bruner Jr., Thundercat’s older brother, has followed a windy musical trajectory, playing with Diana Ross, the jazz saxophonist Kenny Garrett and the hard-core band Suicidal Tendencies. Somehow, all that comes to bear on “Triumph,” a record of steady intensity. Less arch than his brother, the elder Mr. Bruner builds layers of guitar and synth but leaves his heart in full view.
Ecumenism is the album’s gospel — from the prog-rock double guitar lead in “Geome Deome,” which features keyboards from Mr. Duke, to the effervescent swagger of “One Night,” with its redolence of Raphael Saadiq’s neo-soul. “To You/For You” starts as a sizzle of Princely funk, then toggles into heavy trap, with Mr. Bruner rapping over a spare beat. The disc’s lead single, “Take the Time,” rides a chiming pulse reminiscent of some late J. Dilla beats.
“Triumph” is heavy on glimmer and muscle — but Mr. Bruner knows how to open up space and create possibility. On “Open the Gate,” the only track exceeding 10 minutes, the guitarist Charles Altura takes a solo that begins with tuneful modesty, then gives way to a cascade of distorted cries over a writhing drum solo.
“Planetary Prince” by Cameron Graves. Credit Anna Webber
Cameron Graves, ‘Planetary Prince’
If you’re looking for another fix of the same stuff that “The Epic” delivered, the debut album from the pianist Cameron Graves is your answer.
One of the best aspects of Mr. Washington’s shows with the West Coast Get Down is the feeling of communal energy flowing in a straight, unrepentant stream from the stage.
We get that from the word go on “Planetary Prince,” which features both Bruners and Mr. Washington. Hear how the pianist jostles into his first solo, on “Satania Our Solar System,” emerging from a drape of horn harmony with a spray of hard, darting eighth notes. Over a driving funk vamp, he and Ronald Bruner work as a percussive unit; each note has heft and precision, but a chancy momentum too.
The moments of brightest catharsis come on Mr. Washington’s saxophone solos, particularly on “Adam & Eve,” where he rides the song’s bright harmony into a space of buoyant inquiry.
Miles Mosley is a singing upright bassist who draws much of his inspiration from the politically attuned funk of the 1970s — bands like War and Mandrill. His tunes place urgency and nostalgia in contact, as if they were two equally valid strands of idealism.
On the cover of “Uprising,” his solo debut, Mr. Mosley appears in a black beret and sturdy black collar, staring evenly into the camera. There’s no more ambiguity than that in the music, either. Over a cohort of five horns and six strings, he sings declaratory songs of lament and militant determination, over chord changes that always resolve to a tonic. On “More Than This,” he sings, “Baby, the world was promised so much more than this.”
At Mr. Washington’s concerts over the past two years, he has often made time for Mr. Mosley to perform a song of his own, typically the sauntering “Abraham.” There was a sense of rugged, against-the-odds affirmation in these live performances that is not altogether realized on the clean-cut recording. But as a document of song craft, and a rising talent’s broad vision, it delivers.
Read the full piece from: NY Times
Cameron Graves was the pianist on saxophonist Kamasi Washington’s much admired 2015 orchestral release The Epic, and Washington’s scalding, hoarsely voiceed tenor sound is conspicuously present in this Graves-led septet that also features such LA luminaries as bassist Stephen “Thundercat” Bruner on two tracks, and his drummer brother Ronald on all.
Graves doesn’t sound much like a clone of any postbop-raised keys player – his unbroken and rhythmically vigorous acoustic lines imply an education from hip-hop drummers as much as pianists, while his contrastingly romantic and ardent chord-work suggest what Rachmaninoff might have sounded like if he’d played in a contemporary fusion band. There are languidly hooky trumpet/trombone themes with Ronald Bruner’s torrential, tom-tom rolling drumming flying beneath; bright staccato themes (like the title track) giving way to Graves’s headlong reshufflings of short motifs; smouldering Latin horn sways that turn to percussion thrashes; briefly lyrical piano reflections that soon, and inevitably, crank up.
This Graves group would ignite an exciting live show, even if it can feel a bit like an unvaryingly breathless never-ending crescendo on record.
Read the full piece from: Guardian
His soulful and funky artistry goes way beyond any notion of genre – it is musicianship, charisma, timing, songwriting and personality that unmistakably solidify the context of his songs. His music commands listeners with open minds, open ears and open hearts.
Blind at birth, he is often compared to Stevie Wonder and Jose Feliciano and while those comparisons are indeed flattering you also will hear influences of Steely Dan, Sting and the late great Al Jarreau. Raul still early in his career has already been endorsed by greats as diverse as Grammy Nominated Louie Vega and the living legend Bill Withers (appearing in his documentary “Still Bill”).
His guitar playing is masterful and enables him to move effortlessly, while creating a sound that’s both warm and familiar. “He plays with such freedom and joy that his hands smile. His slapping style allows him to play a melody while creating percussion as he plays without disrupting either sound, and busts out his improvisational mouth-horn technique, in which he creates a bebop “trumpet” solo entirely with his lips, earning himself a spontaneous burst of mid-song applause from the audience in the process” Huffington Post
In his latest effort ‘Bad Ass and Blind’ he attests to enduring ambitions. Raul was a featured artist with the 2016 Monterey Jazz Festival On Tour, which also included the likes of stars Nicholas Payton, Gerald Clayton, and Gregory Hutchinson, whom he tapped to play this project along with Joe Sanders and others.
There are songs on ‘Bad Ass and Blind’ sure to please fans of Midón’s earlier albums, beginning with the title track, which in fact was written and recorded after the album was almost completed. The tour de force piece finds Midón celebrating blindness with a ripping guitar solo, a fierce spoken word rhyme, slamming bass by Richard Hammond (Hamilton) and drumming by Lionel Cordew (Spyro Gyra). These musical gems come with a story that Raul himself breaks down for us.
“Bad Ass and Blind” is a kind of personal coming out party for me. Believe it or not I am a shy person especially when it comes to my blindness. This album, in general, and this song in particular, represents a sea change for me when it comes to communicating with the public about my disability. I am what I am. I travel the world, write, produce, sing, play and, do it all without the benefit of sight. I’m a bad ass.
“Red, Green, Yellow” is both a shout out to Steely Dan and a snapshot view as to my perspective on color. As a child I played red light green Light. So naturally those associations continue. Way beyond this though color figures prominently in the rich descriptions of people, places, and things that populate the pages of great literature. Through the eyes of the great describers, Nabokov, Dickens, etc, I see green pastures, Red Wheel Barrels, and a bright golden sun. Color is a main ingredient in the magic elixir of words that brings to life the imagination.
“Pedal to the Metal” sums up my living philosophy. I am 100 percent committed to what I’m doing. When I’m on stage there is nothing but that moment.
“Wings of Mind” is a musical expression of my belief in the power of creative imagination. It is also an exploration of my continuing fascination with linear modal harmony a la Wayne Shorter or Miles Davis. Before anything can exist there is the idea of that thing. When I write a song I begin with nothing but the idea. “Through the spaces in your mind you’ll find a passage way to anywhere.”
“If Only” is a might have been love song inspired by the Tin Pan Alley poets. Songs like “What’ll I Do?” Irving Berlin and “Night and Day” Cole Porter. I wanted to write something simple yet symmetrical. It is a bossa with a twist.
Light Shadows are created when light from a light source is blocked by an opaque object. They are experienced and spoken about by virtually everyone every day. On the other hand “Sound Shadows” occur in pretty much the same way and can be experienced by anyone with a working set of ears.
And yet most of us don’t know they exist. You can practice listening to sound shadows by closing your eyes and walking very slowly through a narrow doorway without using your hands. You may bump your head a few times but I promise you’ll get better at it with time. Sound shadow, the song, is a tribute to a world that exists just beyond the line of sight.
“Jack/Robert Lorick” is an expression of my appreciation for a fictional character, Jack Flanders voiced by an extraordinary voice actor and human being Robert Lorick. Jack is the protagonist in an audio adventure series produced by ZBS media and written by Tom Lopez. The sound artistry coupled with sublime pearls of wisdom, taken from the world’s religions, scattered throughout, are what keeps me coming back for more. Jack is no ordinary adventurer. While he travels the world physically, his raison D’etre is to solve metaphysical puzzles. Robert Lorick recently passed and this was my tribute to him and the fictional character. If you want to be inspired check it out.
“You & I” is another straight up love song inspired by my relationship with my wife. We live and work together and I am proud to have her as my wife and manager. Love conquers all.
“All that I Am” is an acknowledgment of the role that my Father has played in my life. When I was faced with overwhelming obstacles as a disabled child my Father handed me the most powerful tool you can employ when overcoming such obstacles. A powerful sense of my intrinsic value as a human being. When you are disabled the world foists upon you a sense that you are damaged goods. My father never let me forget that this was wrong. He would remind me constantly that I could do and be anything I wanted.
“Gotta Gotta Give” is a love song to life, with a hook and a little touch of the Avant-garde. I got some much appreciated help on this one from the great French keyboardist Jean Philippe Rykiel.
“Fly like an Eagle” is the first LP I ever bought with my own money. I was enthralled with the synthesizer parts and sparked by the message of revolution and hope. Whenever I do a cover I am challenged by the fact that I like the original so much. It is for me, a tightrope walk, to maintain the integrity of the song and yet make it my own. I changed the key to a darker sounding a flat, slowed down the tempo a bit, and re harmonized the verses to give it a mysterious quality. This is in keeping with the linear model sound found throughout the record. I also wanted the ending to feel wistful, sad, and soulful like you might hear on a Marvin Gaye or Curtis Mayfield record. Fly like an Eagle is a testimonial to the power of possibility.
This is the 2nd album that Raul has both produced and engineered. His work is bold, and dynamic and demonstrates his abilities in the manner of a genius.
Raul Midon is “a one-man band who turns a guitar into an orchestra and his voice into a chorus…” -The New York Times
This latest release is sure to leave a lasting impression on both existing fans and new fans alike.
Upcoming Raul Midón Performances:
March 14 | City Winery | Atlanta, GA
March 16-20 | SXSW | Austin, TX
March 23 | Guitar Clinic, Guitar Center Times Square | New York, NY
March 24 | Highline Ballroom | New York, NY
March 25| David Friend Recital Hall- Berklee, Boston
March 26| Ridgefield Playhouse- Ridgefield, CT
March 29| Centerstage- Reston, VA
April 2| Singa Jazz- Singapore
April 4-6| Blue Note – Tokyo
April 9| Nighttown – Cleveland
April 14| Jazz Café at Music Hall- Detroit
April 16| Space- Evanston, IL
April 17| Dakota- Minneapolis
April 19| Soiled Dove- Denver
April 21& 22| Blue Whale- Los Angeles
April 23| Yoshi’s- Oakland
April 26| Tin Pan- Richmond
May 2| L’Entrepot- Le Haillan, France
May 3| Paul B- Massy, France
May 4| L’Avant Seine- Colombes, France
May 5| Salle des Fetes de Vernouillet- Vernouillet, France
May 6| Espace Michel Berger- Franconville, France
May 9| Salle Nougaro- Toulouse, France
May 11| Theatre National De Bretagne- Rennes, France
May 12| Casino De Saint-Julien- St Julien En Genevois
May 16| ElMediator- Perpignan, France
May 18| Under The Bridge- London
May 19| New Morning- Paris
May 21| Lantern Venster- Rotterdam
May 22| Paradiso- Amsterdam
Read the full piece from: Glide
On Monk’estra Vol. 1 (Mack Avenue), L.A. keyboardist-composer-arranger John Beasley brings that same kind of boundless energy and fresh vision to the music of Thelonious Monk. Opening with a reinvention of “Epistrophy” performed by his stellar 21-piece band of first-call L.A. studio musicians, and featuring a glistening solo from guest vibist Gary Burton, Beasley and crew jump into a sprightly rendition of “Skippy” that has drummer Gary Novak shifting from slamming back beats to second line groove to 4/4 swing mode. A chill take on “Oska T” contains a voice excerpt from a rare Monk interview and features outstanding trumpet work by Gabriel Johnson. Beasley puts his stamp on the dynamic, swinging second half of the piece, which includes a bracing solo from trombonist Francisco Torres. “Monk’s Processional” is a funky N’awlins brass band breakdown of “Green Chimneys” while a hip-hop take on “’Round Midnight” may seem irreverent to some and relevant to others. Harmonica ace Gregoire Maret guests on a wholly re-imagined version of one of Monk’s most hauntingly beautiful ballads, “Ask Me Now,” while Beasley harmonizes the horns on a jauntily swinging “Little Rootie Tootie,” one of many remarkably ambitious arrangements here.
Read the full piece from: The Absolute Sound
There are many paths to a killer groove, and few fixed parameters. The most important criterion is an intangible: just how good, how essentially right, does it feel? Every new track featured in this installment of Take Five is a winner in that respect, whether we’re talking about a hard-swinging churn or a minimalist swirl. As a bonus, you’ll see a first-rate drummer do a goofy dance.
The word “freedom” clearly resonates for Joey DeFrancesco, the Hammond B-3 organ kingpin and veteran hard-bop messenger. As a proud product of Philadelphia, the cradle of liberty, he grew up considering individual and collective freedoms; as a jazz musician, he developed a nuanced relationship to the idea. On Project Freedom, due out on Friday on Mack Avenue, his overarching theme is the historic and ongoing struggle for equality: the album includes stirring treatments of Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come” and the spiritual “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” DeFrancesco also introduces new tunes with meaningful titles, like “Peace Bridge” and “Stand Up.” The title track opens in a prayerful rubato, with Jason Brown rumbling in earnest on his toms. Then DeFrancesco, tenor saxophonist Troy Roberts and guitarist Dan Wilson lock in with a boppish melody, followed by a thrilling round-robin of solos: trading choruses, then fours, and finally converging in a heated exchange. (DeFrancesco is currently on tour; for dates and information, visit his website.) — Nate Chinen
The collective known as the West Coast Get Down may have made its emphatic mark on the jazz world in 2015, but the bandmates have been honing their sound and approach for nearly two decades together in Los Angeles. They’ve put in their Gladwellian 10,000 hours, just not in New York or at Berklee.
If tenor saxophonist Kamasi Washington—with his sprawling, uncompromising record The Epic—was the subject of the most column inches in 2015, this may be the year for some of his long-time collaborators like Cameron Graves, a beguiling pianist who just released Planetary Prince, his rousing debut as a bandleader. Fellow WCGD musicians Ryan Porter (trombone), Stephen “Thundercat” Bruner (bass), drummer Ronald Bruner, Jr., and Kamasi Washington (as a sideman) return for this set, with the addition of trumpeter Philip Dizack and Hadrien Feraud, another bassist, both of whom are immersed in the L.A. jazz scene.
It’s at once an addendum to The Epic and an extension. It was recorded during an eleven-hour session, and at 80 minutes it has the feel of a concept album, channeling Graves’ interest in astrology and The Urantia Book, the 2,000-page spiritual/science text of unknown provenance that served as inspiration for outré composer Karlheinz Stockhausen’s seven-day opera “Licht.” (Jimi Hendrix and Jerry Garcia also carried around copies in their rucksacks.)
The authorship of the music, though, is all Graves, who, it’s been reported, enjoys death metal and Chopin, hip-hop and prog rock, and has played with Jada Pinkett-Smith’s band Wicked Wisdom and pioneering fusion bassist Stanley Clarke. The eight tracks on the album reveal Graves’ influences, which seem to come from everywhere and nowhere. There are whiffs of McCoy Tyner, especially from his early- mid-’70s groups, Abdullah Ibrahim, and somehow Joe Sample, yet he doesn’t particularly sound like any of them.
As a youngster, Graves studied classical piano, which is apparent from the gorgeous opening bars of the first piece, “Satania Our Solar System,” before it quickly transitions into an uptempo fusion-esque romp with a charging back beat. In the subsequent title track, Graves, who plays acoustic throughout the set, bursts out in percussive form—he’s often thunderingly percussive, as in “The Lucifer Rebellion” later—and follows with a busy, jabbing solo. Washington, with his singular, bravura tone, soon joins and verges on obfuscating the material, but stays just on the right side of his ecstatic-expressionism. “Andromeda” shifts to a quieter side, or as quiet as the WCGD can get. Feraud, a Parisian, recalls Jaco Pastorius on an inspired electric bass solo, and Ronald Bruner—who also shimmers on “El Diablo”—coerces all sorts of vibrant colors out of just his cymbals. The theme, especially when played by the horns, has a dream-like touch, as if penned by Wayne Shorter.
On “Isle of Love,” the leader opens with vigor, before Kamasi returns for another towering solo. Graves takes us out softly and by himself, which is exactly how “Adam & Eve” begins. Kamasi lets loose one more time, but the three horns that finish the tune—and Porter’s trombone adds lovely texture here, as it did on The Epic—underscores the unselfishness that marks the work of the WCGD. “The End of Corporatism,” an uptempo piece, further captures the Collective’s (and Graves’) drive and spirit, one that is enraptured, assured, grandiose in moments, but never self-aggrandizing. Planetary Prince might not shift the tectonic plates the way The Epic did, but Graves, while earthly-bound, has his gaze set upward.
Read the full piece from: Pitchfork
It's been a while since we've heard pianist Billy Childs really dig in. While he certainly hasn't been dormant, reaching tremendous artistic heights in semi-recent times with a pair of highly refined chamber jazz explorations and a much-lauded tribute to Laura Nyro, the Childs of yore—the man that would throw down the gauntlet night after night while in the employ of legends like trumpet titan Freddie Hubbard or trombonist J.J. Johnson—hasn't been heard from in a while. Rebirth brings that part of Childs' past back into view, but it also continues to shine a light on his clarity of expression and his incredible skills in the arranging department. It's punctilious and unpredictably powerful all at once. Believe it or not, you can have both ways. At least, that is, if you're Billy Childs.
While those aforementioned post-millennial winners were well-staffed affairs—the chamber ensemble projects were chock full or orchestral trappings and the Nyro album had a guest list that ran a mile long—Childs pares things down for this one, running lean in the personnel department. For six of the eight tracks, it's just a quartet at play. Of course, referring to the marshaled forces of Childs, saxophonist Steve Wilson, bassist Hans Glawischnig, and drummer Eric Harland as "just a quartet" is akin to referencing the New York Yankees as "just a baseball team." These are heavy hitters that came to play. That fact is made abundantly clear right of the gate on "Backwards Bop," one of three tunes on this program that Childs recorded in his Windham Hill days in the '80s. It's a bold opening stroke, setting the bar incredibly high with precision unison lines, sharp turns, and powerful solo stands. Glawischnig is like a tightly wound spring, Childs works with an authoritative tone that never dulls or blur his incredibly articulate touch, Wilson comes off like a shrewd harmonic navigator, and Harland puts his monumental chops to good use. It's the perfect example of how to hook the ear from the start.
The pair of guest-enhanced tracks—one a unique yet stylistically congruent follow-up to "Backwards Bop" with appearances from trombonist Ido Meshulam, percussionist Rogerio Boccato, and vocalist Claudia Acuna, the other a ballad with vocalist Alicia Olatuja in the spotlight—both immediately follow that slam dunk of an opener. Acuña co-wrote the title track, a piece that benefits greatly from her inimitable wordless vocals. Harland creates a steadily skittering backdrop that gives the song a nervous energy, Wilson's soprano takes to the sky, and Childs scampers around, mixing playfulness and potency in his piano work. "Stay," on the other hand, does just that, giving Olatuja a chance to shine in a mellow musical climate that never really intensifies.
The five remaining numbers are gratifying in so many ways. "Dance Of Shiva," ridiculously intricate in its design, engineering, and realization, features some startlingly fresh statements from Childs and Wilson; "Tightrope" finds all four men moving with lighter steps and listening closely, painting and dancing a varicolored waltz together; "The Starry Night" suggests its title through the dreamiest of piano forewords, skyrockets into the stratosphere with Wilson's soprano acting as the nose cone of the ship, and settles into orbit for solos; and "The Windmills Of Your Mind" glows and burns a deep red, with Childs and company drawing out the most intense flavor notes and emotions buried in the song's structure. Then serenity sets in for the closer—a poetic (piano and saxophone) duo take on Horace Silver's "Peace."
Childs hasn't always put all of his talent cards on the table at once, suppressing one aspect of his artistry in deference to others at times, so it's nice to see that change with Rebirth. He's showing his full hand here—chops, nuance, composing, arranging, and all—and it's a musical royal flush if ever there was one.
Track Listing: Backwards Bop; Rebirth; Stay; Dance Of Shiva; Tightrope; The Starry Night; The Windmills Of Your Mind; Peace.
Personnel: Billy Childs: piano; Steve Wilson: alto saxophone, soprano saxophone; Hans Glawischnig: acoustic bass; Eric Harland: drums.
Read the full piece from: All About Jazz
Featuring Lisa-Kaindé and Naomi Díaz (Ibeyi) on vocals, 'Yemayá' is a tribute to the Yoruban Goddess/Saint of the Sea. The melody and rhythm for the song are based on a Yemayá chant, which the Cuban musician then arranged with his trio.
Read the full piece from: Ulab
Since 1999, Raul Midón has released eight acclaimed studio albums. The latest of which — the aptly-titled Bad Ass And Blind — finds Raul showcasing himself as the guitar virtuoso he is known to be, while still genre-hopping and taking interesting risks. The fanbase of Raul probably includes many of your favorite musicians, as his list of collaborators includes Stevie Wonder, Shakira, Herbie Hancock, Bill Withers, and Jason Mraz; Bill specifically chose Raul to work with him on his first new composition in decades, as shown in the documentary Still Bill.
In support of Bad Ass And Blind, Raul will be headlining at The Highline Ballroom on Mar. 24, the date of the album’s release. One day prior, on Mar. 23, Raul will also be doing a guitar clinic at Guitar Center in Times Square. Downtown had the pleasure of speaking with Raul about his history with our city — he is originally from New Mexico — and what he has coming up in his career. He also talked about his surprising passion for ham radio.
What do you remember about the first gig you ever played in New York? Where was it?
Raul Midón: As a musician? The first gig I ever played was with Shakira at Roseland. Then SNL. As a solo artist, the first gig I played was at a Chinese restaurant where the owner insisted on interrupting us during songs. She insisted that a guy had to sit in, the guy played spoons. It was also my last gig at a Chinese restaurant…
When did you first move to New York?
RM: I moved to NYC with my wife in May of 2002.
For you, is playing for a New York audience different than anywhere else?
RM: My mother was a New Yorker so it was in my blood, but since my mom passed when I was four, it was not actualized until I lived there. New York still remains one of the most relevant music scenes in the world.
For someone who hasn’t seen you live before, what should be expected from your show at The Highline Ballroom?
RM: I’m playing material from a new album where I continue to explore eclectic songwriting, rapping etc. But I also have a couple of tunes that I explore modal tunes, tunes in complex time signatures. I have a new band — young cats from Baltimore who grew up with the church and a jazz education. I’m told we’re a good-looking group!
A lot of people call you a “one-man band.” When did you transition from performing into the traditional sense into more of a self-reliant performer?
RM: When I first moved to NYC, I needed to stand out in order to be noticed, so I did my best to cultivate that by creating a rhythm section with my guitar and voice.
Aside from your gig at The Highline Ballroom, what’s coming up for you? What can you tell me about your followup to Don’t Hesitate?
RM: I just got back from Australia and Dubai. After that I am on tour for my new album, Bad Ass And Blind, on Artistry Records. I’ll be going to the Singapore Jazz Festival, Japan and the U.S. then Europe through the summer.
Is there anything you haven’t yet accomplished but still hope to?
RM: So many things! I want to write a book. I received a full scholarship for college to study writing but I chose music and went to the University of Miami.
When not busy with music, how do you like to spend your free time?
RM: You would find it boring. I’m an amateur radio enthusiast. I have a 55-foot tower in my yard in Maryland. I talk to people all over the world on the radio. Lots of times when I go abroad, a ham guy will come get me at the hotel and then we talk on their ham gear to people all over the world!
Do you have a favorite restaurant in New York?
RM: Nyonya’s in the Village. I was introduced to it by dear friends Henri and Grace! Cash only — right next to Ferraro’s Bakery! Divine Malaysian food followed by decadent Italian desserts…
Finally, Raul, any last words for the kids?
RM: Don’t do drugs! Just kidding. Kids, whatever you do, be good at it. Work at it. Study it. Be nice to each other.
Read the full piece from: Downtown
The exact origins of The Urantia Book remain enveloped in mystery, but this much is certain. In the early 20th century, a pair of respected Chicago physicians and committed skeptics, William and Lena Sadler, received contact from a neighbor whose husband — allegedly a “hard-boiled businessman” — plunged into a somnambulant trance state every night, where he was unconsciously possessed by spiritual beings.
Over the course of 250 nocturnal sessions, the Sadlers and a stenographer received the labyrinthine transmissions that became The Urantia Book — a 2,000-page esoteric bible that presents an alternate history of the creation of the earth, the life of Jesus and the future of humanity.
Whether you accept it as divine revelation or not, you can’t deny the fertility of the tome’s imagination. Revered by Jimi Hendrix, Jerry Garcia and Jaco Pastorius alike, it makes Game of Thrones look like Chutes & Ladders.
This much also is certain: A century later, jazz pianist Cameron Graves, founding member of The West Coast Get Down, has an album called Planetary Prince, whose titular and extraterrestrial inspiration comes from that abstruse text.
“It’ll have you skeptical until you read it, and then start to wonder whether the universe is really that way or whether it’s just a made-up story?” Graves says.
“It’s inspired me in so many ways. I often write in seven time because it’s a really important number in the universe,” he continues. “Take a song like ‘Adam and Eve’: The A side is really emotional, and the B section offers release. It’s a yin-and-yang thing. The yin is Eve, the yang is Adam.”
If this sounds like metaphysical mumbo jumbo, I’ll refer you to the music, which offers a clarity that words often can’t provide. In all aspects of his being, Graves embodies intense seeking and absurd skill. He’s backed Jada Pinkett Smith and jazz icon Stanley Clarke. He’s a master of the martial art Xing Yi Quan, studies Daoism and practices daily standing meditation.
“Chi energy is an amazing thing, and you’ll only know it if you feel it and walk with it every day,” the Van Nuys native says. “It’s the driving force behind me waking up and doing everything. I haven’t felt tired for a long time. I can stay up for two days at a clip.”
Graves wears a black T-shirt, a skull ring and a cross necklace topped with a silver eagle, his long, wavy black hair tied back. If he looks slightly metal, it’s reflective of his lifelong obsession with the genre.
Even if you don’t immediately recognize his name, you’ve likely heard his notes. The son of ’70s soul singer Carl Graves, he’s been playing piano since kindergarten. At Hamilton High’s music academy, he formed a band with classmates Kamasi Washington and Miles Mosley, teaming up with Stephen “Thundercat” Bruner and Ronald Bruner at Locke High for after-school sessions with legendary educator Reggie Andrews.
Much of Planetary Prince was first recorded at the now-mythologized “KSL sessions” that yielded Washington’s The Epic. It comes off somewhere between McCoy Tyner and The Time, Chopin and J Dilla — with an extra layer of mystic clashes between celestial princes of good and evil. It’s the score that Urantia always deserved.
“I’m trying to bring music back to the time where virtuosos are celebrities again,” Graves says. “I want to educate the ears of the listener and change their palates to where I can use nontraditional jazz changes and scales and still speak to their soul. So that the music makes you feel like an acid trip without being on acid.”
CAMERON GRAVES & THE WEST COAST GET DOWN | The Troubadour | 9081 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood | Thu., March 16, 9 p.m. | $20 | troubadour.com
An L.A. native, Jeff Weiss edits Passion of the Weiss and hosts the Bizarre Ride show on RBMA Radio. Follow him on Twitter @passionweiss.
Read the full piece from: LA Weekly
You know Kamasi Washington? Of course you do—if you were even partially conscious during 2015 you would have been witness to the music world blowing their metaphorical load over his debut album The Epic (deservedly, I might add). And fuck, was it a great album—perhaps a little long at three discs’ worth of content, but nonetheless one of the best albums of the year, and proof that jazz is alive and well in the music world.
What I looked forward to most from the aftermath of The Epic, though, was to see what Kamasi and his group would do next. There were stirrings throughout the interwebs, rumors that the lineup on The Epic would all be releasing solo albums in the next few years. So I waited—I hunkered down and kept my radar pointing towards Pitchfork for that time to come, and, as it happens, 2017 is the year for all of this to start going down. First up was Miles Mosley’s album Uprising—a release that, while not jazz (more soul music than anything), was nonetheless a solid try. But I wanted something more, you know, jazzy. I’m not against well-done soul, but it’s so rare to have that jazz itch scratched for me with contemporary artists. Luckily enough, pianist Cameron Graves announced his debut as well, Planetary Prince—an album that doesn’t disappoint, and instead redefines what can be done with jazz today, blending it with cosmic consciousness from the spiritual text The Urantia Book. Have you ever seen a picture of a nebula before, or a celestial being so massive and beautiful you were at a loss for words? Planetary Prince is the aural equivalent of that—by listening you’re taking a journey through space and noticing the majestic beauty of the universe as you zip by.
Let’s just get this out of the way, though: this isn’t a sequel to The Epic. Not even close. Kamasi may be on this album’s personnel, but it’s something very, very different—another facet of spiritual jazz entirely. Graves’s piano work seems to lend itself to a melange of influences—jazz fusion-ish phrasing, lots of open and light Keith Jarrett-style chords, even some flairs towards classical music—but it’s all played with more of a bebop or hard bop mindset than anything. At the same time, though, it’s spacey and gorgeous, full of twists and turns and an insane sense of rhythm. Even when Graves isn’t the center of attention (such as in Kamasi’s solo in “Adam & Eve”, you can still hear him commanding the rhythm section with his punchy chords. Sometimes it can sound a wee bit out of place, like the beginning of “Satania Our Solar System”, where it feels a little off-beat, but that anxiety is quickly taken away as the track continues.
If the sheer virtuosic piano work isn’t enough for you, the lineup backing Graves on Planetary Prince will more than make up for that. Besides the obvious talent of Kamasi Washington on tenor, there’s also Thundercat and Hadrien Faraud rocking the bass (seriously, fucking Thundercat!), Thundercat’s brother Ronald Bruner Jr. handling percussion, Philip Dizack on trumpet, and Ryan Porter on trombone (who was also on The Epic with Thundercat and Graves). What blew me away was the way these instruments are used—this isn’t like a bebop album where all the instruments get to take their solos all in the same song—everything’s arranged impeccably, making every single note played crucial to the song’s structure. (Just listen to the horns on “El Diablo” if you don’t believe me—it’s like the jazz standard “Caravan” turned up to 11.)
Here’s the deal: if you like jazz, and you liked The Epic, but are open to what a virtuosic, spiritually conscious jazz pianist is capable of, do yourself a favor and listen to Planetary Prince. Like I said, it isn’t similar to The Epic enough to make comparisons—it’s its own beast—but what you give up from not expecting The Epic you gain in a truly singular listening experience.
Read the full piece from: Heavy Blog
Throughout their musical partnership (including 2015’s Grammy-winning “For One to Love”) pianist Aaron Diehl and singer Cécile McLorin Salvant have shared a knack for the theatrical — she with her choice of material, from early folk, blues, and vaudeville to Burt Bacharach, and he with his orchestral arrangements at the keyboard. At a Celebrity Series of Boston concert at Berklee Friday night, they were able to maximize their theatrical flair, in an evening that was as musically broad as it was emotionally deep, focused at every turn on narrative.
The program was “Jelly and George,” for Ferdinand “Jelly Roll” Morton (1890-1941) and George Gershwin (1898-1937).” The usual setup of McLorin Salvant and Diehl’s working trio, with bassist Paul Sikivie and drummer Lawrence Leathers, was for this project expanded to an octet, with trombone (Corey Wilcox), clarinet (Evan Christopher), trumpet (Riley Mulherkar), and a second pianist, Adam Birnbaum.
The second keyboard added another orchestral layer to these pieces by two pianist-composers, especially during the three duo-feature Gershwin preludes. But Diehl and Birnbaum also had plenty of fun trading lead and rhythm figures or, in one dreamy moment, unfurling chromatic scales like one continuous bolt of multi-colored silk.
Subsets of the band varied the arrangements, making cross references between Morton’s sophisticated New Orleans barrelhouse and Gershwin’s Broadway swing, with plenty of contrapuntal interaction among the horns, each piece colored by different mutes and sure dynamic shifts.
Although McLorin Salvant was featured on only five songs in the roughly 90-minute set, she was the binding agent. Her taste in rarities came through in Gershwin’s “Boy! What Love Has Done to Me” and Morton’s “I Hate a Man Like You.” Those songs showed off McLorin Salvant’s ability to modulate her voice like a horn and shade lyrics with ambiguity, provocation, and humor (“When I met you, I thought you was right/You married me and stayed out the first night”).
But the showstopper was no rarity: “My Man’s Gone Now,” from Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess.” Here McLorin Salvant’s wordless moans behind “old man sorrow” were like the chill wind in a graveyard at night, her final realization shattering. It capped a night of peerless musical storytelling.
Read the full piece from: Boston Globe
“…A pianist so intense, so beautiful and so emotive you never, ever want the music to stop…amazing improvisational skills and beautiful artistic soul.” – Savvant Music
JK: What were the biggest influence in your early days in Cuba?
AR: To be honest, my family was my biggest influence. My father is a famous singer and composer from Cuba, so I grew up listening to a lot of his music. His style was very much influenced by Cuba as well as other global artists, so I was inspired by jazz, improvisation, folk, and so much more. It was a very important time in my life, and my family was super supportive in helping me to make the decision to become a musician. They have always been some of the most important influencers in who I am, and at the same time, my music.
JK: Once you decided to leave Cuba, and take up residence in the US, how did this impact on your playing?
AR: It had a huge impact. My latest album, Tocororo, pretty much sums it all up.The Tocororo is the national bird of Cuba, and if caged, the bird dies of sadness, reflecting not only the desire for freedom, but the necessity of it. Just as the Tocororo needs room to fly, my music needed the platform and opportunity to be heard by more people than would otherwise have been touched if I stayed in Cuba. Because of its many restrictions, Cuba was my cage and it didn’t allow me to spread my wings and do what I love on a larger scale. So this album is a personification of the people of Cuba as well as a representation of freedom, travel and cross-pollination of cultures. The thing that really appeals to me is the fact that we all just happen to be born in different countries and from different cultures but we are all coming from the same place; human beings are all connected in some way or another so I reflect that in my music. My collaborations are my way of fighting for unity. I’m open to learning from cultures and anything in life, so I love to bring everything together to create an outward expression of unity. It’s all about learning from different people and cultures.
JK: I read the story about your journey from Mexico to the US and that you were able to convince the border guards that you had an offer from Jones and that they put you in a cab. Is that a reflection of your persuasiveness and tenacity? How does this influence you musically?
AR: Yes, coming here was very risky and adventurous for me. I had no family in the U.S. and knew very little about the culture or language. As I mentioned earlier, I was culturally isolated for many years in Cuba, so making the decision to leave everything I knew was the most difficult thing I’ve ever done and took a lot of courage. Once I made the decision to come to the U.S. and ask for political asylum, I didn’t have a choice to go back. But again, I’ve always been that way with my music…I believe that in order to achieve your goals, you have to follow your dreams. I believe that you have to create new opportunities and learn from them.
JK: For those who are new to your music, what can they expect to hear? (I know this question is a little simplistic, so apologies as I can hear so much complexity and influences in your playing, but it would be great to have them in your words)
AR: They can expect to hear the music of my roots. When I play, I feel like I’m adding up all the musical experiences I’ve had in my life into one performance! It’s very global. I incorporate what I’ve learned from all of my past teachers and trips across the world. Music is a way to express my life and the people I’ve met along the way. I get inspired from sounds…that includes talking, animals, wind…anything really. I believe sound is music, and I love to expand on that idea through my compositions.
JK: What musical plans do you have for 2017?
AR: Many! I’m working on releasing a new album that I recorded with a new trio as well as a few other projects with artists I admire. I’ve also been writing for symphony orchestras for years now and will continue to do that. There’s more to come, but I have to keep some things a surprise!
Read the full piece from: Jazz Australia
The release of kamasi washington's ‘the epic’ marked a seismic shift in the jazz landscape & the game-changing arrival of the genre-blurring los angeles collective west coast get down, blending elements of jazz, classical, rock & hip-hop. that evolution continues this debut by visionary pianist, keyboardist, composer & wcgd founding member cameron graves. this is packed with the same mind-expanding invention that marked all of wcgd’s prior work - including ‘the epic’ (which prominently featured graves throughout its 3 discs). the core of the band is made up of fellow west coast get down members: tenor saxophonist kamasi washington, trombonist ryan porter, bassist stephen “thundercat” bruner, & drummer ronald bruner jr.
Read the full piece from: Resident
The title of Raúl Midón’s upcoming album reads like a mission statement, and Bad Ass and Blind is a refrain the soul-funk singer-songwriter repeatedly asserts on the opening title track.
It is hard to argue with him. Midón’s phenomenal chops, baritone croon and unique one-man-band stage show would indeed colloquially be described as "bad". And the 50-year-old veteran has lived without sight since his time in an incubator shortly after his birth.
"I don’t necessarily think not having sight helped me," says Midón. "Maybe in show business, maybe being blind is some kind of hook – but most of the really great musicians I know, they can see."
For all his swagger on record and on stage, Midón is a remarkably humble and subdued conversationalist.
"It just sort of came to me, in the same way it always does," he says, of his new LP, which is due for release on March 24. It is his most jazzy to date, he says.
Midón is drastically underselling his wares – this seventh studio album is also bursting with funk grooves, Latin rhythms, quick-fire raps, blistering guitar solos and hummable pop melodies.
A former session musician for superstars such as Shakira and Julio Iglesias, Midón has an uncanny ability to defy categorisation, grabbing, magpie-like, from a variety of musical genres and cooking them together in an almighty smooth, groove-pop stew.
The real treat, however is watching him perform this material live – as he will at the Dubai Jazz Festival on Thursday.
Playing solo, Midón has developed a singular style of emulating an entire band without a loop pedal in sight. He plucks acoustic guitar lines with just his left hand, taps a rhythm on the instrument’s body with his right, and uses his voice to emulate the sound of a trumpet so convincingly, you will want to check the stage twice.
This approach evolved by necessity after he moved to the Big Apple in the early 2000s.
"In New York, you’ve got to do something to stand out," he says.
"I could already sing and play – but then a lot of people sing and play."
Adapting in this way paid off and he signed to the historic Manhattan Records. His big breakthrough came in 2005 with State of Mind, an album featuring guest turns from Stevie Wonder and Jason Mraz.
A year later he was invited to sing a slowed-down, ballad version of Wonder’s I Just Called to Say I Love You on Herbie Hancock’s celebrity duets album Possibilities.
"They were like, ‘Sing it as if you called on the girl, and she’s not there’," he says.
Remarkably, this solo success came midway into his 30s, after years spent in the shadows as a sideman. Born and raised in New Mexico, Midón discovered the guitar at the age of six. After moving south to study jazz at the University of Miami, he gravitated towards the city’s booming Latin-record industry, where he spent much of 1990s as a studio pro, working on records for the likes of Alejandro Sanz, Julio Iglesias and José Feliciano.
It was spending two years touring as a member of Colombian superstar Shakira’s band that hardened Midón’s resolve to move to New York and pursue his own voice.
"It was fun – it was a good job, we went all over the world, but it wasn’t what I wanted to do with my own life," he says. "I wanted to do my own thing."
Read the full piece from: The National
Julian Lage: Live in Los Angeles
Julian Lage’s Arclight, released in April, marked an invigorating new direction for the still-young guitarist. Joined by Scott Colley on bass and Kenny Wollesen on drums (the same pair Lage had seen as a child backing Jim Hall), Lage cranked out a spirited but tightly edited set of 11 tunes, ranging from covers of obscure 1930s gems to free-jazz originals, all clocking in at between 2:09 and 4:12 in length.
On this follow-up EP, the trio stretches out on five of those same tunes, albeit by only an extra minute or so on three tracks. It opens with “Persian Rug,” an irresistible burner featuring Lage’s guitar virtuosity, Colley’s race-walking bass and Wollesen’s fleet brushes, which he swaps out for sticks as the volume ratchets up midway through. “Nocturne” fills four and a half minutes with a leisurely country vibe reminiscent of Bill Frisell, another of Lage’s heroes (and a longtime collaborator of Wollesen’s). “Activate,” written to be free but short, moves in and out of uptempo swing, and Lage monopolizes the freedom until the raucous end of this supercharged set-closer.
Tracks 2 and 4, lasting 12:57 and 10:13, respectively, are where the band really gives itself room to ramble. “I’ll Be Seeing You” begins with Lage unaccompanied, his guitar slow and pensive before gliding into the familiar melody three minutes in. The others join: Colley improvises counterpoint, the music revs up and turns free just over halfway in and Colley eventually grabs his lone solo. “Stop Go Start,” an avant-garde crowd-pleaser, opens with three minutes of adventurous, unaccompanied Wollesen. Lage jumps in and takes off, inventing flurries of notes that evolve into quoting Ornette Coleman’s “School Work” for a spell, before exiting in another flurry. Arclight was stellar work, and this EP demonstrates the group is even more exciting live.
Read the full piece from: JazzTimes
When the Grammy Awards eliminated the category of best Latin jazz album six years ago, an outcry arose quickly. Musicians and advocates argued that the move cut off a rare source of institutional recognition for a genre at the commercial fringes. And the academy listened. The next year the category returned.
In the years since, the importance of that recognition has become even clearer: Latin jazz is experiencing a kind of creative bloom, with musicians diversifying their work at an uncommon clip. It’s generating some of the most invigorating improvised music around.
So maybe it is a bit disappointing that the Grammy nominations this year don’t fully reflect those developments, focusing instead on older musicians. Every nominee up for best Latin jazz album this Sunday is over 60. And while all have led fabulous careers — especially the pianist Chucho Valdés, the bassist Andy González and the trombonist Wayne Wallace — each of these recordings tends toward a sound that’s now classic.
Look beyond the nominees, though, and you’ll find a proliferating landscape of shape-shifters, particularly among Cuban musicians. In particular, recent records by Pedrito Martínez, Alfredo Rodríguez and Arturo O’Farrill — all released within the Grammys’ eligibility period — offer visions of how the fusion of Afro-Caribbean rhythms and jazz improvisation is no longer an end unto itself, but an invitation to integrate more.
In a sense, this is a continuation of the work Mr. Valdés was doing 40 years ago with his Latin fusion band, Irakere (the subject of his latest Grammy-nominated album, “Tribute to Irakere”). Musicians today are reworking his mission for an even more globalized and diversified world.
The jazz pianist David Virelles. Credit Benjamin Norman for The New York Times
“These guys — the third generation, in a way — are brilliant,” said Tomás Peña, an editor of the Latin Jazz Network website, referring to musicians who’ve come of age in the 21st century, two generations down the line from the first marriages of Afro-Cuban music and American jazz. “They have their own sound, they’re writing their own music, and their energy is so strong.”
Mr. Peña added: “They’re not averse to playing R&B, they’ll play straight-ahead jazz, Latin jazz. And they’re talented enough, smart enough, where they’re taking things to a whole new level.”
Mr. Martínez’s “Habana Dreams” is the most effortlessly relatable of these new Afro-Latin fusion recordings. It finds this Havana-born virtuoso percussionist and vocalist collaborating with Wynton Marsalis, the jazz trumpeter; Rubén Blades, the salsa vocalist; and Telmary Díaz, the Cuban rapper. The result is an album that couples the liquid pull of Cuban rumba with gently romantic melodies — and some subtly magnetic electric bass playing from Alvaro Benavides. It’s a new form of Latin pop that makes no compromises, and doesn’t let your ear wander.
Arturo O’Farrill, director of the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra. Credit Jack Vartoogian/Getty Images
Mr. Martínez performed at the Jazz Standard this week with Mr. Rodríguez, another Havana-born musician of wide-ranging ambition. Mr. Rodríguez released an impressive third album last year, “Tocororo.” It shows his piano playing to be both punctilious and expansive — ready to handle a tightly syncopated revamp of Bach (“Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring”) or a swaying, spacious collaboration with the Indian-American vocalist Ganavya (the title track).
Then there’s David Virelles, 33, a Cuban pianist whose inclinations run rampant. In his tirelessly experimental music, Abakuá and Lucumí folklore become an invitation to enter a diffusely contemplative space.
Mr. Virelles’s latest recording, the 10-inch vinyl album “Antenna,” was released too late in 2016 to be eligible for Sunday night’s Grammys. But with its skewed traditional rhythms, unsettling electronics, tenacious Cuban rap and occasional spurts of improvised delirium, it reveals how open the world of Afro-Cuban jazz is becoming.
The bass player Luques Curtis. Credit Monique Jaques/Getty Images
Mr. O’Farrill is the son of the Latin jazz pioneer Chico O’Farrill and the director of the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra, which won the Latin jazz Grammy in 2015. (It was a surprisingly good year for progressive nominees.) The younger Mr. O’Farrill released an incisive sextet album last year, “Boss Level,” spiced with hints of avant-garde improvising and aggressive, rocklike propulsion.
He suggests that Latin jazz is enjoying a surge in creativity partly because its systems of inheritance remain relatively pure — and loose. Straight-ahead jazz is often taught in the academy, where practices can become codified and recycled, but students of Latin American music frequently have to venture closer to the source. They are also exploring other influences in their daily lives, and pouring the components together.
“If they really want to understand this music,” Mr. O’Farrill said, “they study it themselves, and very often go to Cuba, and sit with older musicians, and bug them until they divulge the secrets. And in a way, that’s real jazz education.”
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In some cases, a trip south is not necessary. The bassist Luques Curtis, 33 — who, along with his brother, Zaccai, recently released “Syzygy,” a strong album of Latin jazz fusions — learned at the elbow of mentors like Andy González (a nominee in the Latin jazz category this year), while also studying straight-ahead jazz at a conservatory.
More recently, musicians seeking direct mentorship have been wise to seek out the Cuban folkloric percussionist, singer and poet Román Díaz, who runs the Midnight Rumba at Zinc Bar every Thursday.
In performances with younger musicians like Mr. Martínez, Mr. Virelles and the remarkable saxophonist Yosvany Terry, he has shown how folkloric tradition can fit into almost any berth. (Mr. Díaz’s own recent recording, “L’ó Dá Fún Bàtá,” is a marvelous document of folkloric rhythm and song. Perhaps too traditional for the Latin jazz category, it ought to have received some kind of Grammy nod this year.)
At Zinc Bar each week, Mr. Díaz gathers roughly a dozen percussionists, vocalists and dancers to play traditional Cuban rhythms. But stay long enough and you may see him welcome other musicians onstage, too — maybe a blues guitarist, a jazz violinist, a flamenco singer. As the complex rhythms open up to accommodate them, the new initiates find themselves fitting in.
Even within the most rigorous realms of Afro-Latin music, other sounds and influences can find a home. The academy doesn’t always recognize it, but by now it’s inescapable.
Read the full piece from: NY Times
Cameron Graves, pianist and founding member of the Los Angeles-based West Coast Get Down collective, releases the genre-bending Planetary Prince (Mack Avenue Records) February 24, with a mix of cosmological, spiritual and political themes. It's his debut album as a leader, featuring collective members Kamasi Washington (saxophone), Stephen Bruner, a.k.a Thundercat (bass), Ryan Porter (trombone) and Ronald Bruner Jr. (drums).
Planetary Prince picks up where Washington's impactful album, The Epic (featuring Graves) left off, blending jazz with European classical music, prog rock, metal and hip-hop. With no shortage of infectious energy, superior playing and captivating melodies, the album also strives to be consciousness-broadening; its title is derived from The Urantia Book, an obscure volume addressing God, humanity and Biblical themes through spirituality and cosmology—elements Graves has been fascinated for many years. Other tracks have titles such as "Adam and Eve," "The Lucifer Rebellion," "Satania Our Solar System," "Andromeda" and "Isle of Love" (reference to an imagined place inhabited by a race of pure love).
At 35, Graves has been playing music for over three decades, bringing a unique approach to the piano. His skill is matched by a fluid, imaginative style drawing from multiple genres. Graves' father, a singer/producer/keyboard player, initiated him into music at the age of four. Classically trained, Graves got into jazz as a teenager, when he met Kamasi Washington and other young musicians who would later become members of the WCGD collective. Together they started exploring jazz giants such as John Coltrane and McCoy Tyner, both major influences. Rehearsing and playing in a multi-school jazz band, they founded the Young Jazz Giants, made their debut recording, and began performing regularly.
In addition to his longstanding collaboration with WCGD, and earlier with his brother Taylor in the R&B/fusion duo The Graves Brothers, Graves has worked with illustrious jazz bassist Stanley Clarke, as well as Jada Pinkett Smith; his work with her nu-metal band Wicked Wisdom lead into the world of film and television scoring. Polish composer and piano virtuoso Frédéric Chopin (b. 1810) is one of his strongest musical influences, as is the Minneapolis Sound— particularly early Prince, Morris Day and The Time.
Noisey: Planetary Prince is not only your album title, but your pseudonym. Who—or what—is this entity?
Cameron Graves: There are actually planetary princes that are associated with all the planets; one spiritual being, a consciousness that resides around the planet itself. I'm kind of like a messenger, channeling something from the Universe—I'm not sure exactly where. When I'm composing, the tunes people often end up liking come to me very quickly: 2-3 minutes. I don't even have to think about it. It just comes in.
And so you conceive of yourself as the Prince of Planet Earth…?
Many of the tunes I was writing while playing at [Hollywood's] Piano Bar had a lot of energy. We played the title track—a dark jazz tune that mimics a metal energy—and everyone in the club went crazy. They would call that song out every single week. So when I was doing the recording, I thought I could name the whole album Planetary Prince, and build a brand.
You've mentioned J Dilla as one of your most prominent influences. What is it about his work that was so impactful?
The late 1990s-early 2000s were very influential; it was the end of high school, and we were listening to a lot of underground hip hop—especially A Tribe Called Quest, the Roots. J Dilla produced Busta Rhymes and Slum Village. If you study his production, you can tell he researched many obscure records, picking the best samples; that was his whole way of composing. The type of samples he'd choose is amazing, and the way he'd create the drum track and the whole beat was extremely interesting. In a way, it could be considered advanced music, even though it's derived from sampling. Many of his samples have a 4- or 8-bar loop, which influenced me a lot. I started comping with the same type of loop, which was like the glue to the music we were playing. We often get into improvisational stuff, so if you do a 4- or 8-bar loop, it's something that people can hold on to.
And what about [Swedish math-death-metal band] Meshuggah?
I'm a big metalhead. I grew up playing guitar as well, listening to Al Di Meola, Eddie Van Halen, Living Color. I was a huge Slipknot fan—the math, the fast double pedal stuff. And then a friend showed me Meshuggah, and they blew me away. You need to be an advanced musician, to really know the instrument, in order to play like that. They did the craziest time signatures, like Frank Zappa, with a rock approach—but they took it all the way. That changed my brain around; I'm able to hear 7/4 in a very clear-cut way that's beautiful.
I understand you practice [Chinese martial art] Xing Yi Quan. How does this impact your work?
It influences my whole life. The idea is to go forward, to die going forward. You take that and apply it to your whole life—music, business, relationships. If there is a road block, you try to get over the hump and move forward. I don't let anything stop my focus, concentration, or drive. And this goes for music, too. I practice piano the way I practice martial arts: constantly working on technique. I also used to play tabla and studied with Indian musicians for a long time, which influenced the way I practice and play. They do crazy things like practice sessions that last 20 hours a day, for 40-50 days.
The tune we're premiering here, "End of Corporatism"—a searing, abstract funk showcasing both you and Thundercat—seems to have a political message.
Money is now controlling everything. We need to get back to small mom-and-pop businesses, to the bartering system, where people really care about their product and are trying to help others. Then we'd get real things, good food etc.—not just plastic products that numb us. It's easy to hoard money—especially the way corporations do it, with loopholes in federal taxes and interest rates, stealing the people's money and hoarding it. It becomes a kind of aristocracy. The corporation becomes the king, because it has so much lobbying power and special interest power, which takes away our freedom. We're living in a bubble of imaginary freedom.
This is right out of George Orwell. . . But I have hope. When you don't feel sick, you don't feel the need to heal yourself. America got sick, and now we're waking up to that, and we need healing. And the unity that's starting to happen—the protests, the coming together— is good; we discover we are more united than divided.
Read the full piece from: Noisey
UCLA faculty, staff and alumni have contributed musical works that are nominated for the 59th annual Grammy Awards on Feb. 12. Their talents, ranging from playing the saxophone to composing songs to performing in an opera, have been recognized with nominations in five different categories.
Justo Almario’s roots in music started when he was 2 years old growing up in the country of Colombia.
He dabbled in a variety of instruments until age 11, when his older brother showed him a recording of saxophonist Cannonball Adderley – at that moment, Almario said he knew music was the only path he wanted to go down.
Almario, a multi-instrumentalist and jazz lecturer at the Herb Alpert School of Music, creates and records his own music with other jazz musicians, using jazz greats like Thelonious Monk for inspiration, he said.
Last year, Almario played saxophone with pianist and composer John Beasley and his big band on the album “MONK’estra, Vol. 1,” which is currently nominated for a 2017 Grammy Award in the Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album category.
Almario said the album was a way to appreciate Monk – whose would-be 100th birthday falls in 2017 – and experiment with new jazz sounds and musicians.
Almario studied jazz in Boston at the Berklee School of Music after leaving Colombia at age 18. Upon graduating, he traveled to New York City, where Afro-Cuban Latin jazz percussionist Mongo Santamaria hired Almario to work in his band in 1971.
Almario has been interested in playing music by Monk since his years in New York, he said. Paul Jeffrey, an original saxophonist member of the Thelonious Monk group in the 1970s, met Almario at a jazz club and asked him to play in his jazz octet consisting of a French horn, two saxophones, a trumpet, a trombone, a bass and drums.
The octet played Monk’s songs such as “Monk’s Dream,” “Well You Needn’t” and “Monk’s Mood,” Almario said.
Almario’s experience in the octet was important in shaping his respect for and understanding of Monk, he said. To Almario, playing Monk’s music allowed him to search for his own musical personality embodied in the compositions of Monk.
“From that point on, I was very mesmerized by artist’s compositions of Thelonious Monk,” Almario said. “Monk’s one of the greatest composers of the 20th century.”
“MONK’estra, Vol. 1” is inspired by the work of Monk. Beasley’s work on the album consists of Monk melodies he arranged and orchestrated, along with jazz works by Duke Ellington and Benny Golson. Beasley said he thinks Monk’s music is pliable, allowing him and other musicians to apply their own creativity over it.
“I thought, ‘I should do a Monk thing, just for the heck of it,’” Beasley said. “It was a labor of love and also an experiment.”
Beasley called Almario four years ago to rehearse the music for the album. It was not the first time Beasley and Almario had worked together – the two originally met when Almario moved to Los Angeles in 1979 and they kept in touch ever since, Beasley said.
The 15-piece big band for the album was assembled by people Beasley hand-picked. Beasley chose Almario for his original sound as a musician, as well as for his dependability as a professional, he said.
“He has a unique way of soloing that doesn’t sound like anybody else,” Beasley said. “I really wanted his presence there.”
Another saxophonist Beasley chose to play in the band was Danny Janklow, who had not collaborated with Almario in the past. He enjoyed playing alongside Almario because of his joyous energy and passion for the music, Janklow said.
“He brings the best out of everyone, whether it’s a huge performance or recording session or a serious gig,” Janklow said.
For Janklow, having the album nominated this year for a Grammy is a beautiful sentiment in honoring Monk and his musical legacy.
Almario hopes the Grammy Awards will showcase the oft-overshadowed jazz category as well as groups like MONK’estra more in the future to help others learn about jazz and the figures like Monk that the genre has produced.
“Jazz needs to have a place of importance at the Grammys … Because a lot of the music in general, it comes from jazz,” Almario said.
Read the full piece from: http://dailybruin.com/2017/02/08/ucla-music-lecturer-drums-up-grammy-nominated-jazz-album/
The West Coast Get Down is better known as the L.A. collective of talent including saxophonist Kamasi Washington. Washington has commanded a lot of attention the past few years, and for good reason. That audacious 3-disc debut, “The Epic” on Brainfeeder, his collaboration with Kendrick Lamar, and 2016 dates at Bonnaroo and Coachella, to name a few. But for a change, this isn’t about Washington. This is about the band that brings those head spinning sonics to life in studio and performances. When I finally caught up with Washington for the first time at the 2016 Newport Jazz Festival, I was pretty knocked out, but when upright bassist Miles Mosley took center stage, uh, the dimension took on another dimension. Whether feverishly bowing with Hendrix like distortion and effects, or running the neck, Mosley, has mad presence and skills. The LA Weekly dubbed him “an assassin on the upright bass” for good reason and Rolling Stone called him out as one of 10 new artists you need to know, and he has a rather impressive resume of his own (Jeff Beck, Rihanna, Lamar, to drop a few names, not to mention extensive film and television credits). It’s no surprise he is front and center leading the WCGD in another direction, while Washington steps back in support. Same dudes, but way different thing, and even more so than the Washington led unit, drop the jazz box from this constellation.
The El Rey date coincided with the release of Mosley’s new record ,“Uprising”, and had to feel a bit celebratory for the Hamilton High music magnet alums. The WCGD core of Mosley, Washington, trombonist Ryan Porter, pianist Cameron Graves and drummer Tony Austin (Ronald Bruner, Jr. was not a part of this one) were accompanied by 6 strings, 4 vocalists and a trumpet player along with Porter and Washington. Opening with one of the singles off Uprising, “Young Lion”, the WCGD covered much of the record throughout the night with Mosley an exuberant and engaging front man for the plethora of players on stage. Straight upright funk-soul-jazz-rock from some very talented jazz musicians. “L.A. Won’t Bring You Down” worked up its saucy finish to the satisfaction of the hometown crowd. And with a title like “Uprising”, it didn’t take long for Mosley to tap into our Trumpian angst, recounting his emotions over an irreparably broken bass, his most prized possession, standing in for his world view. That the instrument beyond repair four days before the biggest gig of his life was in his hands that evening, served as the punch line. This was Mosley’s night. While Washington cut loose with a few powerful solos, he otherwise shared the risers alongside the strings and vocals. Pianist Cameron Graves was a standout, and his album “Planetary Prince”, featuring more of the Get Down, will be out in the coming weeks. Mosley’s parents also got a big shout before launching into “Abraham” (Mosley’s given first name), the record’s other single, with Graves’ “ring tone intro” setting off the piece.
Read the full piece from: Jim Brock Photo
By Yun Suh-young
This year's PyeongChang Winter Music Festival to be held from Feb. 15 to 19 at the Alpensia Concert Hall in PyeongChang, Gangwon Province, will be showcasing a warm blend of jazz with classical music featuring a star-studded cast.
The festival is a winter version of the PyeongChang Music Festival & School (formerly the Great Mountains Music Festival and School) which is held every summer in the northeastern province of Korea. The winter festival is a newly created one which began last year at the same location the annual summer program is held. It was created to explore diverse genres of music other than classical and the main theme of the festival is jazz, again this year due to the positive feedback from last year's program mixing the two.
"The repertoires for this year's program are songs that lie in between classical and jazz such as Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue or Bernstein's West Side Story. The jazz songs will be centered on the immortal jazz figure Thelonious Monk's works," said artistic director Chung Myung-wha.
Grammy-nominated jazz musician John Beasley, who has collaborated with many famous artists such as Miles Davis, Sergio Mendes, Fourplay, Al Jearreau, Chaka Khan, Barbra Streisand and James Brown, was invited as the main guest of the festival and will lead five jazz sessions during the event. He will perform in several different setups -- a solo performance, his own band MONK'estra, and the seven-member jazz band Septet as well as a duet performance with Korean jazz singer Woongsan. He was producer of Woongsan's 20th anniversary album "Jazz is My Life" released last year.
In 2013, Beasley released an album called "Monkestra" reinterpreting the works of Thelonious Monk with a jazz orchestra. The album is currently nominated for best arrangement at the Grammy Awards. In celebration of the 100th anniversary of jazz pianist Thelonious Monk's birth this year, Beasley will be performing his interpretations at the with his own band named after the artist.
He will also perform with Septet consisting of Darryl Jones on electric base, Gene Coye on drums, Bob Sheppard and Tom Luer on saxophone, Lemar Guillary on trombone, Dontae Winslow on trumpet and John Beasley himself on piano.
The festival will open with "Three Sarang-gas for Pansori, Cello, Piano & Buk" by pansori singer Ahn Sook-sun, cellist and artistic director of the festival Chung, pianist Son Yeol-eum and percussionist Jun Kye-youl. John Beasley's solo performance and piano duo Anderson & Roe's performance will open the ceremony Wednesday.
Thursday, Feb. 16 is the jazz night featuring the Woongsan Band and MONK'estra.
On Feb. 17, a chamber music classic concert will be offered. Kim Sang-yoon on clarinet, Isang Enders on cello and Kim Kyu-yeon on piano will play Beethoven's Trio for Clarinet, Cello, and Piano in B-flat major, op. Soprano Maggie Finnegan and pianist Son Yeol-eum will perform Gershwin's songs such as "Love Walked In" and "Someone to Watch Over Me" on the same day.
That evening, two jazz performances will take place featuring Lee Ji-yeun's Contemporary Jazz Ensemble and John Beasley's Septet.
Feb. 18 will be another classical concert day featuring the Wonju Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Kim Kwang-hyun. Later that evening, 3 Brave Souls, a trio of John Beasley, Darryl Jones and Gene Coye, will present a unique opportunity to hear contemporary sounds of "funk."
The last day, Feb. 19, will be a harmony of classic and jazz, beginning with Schubert and ending with John Beasley's solo recital with Woongsan as guest singer.
Read the full piece from: Korea Times
Veteran of Ahmad Jamal and Wynton Marsalis bands, the 59 year old drummer explores the many influences he absorbed in a music family in New Orleans with a band of musicians in their 20s: saxophonist Godwin Louis, pianist Emmet Cohen and bassist Russell Hall. In the tradition of another great jazz drummer/bandleader, Art Blakey, Riley takes his Afro-Cuban, jazz, and blues experiences and shakes them into a sound that is both new yet familiar. An entic- ing collection of modern New Orleans music; funky jazz for folks who enjoy their musical gumbo on the hot side.
Read the full piece from: Ft. Myers magazine — a survey of the Best Albums of 2016
Curating a list as wide and varied as our effort to catalogue the 20 Best Jazz Albums of 2016 was no easy feat. We all have our blind spots. And while I wouldn’t change the order or the lineup of our ranking one iota, it’s only natural to look back at the process and second guess the omission of a few titles that should have very well cracked that final Top 20.
Here are five such albums equally worthy of your ears from the past 12 months.
5) Alfredo Rodriguez, Tocororo (Mack Avenue)
Following up on 2014’s Invasion Parade, pianist Alfredo Rodriguez continues to pay full homage to his Cuban heritage with an album that could easily be considered his most adventurous to wit.
Named after the national bird of Cuba, Tocororo celebrates his motherland’s newfound freedom by collaborating with an enclave of musicians from around the globe, including France, Spain, Lebanon, Cameroon and India, all under the watchful eye of executive producer Quincy Jones.
The result is an equal parts worldly and otherworldly cousin to Q’s own Walking in Space, a celebratory lifting of the embargo that offers Cuban musicians full reign to explore sonic landscapes beyond the parameters of their island to craft a quintessential sound of creative freedom taking first flight.
4) Aggregate Prime, Dream Deferred (Onyx Music)
Not since it was first published in 1951 have the words of Langston Hughes’ poem “Harlem” resonated with the state of affairs in our country. “Or does it explode?” the laureate asks in reference to the line with which East Coast renaissance jazzman Ralph Peterson utilizes as the title for this stellar debut of his new quintet Aggregate Prime.
That the roots of Dream Deferred took grip as the trial of three Baltimore cops for the murder of Freddie Gray commenced was no coincidence. Recorded in Maryland as it all happened in real time, Peterson and his all-star combo—Vijay Iyer on piano, guitarist Mark Whitfield, reed man Gary Thomas and bassist Kenny Davis—channel their anger over the injustice into fiery rips of such originals as “Strongest Sword” and the Iyer-penned “Father Spirit,” in addition to a house-quaking cover of Eric Dolphy’s “Iron Man.”
This is Harlem jazz at its finest, tough as nails and sophisticated as hell.
3) Ches Smith, The Bell (ECM)
Percussionist Ches Smith might have gained his piece of the pie playing drums for art-pop auteurs Xiu Xiu. But as it turns out, jazz is his true love. And his efforts working on recordings by such underground greats as Tim Berne and Mary Halvorson have gained him the golden opportunity to record for the esteemed ECM imprint as a leader.
Coming together with pianist Craig Taborn and Mat Maneri on viola, The Bell far exceeded all expectations. A modal meditation that channels both the jazz and classical sensibilities of his new home, it sounds like a long-lost session between Keith Jarrett and Steven Reich.
2) Carlos Niño and Friends, Flutes, Echoes, It’s All Happening! (Leaving Records)
For a hard 20 years, Stones Throw has successfully zoned the interchange connecting jazz and hip-hop on the West Coast. Flutes, Echoes, It’s All Happening! is the sound of that sonic highway reaching its vanishing point.
Build An Ark chieftain Carlos Niño and his Friends, including Madlib, Kamasi Washington, Miguel Atwood-Ferguson, Iasos, Luis Pérez Ixoneztli, Dexter Story, and others, craft an excursion that imagines Lower California’s distinct blend of bop-hop through the canyons occupied by Joni Mitchell and David Crosby.
This is what the former radio host, producer, composer, percussionist, DJ and arranger calls “Space Collage Hybrid” music. More, please.
1) The Bad Plus, It’s Hard (O’Keh)
Few acts have kept jazz music more relevant on college radio for the last 20 years as The Bad Plus. On their latest album, 2016’s It’s Hard, the ever-inventive NYC band pays homage to some of their favorites left of the dial with stunning reinterpretations of such indie faves as “Maps” by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, TV On the Radio’s “Staring at the Sun” and Kraftwerk’s “The Robots.”
What’s even more impressive: The trio simultaneously honors the heyday of classic Top 40 with knotty spins on Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time,” Crowded House’s “Don’t Dream It’s Over” and a stunning meditation on “The Beautiful Ones” by Prince laid to tape shortly after his death.
Bonus points for naming the album after The Who’s most underrated LP to boot.
Read the full piece from: Observer