Saturday, January 2, 2016

Jeff Cosgrove / Frank Kimbrough / Martin Wind - Conversations With Owls (2015)

Rising jazz star Jeff Cosgrove joins veteran bandleaders and first-call sidemen Frank Kimbrough and Martin Wind in uncovering yet another facet of Cosgrove’s flair for challenging jazz. Like his prior recording project, the drummer is placed in a trio setting involving a pianist and bassist. But as Alternating Current highlighted the spontaneous music-making of Cosgrove with free jazz all-stars Matthew Shipp and William Parker, Conversations With Owls (now on sale by Grizzley Music) is structured around a co-led effort that underscores a high spirit of collaboration around some imaginative arrangements.

Taking in the open-ended, sensitive “The Owls,” where Cosgrove’s drum kit serves as a third conduit for emotion, it’s clear that the drummer is carrying on the legacy of his last mentor Paul Motian better than anyone is right now. Kimbrough and Wind deliver their notes with poignancy and the pauses between the notes with the same hushed passion. A bass solo ushers in “Stacks of Stars,” as unconventional and unpredictable as any I’ve heard in some time, and Cosgrove’s cymbals immediately connects to its unpredictable vibe. Kimbrough’s fractured notes gain momentum and evolve into a defined groove.
“The Shimmer” is relatively short but also skittish, especially on the part of Cosgrove, who even then maintains a light touch, always leaving space unfilled as Kimbrough goes at his own, unhurried pace.

Kimbrough’s facility for tapered angularity — at times sounding akin to the incomparable Shipp — bolsters the beauty to George and Ira Gershwin’s “I Loves You Porgy,” supported by a rhythm section that is likewise playing only the essential parts, leaving the listener to fill in the blanks in their own minds. “My Favorite Things” is another jazz standard that’s been done every way imaginable yet these three again find a different approach that’s also compelling. Turning it into a pensive, dark ballad, Wind locks in on an up-and-down repeating figure while Kimbrough takes his time revealing the true melody of the song. Once he reveals his intentions, Wind moves on to a harmonic counterpoint.

Conversations With Owls isn’t really about birds, it’s about cats, and these cats are having musical conversations that are on a higher plane than most.

1. The Owls 05:30
2. Stacks of Stars 06:25
3. I Loves You Porgy 07:46
4. Excitable Voices 08:37
5. Forest Hunters 08:11
6. My Favorite Things 07:49
7. The Shimmer 03:21

Jeff Cosgrove - Drums 
Frank Kimbrough - Piano 
Martin Wind - Bass


Alex Conde - Descarga for Monk (2015)

The singular music of jazz legend Thelonious Monk has been interpreted by countless players over the years. Great jazz pianists like Bud Powell, McCoy Tyner, Bill Evans, Randy Weston, Barry Harris, Keith Jarrett and Chick Corea have dealt with his unorthodox dissonances, angular melodic twists, percussive attack and dramatic use of silences and hesitations. Saxophonists from Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane to Steve Lacy and Anthony Braxton and trumpeters from Miles Davis and Chet Baker to Woody Shaw and Wallace Roney have covered Monk’s music. Others like salsa king Tito Puente and trumpeter-conguero Jerry Gonzalez and his Fort Apache Band have interpreted Monk’s idiosyncratic rhythms through their own Afro-Cuban prism while the great Andalusian pianist Chano Dominguez has offered a passionate flamenco spin on Monk.

What is it about Monk's music that makes it so 'ripe' for interpretation? “It’s because he’s so hip in so many ways!,” says the Valencia-born pianist-composer and current Bay Area resident Alex Conde. “I can’t imagine a more hip jazz pianist than Monk. And has there ever been a hipper composer in the history of jazz? While his colleagues were playing at such a speed in the era of bebop, thousands of notes, he came along with such a unique tone, a cluster approach. Bang! Keeping a hot, alive swing feel was his goal. How can anybody resist or not feel attracted to such energy? I couldn’t keep myself away from his infectious style and compositions.”

On Descarga for Monk, his ZOHO Music debut (and third recording as a leader overall), the gifted 33-year-old pianist-composer and Chano Dominguez protege has his way with the high priest of bop in an adventurous all-Monk program that is teaming with the spirit of Spanish duende. Accompanied by the Bay Area rhythm tandem of bassist Jeff Chambers and drummer Jon Arkin, and featuring special guest percussion master John Santos, Conde draws on his own personal experiences in the rich flamenco tradition to craft a stirring set of music that pays tribute to Monk while taking great liberties with the familiar themes and rhythms of such staples as Bemsha Swing, Evidence, Monk’s Dream and others. From his fiery buleria interpretation of Played Twice to his clave-fueled Catalan rumba rendition of Thelonious, as well as dramatic solo piano extrapolations on Monk’s hauntingly beautiful ballads Pannonica and ‘Round Midnight, this flamenco flavored take on Monk is as inventive as it is invigorating.

The son of famed flamenco singer Alejandro Conde Sr., a superstar in the Cancion Española style, Alex reinvents Monk’s music with his remarkably flexible, highly interactive rhythm tandem of Chambers and Arkin while also showcasing his impeccable technique, remarkable chops and fertile imagination along the way. “As a flamenco pianist -- I’ve been working for the last four years at a renowned US flamenco company, the Juan Siddi Flamenco Theatre Company, now fused with the prestigious Aspen Ballet Santa Fe -- I understand something about keeping a solid groove, playing a precise cluster and making good use of rests and silence,” says the graduate of the Conservatorio Superior de Musica, Joaquin Rodrigo de Valencia who later attended the Berklee College of Music in Boston. “And because of that I feel deeply connected, as many other composers did too, to Monk from a compositional perspective and undoubtedly from a performance perspective as well.”

He adds, “The truth is that after thinking for many years about Monk’s music, besides some arrangements that I specifically wrote down, like ‘Think of One,’ ‘Bemsha Swing’ and ‘Ugly Beauty,’ I wanted to preserve the fresh and breathable improvisation of the group playing live in the studio.”

And you can hear that loose, in-the-moment interaction from track to track on this extraordinary project. Performing on the same 9-foot Yamaha piano in the Fantasy studios that McCoy Tyner, Bill Evans and Chick Corea have played on their recordings, Conde displays breath-taking facility and a remarkable sense of two-handed independence on burning numbers like “Evidence,” “Monk’s Dream” and a dazzling, rhythmically-charged “Played Twice.” Chambers, the world class veteran bassist who has played with a Who’s Who in Jazz, including Jazz Dizzy Gillespie, McCoy Tyner, Joe Henderson, Tony Williams, Ahmad Jamal and Pharoah Sanders, delivers a virtuosic upright solo on “Bemsha Swing” while providing the appropriate deep-toned tumbao feel on “Evidence” and “Thelonious.” The exceptionally musical drummer Arkin deftly switches from brushes to sticks on an elegant reading of “Monk’s Dream” then explodes on the kit over a son montuno groove on a scintillating rendition of “Think of One.” And Santos fuels and colors the groove throughout on cajon and congas. “I feel honored to have John Santos and all his knowledge of rhythm and history on this recording,” says Conde. “He plays cajon with his own unique approach coming from the vast Afro-Cuban tradition, which made it sound so unique. And he has such a beautiful soul that it is always a nice experience to make music with him.”

Conde explains that the genesis of this brilliant flamenco Monk project came from a single notion. “My first idea for this album, when I sat down at my desk and started messing around with the melodies and different rhythms, was wanting to hear a tune like ‘Played Twice’ adapted into a buleria de Jerez style. I thought, ‘I would love to see a flamenco dancer put footwork to that melody. That would be pretty sweet to see those 16th notes on the B section with a flamenco tap dancer!’” 

For the session he ended up recruiting his sister and mother to supply palmas and compas [handclaps and foot stomps] on “Played Twice” and “Ugly Beauty,” just two of his triumphant flamenco make-overs on Descarga for Monk. “My sister Amparo and mother Carmen came from Spain to help in creating this special environment at the studio with a solid and groovy compas. That’s exactly what we were looking for, an intimate atmosphere of claps and acoustic instrumentation where you can hear an ‘ole, en compas!’ It’s the essence of flamenco.”

The rising star Bay Area pianist-composer adds, “I invite anybody to go to a tablao flamenco, anywhere! Because there is good flamenco anywhere on the globe nowadays. Spend $20 and see with an open heart and mind a traditional flamenco show. I guarantee there is no difference between those environments and the ones of the jazz/blues sessions, because both are directly connected by awakening the senses and celebrating life itself.”

From the startling, energized opener “Played Twice” to the Conde’s delicate solo reading of “Pannonica,” this flamenco re-imagining of Monk’s music awakens the senses in a very profound way. It will makes you want to sit up and shout “Ole!” - Bill Milkowski

Alex: Conde Piano
John Santos: Percussion
Jeff Chambers: Bass
Jon Arkin: Drums
Amparo Conde, Carmen Carrasco: Palmas & Compas (hand claps, foot stomps)

1. Played Twice 
2. Thelonious 
3. Think of One 
4. Ugly Beauty 
5. 'Round Midnight
6. Monk's Dream 
7. Evidence 
8. Ruby My Dear
9. Pannonica


Billy Brandt - Get It Going (2016)

Billy Brandt sings and swings with a style marked by soul, grit and groove. His original music speaks to everyman themes of love, loss and possibility, reflecting a depth of influences from Ray Charles and Lou Rawls to Frank Sinatra and Mose Allison. Armed with persuasion, stage presence and his rockin‘ group The Thing & the Stuff Jazz Band, Billy charms audiences with a confection of jazz, rock, blues and soul.

Placing a high value on collaboration, Billy is inspired by the wealth of talent in the Seattle arts community. For the past six years, he has produced the highly successful variety shows The Big Gig and The Big Giggle, which feature the talents of Northwest artists from a mix of disciplines.

01. Get It Going (feat. The Thing & the Stuff Band)
02. You're a Mean One (feat. The Thing & the Stuff Band)
03. We Met Online (feat. Josephine Howell)
04. Song for Joesephine (feat. The Thing & the Stuff Band)
05. Hug Me for Real (feat. Gretchen Yanover)
06. The Only Way (feat. The Thing & the Stuff Band)
07. Randall LO'Dowd (feat. The Thing & the Stuff Band)
08. Jumpin' Jack Flash (feat. The Thing & the Stuff Band)
09. Cruel World (feat. The Thing & the Stuff Band)
10. Ode to Billie Joe (feat. The Thing & the Stuff Band)
11. Shoup Shoop (feat. The Thing & the Stuff Band)
12. Jazz Songs and Lovers (feat. The Thing & the Stuff Band)


Tyler Kaneshiro & The Highlands - Amber of the Moment (Limited Edition Compact Disc) 2014

First impressions mean everything. Amber of the Moment, trumpeter / composer Tyler Kaneshiro's debut album opens with a cloying cover of Bjork's "Who Is It." While nicely rendered, and suitably arranged, Kaneshiro's version plays it safe, replacing all of the oddness of the original with slick nu-jazz gloss. The cover of Bon Iver's "Holocene" fares better, though it's not that interesting a tune to begin with. Further penetration into the tracklist of Amber of the Moment, however, reveals that Kaneshiro's overall musical vision is a bit more individualistic than his cover versions would lead you to expect. Occasionally, the music here even gets a little transgressive. The first such move comes courtesy of guitarist Keisuke Matsuno, whose gloriously effects-laden solo on "Irene" is both eloquent and attention-grabbing. 

The party continues with Matsuno's own piece, "Elevator," a dynamic 6/8 romp which uses an extended feedback-charged drone as a jumping-off point. Kaneshiro's "Dawn at Sea" is a dark, rubato piece enlivened by Chad Lefkowitz-Brown's emotive tenor solo against a backdrop of sizzling cymbals and spectral electronic sounds. "Passing Fields" is yet another pretty tune that is abruptly energized by Matsuno's guitar solo. The remainder of the album is less distinctive, but thoughtfully composed and arranged, with warm, inviting surfaces reminiscent of contemporary fusion artists such as Brian Blade's Fellowship, James Farm, and Kurt Rosenwinkel. 

As a player, Kaneshiro takes some cues from Dave Douglas: he's an economical soloist with a clear, bright, almost classically-informed tone, but with unmistakably jazzy phrasing. His website has a section dedicated to his work in film scoring, which seems compatible with his musical vision as presented on Amber of the Moment.

Who Is It
Dawn at Sea
Time That Never Was
Passing Fields
'Til We Meet Again
Our Love

This album, co-produced by 2013 Downbeat Critics Poll Best Vibraphonist, Stefon Harris, is a vision that melds the rough edge of rock with the spontaneous nature of jazz. It hopes to guide the listener through the sonic worlds of 21st Century imagination.

Released October 21, 2014

Tyler Kaneshiro - Trumpet & Effects 
Chad Lefkowitz-Brown - Tenor Saxophone 
Keisuke Matsuno - Guitar & Effects 
Adam Kromelow - Piano 
Dave Baron - Bass 
Jason Burger - Drums 

All compositions written by Tyler Kaneshiro except: 
"Who Is It" - Composed by Björk Guðmundsdóttir 
"Elevator" - Composed by Keisuke Matsuno 
"Holocene" - Composed by Justin Vernon 

Executive Producer - Howard Wenger 
Producers - Tyler Kaneshiro & Stefon Harris 
Recorded, Mixed, and Mastered in September 2013, by Mike Marciano 
at Systems Two, Brooklyn, NY 

Photography by David Bailen 
Album Artwork by William Cathcart


Daniel Fortin - Brinks (2015)

I have, long ago, empathised with the emotional relationship of the bassist and his instrument. In fact I myself have fallen love with the instrument – with its bass-specific tone colour and mighty five-octave range; with the idea that contained within the bass is a blueprint for all other string instruments. I have listened in awe as Jimmy Blanton made the bass front and centre of Duke Ellington’s orchestra, jumped out of my skin when Oscar Pettiford played, followed the dizzying heights of Ray Brown’s melodic soli, been struck speechless by Charles Mingus (for other reasons as well) and have since fallen prey to the charms of Charlie Haden and Cameron Brown, Harvie S… Avishai Cohen and…

Dan-Fortin-Brinks-JDGAnd it’s no coincidence that I have also fallen for Brinks and the group that has made this record, led by the sublimely talented bassist Daniel Fortin. Mr. Fortin’s recital disc works best when resonating in sympathy with the instrument’s tonal grain and registral colours. The bassist has the technical facility like few bassists have. You do not hear much of his arco playing, on Brinks but pound-for-pound Dan Fortin is the finest pizzicato player among bassists of his generation in Canada. He favours colours that are dark, almost sinister with notes and lines seeming to tell stories that are forbidden. He makes his bass roar like a beast. And sometimes probably by lowering his E-string a semitone he harvests the resulting frequency overtones and here Mr. Fortin and instrument is as one.

Of course Daniel Fortin is never alone. In fact I cannot remember a solo throughout the album. He has, however, surrounded himself with players who play a magnificent supporting role. The vibraphonist, Michael Davidson and David French seem to read the innards of his music well, as does drummer Fabio Ragnelli. Each of the supporting cast play with a physical commitment that transforms their instruments into tuned resonating chambers. Dan Fortin’s music is kept unsullied and dangerous. In writing as he does the bassist allows his fellow musicians to breathe deep – as deeply as he does – in a manner of speaking. This allows Mr. Fortin to explore the full topography of his instrument.

However there are moments on the record – few and far between, that is, when some of the music’s more lyrical contours are allowed to break the spell of harder edged music. At times like these it might be possible to also caress notes and play lines that arc through the air like a series of parabolas. These softer moments are rarely allowed to get out of control, so that the playing is never mushily sensuous. There is real machismo in the music and this is equally true of the highly impressionistic “Verona” as we’ll as in the brevity of “Mince”.

This music could not have been easy to record but Sam Ibbett the engineer of note on this session has brought off a near miraculous sound, especially to the bass. Whatever he has done is as close to making the music resonate in the body of the bass giving it a rich and woody sound. You don’t hear such expertise on recordings these days; not even on the much vaunted bass-direct that is used on the recordings for Wynton Marsalis.

David French: saxophone
Michael Davidson: vibraphone
Daniel Fortin: acoustic and electric bass
Fabio Ragnelli: drums

I Don’t Know
So As To
Progress Bar
But Still And Yet

Label: Fresh Sound New Talent
Release date: August 2015
Running time: 57:56
Buy music on: amazon