Saturday, April 7, 2018

Kari Ikonen Trio - Wind, Frost & Radiation (OZELLA MUSIC April 27, 2018)

Meditations on ghost towns and shadowy waltz themes prove: The tradition of the radical break belongs naturally to the jazz understanding of this formation.

Kari Ikonen likes to see the sunny side of life. For example, with his "ultra-positive" Afro-pop jazz project Trio Toffa. As a native Finn, however, winter and dark states of mind are also close to him. Thus, "Wind Frost & Radiation" became a musical search for traces of their own roots, after the Nordic in music. Places of cold and horror, inhumanity and transience - they all form the foundation for the third studio album of the Kari Icons Trio.

It is hardly surprising that there is another turnaround after the bewitching late-night jazz of "Beauteous Tales and Offbeat Stories". The experiment belongs to the recognition features of the trio. So Olli Rantala lets his bass dance in a moment, just to make it sound like a cello in the next one. Markku Ounaskari masters not only an irresistible swing, but also the art of playing drums on the edge of dissolution. Icons themselves have fueled fresh inspiration with the eccentric project "Iconostasis". It goes without saying that it was impossible to create a conventional trio album with this constellation.

How far the band is willing to go on "Wind Frost & Radiation" is shown alongside "Pripyat" - a meditation on the evacuated ghost town near the Chernobyl reactor - a stubborn interpretation of Aram Khachaturian's famous waltz theme. The latter transforms from icons of a whirling dance into a nocturnal world of shadows. The pulse sinks to a glacier-like melting, the music digs deep into the moment, in search of the nerve that hurts the most.

Familiar, however, is the typical for a vinyl LP division into a musically well-defined A- and B-side, with which the Kari icons trio to the classic vinyl era confesses. This is not a contradiction, but only consistent. Because the tradition of radical break belongs naturally to the jazz understanding of this formation.

Martti Vesala Soundpost Quintet - Stars Aligned (OZELLA MUSIC May 4, 2018)

Trumpet player Martti Vesala clearly loves the jazz of the 60s and 70s – melodic without being too easy, funky and yet relaxed, filled to the brim with gripping grooves and ripping solos. Little wonder, then, that legendary jazz publication Downbeat recently compared him to Miles Davis. And yet, thanks to Vesala’s drive, passion and virtuosity Stars Aligned feels perfectly contemporary.

The instantly recognisable production of the album, somewhere between vintage and entirely up to date sound design, was sculpted by star producer Miikka Huttunen, highly respected for a string of successful Finnish releases from pop to jazz. Astoundingly, all eight minutely detailed arrangements of Stars Aligned were taped in a mere three days. After the debut album featured a subtle and almost chambermusical sound, his latest full-length now turns towards something more epic and majestic – a clear sign that the Soundpost Quintet enjoys priority in Vesala’s work today.

Although the trumpet takes center stage in all of these pieces, Stars Aligned is foremost the triumph of a tightly playing ensemble, which has only recently finetuned its on-stage-communication on a major tour through Finland. For 2018, the rest of the world is now on Vesala’s radar, as he’s looking forward to sharing his love for the sound of his distant home, the music that is spinning in his head all day – no matter where he’s coming from, regardless where he may be headed.

1 Compulsion
2 The Sun's Eye 
3 Stars Aligned
4 A Murder of Crows 
5 The Lost Sea
6 Rooftops
7 Murky Green
8 Driving Force

Petri ”Pope” Puolitaival, tenor saxophone & flute
Joonas Haavisto, piano
Juho Kivivuori, double bass
Ville Pynssi, drums & percussion

Rain Sultanov & Isfar Sarabski - Cycle (OZELLA MUSIC April 20, 2018)

The art of the cosmic game

Already on the ECM album "Aftenland" Jan Garbarek and Kjell Johnsen went to the interfaces between organ and saxophone. On "Cycle" the two leading jazz musicians of Azerbaijan develop a cosmic game out of it. In it the organ stands for the sacred. The saxophone for our deepest feelings. The piano for evolution.

In the highest spheres, all earthly boundaries dissolve. And that is exactly where "Cycle" plays. This is where three usually incompatible instruments - organ, saxophone and piano - speak with one voice. It is not the first time that these worlds collide. On the ECM album "Aftenland", Jan Garbarek and Kjell Johnsen already explored the rugged interfaces between organ and saxophone at the end of the 70s. Rain Sultanov and Isfar Sarabski, on the other hand, tend to create a meditative, radiantly bright energy space - aptly named as the "Land of Fire" for their common home country of Azerbaijan.

This is much more than just music. The title already refers to Rudolph Steiner's idea that our life evolves over seven cycles, from the moment we conceive to dissolution in death. "Cycle" now extends this model to the rebirth of soul and body. Each of the instruments involved plays a clearly defined role in this cosmic game: the organ stands for the majestic and sacred. The saxophone for our deepest feelings. The piano contains a connecting, evolutionary element.

But "Cycle" never becomes pure conceptual art. Compared to Sultanov's epic, three-hour history project "Tale of My Land", it seems almost modest. Rather, the nine pieces are laid out as carefully-touching and slow-motion sustained slow-motion compositions full of hope and confidence. Not darkness, but light rules here: you can almost hear the sunbeams that fall through the windows of the Gothic Church of the Redeemer in Baku, where the album was recorded.

Of course, it was to be expected that even this deeply felt music could not provide conclusive truths. So the search continues for Sultanov and Sarabski - in ever new cycles of question and answer, doubt and confidence, of silence and sound.

Three instruments: Organ, piano, saxophone. The two leading jazz performers of Azerbaijan. One intense, light flooded energy space. No limits.

1 Prelude
2 Embryo
3 Planet
4 Tandem
5 Symbiosis
6 Orison
7 Oblivion
8 Reincarnation
9 Silence

David Friedman Generations Trio - Thursday (MALLETMUSE RECORDS 2018)

Living jazz legend David Friedman is one of the most influential vibraphonists in the history of the instrument. “Thursday” is not only the first release of Friedman’s brand new Generations Trio, but also the very first release of his new label “Malletmuse Records”. The Generations Trio provides a musical example of intuitive communication and intense interaction, resulting in an audible process of music-making, which speaks directly to the listening audience. These three generations, with shooting star Tilo Weber on drums, in demand sideman Oliver Potratz on bass, and retired Jazz Professor David Friedman on vibes, develop an amazingly orchestral band sound, which is fresh and hip, while firmly rooted in the deep tradition of Jazz.

1. Bistro (Oliver Potratz)
2. Deer Fall (Oliver Potratz)
3. Recycling (David Friedman)
4. Thursday Session (David Friedman)
5. Thursday Session (David Friedman)
6. 06 Turn Left (David Friedman)
7. In Hop (David Friedman)
8. Small Talk (Friedman:Potratz)
9. Gliding (Friedman:Weber)
10. Sogni D'oro (David Friedman)

David Friedman: Vibes
Oliver Potratz: Bass
Tilo Weber: Drums

Produced by David Friedman
Recorded by Falko Duczmal at Scoring Stage Babelsberg in September 2014 Mixed by Falko Duczmal. Mastered by Klaus Scheuermann

Cover art by Liz Kosack. Cover photo by Oliver Potratz

Alban Darche & L'Orphicube - The Atomic Flonflons (YOLK RECORDS 2018)


« Je souhaite restituer une musique qui exprime immédiatement la somme des souvenirs acoustiques ancrés en chacun de nous » explique Alban Darche pour présenter son Orphicube. Il parle aussi de « bandes-son de nos existences », de « bande originale d’un film imaginaire. »

« Bandes-son de nos existences. » « B.O. d'un film imaginaire. » Atomic Flonflons, c'est exactement ça : pas moyen d'écouter les douze morceaux du nouvel album de l'Orphicube sans que vos neurones ne se mettent à mouliner pour puiser des images au fin fond de votre mémoire.

Des scènes vécues. Ou pas. Des lieux familiers. Ou rêvés. Des couleurs. Des corps. Des qualités de lumière. Des qualités d'air : limpide et vif, moite et enfumé. Du brouillard et de la lucidité.

À chacun son vécu. À chacun sa base de données, bien rangée ou en foutoir, entre os frontal et occiput. C'est là, directement, que puise la musique d'Atomic Flonflons.

Une nostalgie accordéonnière. Un roulement de tambours à la Luis Prima. Une voix haut posée sur canapé de sax. Une Paloma teutonne. Une java (forcément) canaille. Une clave sud-américaine, une mélodie française fin XIXe, une croonerie du milieu du siècle suivant…

À chaque fois, les images apparaissent : un cabaret berlinois, l'aura chaleureuse d'un bar qui éclaire la nuit au bout d'un quai mouillé, la nostalgie rose bonbon d'une héroïne de Demy, le clin d'oeil coquin d'une Betty Boop.

À chaque fois, on se retrouve en terrain étrangement familier. Les « marqueurs » stylistiques sont là, affirmés. Mais ce sont des repères qui tracent des perspectives aussi trompeuses que ces miroirs déformants des palais des glaces des fêtes foraines : on s'avance, sûr du chemin qu'on emprunte, mais c'est pour mieux se cogner à un inattendu changement de direction.

Dans chaque morceau on commence par s'installer dans un décor familier avant de se rendre compte qu'il s'est produit une sorte d'accident spatio-temporel qui nous a plongé dans un univers parallèle.

On perçoit, on ressent des distorsions. Cette étrangeté pourrait déranger, bloquer, paralyser. Mais non.

Quand on écoute des titres aussi explicites que « Tango vif», « Musette », « Ragtime », « Java » ou « Rythm Song », même si le rythme est (volontairement) bancal, la pulsation s’impose.

Faudrait pas grand-chose pour qu'on se mette à danser...

(L’OrphiCube est une formation soutenue par la Drac des Pays de la Loire, la Région des Pays de la Loire et la Sacem.  L’OrphiCube fait partie de la fédération Grands Formats)

Premier Acte
01. Saudade (Pluie Lente)
02. Jungle
03. Rhythm Song
04. L’oiseau Qu’on Voit Chante Sa Plainte
05. La Paloma (Iradier)
06. Java

Second Acte
07. Musette
08. I’m A Fool To Want You (Sinatra-Wolf-Herron)
09. Ragtime
10. Tango Vif
11. I’ll Be Seeing You (Kahal-Fain)
12. Automne (Silvestre-Fauré)

Roxy Coss - The Future Is Female (POSI-TONE RECORDS 2018)

Over the past year, it’s been quite tough for anyone not to hear the voices of women around the world rising up to proclaim “Enough.” Enough of the sexual harassment and inequality in the work place, whether it be perpetrated by Hollywood Big-wigs, national and local politicians, sports doctors, educators, or someone in your neighborhood.

Saxophonist and composer Roxy Coss participated in the Women’s March the week of Donald Trump’s inauguration. She carried a sign that read “The Future is Female”; that’s the title of her new album, a  of 10 original compositions featuring her working ensemble of Alex Wintz (guitar), Miki Yamanaka (piano), Rick Rosato (bass), and Jimmy Macbride (drums) with bass clarinetist Lucas Pino on one track.

Song titles such as “#MeToo”, “Nasty Women Grab Back“, and “Females Are Strong as Hell“, might make you think that music has a strident quality. Many of the songs have great power but Ms. Coss wants to entertain and educate. While you’re grooving to the great rhythm section or enjoying Wintz’s delightful guitar solos or Ms. Yamanaka’s foundational piano, the leader wants you to think, wants you to react to the issues she’s presenting that you will begin to take action and demand better behavior throughout the country.

Sitting and listening to the music, one hears the influence of Charles Mingus (whose song titles made you sit up) and the power of Art Blakey and Max Roach. Those artists and others were also fighting for the cause of equality.  Sometimes, their music rankled listeners but, more often than not, the sounds excited those who listened and, perhaps, even made them change attitudes for the better. Ms. Coss’s lovely ballad “Choices” is filled with emotion while “Mr. President” starts slowly with a somber melody over martial drums.  Soon, the rhythm section kicks into high gear and Ms. Coss’s tenor sax pushes them forward.  “Feminist AF” is a blues – no surprise there – that hints at both John Coltrane and Wayne without imitating either one.  The afore-mentioned “Nasty Women…” features the leader on soprano and, while the rhythm section has some “bite”, the solos soar, especially Wintz’s rippling guitar lines.

Besides her work on the bandstand, Roxy Coss is the founder and director of WIJO (Women in Jazz Organization) – their Mission Statement is quite clear:


David Ake - Humanities (POSI-TONE RECORDS 2018)

Pianist, composer, and educator David Ake is a native of New Haven, CT, but spent his formative years in Chicago. He did his  undergraduate at the University of Miami before heading to the West Coast to do post-grad work at the California Institute of the Arts and UCLA.

Ake’s fifth album on Posi-Tone is titled “Humanities” and features the powerful musical voices of his fellow CalArts colleague Ralph Alessi (trumpet), Ben Monder (guitars), Drew Gress (bass), and Mark Ferber (drums).  If you have heard any of Ake’s earlier group albums, you’ll know he’s a powerful and thoughtful pianist while his music often has a powerful forward motion.

There are moments on the new album where the music leans towards Americana, not surprisingly on the quintet’s reading of The Grateful Dead’s “Ripple” (the only “cover” tune on the CD) – they don’t mess with the gentle bluesy quality of Jerry Garcia’s sweet melody. Alessi’s muted trumpet brings the sound of Ron Miles to mind and the piece would not be out of place on a Bill Frisell album (but note the alternate chords at various times throughout the piece). The piano introduction to “Drinking Song” has the feel of a Randy Newman ballad but there is a spare quality to the melody. The trumpet and guitar play the melody and counterpoint while the rhythm section tosses and turns beneath them, not disrupting the flow as much as creating dynamic differences.

What stands out throughout the program is how distinctive all five voices are.  On songs such as “The North“, one can hear the power of the guitar, the rich melodic sense of the trumpet, the “heavy” chords from  the piano, the counterpoint and melodies from the bass, and the driving force of the drums. Ferber is truly in the driver’s seat; listen to his strength on “Rabble Rouser“, how Gress helps him push the music forward, and then how the soloists are inspired by the rhythm section.  And, they can swing! “Hoofer” starts out with the drummer’s brush work creating his own sweet soft-shoe.  Ake picks up on that and dances right through his sly Monk-like solo.  The bassist leads the group through the beginning of “Stream” – much of the fun of the piece is how the dynamics change on the fly.  After the opening, the band moves into a harder-edged melody but drops back for the piano solo.  Ake build the tension as the trumpet and guitar play a unison counterpoint to his solo. A similar interaction takes place beneath Alessi’s solo, this time the pianist and guitarist playing chordal patterns as Ferber builds the tension with a fiery drum spotlight.

The program closes with “Walter Cronkite“: that’s the newsman’s voice you hear near the beginning saying “’s the ultimate question that being a democracy we the people are responsible for the actions of our leaders“.  Alessi’s keening, questioning, trumpet moves atop the rumbling piano, droning bass, quiet guitar fill, and active drums, giving the rubato piece the feel of an elegy, at times, a prayer.  There is a short section where the trumpet and piano sounds like a telegraph signaling an urgent question across the great divide before the music fades.

To do justice to the music on “Humanities” is truly to tell you to listen and listen deeply. David Ake composes music that asks questions, that plumbs the depth of the human spirit, and looks for the soul within the songs. And the musicians know how to transmit those questions and searches to an eager audience.  Give some time to this music; it will make you think and, perhaps, even move you to action in these often tense times.

Josh Lawrence - Contrast (POSI-TONE RECORDS 2018)

Trumpet player Josh Lawrence examines the scene from a whole new perspective on "Contrast,” his second release for Posi-Tone. Using both his instrument and his skills as a bandleader, Lawrence succeeds in making another inspired statement by exploring several different musical avenues with his "Color Theory" project. Also featured on the record are the colors and sounds of alto saxophonist Caleb Curtis, trombonist David Gibson pianists Orrin Evans and Zaccai Curtis, bassist Luques Curtis, and drummer Anwar Marshall. The session is elegantly lyrical and clearly suggestive of a modern jazz sensibility. With an amazing combination of talents, brilliant performances, and an evocative program of new original compositions, "Contrast" is sure to bring bright moments of intense delight to serious listeners and jazz fans everywhere.

John Proulx - Say It (ArtistShare 2018)


A lot of great things have happened in JOHN PROULX’s life. He recorded three albums on the MAXJAZZ label, played with some amazing musicians and toured extensively, making many friends and fans across the country. But after the owner of MAXJAZZ passed away and the catalogue was sold to Mack Avenue Records, Proulx decided it was time to expand his horizons and take his career along a new and exciting path. His newest project, called SAY IT, is the first album he’s produced independently.

Each of his albums have expressed a different time in his life and musical journey. His new CD reflects the depth of experience of a man in his early-40’s with a career in full-stride and a beautiful wife and two children. Proulx has always been a sensitive pianist, which is why he’s often busy working as an accompanist for other vocalists, and he exhibits his facility with different styles throughout the CD. He can swing hard or he can play with a gentle subtlety that melds beautifully with his lyrical, tenor voice.  

Proulx approaches lyrics with a lot of heart and empathy. But that isn’t to say he takes himself too seriously. That’s why he chose songs like Mose Allison’s sardonic “I Don’t Worry About a Thing” or Michael Franks’ “Scatsville,” in which he declaims, “My Eleventh Commandment: "Thou Shalt Not Scat!" (and then launches into an impressive scat solo). But even on tunes like Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now” or “The Summer Knows,” by Michel Legrand with lyrics by Marilyn & Alan Bergman, he sings with a wistfulness without a hint of worldweary disenchantment.  

The ten songs on this project are a mix of lesser-known jazz standards and jazz interpretations of pop songs by a diverse group of composers. Proulx chose these songs because they are beautifully constructed both melodically and lyrically. He knew that these mostly familiar songs would lend themselves to a fresh, new sound with updated, modern jazz arrangements. 

To help him shape his ideas, he brought on board his old friend JUDY WEXLER to produce the project. Wexler is a vocalist with four critically acclaimed CDs of her own and a mainstay on the Los Angeles jazz scene. 

Being a jazz musician based in Los Angeles has given Proulx the opportunity to play with some of the best musicians on the planet. Two legendary musicians, bassist CHUCK BERGHOFER and drummer JOE LaBARBERA, have appeared on all of Proulx’s previous CDs and join him once again on this recording. According to Proulx, “Chuck and Joe have been my musical bedrock. I love the way they inspire me to play and sing. I’m particularly close to Chuck, who’s really a father figure for me. I even dedicated a song to him, called “The Chuckster,” on my last CD.” 

Also joining Proulx are guitarist LARRY KOONSE and saxophonist BOB SHEPPARD. The two highly respected, indemand musicians, have also recorded with Proulx before. 

SAY IT also features a duet with Proulx and MELISSA MANCHESTER, the pop diva who’s been performing since the 1970s and has recorded 21 albums to date. The duo sings together on “Stained Glass,” a tune they cowrote. Proulx met Manchester five years ago when he was recommended by trombonist Bill Watrous as a substitute keyboard player for Manchester’s band. Proulx started subbing and eventually became her permanent keyboardist, regularly singing with her in live shows. “Stained Glass” is the second composition they co-wrote. They also co-wrote “Big Light” for Manchester’s album You Gotta Love the Life, which was performed as a duet with Manchester and Al Jarreau. 

Proulx has been a big fan of Grammy-winning pianist, composer, and arranger ALAN BROADBENT, whom he met while performing with Jane Monheit. Broadbent sent Proulx “The Last Goodbye,” a tune he wrote with lyricist Georgia Mancio. Proulx was blown away by the song and knew he had to record it on this CD, so he asked Broadbent to write a string arrangement for it, as well as for “The Summer Knows” and “Both Sides Now.” The lush string arrangements are performed by THE GINA KRONSTADT STRINGS. 

Proulx is a highly accomplished interpreter of standards. As a pianist, he has a sure sense of swing, which, combined with his warm, intimate voice, make for highly appealing renditions of tunes like “Gentle Rain,” “Something to Live For,” “Watch What Happens,” and “Say It.” 

As the saying goes “when one door closes another opens,” and that’s certainly been Proulx’s experience. He took advantage of being fully independent to explore who he is as an artist and then followed that path to create a CD of great warmth, affection, and sophistication. 

John Proulx is a Grammy-winning composer. Jazz legend Nancy Wilson recorded "These Golden Years," a song that Proulx co-wrote with lyricist D. Channsin Berry, for her 2006 Grammy-winning CD, Turned to Blue. Besides performing as a leader, Proulx is also a busy sideman, and has performed with jazz luminaries such as Anita O'Day and Natalie Cole, and pop artist Melissa Manchester. 

In 2009, Proulx spent four months at the prestigious Feinstein’s at the Loews Regency hotel in New York City playing a nightly solo piano/vocal engagement.  Since then, John has appeared on Michael Feinstein’s radio show on NPR, “Song Travels,” as well as on Marian McPartland’s radio show, “Piano Jazz.” John recently moved back to Grand Rapids, Michigan to pursue a Master’s degree from Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo. 

1. Gentle Rain (4:26)
2. Scatsville (3:48)
3. The Summer Knows (4:12)
4. Watch What Happens (3:32)
5. Say It (4:53)
6. I Don’t Worry About a Thing (4:36)
7. The Last Goodbye (3:54)
8. Stained Glass (4:26)
9. Something to Live For (4:50)
10. Both Sides Now (4:43)

Chuck Berghofer  bass
Joe LaBarbera drums
Larry Koonse  guitar
Bob Sheppard  tenor sax, soprano sax
Billy Hulting  auxiliary percussion
Melissa Manchester  guest vocals
Alan Broadbent  string quartet arrangements

The Gina Kronstadt Strings
Gina Kronstadt  1st violin, leader, contractor
Susan Chatman  2nd violin
Rodney Wurtz  viola
Stefanie Fife  cello

Arrangements by John Proulx

Produced by Judy Wexler

JOHN PROULX "Say It" from Marc Saltarelli on Vimeo.