Saturday, August 25, 2018

Connie Han - Crime Zone (MACK AVENUE RECORDS October 12, 2018)

22-Year-Old Pianist Connie Han

Brings Jazz into Neo-Noir Territory On

Mack Avenue Records Debut CRIME ZONE 

With her debut Mack Avenue Records album CRIME ZONE (available October 12), next generation Los Angeles pianist Connie Han has created an edgy blend of modern and traditional jazz. Han’s parents, both practicing classical musicians, instilled an appreciation for music and a strong work ethic in Han very early on, enrolling her in piano lessons at the age of five. 

“Learning the piano as a child was a gift. By the time I became interested in jazz at the age of 14, I had great technical proficiency on my instrument allowing me to focus all of my energy on the more sophisticated elements of jazz music. More importantly, I was able to tackle the social equation of learning how to play with others. It takes a lot of time and patience to internalize the essence and heartbeat of jazz.”

The 22-year-old’s connection to jazz began at the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts where she met and was mentored by drummer Bill Wysaske, who produced CRIME ZONE and has also become the musical director of her trio. Han shares her LACHSA alumni status with several major players in the entertainment industry such as Josh Groban, Jenna Elfman, Christina Milian and GRAMMY® Award-nominated jazz pianist and composer Gerald Clayton. After a three-week stint at UCLA, Han immediately began her professional piano career at 17-years-old; a step that Han believes gives her an overall edge against most players her age.

“Because I never received training from a formal jazz piano teacher, most of my musical perspective actually came from interacting with a professional drummer when I was just a youngling, trying to hang on for dear life. I think that experience has given me a unique edge which informs the heavily percussive elements of my playing.”

CRIME ZONE features Han’s in-the-groove working trio which includes Wysaske on drums and Edwin Livingston on bass. She’s also enlisted the considerable talents of guest players tenor-saxophonist Walter Smith III and trumpeter Brian Swartz for the album.

Recently signed to Mack Avenue Records after her independently produced 2015 album, The Richard Rodgers Songbook, Han has seized this opportunity: the pianist’s upcoming release highlights a powerful statement that is a mix of respect and knowledge of the past, combining an exciting and innovative vision for her musical future.

CRIME ZONE opens with “Another Kind of Right,” a tune Han wrote in tribute to the Freddie Hubbard tune, “One of Another Kind.” Han states, “the bridge is a very tough, swaggering Freddie Hubbard style of playing. Bill Wysaske arranged and curated a lot of what goes on there. It was his idea to transition from acoustic piano to Rhodes at my solo, giving the music a breath of fresh air. It’s definitely inspired by that post-bop, pre-fusion sound straight out of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s.”

The expansive title track featuring the swinging sax accompaniment of Smith III, which winds to a stoop midway through before restarting with a lively interplay between Han, exemplifies much of the style and aesthetic thrust that the pianist wants her debut to embody.

“This record is really meant to be a statement about being rebellious but within the tradition,” Han explains. “It’s provocative and fresh in its own way, while still having one foot in the past and honoring the jazz tradition. The title, CRIME ZONE, reinforces how I hope to brand myself as an artist, which in the end is being a provocateur of creative music.”

The title track demonstrates the futuristic visual and aesthetic element that Han has brought to the zeitgeist surrounding CRIME ZONE, one that draws its inspiration from films like Blade Runner and the 1988 Japanese animated film, Akira. “Not only does jazz capture the rebellious spirit of cyberpunk culture,” says Han, “but also the forward-thinking essence of science fiction. These traits are important to my musical philosophy as well as my style as an artist and person.”

The up-tempo “Southern Rebellion” is a Han original in C minor that features the pianist’s speed and stamina. It’s a tune she wrote which was focused on challenging herself to not think like a piano player. Han explains, “I had been listening to a lot of early ’70s Elvin Jones with Dave Liebman and Steve Grossman, where the harmony is more free since there isn’t any piano to dictate the harmony. That concept heavily guided my melodic inspiration for ‘Southern Rebellion,’ while my tough post-bop piano influences like Kenny Kirkland and McCoy Tyner informed it’s rhythmic angularity and aggressiveness.”

One of the things that sets Han apart from most of her contemporaries is her skill on the always distinctive Fender Rhodes. As the title suggests, another Han original “Grüvy,” she playfully taps into that super tasty, laid back Rhodes flavor, one that recalls the playing of Bob James, but also nods again to Han’s musical education. “It’s an instrument that has always been a part of the consciousness of my piano heroes, like Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea. I wouldn’t say it has a pop vibe but it’s definitely more mainstream,” says Han.

She acknowledges the influence of another one of her heroes, Joe Henderson, by covering his “Shade of Jade” which was originally recorded on his Mode For Joe album. Han explains, “The concept for the entire arrangement is actually based on just four bars of Joe Chambers’ polyrhythmic comping on the head of the original recording.”

On CRIME ZONE, Han has staked her claim as a fresh new voice on jazz piano, one whose sense of visual style might even draw audiences who normally wouldn’t listen to straight-ahead jazz. “Even though jazz is meant to be fearless in its creative limits, I strongly believe in preserving the musical foundation,” Han states. “As a new artist, I want to show that it is possible to create infinite fresh ideas without having to deconstruct the building blocks of the jazz language. To me, that language is universal.”

1 Another Kind of Right
2 Crime Zone 7:34
3 By the Grace of God
4 Pretty Women
5 Southern Rebellion
6 Grüvy
7 A Shade of Jade
8 Member This
9 Is That So?
10 Extended Stay

Eli Degibri - Soul Station (A Tribute to Hank Mobley) October 5, 2018

With a very few if notable exceptions, Soul Station has not been noted by critics and jazz enthusiasts as one of the great jazz records of the 20th century; not in the way that Sonny Rollins’ Saxophone Colosuss or John Coltrane’s Giant Steps were hailed. British critic and musician Dave Gelly did pronounce it as Mobley’s masterpiece and ‘on a par with Saxophone Colossus’ although he was one of the very few to praise it highly. But let us not in any case, make comparisons; as somebody said a long time ago comparisons are odious. Let us instead continue our journey along the road of progress of a jazz masterpiece and look at a new and exciting new recording by saxophonist Eli Degibri and his sterling rhythm section and his tribute to Hank Mobley with seven strong tracks that may well, in the fullness of time, become another recorded jazz masterpiece and, due to the more enlightened state of most of today’s jazz commentators and enthusiasts, reach that exalted status much quicker than Hank’s album did. Eli Degibri’s CD is a tribute to Hank Mobley with his quartet playing all six of the selections that Hank played on the original Soul Station disc and keeping much of the relaxed feel of that original session fifty-eight years ago. But it is much more than that.

The best jazz soloists do not copy or imitate but soon develop their own unique method of expression. Degibri took what he wanted from whom he wanted to take and, as American critic Joe Goldberg put it in his note to Mobley’s original LP ‘everyone does that, the difference between genius and hackwork is the manner in which it is done.’ He too, has emerged with a definite statement to make. So while this album is a heartfelt tribute to Mobley it is, first and foremost an example of Eli Degibri creating a strong, personal jazz statement.

The tribute to Mobley comes in the way Eli sets up each selection. Take for example Remember, the Irving Berlin standard that kicks off the Mobley disc and this album. Eli begins by playing the first few bars in a relaxed, lyrical fashion, much like Hank’s version but he has soon segued into his own intense, flowing solo that is a picture of his personal thoughts on this piece of music. Then there is Soul Station, Hank’s blues and the title track of his original recording. 

Once again Eli takes the opening theme statement gently and smoothly although his tempo is faster than Hank’s. He is very soon fashioning his own story on this soulful piece, and a fascinating story it is too. The ballad If I Should l Lose You is an even better example. Eli’s opening notes are gentle, full of the pain caused by the possibility of losing somebody close and again not unlike Hank’s sound to begin but he is soon deeply engrossed in expressing his own deep feelings in this, possible, situation. The notes tumble out lyrically and are made to fit the structure of the song, much as Mobley used to do although both these musicians do it in their own sweet way. As if to underline his personal approach Degibri plays Split Feelings on soprano sax rather than tenor. On This I Dig Of You, the saxophonist, again on soprano, and pianist feature a transcribed solo that Eli took from Wynton Kelly’s original on the Mobley album, played here in unison with Tom Oren. It is Eli’s nod to Kelly’s genius. The Mobley ambience throughout the track however is there to be felt and heard and paradoxically appears to be because of the change of instrument.

This I Dig Of You motors along with a tasty soprano solo but also points up the contribution of this fine rhythm section driving the unit through every selection. These are the tracks that Mobley also recorded but this album includes Eli’s original Dear Hank. This slow blues is reminiscent of Mobley in every bar and sounds like just the sort of composition he might have written if he were around today. Dig the melodic, pulsing solo by Tom Oren on piano and note the strong firm bass of Tamir Shmerling and the driving but unobtrusive drumming of Eviatar Slivnik. This quartet is cohesive and together throughout; they sound as though they have been playing together for years but in actuality this is a new quartet.

So now we are at the end of the first part of the journey towards sealing Mobley’s record for posterity and signalling arguably the best record to date of the Eli Degibri Quartet. A tribute to Mobley’s Soul Station was long overdue but few, I suspect, could have done it half as well as this quartet. If you haven’t played the record yet this, now, is your second and final phase of the journey and the integration of Soul Station, volumes 1 (1960) & 2 (2018) into the modern jazz hall of fame.

Liner Notes by Derek Ansell

Tom Oren : Piano
Tamir Shmerling : Bass
Eviatar Slivnik : Drums

1. Remember
2. This I Dig Of You
3. Dig Dis
4. If I Should Lose You
5. Split Feelings
6. Soul Station
7. Dear Hank

Narducci - Break the Silence (DESOTO SOUND FACTORY September 21, 2018)

Featuring Rama Duke, Heibert, Mike Tree,
Jordan Brooks, Solomon Dorsey, and Others Along
with the Words of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 

EP Equates to Sonic Love-Child of Electronic Music,
Jazz, Hip-Hop, Classical, and Ambient Music

It started with a “joke” MySpace page called Narducci DeSoto. Actually, it started years before that…

Narducci is a nickname that goes back to L.A. native Matthew Silberman’s days at the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts. “The name started from the Miles Davis’ tune ‘Nardis,’ which was my feature in our jazz combo, and evolved after my friends and I were watching ‘Sopranos’ and saw the name ‘Narducci’ in the credits,” he explains. “After that, it just stuck.” Going most of his career by his birth name, Narducci has worked with R&B stars Miguel and Bilal, System of a Down guitarist Daron Malakian, former Duran Duran/Frank Zappa guitarist Warren Cuccurullo, and jazz legend Peter Erskine among many others. He currently plays with electronic music outfit Dimond Saints, rock band The Orbellion, jazz fusion group Madd Galaxy, and cult party rockers The Prigs.

After graduating from NYC’s New School University Jazz Program, Silberman would make experimental tracks in Garage Band that he uploaded to his alter-ego Narducci DeSoto’s MySpace page. “Originally it was just for fun, a welcome break from the seriousness of becoming a bad-ass jazz saxophonist,” says Narducci. “But I noticed a lot of the time I was having more fun and less stress making these weird tracks than playing jazz gigs. There was no weight of tradition or peer expectation; I felt free to create my own worlds.”

Producing remained a hobby for years as Narducci made his living playing gigs and teaching. In 2012 he released his first album, Questionable Creatures, under his given name. It earned him praise by many major jazz publications. DownBeat described him as “…one of the most reflective, and reflexively complex [jazz voices] on the Brooklyn scene,” while JazzTimes said he is “one of those artists who is not afraid to explore what music can become, while utilizing what music already is.”

That willingness to explore would lead Narducci to truly dedicate himself to the art of music production. “Making Questionable Creatures was cathartic. It felt like I released the weight of 15 years of study and practice. But my tastes were evolving,” he explains. “I was becoming more inspired by producers like Flying Lotus, Boards of Canada, and Sleepers Work than most jazz.” Narducci started learning Ableton Live, acquiring gear, and then built his first studio in 2013 in a small bedroom in Brooklyn. “Then it was official. I was a producer first, saxophonist second.”

Sense of space [EP] was his first electronic music effort, released in 2014 under the last name of his original MySpace moniker, DeSoto, which is also the name of his production company. Each track has a distinct movement, sound, and edge while the entire release seems to flow as an extended cerebral mix of texture and color.” After sense of space, Narducci continued to develop his style and range, producing with artists such as Akie Bermiss (Lake Street Dive), Evan Smith (Bleachers), Jessica Martins (Via Audio), and Leron Thomas (Lauryn Hill, Mos Def), while continuing to gig as a saxophonist.

“I was involved in many really cool projects, but I felt I was spread too thin. I needed to get back to making my own music. Break the Silence is about feeling like I’ve truly found my sound, and my role on this earth: to create great music to inspire and affect people,” says Narducci. “It combines everything that I am, the sonic love-child of electronic music, jazz, hip-hop, classical, and ambient music.”

Deep 808 booms and a bouncing synth chant start off “Gaia,” with Narducci’s snake-charming soprano sax serenading mystic tambourines. A video-game-style “level-up” takes us into a cocktail-lounge-hip-hop beat, with Rama Duke’s (George Clinton, Bobby Brown, Macy Gray) earthy vocals surrounding a robot telling us, “You are now entering a magical land/The answers lie within.” Mike Tree’s (Wu-Tang Clan, Miguel, Jhene Aiko) drums evolve into an Amon Tobin-style break beat, with Narducci’s tenor saxophone bobbing and weaving around Duke’s vocals as the track deconstructs into a Coltrane-esque coda.

“Piano” reveals Narducci’s classical music training, and the influence of being raised by an opera-singing mother. Beautiful, melancholy piano chords set the scene, drawn from improvisations he recorded between teaching lessons at Turtle Bay Music School in NYC. Heibert’s haunting, operatic vocals weave around the piano like ancient spirits, building into a powerful choir pushed by primal drums and knifing cymbals, climaxing to reveal a lone voice floating over the piano refrain. When the music ends, we hear the muse leave the room.

The title track, “Break the Silence,” draws its name from the famous speech by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “A Time to Break Silence,” sampled here as a moving narration. A pulsating, breath-powered synth and booming 808s set the stage for King’s spiritual cadence to remind us that “A time comes when silence is betrayal/Even when pressed by the demands of inner truth.” “Break the Silence” is as much a statement on current politics as it is on human evolution and personal realization. Taos’ Native American chants, flutes, strings, and Jordan Brooks’ bass (Albert Hammond, Rubblebucket) fill out the sonic landscape, ending in ethereal wind chimes that soothe the spirit.

“When I was young, my mom would play me a cassette of Itzhak Perlman narrating ‘Peter and the Wolf.’ I loved how each of the characters had their own sound and theme,” explained Narducci. “Celestial Journey” draws its inspiration equally from Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s “Cosmos” as it does the Sergei Prokofiev classic, taking us on an orchestrated, electro/acoustic voyage through space and asking the listener: “Would you rather be dreaming!?” Solomon Dorsey’s (Ke$ha, José James) bass beautifully converses with flutes, clarinets, synths, and harpsichords, climaxing with French horns reminiscent of the big, bad wolf of Prokofiev’s masterpiece. Strings take us home from the edges of this galaxy, revealing a new hope.

Break the Silence will be released September 21, available everywhere digitally, and on cassette and CD through Bandcamp and the DeSoto Shop. It’s the first in a series of 3 EPs, with Journey to Los Angeles next, featuring Rama Duke, Jeff Taylor (Mark Giuliana, Donny McCaslin), and Shay Saint-Victor (Kelly Rowland, Karl Rubin), and another untitled EP to follow. All three EPs will be combined into a triple-LP vinyl collection, with release shows for each to be announced.

All songs written, produced, and performed by Narducci, with:

Mike Tree, drums
Jordan Brooks, bass
Solomon Dorsey, bass
Doc Allison, cello
Sarah Parkington, violin
Amy Sanchez, French horn

Recorded and mixed by Matthew Silberman, DeSoto Sound Factory, Brooklyn, NY/Los Angeles, CA.
Mastered by John Greenham Mastering
Additional recording by Brian Bender at The Motherbrain, Los Angeles, CA., and Andrew Proctor at Veers Studios, Los Angeles, CA.
Cover art by Sandra Reichl, Vienna, Austria

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Tribute, "Break the Silence" from DeSoto Picture Company on Vimeo.

Cécile McLorin Salvant - The Window (MACK AVENUE RECORDS September 28, 2018)

Cécile McLorin Salvant Explores Mercurial Nature
of Love on Stunning Duo Album with
Critically Acclaimed Pianist Sullivan Fortner

The world first learned of the incredible vocal artistry of Cécile McLorin Salvant when she won the prestigious 2010 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition. In just under the span of a decade she has evolved into a multi-GRAMMY® Award-winner (with all three Mack Avenue Records releases receiving nominations, and the last two winning the Best Jazz Vocal Album category) and a prescient and fearless voice in music today.

Her newest release, The Window, an album of duets with the pianist Sullivan Fortner, explores and extends the tradition of the piano-vocal duo and its expressive possibilities. With just Fortner’s deft accompaniment to support McLorin Salvant, the two are free to improvise and rhapsodize, to play freely with time, harmony, melody, and phrasing.

Each new recording by McLorin Salvant reveals new aspects of her artistry. WomanChild and For One To Love established her style, her command, and interpretive range. Dreams and Daggers is a work that highlights her fresh and fearless approach to art that transcends the conventional—live and in the studio, with a trio and with a string quartet, standards and original compositions—held together by a vocal delivery that cuts against the grain, ever deepening, intensifying, and nuancing the lyrics.

Sullivan Fortner

Thematically, The Window is a meditative cycle of songs about the mercurial nature of love. The duo explores the theme across a wide repertory that includes Richard Rodgers and Stephen Sondheim, the inner-visionary Stevie Wonder, gems of French cabaret, and early Rhythm and Blues, alongside McLorin Salvant’s brilliant, original compositions. Just as a window frames a view—revealing as much as it hides, connecting as much as it separates—each song on the album offers a shifting and discerning perspective on love’s emotional complexity. McLorin Salvant sings of anticipation and joy, obsession and madness, torment and longing, tactics and coyness. The Window traverses love’s wide universe, from the pleasure of a lover’s touch with its feelings of human communion, to the invisible masks we wear to hide from others and from ourselves.

Her gifts as an artist are rooted in her intensive study of the history of American Music and her uncanny ability to curate its treasures for her audience. Her albums are explorations of the immense repository of experience and feeling that abound in popular song. She understands the special role of the musician to find and share the emotions and messages in music that speak to our past, present and future. “I am not interested in the idea of relevance,” she explains. “I am interested in the idea of presence. I want to communicate across time, through time, play with time.”

Onstage, her persona is often compared to that of an actress. But, as McLorin Salvant notes, “jazz would not be what it is without its theatrical origins, vaudeville, and minstrel shows.” Through her selection of repertory and brilliant interpretations, she “plays with time,” making the musical past speak to our contemporary world. Historically, her unflinching performance of songs from the minstrel tradition challenge us to think harder about race in America today. Her ironic, even sinister, rendition of songs explore the complex intertwining of sex, gender, and power. Her blues numbers are bawdy and vibrant, melancholic and forlorn, insistent and emancipatory.

She sings of the ecstasy and agony of love, of jubilation and dejection, of desire and being desired, of fearlessness and fragility. “I want to get as close to the center of the song as I can,” McLorin Salvant explains. “When I find something, beautiful and touching I try to get close to it and share that with the audience.” Immersed in the song and yet completely in control, McLorin Salvant brings her immense personality to the music—daring, witty, playful, honest, and mischievous. 

All of McLorin Salvant’s study, training, creativity, intelligence, and artistry come together in her voice on The Window. The sound of her voice covers the gamut from breathy to bold, deep and husky to high and resonant, limpid to bluesy, with a clarity and richness that is nearly unparalleled. When she first burst onto the jazz scene, many listeners were struck by her ability to recall the sound of Bessie Smith, Sarah Vaughan, or Betty Carter. Yet with each new album, McLorin Salvant’s voice has become more her own, more singular. While conjuring the spirits of the ancestors, her references are controlled, focused, and purposeful. Her remarkable vocal technique never overshadows her rich interpretations of songs both familiar and obscure.

Touched at every moment by Cécile McLorin Salvant’s brilliance, The Window is a dazzling new release from an artist who is surely, to quote Duke Ellington, “beyond category.

1 Visions
2 One Step Ahead
3 By Myself
4 The Sweetest Sounds
5 Ever Since the One I Love's Been Gone
6 À Clef
7 Obsession
8 Wild is Love
9 J’ai L’Cafard
10 Somewhere
11 The Gentleman is a Dope
12 Trouble is a Man
13 Were Thine That Special Face
14 I've Got Your Number
15 Tell Me Why
16 Everything I've Got Belongs to You
17 The Peacocks

Hey! This week's great $5.00 album is...