Sunday, September 16, 2018

Stéphane Spira / New Playground (September 21, 2018)

French-Born, NY-Based Saxophonist/Composer Stéphane Spira Finds Inspiration in a New Home, a New Family, and New Collaborators 

The engineer-turned-soprano saxophonist enlists Joshua Richman, Steve Wood and Jimmy Macbride to join him on a lyrical, swinging New Playground, out September 21, 2018 

“Spira is self-taught, but he’s musically mature and his music is soulful… Spira’s evolution is one to watch.”  – Ken Micallef in a 4-star DownBeat review of In Between 

“[Spira’s] comfort jazz, honestly prepared with organic ingredients in a low-key setting, invites revisiting.” – Fred Bouchard, The New York City Jazz Record 

Saxophonist and composer Stéphane Spira honed his jazz chops old-school style, at late-night jams and cutting sessions. Self-taught as a musician, Spira pursued an engineering degree, did a brief stint as an engineer in Saudi Arabia, then in the 1990’s headed back to his hometown of Paris to pursue music full time. After 15 years of playing in Paris clubs, woodshedding, and eventually recording two albums, Spira decided to change everything. Soprano saxophone in hand, he moved to New York City and started over. What he found was inspiration beyond his wildest dreams: a jazz career with a core group of tremendous musicians, and love with the woman who would become his wife and the mother to his young son. On New Playground, Spira celebrates the creative and personal happiness he’s discovered since making over his life. 

“I had my first kid at 51,” Spira says. “That helps to keep me young.  I'm also a young musician, just not in age. But I so love the music, and I’m truly realizing my dream.”    

Due out on September 21, New Playground finds Spira leading an impeccably gifted quartet featuring longtime bassist Steve Wood, pianist and keyboardist Joshua Richman, and rising star drummer Jimmy Macbride. The band reflects the rich playground – and the wealth of talented playmates – that Spira has discovered since arriving in New York. “It’s unique to have such a level of playing everywhere you look,” he says. “Because there are so many great players, the criteria becomes finding human relationships that can grow. In the end, that helps the music.” 

Wood returns from Spira’s previous album, In Between (2014), while Richman has newly joined the ensemble. The in-demand Macbride, who has worked with legends Herbie Hancock and Wynton Marsalis as well as being a member of the thriving young NY jazz scene alongside artists like Nir Felder, Fabian Almazan and Melissa Aldana, brings a vigorous sense of swing and a bristling energy to the proceedings. 

Recorded as Spira was still finding his bearings in his newly adopted home, In Between captured the sense of limbo in which he was living at the time: between countries, and between one phase of life and another. Much has changed since then, making the title New Playground equally autobiographical given his current place in life, still fresh but offering exciting opportunities to enjoy life’s playful side.

Spira discovered jazz as a teenager and got his first saxophone at the age of 22. Despite the intellectual and time demands involved in getting an engineering degree, he never stopped playing his instrument.

After returning to Paris he regularly attended jam sessions, played in clubs, woodshedded in the basement, and, at the age of 40, released his first album, the 2006 First Page. In 2009 came his second recording, a tribute to his late father, and the move to New York City, jazz mecca of the world.

Even with that major change, the most transformative development of Spira’s life has been his marriage to classical vocalist Jessica Goldring and the birth of their son, Léo. For their wedding gift the couple received a piano, and much of New Playground was composed at the keyboard after Léo was put to bed. “I wrote most of the tunes at night between two bottles,” Spira laughs.  

Many of those tunes show off Spira’s gift for lyricism and the winsome way he sings with his soprano. “I love the soprano so much because it gets back to the voice,” he says. “New York is great medicine for your ego because you can see such immense and great players. But I’ve had time now to say this is who I am. I wanted to expose myself honestly and let my personality kick in.” 

Those late-night composition sessions are most vividly reflected on “Nocturne (Song For My Son),” which shows off the composer’s ability to be sentimental without succumbing to mawkishness. His wife’s maiden name is evoked on the classically-tinged “Gold Ring Variations,” which uses a bit of Spira’s cherished wordplay to wink towards the famous Bach piece. “New York Windows” was inspired by “Les fenêtres de Moscou (Moscow Windows),” a traditional Russian song that was a favorite of his father, whose 2007 passing helped spur Spira’s life-changing move. “My father was really into Russian gypsy music, so by extension he loved Django Reinhardt. I was really into jazz and by extension of that, I loved Django. So he always loved when I would play that song with him. I used it as a departure for my song.” 

Family is also evoked in the pulse-pounding opener “Peter’s Run,” penned for a cousin who ran the New York Marathon – and who may be inspired to run another based on the tune’s driving, hand-clapped rhythm. “Underground Ritual” surges with the hectic pace of the NYC subway, but it’s a dedication to Frederic Lebayle, a mouthpiece designer whose basement workshop became a meeting place for saxophonists who ran his designs through their paces. “Ravi Coltrane, Mark Turner, even Wayne Shorter – they’d all come into his basement and play their licks, run through harmonics, go low, check the sounds,” says Spira.  “It was like a ritual.” 

The only piece on the album not written by Spira, Wood’s “Kaleidoscope” features a changing melody over a repeated five-bar cycle, shifting perspective akin to the titular device. The album’s closer, “Solid Wood,” is a self-explanatory dedication to the rock-solid bassist. 

“Life brings surprises,” Spira says succinctly. “I was a late bloomer, but I'm embracing this new life. It’s become a playground for me in the true sense of the term.” 

French-born, New York-based saxophonist Stéphane Spira grew up with jazz the old-school way: in latenight jams and cutting sessions. A protégé of longtime Chet Baker pianist Michel Graillier, Spira's jazz career has taken him from 4 a.m. basement sessions in the underbelly of Paris, through acclaimed collaborations with trumpeter Stéphane Belmondo and pianist Giovanni Mirabassi, to the cutting edge of New York jazz. Trained as an engineer, Stéphane sharpened his chops off the books, after hours, immersing himself in a hard-edged milieu. Perhaps since he honed his chops in the depths of the jazz underground, Spira was spared the awkwardness of growing up in public: Spira's "remarkable maturity” (Radio France) has not gone unnoticed by the critics. Prior to the 2018 New Playground, Spira released four critically acclaimed albums as a bandleader: First Page, Spirabassi (a duo collaboration with pianist Giovanni Mirabassi) and Round About Jobim, a tribute to the father of bossa nova featuring Lionel Belmondo’s acclaimed Hymne au Soleil ensemble, and 2014’s In Between. 

CD Release Concert November 10 at The Cell, NYC

Saxophonist and composer Stéphane Spira honed his jazz chops old-school style, at late-night jams and cutting sessions. Self-taught as a musician, Spira pursued an engineering degree, did a brief stint as an engineer in Saudi Arabia, then in the 1990's headed back to his hometown of Paris to pursue music full time. After 15 years of playing in Paris clubs, woodshedding, and eventually recording two albums, Spira decided to change everything. Soprano saxophone in hand, he moved to New York City and started over.

Joshua Richman – Piano & Fender Rhodes
Steve Wood – Bass
Jimmy Macbride - Drums

Justin Kauflin - Coming Home (September 14, 2018)

For Immediate Release

Justin Kauflin Sonically Paints a Picture of His Global Home On New Album Coming Home

Justin Kauflin’s forthcoming album Coming Home Produced By Quincy Jones and Derrick Hodge

Home is where you hang your hat, or so the old adage goes. For Justin Kauflin, critically acclaimed and accomplished jazz pianist and composer, the last few years home has been many places. Originally from Virginia, Kauflin’s touring schedule, has taken him across the nation and abroad expanding and growing the idea of home. Kauflin lost his sight when he was 11 years old, but his travels are still a visual experience. Through the sounds and feelings of a city or space, he can see vibrant and captivating scenes of moving psychedelic colors. On the forthcoming album, Kauflin invites others to experience the world from his perspective as he sonically paints the homes he has found throughout his global travels.

Coming Home will be Kauflin’s third release, and second with the tastemaker imprint Qwest Records. With this release he ventures into new sonic territory bringing in more modern influences of synths, electric guitar and bass. Kauflin said, “I’ve always loved music that had a good groove to it, whether it was swing or funk. With Corey Fonville’s help, we got into all sorts of great feeling grooves that I can’t wait to share.”

From the start, recording Coming Home was electric. Quincy Jones and Derrick Hodge produced the album at Quincy Jones’ infamous Westlake Studios (Michael Jackson, Madonna, Frank Ocean). Kauflin was joined by Chris Smith on acoustic and electric bass, Corey Fonville on drums and percussions, and Alan Parker on acoustic and electric guitar. The musicians had a blast bringing the album to life. Kauflin recalls, “Derrick was in there with us bringing such positivity and encouragement. I feel as if I was able to be more authentically me because Derrick was there to give me that confidence. He was an incredible catalyst for much of how the songs took shape. And if that wasn’t enough, to have Quincy overseeing the proceedings and giving his guidance and experience brought everything together in such a beautiful way.”

The album is 13 tracks that resonate emotions and transport the listener across space and time. The lead single “Coming Home,” due out August 17, opens the album and evokes Kauflin’s southern sensibilities. He comments “This song serves as an invitation to join me as I share how I experience the world around me through colors and vibrant ever-shifting textures and shapes. Alan Parker’s acoustic guitar inserts that down home feeling from my home in Virginia.” Another standout is “Lost,” Kauflin mentions, “As exciting as traveling the world has been, there have certainly been times where I’ve felt disconnected and out of my element. This is not just a feeling that is connected to where I am physically. This also delves into how I feel emotionally at times. Life itself can leave one feeling quite lost.”

The album also includes an ode to his time spent living in Brooklyn with the cover of “John My Beloved.” An impromptu on the spot session with Derrick Hodge created “ Something Somethin.” A tribute to Kauflin’s favorite food, fried chicken, most famously found in his home state on the track, “Country Fried.” “Pendulum” is about New York, and the feeling that at times it is the greatest place on earth and at others it is overwhelming. And “Strawberry Fields” as solo and band-accompanied tracks, Kauflin comments “I’ve always found the idea of an imaginary place where one can find refuge to be incredibly attractive. It is such a perfect marriage of harmony and melody and it conjures up this barely out of reach sensation, as if the place for which I’m looking is just right around the next corner.” He continues, “When I know what I’m really looking for is actually inside.”

Justin Kauflin is a pianist extraordinaire and an undeniably rare talent. He is an alumnus of the William Paterson University jazz program, mentee, protégé, and bandmate of legendary Clark Terry (winner of the 2010 Grammy Award for Lifetime Achievement in Jazz), signed to Quincy Jones’ management artist roster and label, and featured in the critically acclaimed film “Keep On Keepin’ On” which chronicled Kauflin’s friendship, and mentorship with Clark Terry. He has appeared on The Queen Latifah Show and the TODAY show and he was invited to perform at the Library of Congress. Kauflin has toured with Quincy Jones on a few world tours and is currently playing at international jazz clubs, and festivals.

Justin Kauflin is planning a tour to support the new album. He is excited to get back on the road and create new experiences with his music. He comments, “We had a great time in the studio, but I’m confident that each of the tracks will take a whole new life once we get a chance to take them out and play them in front of audiences. What will happen on tour will be a combination of what we created for the album and the energy we feel from the crowd.”

Check out and follow his tour dates here.

Coming Home
Looking Forward
Country Fried
John My Beloved
Present Day
Strawberry Fields
Somethin' Somethin'
Somethin' Somethin' Revisited
The Carousel
Strawberry Fields Solo


Alan Parker

Chris Smith

Corey Fonville

Tour Dates:
Thu, SEP 20 @ Story 2018 - Nashville, TN
Wed, OCT 31 @ The Tin Pan - Richmond, VA
Sun, NOV 04 @ Keep On Keepin' On - Reading, PA
Thu, NOV 15 @ Icicle Creek Arts - Leavenworth, WA
Fri, NOV 16 @ Icicle Creek Arts - Leavenworth, WA
Sat, NOV 17 @ Icicle Creek Arts - Leavenworth, WA
Sat, DEC 08 @ Contrapuntal Hall - Los Angeles, CA
Sun, DEC 09 @ Alvas Showroom - San Pedro, CA
Feb 01, 2019 @ Scullers Jazz - Boston, MA

Stu Mindeman - Woven Threads (SUNNYSIDE RECORDS September 14, 2018)

It is remarkable how people and places from one’s past may become intertwined down the line. The Chicago based pianist and composer Stu Mindeman spent his toddler years in Chile. As an adult Mindeman revisited Chile, became tied to the culture, and decided to embark upon a project celebrating Chile’s musicians and legendary wordsmiths on his new recording, Woven Threads. 

When Mindeman was very young, his father took a job with a symphony orchestra in Chile; the family lived there for several years. Mindeman was too young to have received much direct influence, but he did grow accustomed to hearing the sounds of Chilean folk music from the records his mother and father brought home, and he began learning Spanish from Chilean close family friends he spent time with. 

The pianist grew up to become a busy composer, arranger and producer. Mindeman has performed all over the world, most notably with Branford Marsalis, Kurt Elling, and Antonio Sanchez, among many others. His debut recording, In Your Waking Eyes: Poems by Langston Hughes, was released in 2014 to critical acclaim. 

In 2017 Mindeman returned to Chile. He immediately became immersed in the modern Chilean music scene, where he met a number of like-minded musicians who use Chilean folk, jazz and other Latin music to express themselves. These musicians subsequently became the core of Mindeman’s upcoming project. The celebrated vocalist Francesca Ancarola stood out for her interest in jazz and Latin music. Bassist Milton Russell and drummer Carlos Cortez Diaz rounded out the rhythm section. 

As his ideas progressed, Mindeman began to focus on the poetry of two revolutionary Chileans, Violeta Parra and Víctor Jara. Parra and Jara were titanic figures in their country’s Nueva Canción Chilena and for their stance against the dictator Augusto Pinochet. A brilliant singer, composer, and teacher, Jara was arrested, tortured and killed by the Pinochet regime, shortly after the US-backed military coup. Parra was known for her poetry, songs and visual artwork. She also met a sad end, committing suicide in 1967. 

Parra’s famous tapestries and the idea of blending the music and musicians from Chile and the United States led to Mindeman’s idea of Woven Threads. Mindeman had worked in the realms of Latin jazz and Latin American music in the past and wanted to preserve the textures of the South American influences as they melded with North American jazz. The composer utilized his connections in Chile and Chicago, along with special guests, to record eight pieces with an incredible emotional scope. The Chicago contingent was made up of bassist Matt Ulery, drummer Makaya McCraven, guitarist Matt Gold, and saxophonists Geof Bradfield and Greg Ward. 

The program begins with a folk song from the Altiplano region of northern Chile entitled “Casi, Casi,” featuring a cueca/chacarera rhythm and Ancarola’s persuasive vocals. Jara’s homage to Che Guevara, “El Aparecido,” follows with its moving lyrics touching on rebellion and human rights, passionately wrought by Ancarola with an incredible rhythmic underpinning. French-Chilean hip-hop artist Ana Tijoux lends her powerful voice to Mindeman’s “Sin Sentido,” which features a wonderful back and forth between the vocals and Marquis Hill’s sublime trumpet. Mindeman’s churning “La Rueda” generates steam over a compound 5-metered groove and features the fiery alto of Miguel Zenón. The ballad “La Casa de al Lado” comes from the pen of Uruguayan songwriter Fernando Cabrera and is adapted with a new harmonic palette and structure based on candomblé and timba. 

The next two pieces are a tribute to Violeta Parra, with lyrics inspired by her poetry, penned by poet Tim Stiles and performed by the great Kurt Elling. Mindeman felt that trying to translate poems directly into English, namely “Qué Palabra Te Dijera” and “Como el Roble en el Verano,” would be a disservice to the work, so the lyrics are reimagined, based on Parra’s original imagery and emotion evoked. The introspective “What Word” is a beautifully swelling piece that highlights Elling’s emotive breath and Zenón’s plainchant tone. “A Thousand Stars” is equally stirring, with its full harmonic wealth and Elling at his heartbreaking best. The recording finds a perfect conclusion in Jara’s bittersweet “No Puedes Volver Atrás,” a song about desperation and losing hope, that entreats the listener to have faith and move forward, because there is no going back. 

Completing a circle of sorts, Stu Mindeman returned to a source of inspiration he never quite fully grasped in his early home of Chile. On his recording, Woven Threads, the pianist/composer is able to reach out to old and new friends on two continents to create passionate music that speaks to the triumph of heart over the elements.

Stu Mindeman - piano, keyboards, organ
Francesca Ancarola - vocals (1, 2, 5, 8)
Ana Tijoux - vocals (3)
Kurt Elling - vocals (6, 7)
Milton Russell - bass (1, 2, 5, 6, 7)
Matt Ulery - bass (3, 4, 8)
Carlos Cortes Diaz - drums (2)
Malaya McCraven - drums (1, 3, 6, 7)
Juan Pastor - drums (4, 5, 8), percussion (1-6)
Yuri Hevia - bombo legüero (1, 8), percussion (5)
Matt Gold - guitar
Quentin Coaxum - trumpet (7)
Victor Garcia - trumpet (1, 3, 5), percussion (5)
Marquis Hill - trumpet solo (3)
Geof Bradfield - tenor saxophone, bass clarinet
Greg Ward - alto saxophone (1, 2, 3, 5)
Miguel Zenón - alto saxophone (4, 6)
Sally Blandon - background vocals (2, 5)
Devin Velez - background vocals (2)
Sarah Marie Young - background vocals (3, 4, 7)

1. Casi Casi (feat. Francesca Ancarola) 04:52
2. El Aparecido (feat. Francesca Ancarola and Matt Gold)
3. Sin Sentido (feat. Ana Tijoux and Marquis Hill)
4. La Rueda (feat. Miguel Zenón)
5. La Casa de al Lado (feat. Francesca Ancarola)
6. What Word (feat. Kurt Elling and Miguel Zenón)
7. A Thousand Stars (feat. Kurt Elling)
8. No Puedes Volver Atrás (feat. Francesca Ancarola)

Gilad Hekselman - Ask for Chaos (MOTEMA MUSIC 2018)

GILAD HEKSELMAN'S passionate artistry and complexity are at the forefront of his new album ASK FOR CHAOS. Named Rising Star guitarist in 2017 by DownBeat Magazine, on his sixth album he combines his melodic, rhythmic, and harmonic expertise, bringing together his two touring bands – his acoustic-based gHex Trio, and his electric-leaning ZuperOctave. The result is his most compelling and innovative sound to date.

ASK FOR CHAOS features Gilad with two exciting formations taking turns as they perform ten new and original Hekselman compositions.

ZUPEROCTAVE is: Gilad Hekselman: Guitar/Bass, Aaron Parks: Synths/Rhodes/Piano and Kush Abadey: Drums/Pads.

While the

GHEX TRIO is: Gilad Hekselman: Guitar, Rick Rosato: Bass & Jonathan Pinson: Drums.

1. Prologu0001101
2. VBlues
3. It Will Get Better
4. Tokyo Cookie
5. Stumble
6. Milton
7. Home to You
8. Little Song For You
9. Clap Clap
10. Do Re Mi Fa Sol

John Ray Trio - The Birthday Gig (2018)

This was recorded at my regular Thursday gig, at a small jazz club in Winston-Salem called Southside. My regular drummer, Jonathan Greene, couldn't make the gig, so I called up Kassem Williams. I'd never played with him before but seen him play a few times and really dug playing with him. Also, Stephen Riley, my FAVORITE tenor sax player in the world, and, objectively, one of the best in the world, showed up and sat in on the last three tunes. Unfortunately it was my birthday and I'd been drinking already, so I feel like I played a little sloppy. But this recording turned out great and I'm overall very happy with the show.

1. Intro 01:53
2. McCoy - feat. Stephen Riley 13:12
3. Afro Blue 10:32
4. Little Sunflower - feat. Stephen Riley 17:24
5. Impressions 10:47
6. Afro Two -feat. Nishah Dimeo and Stephen Riley 17:29
7. Butterfly 11:42

Michael Kinchen, keys
Kassem Williams, drums
Stephen Riley, tenor sax
Nishah Dimeo, vocals
John Daniel Ray, bass

Recorded, mixed and mastered by John Daniel Ray
©2018 Mr. Haircut