Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Innovative & sophisticated vocalist/composer Annie Chen's Secret Treetop

Vocalist/Composer Annie Chen's sophomore recording Secret Treetop heralds the arrival of an innovative, sophisticated composer with globe-spanning musical influences

Chen leads a New York-based octet that includes pianist Glenn Zaleski,  guitarist/arranger Rafal Sarnecki, trumpeter David Smith, saxophonist/flutist Alex LoRe, violinist Tomoko Omura, bassist Mat Muntz, and drummer Jerad Lippi

"Fearlessly eclectic, soulful, smart [Annie] Chen is somebody to keep your eye on."
- Alan Young, New York Music Daily

"May 24th was a unforgettable night at Blue Note Beijing. A Chinese jazz diva, Chen brought her fresh compositions and singing to Beijing audiences."
- Global Times (China)

Octet CD Release Concert on December 9, 2018 at Shapeshifter Lab, NYC

Chen also performs in NYC with her trio
Oct. 19 at Cornelia Street Café  
Oct. 27 at Tomi Jazz   o Nov. 24 at Tomi Jazz

Vocalist/composer Annie Chen, born in Beijing and based in New York, is both musically and geographically international. As a child she studied classical piano but also fell in love with jazz. As an adult she became interested in traditional music from around the world. All of those influences emulsify into a unique style of Chen's own on her second album, Secret Treetop, to be released November 2, 2018 through Shanghai Audio&Video Ltd. Co.

"When you are standing at the top of the tree, you can see a much wider world," says Chen in explaining Secret Treetop's title. "It's just like that when you're making music: You need to see farther and open your mind and heart. Everything must be open."

The album adds additional layers of global music influence by way of Chen's octet, which features Polish guitarist Rafal Sarnecki, Japanese violinist Tomoko Omura and Canadian trumpeter David Smith alongside American jazz musicians Glenn Zaleski (piano), Alex LoRe (alto saxophone/flute), Mat Muntz (bass) and Jerad Lippi (drums).

Secret Treetop is not the beginning of Chen's journey into the wider world she mentions. Her debut recording, 2014's Pisces the Dreamer, was painted with a similar palette of world music influences. The sophomore release refreshes that palette with new sounds, many of them brought to Chen by new collaborators.

"I like to listen to a lot of different countries' traditional music," Chen says. "I have a lot of Turkish friends, and I studied with a Turkish percussionist. My guitarist [Sarnecki], who is also an arranger, is from Poland, and I was influenced a lot by the Eastern European traditional music he played for me: Polish, Croatian, Bulgarian, Czech."  Chen was also charmed by the Balkan a cappella choirs she encountered at Brooklyn's Zlatne Uste Golden Festival. They shaped her approach to the album's title track, which otherwise wears its East Asian influence on its sleeve. "I wanted to create the feeling of singing out in the open," she explains. "I'm standing on top of the tree, and I sing to the mountain."

The Turkish influence is most apparent in the whirling dervish violin and mixed-meter polyrhythms of the album-opening "Ozledim Seni" ("Miss You"). The lyrical content of the song is also evocative. "I created a scene of going back a thousand years ago to the Ottoman Empire," Chen says. "I heard so many stories from my friends about Turkish history. It's also about my Turkish friends coming to visit me, and how much I would miss them after I took them back to the airport."

Chen's interest in traditional music includes repertoire from her childhood, which she explores in a pair of folk songs: "Ao Bao Xiang Hui" from Mongolia, and "Gan Lan Shu" from Taiwan. Both, she says, are songs that everyone who surrounded her in China would have known-especially "Ao Bao Xiang Hui," a love song that's hundreds of years old. "I'm from the north of China," she says. "We encounter Mongolian cultural aspects a lot. Being from Beijing, I have lots of thoughts about this music." Of course, the Taiwanese "Gan Lan Shu" suggests that Chen is acquainted with the culture of southern China as well. It has a great deal of personal resonance both for Chen and for her New York audiences. "The lyric is talking about people leaving the country and traveling far away to chase their dreams; I find that very touching," she says. "When I perform, all the Chinese people in New York who hear it, they tear up."

Japan bears a subtler influence; it comes not so much from the island nation's music as from its cultural artifacts. "Majo Kiki in 12 Days" was inspired by the title character of the Japanese anime film Kiki's Delivery Service, who impressed Chen with a bravery and independence that's opposite to most portrayals of Asian women. "Mr. Wind-Up Bird, Strange Yearning" is a response to Haruki Murakami's famous novel The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle - Chen's tune is wordless, intended not to reflect the novel itself, but how she felt after reading it.

World literature also forms the basis for "Leaving Sonnet," in this case the titular poetic form which originated in Italy. "They have a very strict rhyme," Chen notes. "I thought, maybe I could use this concept in my music. Not in the lyrics, but I wrote very strict phrasing structures, and the polyrhythms are very strict as well. It caused some problems for the musicians-it was really hard!" she laughs.

Chen hopes that her many influences have blended insolubly on two songs inspired by her relationship with her boyfriend, guitarist Marius Duboule. "Orange Tears Lullaby" was written to soothe him as he underwent knee problems; the antibiotics turned his tears orange. The spare "My Ocean is Blue in White" draws on more symbolic colors to illustrate Chen's thoughts about love: "At weddings, everything is white because white is pure. But  love is not pure-sometimes you're suffering or sad. There's always some blue color in the white."

A digital-only bonus track, Chen's rendition of Nirvana's "All Apologies" presents yet another musical world into which she was plugged. "Nirvana is one of my favorite rock bands, and they influenced me when I was a teenager a lot," she explains. As always, however, Chen reframes the tunes on her own terms, with a radical rearrangement by herself and Sarnecki that culminates in fierce counterpoint between Smith and LoRe.

Annie Chen was born in Beijing, China. She was only four years old when she began studying classical piano at Central Conservatory of Music-and at that tender age was already practicing five to six hours a day. "The education is so strict," Chen says. "In China education is focused on being the best at all costs: 'You need to win. You need to win.' So every year I had to go to a lot of piano competitions."

As she labored at Mozart and Beethoven her father, a business translator and jazz lover, would bring her jazz CDs from his business trips to the United States. When she heard Sarah Vaughan, the teenaged Chen decided that her real desire was to be a jazz singer.

With jazz education hard to come by in China, Chen continued with her classical studies, earning a bachelor's degree from the Central Conservatory of Music. She then began working as a decidedly non-classical singer: She was lead vocalist in the bands Blues Driver, Big John and Black Hot Pisces, as well as the leader of the Soul Decree Funk Big Band, the only funk large ensemble in China.

She worked at venues such as Blue Note Beijing, East Shore Jazz Club, DDC, JiangHu, Guangzhou Xinghai Concert Hall and JZ Club Shanghai and Hangzhou, where she led her quintet over a three-month residency. She performed at major festivals across the country-including the Solana Summertime Festival, Chaoyang Music Festival, Beijing Nine-Gates Jazz Festival, CD Jazz Week, and the Shanghai International Jazz Festival.

In 2010, Chen came to New York City on an eight-month student visa, studying privately at Manhattan School of Music with vocalist Nancy Marano and doing occasional vocal gigs with pianists. At the end of the year, she returned to China, where she continued performing. In 2012, however, she returned to New York to pursue a master's degree at Queens College. She took vocal lessons with Charenee Wade, piano with David Berkman, arrangement and composition with Michael Philip Mossman, and improvisation with Antonio Hart.

In 2014, she recorded her first album, Pisces the Dreamer, with a sextet comprising some of her Queens College classmates. The album combined the influences of jazz, gospel-drenched soul, pop-rock and bossa nova, as well as European classical, Chinese and Middle Eastern music in seven original compositions by Chen and two standards.

The following year, Chen formed her octet, and began performing with them around New York City. She also began what would ultimately be a three-year process of composing for them, the results of which have now come together with Secret Treetops. "I don't know what kinds of things I can write in the future, but for now I'm very proud of these compositions," she says. "This is my milestone so far."

Darrell Katz's "Rats Live on No Evil Star" w/Jazz Composers’ Alliance Orchestra

New music and old, current events, and timeless love highlight jazz composer Darrell Katz’s new CD with the JCA Orchestra 

Rats Live on No Evil Star
Available October 12, 2018 via JCA Recordings

“...an imaginative and innovative composer.” — Simon Scott, DownBeat

“A distinguished jazz composer, Katz marches to his own drummer …” — Michael Ullman, ArtsFuse

Katz excels at composing for voice and at penning music that reinforces the meaning of the words. Just listen to “Windfall Lemons” as the melody seamlessly follows the stresses in a poem written by the late Paula Tatarunis. The harmonious pairing of music and words sounds unforced and the melody seems to flow naturally out of the words. Tatarunis’s poetry frequently betrays an understated sense of humor, which the music also captures, as in “To an Angel,” which features a kind of musical pun. When the poem describes a selfless caregiver as a “drone,” meaning an anonymous worker, Shrimpton and the instrumentalists briefly play a musical drone. Vocalist Shrimpton is a big part of the music’s success. With her articulation and sense of timing, her unfailingly insightful use color, texture, and inflection, she conveys the meaning of the words and the contours of the melodies with feeling and intelligence. 

“I am always trying to make the melody and words be unified,” Katz says. “I am very much trying to put the poetry across, always looking for what seems like a good fit. I really want the listener to pay attention to the words, and I want the music to help them. But it’s hard to describe, a lot of it is intuitive. A lot of meaning and feeling is rather abstract, but it’s what I’m looking to match.”

The album opens with the title track, a revision of a commissioned composition Katz wrote 31 years ago for Marimolin, a violin and marimba duo. It serves as an excellent introduction to the composer’s ability to absorb a multitude of colors, textures, and tempos into writing that is melodically appealing and imaginatively orchestrated. Although Marimolin was a classical duo, the new version of the tune features violinist Helen Sherrah-Davies and marimba player Vessela Stoyanova, both excellent improvisers, allowing Katz to integrate the instruments into the music in ways he couldn’t before. Sherrah-Davies, for instance, weaves the composition into her first solo on the title track, then later takes an accompanied solo that both stands on its own and serves as a segue into the next orchestral passage.

The suite that follows, “How to Clean a Sewer,” also features Sherrah-Davies and Stoyanova, along with the JCA Orchestra’s usual complement of outstanding soloists, including saxophonists Ken Field and Phil Scharff, trombonists Bob Pilkington and Dave Harris, tuba player Bill Lowe, and guitarist Norm Zocher. “Red Dog Blues,” Katz’s acerbic commentary on the current political climate in America, is a blues with a difference. Starting with the title, with its wordplay on liberal and conservative political orientations and the name of the club where Katz played early in his career, there’s a high level of lacerating verbal humor. The arrangement is artful and full of contrasting musical events, but doesn’t sacrifice visceral punch. As with all of Katz’s pieces, much happens but the music feels whole, unified.  

“I strive for that,” Katz says. “I’m always trying for unity. And balance. And at the same time, I’m into having a lot of different elements. It’s all a work in progress.”

The Boston Phoenix called musician-composer-bandleader-educator Darrell Katz "one of Boston's most ambitious and provocative jazz composers." The paper could just as easily have said one of the entire jazz world’s most ambitious and provocative composers. His work with the JCAO, as documented on 10 previous CDs, shows a composer of uncommon range and broad vision, able to weave influences from every musical sphere into his own unique voice. Wheelworks, a setting of quotes attributed to Albert Einstein that Downbeat selected as one of the best CDs of 2015, was described by Jazz de Gamba as “pure and mad … Borges-like and sublime … a breathtaking eight-part invention that delights as much as it mystifies and dazzles.” Lynn René Bayley, writing in Art Music Lounge, called Jailhouse Doc with Holes in Her Socks, Katz’s 2016 release featuring a smaller ensemble, Oddsong, “one of the most fascinating jazz albums of 2016, possibly one of the finest albums I’ve heard regardless of genre.”

As director of the Jazz Composers Alliance (JCA), an organization he helped found in 1985, Katz has been a strong proponent of artist self-empowerment, providing a vehicle for forward-thinking composers to hear their works realized by some of Boston’s best musician-improvisers. The artist-run Julius Hemphill Composition Awards (1991-2001), which in its final year received 240 compositions from 28 countries, provided a means of international community building and a way for peers to acknowledge the work of their fellow composers. He has received a Massachusetts Cultural Council Artist Fellowship in composition, three Massachusetts Cultural Council Artist Fellowship finalist awards, a Jazz Fellowship Grant from the NEA, and grants from Meet the Composer, the Aaron Copland Fund, the New England Foundation For The Arts, the Artists Foundation, the National Association of Jazz Educators and three Readers Digest/ Margaret Jory copying grants, as well as a Faculty Fellowship from Berklee College of Music, where he currently teaches.

Newvelle Records (LP-only) releases Francisco Mela's Ancestros


Newvelle Records (vinyl-only) is thrilled to release Ancestros by Francisco Mela, featuring Kris Davis, Hery Paz and Gerald Cannon.


From Newvelle:  Francisco Mela is a favorite amongst jazz's elite instrumentalists, among them, Joe Lovano, John Scofield, JoAnne Brackeen, Kenny Barron, Gary Bartz, Bobby Watson and McCoy Tyner, all of whom cite his charisma, sophistication, and life-affirming spirit as an extension of his incredible talents as a composer and drummer.

Francisco Mela was born in 1968 in Bayamo, Cuba. He moved to Boston in 2000 to pursue a degree at the acclaimed Berklee College of Music and, quickly thereafter, the faculty recognized that Mela had much to offer students and promptly hired him to teach at the school. Fellow Berklee faculty member and world-renown saxophonist, Joe Lovano, heard Mela and was immediately impressed, hiring him shortly after to play in his quartet. Since 2005, Mela has been an integral part of Joe Lovano’s quartet and his new group, “Us Five,” a two-drummer quintet. Their 2009 Blue Note Records recording, titled Folk Art, was considered by many critics to be Lovano’s most adventurous to date. In 2009, he was tapped by jazz legend McCoy Tyner to join his trio. 

This new record of Mela's featuring Hery Paz, Kris Davis and Gerald Cannon is  pure fire.

Newvelle records releases music exclusively on vinyl and in six record box sets. Members subscribe to a season and receive one record every two months over the course of a year. For more information visit: www.newvelle-records.com.
Newvelle's last record of their Third Season is coming out in December.  This one features trumpeter/composer Jason Palmer with an all star band of Leo Genovese, Joe Martin and Kendrick Scott.

Newvelle's vinyl-only Fourth Season is now Available for pre-order.  Featuring Noah Preminger, Tim Berne, Greg Tardy, Billy Lester, Kenny Werner and Hank Roberts with Jason Moran, Marcus Gilmore, Kim Cass, Chris Speed, Reid Anderson, Dave King, Bill Frisell, Rufus Reid, Matt Wilson, Dave Liebman, James Genus, Terri Lynn Carrington, Jacob Sacks and Vinnie Sperrazza.
Newvelle is proud to present their Third Season of records.

These 6, limited edition, 180 gram vinyl records will be sent to your door over the course of the year along with a premium Newvelle box set.

Steve Cardenas is releasing a record dedicated to greats Charlie Haden and Paul Motian. Recording, with a quartet built of long-time collaborators of both titans Loren Stillman on sax, Thomas Morgan on bass and Matt Wilson on drums, all Charlie and Paul tunes, a couple of which have never been recorded. (February 2018)

The Chicagoan composer and saxophonist Andrew Zimmerman (previously featured on our first release, Frank Kimbrough’s “Meantime”) has put together a drumless quartet featuring pianist Kevin Hays (recording here on the same 9 foot Fazioli that Jack DeJohnette used), the bassist Matt Penman and the great Dave Douglas on trumpet. (April 2018)

Lionel Loueke is releasing his first ever album of standards featuring extraordinary accomplices Reuben Rogers on bass and Eric Harland on drums. (June 2018)

Skúli Sverrisson and Bill Frisell are releasing their first collaboration. All original music from Skúli, much of it written for Bill. If you are familiar with Skúli and Bill's music, you'll know what you're getting into, a record of uncommon depth and beauty. (August 2018)

Incredible Cuban drummer Francisco Mela (McCoy Tyner, Joe Lovano, John Scofield) is releasing an album of all original material with his working band featuring Kris Davis, Gerald Cannon and Hery Paz. (October 2018)

Boston based trumpeter Jason Palmer put together a band of his long time New York collaborators for a session of originals and original takes on standards with pianist Leo Genovese (previously featured on his own record on Newvelle), bassist Joe Martin and drummer Kendrick Scott. (December 2018)

Out Dec. 7 – Fred Hersch Trio '97 @ The Village Vanguard

Acclaimed Pianist/Composer Fred Hersch Revisits his First Stint as a Bandleader at New York’s Most Iconic Nightclub on
Fred Hersch Trio ’97 @ The Village Vanguard

Never-before-released recordings from 1997 showcase Hersch and the much-loved 1990s incarnation of his trio, with bassist Drew Gress and drummer Tom Rainey, on their only live album  

“[A] pianist, composer and conceptualist of rare imaginative power…”
–Nate Chinen, New York Times

"A living legend.
– Jonathan Blitzer, The New Yorker

For jazz fans in 2018, it might be difficult to imagine a time when pianist/composer Fred Hersch was not intimately associated with the Village Vanguard. For more than two decades the iconic New York City nightclub has been a home base for Hersch, who performs there for packed houses three times a year and has recorded some of his most acclaimed albums on its historic stage.

But there is, of course, a first time for everything – and for Fred Hersch that first time was in July 1997. Not his first time playing at the Vanguard, which he’d done regularly since 1979 with a host of legendary bandleaders including Joe Henderson, Art Farmer, Lee Konitz, Ron Carter, Al Foster and others. That mid-summer week in 1997 was his first of many stints at the venue as a bandleader in his own right, placing him in the hallowed company of such icons as John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, and Charles Mingus.

Fortunately, Hersch and his trio’s three Friday night sets were captured for posterity and now, after 21 years, the pianist has hand-picked his favorite moments on Fred Hersch Trio ’97 @ The Village Vanguard, due for release on December 7, 2018 via Palmetto Records. The album’s eight tunes – a mix of Songbook standards, classic jazz compositions and original pieces – captures the Fred Hersch Trio of that time at the height of their estimable powers. Bassist Drew Gress and drummer Tom Rainey had been working with Hersch for five years at the point that they took the Vanguard stage, and those years shine through in the band’s vigorous swing, highly charged interplay, and sheer joy in discovery that they find in one another’s playing.

“It meant everything,” Hersch says of his first week at the Vanguard. “For me, it’s equivalent to the first time a classical musician plays at Carnegie Hall. It’s the greatest jazz club in the world.”

Beyond its historical significance in Hersch’s career, this new collection is also a welcome addition to his discography in that it’s the only live recording of this much-loved trio. For those who weren’t fortunate enough to catch them live, Hersch’s work with Gress and Rainey could only be heard in its purest form on a pair of studio albums released by the Chesky label: 1993’s Dancing in the Dark and 1994’s Plays. (On Point in Time (1995) they were supplemented by trumpeter Dave Douglas and saxophonist Rich Perry, while they were joined by a full string orchestra on 1996’s Passion Flower: Fred Hersch Plays Billy Strayhorn. This release also marks the earliest available live recording by Hersch aside from his solo concert Live at Maybeck from 1993.

It had taken Hersch 18 years to graduate from sideman to leader at the Vanguard simply because he insisted on waiting until he could be joined by his own trio rather than an all-star band assembled for the occasion. “I was very stubborn about wanting to do it on my own terms with my own band,” Hersch recalls. “That’s why it took so long. I didn't want to just go in there once and then not come back. That does happen. I insisted on throwing it down the way I wanted to.”

The wisdom of that decision is amply evident in the profound chemistry shared by the trio throughout Fred Hersch Trio ’97 @ The Village Vanguard. The album opens with a robust romp through “Easy To Love” that showcases the trio’s muscular but elastic way with rhythm. The sensitivity of Gress’ playing comes to the fore on “My Funny Valentine,” while Rainey’s sharp-honed propulsion drives “Three Little Words” and prompts Hersch to take sharp curves at breakneck pace in his solo. The first of two Hersch originals, “Evanessence” pays homage to one of the pianist’s most respected predecessors on the Vanguard bench, Bill Evans. “Swamp Thang,” meanwhile, digs deep into the murky groove suggested by the title.

Gress contributes “Andrew John,” introduced by a compelling solo rumination by Hersch before the trio contributes some of its most sparse and tender accents. With a contained intensity, “I Wish I Knew” exercises the bandmates’ gifts for subtle dynamic shifts, and “You Don’t Know What Love Is” ends the album at a blistering pace, at once staggeringly virtuosic and gleefully thrilling.

Listening back to the recordings all these years later, Hersch hears a band playing with remarkable confidence and abandon given the HIV-positive pianist’s personal health concerns at the time. Just over a decade later he would be placed in a medically-induced coma after a bad case of pneumonia; another ten years have passed since, affording the pianist an insightful perspective. “I was pleasantly surprised at how much authority and attention to detail everyone was playing with,” he says. “Maybe if I would have listened to it a week after the concerts I would have heard the flaws, but with this much distance I think it stacks up with any of my better trio albums.”

The album is certainly a worthy addition to Hersch’s catalogue, even at a time when his current trio (with John Hébert and Eric McPherson) is scaling unprecedented heights, as it did on this year’s highly-acclaimed Live in Europe. But just as importantly, Fred Hersch Trio ’97 @ The Village Vanguard adds another chapter to the rich history shared by a revered artist and a legendary venue.

“Having my photo on the wall of the Village Vanguard means more to me than a Grammy Award,” Hersch reflects. “That’s one of the accomplishments that I’m proudest of, and it signifies my long and deep relationship with the club. There is magic there.”

A select member of jazz’s piano pantheon, Fred Hersch is a pervasively influential creative force who has shaped the music’s course over more than three decades as an improviser, composer, educator, bandleader, collaborator and recording artist. He has been proclaimed “the most arrestingly innovative pianist in jazz over the last decade” by Vanity Fair, “an elegant force of musical invention” by The L.A. Times, and “a living legend” by The New Yorker. A twelve-time Grammy nominee, Hersch has regularly garnered jazz’s most prestigious awards, including recent distinctions as a 2016 Doris Duke Artist, 2016 and 2018 Jazz Pianist of the Year from the Jazz Journalists Association, and the 2017 Prix Honorem de Jazz from L’Acádemie Charles Cros for the totality of his career. With more than three dozen albums to his credit as a leader or co-leader, Hersch consistently receives lavish critical praise and numerous international awards for each highly anticipated new release. In 2017, he released his acclaimed memoir, Good Things Happen Slowly (Crown Archetype Books/Random House), which compellingly reveals the story of his life in music along with a frank recounting of his struggles and triumphs as the first openly gay, HIV-positive jazz musician. The book was named one of 2017’s Five Best Memoirs by the Washington Post and The New York Times. As a composer, Hersch has earned distinction with such visionary pieces as 2003’s Leaves of Grass, a large-scale setting of Walt Whitman's poetry, and the 2010 multimedia project My Coma Dreams.



Fred Hersch (piano)
Anat Cohen (clarinet)

Fred Hersch (piano)
Esperanza Spalding (vocals)

Chad Lefkowitz-Brown - Standard Sessions (SOUND FRAME RECORDS 2018)

Saxophonist Chad Lefkowitz-Brown Recreates the Thrilling Spontaneity of an Informal Jam Session with Two Dozen Stellar Improvisers on Digital Release

Standard Sessions, out today, features Manuel Valera, Kush Abadey, Yasushi Nakamura, Carmen Staaf, Victor Gould, Allan Mednard, Jonathan Michel, and many others gathered for impromptu takes on favorite standards

“Whatever the vehicle, Lefkowitz-Brown plays with sturdy melodicism and bite, harnessing technical abilities that mask the difficulty of his wondrously intricate lines."
— Brian Zimmerman, DownBeat

“Lefkowitz-Brown has mastered the art of using a single improvised line to elicit complex emotions… his beautiful sound purely his own.”
— James Rozzi, Jazziz

Impromptu jam sessions are a crucial proving ground for young jazz musicians during their formative years – and for artists who thrive on spontaneity, they’re also a heck of a lot of fun. While his increasingly busy calendar proves that saxophonist Chad Lefkowitz-Brown learned all the right lessons from those informal early gatherings, it also means that opportunities to enjoy such creative camaraderie have become fewer and farther between. So for his new digital-only release, Standard Sessions – out Friday, September 28, 2018 via Sound Frame Records, available at https://www.chadlb.com/music – Lefkowitz-Brown decided to make those opportunities happen. He invited some of his favorite musicians to gather together, blow on some familiar standards, and see what happens – just like in the old days.

Of course, for Lefkowitz-Brown the “old days” aren’t really that old. The saxophonist arrived in NYC just eight years ago, and was fortunate to settle on the bottom floor of a house in Harlem where the basement lent itself to musical gatherings. “There was a drum set and an upright piano, so every day I would bring people over to have sessions,” he recalls. “I look back fondly on those days as some of my favorite musical experiences, and they came out of just playing tunes in the basement.”

Over the ensuing years, however, Lefkowitz-Brown found himself increasingly in demand: touring the world with pop superstar Taylor Swift, playing with jazz greats from Dave Brubeck to Clarence Penn, and performing as a member of Arturo O’Farrill’s Grammy winning Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra. The friends he’d been jamming with were on their own career trajectories as well, meaning that none of them could spare much time for basement jam sessions. 

“I started to miss it,” Lefkowitz-Brown says, so he came up with the idea for the series of spur-of-the-moment recordings that became Standard Sessions. One thing that had changed since those no-pressure early days was Lefkowitz-Brown’s diehard social media following. Using a few tricks that he’d learned from the media-savvy T-Swift and other observations of the pop music world, he has cultivated a worldwide fanbase numbering more than 70,000 followers across platforms like Instagram, Facebook and YouTube. For these jam sessions, those fans would become the virtual audience; each session was recorded and aired via YouTube, with 12 highlights now collected for this album, available via iTunes, Spotify, and other digital outlets (all 18 can be found at Lefkowitz-Brown’s website).

Every session represented a unique first-time gathering, joining Lefkowitz-Brown with a rhythm section that had never played together before. The invitees represent a wide swath of the thriving Manhattan scene, cutting across generations, styles, and experience levels: pianists Manuel Valera, Carmen Staaf, Victor Gould, David Meder, Steven Feifke, Takeshi Ohbayashi, Adam Birnbaum, and Josh Richman; bassists Yasushi Nakamura, Jonathan Michel, Eric Wheeler, Tamir Shmerling, Ben Tiberio, Raviv Markovitz, and Ricky Rodriguez; and drummers Kush Abadey, Allan Mednard, Charles Goold, Michael Piolet, Bryan Carter, Chris Smith, Jeremy Dutton, and Darrian Douglas.

“There were people at the sessions that I’d known for 10 to 15 years,” Lefkowitz-Brown says, “and then there were people that I’d known for 10 to 15 months. It was cool to see someone that I had known practically since childhood and someone I had only met recently playing together on the same session.”

Two tunes, “On Green Dolphin Street” and “When Will the Blues Leave,” feature Feifke, a pianist that Lefkowitz started collaborating with when both were teenagers, together with Piolet, a drummer he had met recently but never shared the bandstand with before that day. Then there were meetings between veterans like Cuban-born Valera, who has been in the city for nearly two decades, and newcomers like Tiberio, who had been on the scene for less than a year when they recorded their fiery take on “Alone Together.”

To ensure the in-the-moment invention that he was seeking to replicate, Lefkowitz-Brown left the choice of tunes up to the assembled bands, decided on the day, just before they were recorded for posterity. Each piece was allowed a maximum of two takes, with most accomplished in one – or with the first one chosen for its raw vitality. 

“Those first takes usually felt the best,” Lefkowitz-Brown explains. “It’s definitely harder to make things spontaneous when you have in your mind that this is actually going to be permanent, but I told everyone, ‘If we don’t like it, I’ll trash it.’ I think because of that everybody was able to go in there pretty relaxed and just feel like it was a jam back at my place in Harlem, which was my goal. I wanted to recreate what happened when people got together to just play tunes in a basement and have lunch together.”

Saxman Lucas Pino's That's A Computer out Oct. 19 via Outside In Music

Saxophonist/Composer Lucas Pino challenges jazz’s hidebound traditions on
thrilling third album with his No Net Nonet

That’s a Computer, out October 19, 2018 via Outside In Music, wears the derisive words of a
musical idol as a badge of honor, with spirited and virtuosic playing by Pino’s
long-running ensemble and guest vocalist Camila Meza

“It’s a pleasure to hear groups such as Lucas Pino's No Net Nonet, which are remarkably creative even as
they adhere to the basic precepts of melody, harmony and rhythm.”
– Jack Bowers, All About Jazz

“Cleverly arranged tunes that mix Mingusy grooves and harmonies and [swing] like a bopper in the process.”
– George W. Harris, Jazz Weekly

“Pino shows himself to be an inventive melodic thinker.”
– Shaun Brady, DownBeat

Pino and No Net Nonet perform last Tuesday of every month at Smalls Jazz Club in NYC

There's an age-old debate in jazz that pits heart versus head, contrasting emotion and feeling against technical virtuosity and compositional complexity. On That's a Computer, the third release from saxophonist/composer Lucas Pino and his No Net Nonet, the argument is put to rest with a resounding "BOTH." The hairpin twists of the album's seven compositions, contributed by Pino, his bandmates, and an unsung, anonymous video game composer, draw ferociously swinging, pulse-racing performances from the gifted nine-piece ensemble that are as moving for the soul as they are daunting for the brain.

That's a Computer, due out October 19, 2018 via Outside In Music, takes its title from a comment made by one of Pino's professors at the Juilliard School. The teacher, himself a respected instrumentalist and revered jazz veteran, dismissed the work of one of Pino's idols with those three sneering words. At least it put the young saxophonist in good company - the same professor had derided Pino's own playing in similar terms, despite never sharing his wisdom with Pino directly.

"It's like they say, you never want to meet your heroes," Pino says. "I never even met this professor, but he would apparently hear me play at school concerts and always infer that I had a lot of brains but not a lot of heart. He never addressed me, never introduced himself, apparently had no interest in trying to help me with whatever deficiencies he thought I had, which has been a piece of sand in my clamshell for years. So I wanted to turn it around and make it a self-affirmation."

One listen to Alex LoRe's jubilant, soaring "Antiquity" or the tender, romantic "Film at 11" and there's no mistaking the music of That's a Computer for the work of some unfeeling automaton. The title thus becomes a winking challenge, a musical Turing test that dares listeners to stay unmoved by the impassioned playing even as the music veers into greater complexity. That even applies to the one piece that does trace its origins to a box of circuits, "Baseball Simulator 1000," the theme song for a vintage Nintendo game that wormed its way into Pino's ears during countless hours playing America's virtual pastime with a few of his roommates. It makes for a surprisingly spirited finale.

Almost a decade into its existence, the aptly-named, tightrope-walking No Net Nonet has become a rich and versatile vehicle for Pino's open-eared approach. With the exception of drummer Jimmy Macbride, who came aboard for 2017's The Answer Is No, the line-up remains intact from the Nonet's self-titled 2015 debut: alto saxophonist Alex LoRe, trumpeter Mat Jodrell, trombonist Nick Finzer, baritone saxophonist Andrew Gutauskas, guitarist Rafal Sarnecki, pianist Glenn Zaleski, and bassist Desmond White. Chilean-born singer-songwriter Camila Meza guests on two tracks, providing gorgeous wordless vocals to Pino's tense "Frustrations" and a scintillating interpretation of the words of poet Pablo Neruda on Sarnecki's "Sueno de Gatos."

The close ties that the band's members have forged since initially coming together in 2009 were honed by a continuous five-year monthly residency at Smalls Jazz Club and are exemplified by Pino's playful "Horse of a Different Color." Named for the shade-shifting Technicolor beast of burden from The Wizard of Oz, the piece is a portrait of the composer's bandmates in collage. Setting out to write a blues to showcase their talents, he contacted each of the soloists and asked their favorite keys to solo over. The end result cycles through their choices, shining the spotlight on each member in turn.

The heart-wrenching "Film at 11" suggests a tragedy played for ratings on the nightly news but in fact traces the progress of a date, delicately capturing the nervousness, anticipation and thrill of newfound romance. "Look Into My Eyes" is a love letter to the Arizona native's fellow New Yorkers, a plea for eye contact and human connection in a city better known for impersonal brusqueness and unflagging pace. "You can feel completely alone on a subway car packed with people," Pino says, "and there's something wrong with that. Looking somebody else in the eyes can be an invitation to interact, and New Yorkers often don't have the time or patience for that. That can create a caustic environment, and I think that every once in a while if we just acknowledged each other's humanity it would make living in the city a little bit easier."

Ultimately, if albums like That's a Computer are the result of a negative experience with a musical hero, perhaps the bad blood is worth it. Pino laughs at the experience now and admits to enjoying the drama, though he has learned a personal as well as a musical lesson from the ordeal.

"When you grow up listening to somebody and really appreciate their artistry it's disappointing to encounter them and have the experience to turn out nasty," Pino says. "I think being dismissive is probably harming the dismisser more than the dismissed. I never want to be callous or indifferent to new ideas, new people or new ways of playing. It's like improv comedy: the first rule is to always say 'Yes' and build from there. Don't be afraid; no fear." And no net.

Felipe Salles Interconnections Ensemble - The Lullaby Project and Other Works for Large Ensemble (TAPESTRY 2018)

Composer Felipe Salles releases most ambitious project to date
The Lullaby Project and Other Works for Large Ensemble

Featuring 18-piece jazz orchestra, recording available via Tapestry Records

The Lullaby Project and Other Works for Large Ensemble is composer Felipe Salles’ most ambitious project to date and the debut recording of the Felipe Salles Interconnections Ensemble, an 18-piece jazz orchestra that combines Brazilian, Latin American and classical influences, creating a unique esthetic in large jazz ensemble writing. Salles’ eighth recording as a leader, The Lullaby Project will be out via Tapestry Records.

The music draws inspiration from melodic fragments originating from traditional Brazilian lullabies. The objective was to create a musical commentary on the dark underlying qualities of lullabies, as well as to illustrate the social transformation and impact lullabies have had on generations of children. Culturally, they represent both the tradition and globalization of those who, like Salles, have immigrated to another country and built families elsewhere.

“Having chosen to express those qualities through instrumental music, I believe that the motivic development and the use of different harmonic and instrumental texture can create a strong aural image in the listener’s mind,” explains Salles.  “As the melodies are slowly revealed, the musical context creates a sense of evolutionary inevitability where it is possible for traditional and contemporary musical elements to meet and co-exist.”

Motivic development was utilized to expand the limitations of form, while ensuring that improvisation and groove-oriented sections would also be a vital part of creating this new approach to large ensemble Brazilian jazz. Each movement is through composed and features different members of the ensemble as soloists. Color and texture have a large role in the overall esthetic of this work, which also utilizes harmonic devices ranging from Baroque to 20th century classical music, as well as jazz and Brazilian folk elements.

The three tango-inspired pieces express Salles’ deep connection with the Argentinean style of music and its modernization by composers like Astor Piazzolla, to whom Astor Square is dedicated.  As with the Lullabies, the tango inspired pieces reflect his twenty-year long quest to find a unique crossover jazz ensemble esthetic that combines all his influences and cultural roots.