Wednesday, November 21, 2018

The Gravity Project - The Gravity Project (November 2018)

The Gravity Project, led by Paul Grabowsky, (+ Rob Burke) is a nine-piece ensemble presenting a contemporary cultural prism of musical experimentation in composition and improvisation. Artistically, the overarching aim for the Gravity Project is to create a transcultural musical dialogue through a carefully structured collaboration of Japanese musicians (who are leaders in the performance of traditional Japanese music and a rapper), performing with Australian improvising and electronic focused musicians playing original music of the now.

Growing from concerts in both Australia and Japan, the Gravity Project was developed in 2017, firstly in composition by Paul Grabowsky and then documented in a recording session in Tokyo. The recording was further developed through the addition of hip-hop beats, and a detailed re-structure and deconstruction through editing and mixing (Aaron Choulai and Joe Talia). The CD has been released in Japan through the prestigious label: Apollo Sounds (September 2018) 

The foundation of the performances (compositions) is informed by the performance of the Shakuhachi and Koto through the Fuke tradition of Zen music and the gestural influence in Noh Theatre. At the heart of the music making is experimentation and the exploration of potential possibilities through the creation of a sonic ecology: elite performers from diverse backgrounds, improvising, interacting, and discovering sounds both inside and outside their area of expertise and cultural habitat. 

With the freedom to question their respective musical identities within a structured and artistically sophisticated framework, the musicians produce a combination of musical styles and sounds which creates a unique musical experience for the listener, contributing to the development of an Australian and Japanese musical identity in the 21st century. 

Paul Grabowsky: piano, melodica
Robert Burke: tenor sax, soprano sax, alto clarinet
Aaron Choulai: Sp 404r
Joe Talia: drums and electronics
Narin Dasika: trumpet
Sam Anning: bass
Masaki Nakamura: shakuhachi
Kuniko Obina: koto

1. Tokyo Overpass 13:49
2. Beat Hayashi 12:07
3. Plum Rain 07:58
4. Now Breathe In 04:54
5. Vinegar 08:15
6. Psalm 08:38

Mocky - A Day At United (November 2018)

A Day at United. The name practically says it all. An album recorded in a single day. No rehearsals. No second takes. Just Mocky and friends. Some instruments. Some songs Mocky sketched in the week leading up. Oh yeah, and a recording studio. United Recording, in fact. The legendary independent studio, financed by Sinatra among others. A refuge for artists seeking more control. Or maybe ‘less interference’ is a better way to put it. Because this is not an album about control. It’s about putting certain conditions in place — creative limitations, even — then letting go. Letting the magic happen. Letting the human happen. In an age of computer-led precision, this is an album about the struggle for imperfection.

“I’ve always been inspired by the story of Miles recording Kind Of Blue,” says Mocky, “going into the studio with Coltrane and Bill Evans, bringing melodies jotted on scraps of paper, and making an album in real-time.” Other precedents come to mind, as well. The Art Blakey model, for example. Drummer as composer -bandleader. Not that Mocky, who led the session from his drum kit, compares himself to the jazz greats. He doesn’t even call himself a jazz musician (any more than he calls himself an electronic musician or whatever else). If this is his ‘jazz album’, it’s because of the process that yielded it. There are no solos here — none of that jazz.

Think of this as jazz composition. The process began with a recording date: “I was like, wow, we can get the studio in 10 days? The same studio Sinatra recorded in and the same room where Ray Charles recorded the epoch defining 'I can’t stop loving you'? Ok, let’s see who can make it. So I started calling around. And when someone like Miguel [Atwood-Ferguson] confirmed, I could start writing melodies that reflected, say, his lyrical way of playing.”

Mocky composed the songs in his head, mostly while strolling Lulu, his newborn, around Silver Lake. And to ensure a 'classic' quality of the record, Mocky got together with the legendary producer Justin Stanley (Prince, Beck Leonhard Cohen, Paul McCartney) who ended up recording and co-producing the album. Mocky finally ‘heard’ the songs the same time the others did. “When everyone was in position, the charts in front them, the sticks in my hand, it was the first time I actually considered what I was about to do on drums. It was free-styling. Hearing the songs as they were being recorded. Complete real-time.” 

Looking back on the origin of the album, Mocky sees it as an extension of his free-flowing Mocky and Friends nights. Picture a revolving cast of collaborators and co-creators, convening on the rooftop of the Ace Hotel in downtown LA, making music in the moment. “I wanted to attain a level of intention that was different from anything I had done on an album before,” Mocky says. “Rather than playing all the instruments, I just drummed and let the ideas filter through this group of artists in real-time. If you multi-track or edit, the intention becomes a conceptual thing, considered and refined. At United, it was about this creative urgency. For me, it was waking up one day and, at the end of it, having an album done. It seemed like such a preposterous idea. Until I just did it.”

Mocky - Drums and Compositions
Miguel Atwood-Ferguson - Viola
Randal Fisher - Tenor Sax and Flute
Joey Dosik - Alto Sax and Flute
Aponte Poro - Congas and Percussion
Nia Andrews - Vocals and Percussion
Lucky Paul - Percussion and Electronics
Deron Johnson - Piano and Rhodes*
Mark De Clive-Lowe – Keyboards and Synths**
Harry Foster - Nylon String Guitar and Vocals ***
Brandon Eugene Owens - Acoustic Bass
* except 7 + 8
**Piano on 5, 6, 8, Rhodes on 7
***Clavinet on 5

1. Eyebrow Wrestling 03:19
2. The Come Up 03:39
3. Space Strut 03:08
4. A Calm Promise 03:26
5. The Great Computer In The Sky 01:24
6. The Loneliest Monk 03:31
7. Sweet Beat 04:08
8. Lulu's Lullaby 03:50
9. Dorothea's Cue 03:44

Alan Pasqua - Soliloquy (2018)

Alan Pasqua is a piano legend who has performed and recorded with many of the top names in both jazz and pop. Pasqua was a member of The New Tony Williams Lifetime and appeared on the albums Believe It and Million Dollar Legs. He also performed with Jack DeJohnette, Paul Motian, Dave Holland, Michael Brecker, Randy Becker, Joe Henderson, Stanley Clarke, Gary Burton, James Moody, Gary Peacock, Gary Bartz, Reggie Workman, The Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra, Sheila Jordan, and Joe Williams, to name just a few.  

In the pop world, Pasqua recorded two albums with Dylan (Bob Dylan at Budokan and Street-Legal), with John Fogerty on the album Eye of the Zombie, with Starship on the album No Protection, and with Allan Holdsworth on the album Sand. He was also the keyboardist for Carlos Santana on his albums Marathon, Zebop! and Havana Moon.

Pasqua has also been the leader or co-leader on many critically acclaimed jazz recordings. In 2008, Pasqua joined forces with Peter Erskine and Dave Carpenter, arranging, co-producing and playing on the Grammy-nominated trio album Standards. His recent releases are Twin Bill, which features Pasqua playing the music of Bill Evans on two pianos, and Northern Lights features Pasqua’s original compositions exploring his roots in the classical, pop and jazz idioms.

Soliloquy, his newest project, was recorded in Pasqua’s Santa Monica studio on his Hamburg Steinway concert grand piano. The sound is exquisite and the performance invites the listener on an intimate personal journey. Included are nine of his favorite standards and one cover of a Bob Dylan song.

1. Hello Young Lovers 04:55
2. I Got It Bad And That Ain't Good 04:10
3. Lotus Blossom 07:00
4. I See Your Face Before Me 05:06
5. In A Sentimental Mood 05:34
6. Embraceable You 04:57
7. Isn't It Romantic 04:55
8. Girl From The North Country 05:45
9. A Time For Love 04:35
10. There Are Such Things 05:55

The Odd Dogs - Beneath the Surface (MANASUS MUSIC 2018)



THE ODD DOGS is a group of A-list, Los Angeles jazz musicians. Their debut CD, BENEATH THE SURFACE, showcases their top-notch musicianship and compositional talents. The quintet includes bassist STEVE BILLMAN, guitarist JEFF MILEY, saxophonist and keyboardist ANDY SUZUKI, drum maestro RALPH HUMPHREY, and percussionist BILLY HULTING.

The genesis of the group goes back five years when Billman and Miley teamed up to write songs. Billman has been playing professionally for 40 years. He’s performed with Frank Gambale, Mike Stern, Billy Cobham, and Brian Bromberg, among others. He also performed with and wrote for the jazz/rock supergroup “Continuum,” recording three albums over his 15-year tenure with the band.

Besides leading his own modern jazz chamber quintet called “BUG,” Miley records and performs with popular jazz vocalist Inge Swearingen and is concurrently involved in several other projects as well. He’s been featured in jazz magazines around the world, and he’s received the Andres Segovia Performance Award from the American Guitar Society.

Billman and Miley have been friends since the 1980s. “Jeff is an old friend, and I thought it would be a blast to write with him,” says Billman. “We have different but complementary strengths, and when we started writing together, something clicked. It felt magical.”

After writing a few tunes, they wanted to hear their music in performance, so Ralph Humphrey was brought on board to play drums. Humphrey has a long and storied career. He’s worked with a Who’s Who of well-known jazz and mainstream artists, including acts as diverse as Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, Barbra Streisand, and Bette Midler, Wayne Shorter, Al Jarreau, Toshiko Akiyoshi, and Pete Christlieb, among many others. Billman, Humphrey and Miley teach at the Los Angeles College of Music in Pasadena.

Billman and Miley originally envisioned their group as a power trio, but not long after they started rehearsing their music, Billman got an email from Andy Suzuki, who had been living in Berlin for several years, where he performed with Robben Ford, Larry Carlton, Marcus Miller and Jan Garbarek. Suzuki was returning to the States, and Billman jumped at the opportunity to enlist him in the band. Suzuki is a double threat, playing both woodwinds and the piano, which he does on this CD, often overdubbing his performances on multiple instruments.

After more rehearsals, Billman and Miley thought there was still a missing element, so they called upon Billy Hulting, an acclaimed percussionist and mallet player who has recently been touring with Zappa Plays Zappa, a band led by Dweezil Zappa that performs the music of Frank Zappa.

Although Billman and Miley began composing these pieces several years ago, it took a while for the music and band to evolve. And because these musicians are so busy performing and teaching, it also took a while for everyone’s schedule to sync up to actually make this recording. The result is well worth the wait.

Billman and Miley both cut their musical teeth back in the ‘70s on progressive rock, a genre that merged high and low culture by employing instrumentation and compositional techniques usually associated with jazz, folk, or classical music. The genre also focused on highly developed technical skills. BENEATH THE SURFACE is a jazz project that strongly reflects the influence of the progressive rock era.

The compositions on this CD are deeply complex while also being melodic and engaging. When Suzuki was explaining the complicated structure of the title tune to his wife, she said that it didn’t sound that complicated to her. He responded that the complexity lay “beneath the surface,” which became the title of the tune and of the CD.

The music of The Odd Dogs is built on a rich tapestry of uncommon, constantly changing meters and surprising harmonic textures. “Presence Unknown,” the opener, starts off with a funky groove in 13/8 time and features a section reminiscent of Pink Floyd, with Suzuki playing different woodwinds to create layers of sound. “Failure to Authenticate” moves from 11/8 to 15/8 to 4/4 time and echoes everything from Tool to Rush to Jeff Beck. “Title 5,” which was written by Humphrey and Miley is an uptempo jazz-influenced number, while “The Beast” is a smoking Texas-style guitar blues with a broken meter. “Monkish” is a swinging tune with a melodic line that one could imagine being played by a Zappa band channeling Thelonious Monk.

The members of The Odd Dogs are all old friends who admire each other’s musical skills and enjoy each other’s company immensely… which is a good thing, since the compositions on BENEATH THE SURFACE require a very high level of skill and collaborative spirit to play convincingly. As Miley says, “Both the writing process and the act of performing these compositions are satisfying for me because they’re rhythmically advanced and harmonically rich. I get to do some rock-type playing while navigating jazz harmonies with people I hold in the highest regard.”

ANDY SUZUKI  keyboard & woodwinds  
JEFF MILEY   guitar  
BILLY HULTING   percussion

Produced and Arranged by The Odd Dogs  

4. HAIRPIN  6:02
5. TITLE 5  8:28
6. A SIMPLE WORD  5:25
7. THE BEAST  7:12
8. MONKISH  6:43
9. ENIGMA  7:21

Lauren Henderson - Riptide (BRONTOSAURUS RECORDS 2018)


Vocalist, composer, and arranger LAUREN HENDERSON is having an exceptionally busy year. Besides a full touring schedule, which includes performances in several European countries, she’s releasing two CDs in 2018. Ármame was released in March and received stellar reviews for both her vocal performance and her original compositions. RIPTIDE, her second recording project of the year, is an EP comprising six of her original tunes that explore a complex and tumultuous relationship.

RIPTIDE is Henderson’s fourth CD. Each of her projects stands as a chronicle of her growth as an artist. She began making a reputation for herself with her first recording in 2011, when she was still in her early twenties. The eponymously titled Lauren Henderson featured mostly jazz standards. She began including her own writing on La Madrugada, her 2015 release. Midwest Record said of the CD, “She has this special knack for being cutting edge and retro at the same time. An interesting feat when it can be pulled off as skillfully as Henderson does. Sophisticated listening for sophisticated ears.”

Henderson’s music is strongly inflected with jazz, Latin, soul, and fusion elements, and it also reflects her multicultural background. Her mother is the daughter of immigrants from Panama and Montserrat, and her father is African-American with roots in the Caribbean. Although her parents aren’t professional musicians (her father was a dean at MIT and her mother a vice president at Fidelity Investments), Henderson credits them with her love of music. “I heard jazz when I was still in the womb. I think my father put speakers up to my mother’s belly,” quips Henderson. “My father is pretty much a jazz historian, and I probably got 99% of my early music education from him.” She began studying piano at the age of seven, and although she only plays piano these days when she’s composing or rehearsing a song, her technical knowledge of music clearly informs her singing.

Henderson has been shuttling back and forth between New York City and Miami for her performances, and to Providence, R.I., where she’s attending Wheaton College to earn an MBA degree. Besides being a musician, she’s also a businesswoman. She began her own record label, called Brontosaurus Records, which she would like to grow into a small, boutique company that will maximize profits for the artists.

The musical milieus in New York and Miami are quite different and offer Henderson the opportunity to focus on the full range of her musical interests. Miami has a large Cuban population, and Henderson sings a lot of Latin music when she performs there, but she feels the Miami audiences are also more amenable to R&B elements. The New York jazz scene is more attuned to straightahead jazz, though Henderson enjoys fusing all the different styles wherever she performs.

Henderson engaged some up-and-coming jazz stars from both New York and Miami to appear on RIPTIDE. Based in New York, CHRIS PATTERSHALL, who plays piano, Rhodes, Wurlitzer, and synthesizer on this disc,  was recently named by Wynton Marsalis as one of the top five jazz musicians under 30 to watch. He’s also the recipient of the ASCAP Young Jazz Composer’s Award. JOE SAYLOR is another New York mainstay.

He plays percussion in Jon Batiste's Stay Human, the house band for The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. Bass player ERIC ENGLAND is a versatile, first-call musician in the Miami area. He’s performed with some of the top names in the jazz and pop worlds, including Jon Secada, Lil Wayne, and Rihanna. Henderson says, “When we play, it’s almost like a jam session. Of course, I lay down the groundwork and give the musicians the charts, but I know how talented they are, and I trust their instincts. I haven’t been disappointed yet.”

Henderson’s voice is sultry and soulful. Whether she’s singing in English or Spanish, she has a sure sense of swing that doesn’t rely on melisma or pyrotechnics. Her music aims for your heart rather than your head.

She opens the CD with “Ámame,” which means “love me” in Spanish. The bouncy, Latin-tinged song is about the first blush of love. “Riptide,” the title tune, has a strong, rhythmic feel. The song explores the contradictions you start to experience in a relationship and the feeling of being pulled down by forces out of your control. In “Separate,” Henderson writes about the moment you realize the relationship has failed and it’s time to break up.

“Bahito” has a mysterious, almost trippy feel. The song reflects on the empty, lost feelings you have as you move through your days after the break up. “Ennui” sets in when you know the relationship is never going to work. Henderson ends the CD with a more upbeat feel. “Slow Control” involves getting back control of your life and emotions and the feeling of letting go.

Lauren Henderson is a rising jazz star. She’s talented, smart, and driven to make interesting, multicultural, multi-textural music. She’s been growing her audiences in jazz clubs and up and down the East Coast and around Europe, and she’ll soon be breaking into the African music market with a tour in South Africa scheduled for early 2019.

CHRIS PATTISHALL   piano, Rhodes, Wurlitzer, synthesizer, Mellotron
ERIC ENGLAND  double bass, electric bass
JOE SAYLOR  drums, percussion

Music & Lyrics by Lauren Henderson

1. ÁMAME  3:21
2. RIPTIDE  3:01
3. SEPARATE  4:38
4. BAJITO  5:27
5. ENNUI  6:52

Mariel Austin - Runner in the Rain (2018)



Every so often, an article appears in print or social media that ponders whether jazz is dead or just on its last legs. While it’s true that jazz is just a tiny part of the overall music market and the larger venues for jazz performance have become fewer over the last several years, the jazz culture has been kept alive by a growing cadre of hard core fans. And judging by the number of high schools and universities that offer specialized jazz education, the interest in the music among younger people is still very strong.

Trombonist, composer, and arranger MARIEL AUSTIN is an exciting, young talent on the jazz scene. Although still in the early stages of her career, she’s already drawing attention. She’s the recipient of the ASCAP Foundation Phoebe Jacobs Prize, part of the 2018 Herb Alpert Young Jazz Awards, and she was selected by the New York Youth Symphony to compose a First Music Commission piece for the 2015-2016 Jazz Band. Austin is now releasing her first recording project, RUNNER IN THE RAIN, an EP comprising five of her arrangements for a big band.

Born and raised in Berkeley, CA, Austin enjoyed music from a very young age, playing flute, piano, clarinet, and alto sax in public school. However, none of those instruments held her interest for very long. Things changed when her parents took her to a concert by the Berkeley High Jazz Ensemble when she was just 13 years old. “I loved music ever since I was in elementary school, and I always looked up to the Berkeley High Jazz Ensemble.

I actually had a secret goal to make it into the Ensemble once I reached high school." relates Austin. “One day, my parents took me to a concert by the Ensemble, and half way through the performance, they played Charlie Mingus’ “Fables of Faubus.” It was, of course, a big band arrangement.

They began the tune with the famous opening line featuring a bari sax and a particularly zealous bass trombone player. The moment I heard that sound, I was struck. It just clicked with me, and I knew right then that I wanted to be a trombone player.” 

She eventually went to Berkeley High and joined the jazz ensemble, touring with the group to several international festivals, including the Montreux Jazz Festival, the Umbria Jazz Festival in Italy, and the Kurashiki Music Festival in Japan.

As with many creative individuals, Austin has more than one artistic outlet, and after high school, she was torn between majoring in music or in fashion design. She went down to Los Angeles to attend Cal State Northridge, which offered both majors, but it didn’t take long for her to decide that music was her true calling. She became a member of the CSUN Jazz “A” Band and graduated with a Bachelor of Music Degree in Jazz Studies. After graduation, her skills on the trombone got her many TV gigs on shows like American Idol and The Voice, but she wanted to continue growing as an artist and decided to further her education, so she attended the prestigious New England Conservatory of Music, earning a Master’s Degree in Jazz Composition in 2015. After graduating, Austin stayed for a couple of years in Boston and recorded RUNNER IN THE RAIN. She returned recently to LA to restart her studio work.

Austin gathered her compatriots from the NEC and the Berklee College of Music to record RUNNER IN THE RAIN. The high quality of musicianship on this CD belies the relative youth of these players. These musicians are ready to share the bandstand with more experienced professionals.

Austin’s compositions are complex and satisfying. She has a strong visual imagination (the CD cover is one of her paintings) which she translates into musical imagery. She opens the CD with an original tune she calls “A Rough, Unsorted Compiling of Ways Not to Exist.” Inspired by the big band writing of George Russell, who is one of the first to formulate a theory of harmony based on jazz rather than European music, Austin takes you on a trip across distinctive musical landscapes, with each representing a different state of mind. The first section represents frustration and uncertainty. The second section represents brooding. The third section suggests liberating anger. The fourth section is a recapitulation of the first section, modulated a step above, representing reflection and movement forward.

“Night Dreamer” is a Wayne Shorter composition that Austin arranged for a school competition. She added a vibraphone to give the music a dreamy quality and populated the background horn section with musical quotes from Shorter.

“Mirror Shift” is an original composition that was performed by the New York Youth Symphony. Her composition was one of three pieces chosen from hundreds of submissions. At one point in the piece, she directed the woodwind players to sing their parts rather than play them.

“One Way Journey Home” is a funk ballad that Austin wrote for the Jazz Composers Ensemble in grad school when she was feeling homesick. Austin relates, “When I was giving direction to the horn section, I told them to think about someone they really missed. Someone they really longed for.”

Austin lends her lovely voice to “Runner in the Rain,” the title tune. She originally wrote it as an experiment with electronic music, but when she found out that a friend had died, she re-arranged the tune as a touching big band chart. "The tune is an elegy in a way, and not just for my deceased friend, “ says Austin. “I was also thinking of everyone I never got a chance to say good-bye to, especially my mentors and inspirations who helped me become the person I am today.” She was also reading “Watership Down” at the time and included in her CD package a quote from the book which reads, “My heart has joined the Thousand, for my friend stopped running today.”

RUNNER IN THE RAIN is a stellar introduction to a burgeoning musical talent. This first recording by Mariel Austin is only the opening salvo by a composer, arranger, and performer whose career trajectory is surely aimed at the jazz firmament.