Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Michael Wolff - Live at Vitellos (March 19, 2021 Sunnyside Records)

Award-winning pianist Michael Wolff, known for an impressive and eclectic career that has spanned nearly five decades, presents his new live recording, Live at Vitellos. Surfacing a decade after its capture at the iconic Los Angeles club Vitellos in 2011, Live at Vitellos is a stirring snapshot of a stunning live performance - something that is so sorely missed during these modern times.

Live at Vitellos showcases the dazzling chemistry between exquisite instrumentalist and composer Mark Isham, who joins here on trumpet and flugelhorn, and the ever-lyrical Wolff as they perform this intimate set in top form. Though Wolff and Isham's friendship dates back to the 1970s, this stint at Vitellos marks their first official collaboration. "From the very beginning, Mark was always a beautiful player and a master of harmony," reflected Wolff. "I knew on day we would do a project together." That day finally came in the form of two nights in late August in 2011. Located in Studio City, Vitellos was one of Wolff's favorite venues to play in the city and served as the ideal spot to record a live album.

The resulting work is a multifaceted, warm live recording, that instantly transports listeners to this beloved jazz club, recreating a night of magic and mystery with musical giants.


1. Ballade Noir

2. Lagniappe

3. Fall

4. Falling Down

5. The Conversation

6. Nefertiti

7. Loft Fun


Michael Wolff - piano

Mark Isham - trumpet & flugelhorn

John B. Williams - bass

Mike Clark - drums

Dan Blake - Da Fé (March 12, 2021 Sunnyside Records)

Saxophonist/Composer Dan Blake finds hope for a better future through compassionate action on his inspiring new album


Da Fé, due out March 12, 2021 via Sunnyside Records, encourages activism in the fight against

climate catastrophe, poverty and hunger with a spirited ensemble featuring

Carmen Staaf, Leo Genovese, Dmitry Ishenko and Jeff Williams


Livestream release concert Friday, March 26 at Soapbox Gallery in Brooklyn at www.soapboxgallery.org


"Blake, whose versatility and probing ears have made him a ripe collaborator for both Julian Lage and Anthony Braxton… brings an intelligence and taste for adventure but also a solid swing and tradition-hugging mandate to his work as both player and writer." – Josef Woodard, DownBeat

“Saxophonist Dan Blake is one of those musicians who are always on a quest to expand their musical horizons… As both a player and a composer, Blake demonstrates an intensity coupled with a very fertile and searching mind.” – Budd Kopman, All About Jazz

Pondering the existential crises that face humanity today – global climate catastrophe, poverty, hunger – can be overwhelming, especially when compounded with the more mundane trials we face every day. Social activism, despite its daunting challenges, is fundamentally an act of faith: faith in a better future and in our species’ capacity for positive change. On his inspiring new album, Da Fé, saxophonist and composer Dan Blake pays tribute to the spiritual leaders and political activists who’ve offered him hope while adding his own singular voice to the optimistic chorus of those crying out for solutions.
Due out March 12, 2021 via Sunnyside Records, Da Fé is an outgrowth of Blake’s own activism. A practicing Buddhist since his college years, Blake has served since 2015 on the board of Buddhist Global Relief, an organization dedicated to combatting chronic hunger and malnutrition around the world. He has also organized concerts to benefit other charitable organizations, including Extinction Rebellion, the Poor People’s Campaign and Show Up for Racial Justice. While he’s quick to downplay his own role in favor of those who dedicate their lives to activism, his music follows a socially conscious path blazed by the likes of Max Roach and Alice Coltrane before him.

“Climate catastrophe is an issue that I've been concerned about for a while,” says Blake, who credits moving to Mount Kisco, New York and raising his two young daughters as inspiration. “Moving away from the city provided some perspective and made me much more aware of nature in my day to day life. Becoming a parent was another causal factor in bringing more urgency to my own personal awareness of this issue. As humans, our relationship to nature can be so sympathetic, but then something like the California wildfires reminds us how our collective abuse of the natural world has become incredibly dangerous to our survival as a species.”

Da Fé translates to “of faith,” and stems from the phrase “auto da fé,” which refers to the burning of heretics during the Spanish Inquisition. While Blake changed the term to avoid direct reference to that historical context, he does see a connection in the fires blazing across millions of acres in California. “There's a certain violence to this time that we're in, as we seem to be sacrificing ourselves at the altar of commodities. But there's still a possibility of realizing a better future that we can put our faith in. That's where these activist organizations come in.”

To provide his music with the tension and urgency it required, Blake enlisted a remarkable cross-generational band. He initially recorded with a quartet featuring pianist/keyboardist Carmen Staaf, bassist Dmitry Ishenko, and veteran drummer Jeff Williams. The latter was a member of the pioneering world-jazz fusion band Lookout Farm led by DaveLiebman, one of Blake’s mentors in both music and activism. He then teamed with longtime collaborator Leo Genovese, with whom he worked in Esperanza Spalding’s band, to reimagine the music in post-production via additional piano, synths and multiple saxophone lines.

“I wanted to take full advantage of the studio on this album,” Blake explains. “My model for that is Wayne Shorter's work from the 1980s – his mid-period albums like Atlantis, Phantom Navigator or Joy Ryder, where he interacts with himself playing multiple parts to realize a bigger sonic landscape from the horn. I was envisioning a sax chorus through a reflective, hall of mirrors idea.”
Staaf opens the album solo with the prayer-like, through-composed “Prologue – A New Normal.” Unsettling, static-like electronics ultimately consume the meditative piece, suggesting the threats that lie ahead, especially if we continue to accept increasingly dangerous new normals. The modal “Cry of the East” evokes John Coltrane’s yearning work on soprano sax on a dedication to the plight of the Palestinian people and, as Blake says, “all the unseen, unheard souls whose suffering has been caused by the actions of Western powers and policies.”

The turbulent “Like Fish in Puddles” takes its title from a piece in the Atthakavagga, a collection of Buddhist poems. The piece’s desperation cries out for a shift in perspective; many of us, it suggests, believe we’re swimming in the ocean while we’re simply flapping around in our limited puddles, with limited time and resources to draw upon. Opening with a strident solo by the composer, “Pain” draws on both universal and personal strife, inspired by the recent loss of Blake’s father and grandmother. The dark-hued “The Grifter” hardly needs much explanation, given the looming con-man presence who’s preoccupied our thoughts in recent years.

Blake particularly enjoys exploring vamps with Williams, as they do on “The Cliff,” whose rhythmic complexities feel like striding uncertainly along the edge of a jagged precipice. “Doctor Armchair” is a satirical look at the tendency towards offering unearned “expertise” as a solution to every issue – not strictly medical, though the notion has taken on additional weight in the midst of a contentious pandemic. Genovese’s cosmic synths layer on the hypnotic atmospherics for the title track, before the album ends with the meditative coda “Epilogue: It Heals Itself” – a suggestion not to ignore problems, but to pause a moment in our frantic activities to allow healing to begin.

“I’m very inspired by the ideal of compassionate action,” Blake says. “Activism is very important to my musical creativity, and is the impetus for this album. I believe musicians and artists can play a powerful role in these dangerous and urgent times by awakening a compassionate vibration in others, one that can spur action. I also believe artists like myself have a lot to learn from the dedicated activism and leadership of others who sacrifice so much to do the good work that must be done to wrest power from corrupt politicians and place it into the gentle and loving hands of the people.”

1. Prologue - A New Normal
2. Cry Of The Eas
3. Like Fish In Puddles
4. Pain
5. The Grifter
6. The Cliff
7. Doctor Armchair
8. Da Fé
9. Epilogue - It Heals Itself

Dan Blake - soprano & tenor saxophone
Carmen Staaf - piano & Fender Rhodes
Leo Genovese - Moog, Prophet, Farfisa, Six-Trak, Fender Rhodes & piano
Dmitry Ishenko - acoustic & electric bass
Jeff Williams - drums

Stephanie Nilles / I pledge allegiance to the flag - the white flag (March 5, 2021 Sunnyside Records)

Among the many issues that still plague the United States is its seemingly unending betrayal of its Black population. Though the struggle against prejudice in the States continues, the complexion of its fighters continues to change, as broader swathes of the American public begin to pick up the mantle of racial justice and equality for all.

The voices of African American militants continue to ring in the vanguard’s ears. One such musical example is the late, great bassist/composer Charles Mingus, whose music was vehemently charged with indignation concerning the rights of the downtrodden. His messages, both outright and nuanced, are touchstones for many musicians who choose to address these issues, including singer-songwriter/pianist Stephanie Nilles, who interprets Mingus’s canon on her new recording, I pledge allegiance to the flag – the white flag.

Born six years after Mingus’s death, Nilles comes from a world removed from that of her muse. She is a white woman who grew up in the suburbs of Chicago and studied classical piano and cello. Nilles’s initial introduction to jazz came through her younger brother’s bass study and his involvement with a summer jazz orchestra. It was through her brother that her ears first caught the sounds of Mingus’s “Jump Monk,” igniting a spark that would catch up with her down the line.

Nilles continued her study of music at the Cleveland Institute of Music, where the strict classical environment strengthened her musical chops but left her no closer to jazz. From Cleveland, Nilles moved to New York City where she spent some time away from music, working odd jobs and as a research assistant at Yeshiva University’s Center for Ethics. As many musical friends began to descend upon New York to attend graduate school, Nilles began to get pulled back into music making, beginning to write, improvise and play various shows around the City. An important mentor during Nilles’s reemergence was violinist/activist/educator Christian Howes. He was instrumental in helping her branch out from her rigid classical education toward the improvisational freedom of jazz.

The music of Mingus began to appear in Nilles’s repertory in 2007, the bassist’s particular blend of intricacy with bombast and humor with anger was intoxicating. Nilles took to the road for a time, playing gigs where she could, until she ended up in New Orleans, where she became involved with the eclectic local music scene, including a quartet with bassist Jesse Morrow, a devout follower of Mingus. Special moments with Mingus’s music ensued, including the mourning of a friend who died from cancer with a cathartic “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat” sendoff. Nilles soon had an entire set of Mingus pieces that she could play solo, an exhausting but exhilarating feat.

In May 2019, Nilles performed a transcription of saxophonist Charles McPherson’s solo on Mingus’s “OP” on a series of solo concerts in Germany. Radio Bremen producer Volker Steppat heard this and was immediately impressed. Steppat asked if Nilles would be interested in recording an entire album of solo performed Mingus material, which she was ecstatic to try.

The recording was made in December 2019 at the Sendesaal in Bremen, Germany, the same hall that Mingus had performed his first German concert with his classic Sextet of Eric Dolphy, Clifford Jordan, Johnny Coles, Jaki Byard and Dannie Richmond nearly 55 years earlier. Most of the pieces were recorded in first or second takes.

The program begins with Nilles’s dramatic take on “Fables of Faubus,” Mingus’s inflammatory composition about Governor Orval Faubus’s illegal order prohibiting the desegregation of public schools in Arkansas is given a broad treatment where the pianist injects her own classical influences and a stark reminder of the piece’s intent with a quotation of the Black national anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” The pianist takes the cosmopolitan swing of “East Coasting” and adds an element of the natural with bits of bird song in the piece’s sonatina like arrangement. Done in one take, the languidly paced “Oh Lord, Don’t Let Them Drop That Atomic Bomb on Me” is a study of building tension through controlled chaos. The McPherson solo on “OP” is the transcription that launched the project and a joyous, yet terrifyingly electric piece, that feels like it is going faster as it slows, much like a Liszt étude.

The stolid “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat” is played as a solemn funereal dirge and with open, near empty voicings, another sad reminder of the piece being written about a black man who died prematurely. Mingus’s iconic “Free Cell Block F, ‘Tis Nazi USA” is a difficult piece that demands attention with its quick pace and strong drive but it is also one of the composer’s classic wolf-in-sheep’s clothing political statement songs where the tune’s meaning is only discerned from learning its title. Nilles’s study of blues players and walking basslines (a concept not developed in a classical music education) helped in her approach to the offbeat blues of “Devil Woman.” French impressionism informs Nilles’s arrangement of “Peggy’s Blue Skylight,” the piece shimmering more so through her glassy piano touch.

The bassist’s “Pithecanthropus Erectus” provides challenges for solo piano renditions, as the horn led melody is full of swelling attack, but Nilles proves up to the challenge, providing a moving rendition echoing a feeling of uncertainty that Mingus implied on society’s evolution or devolution. Though “Remember Rockefeller at Attica” could be played by a straight-laced conservative jazzer, the tune’s irony is only felt when its discordance is let loose in a flurry of raging note clusters that Nilles is willing to provide. The album concludes with John Coltrane’s “Alabama,” the saxophonist’s heartbreaking ode to the young victims of the 1963 bombing of the 16h Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, played as a minimalistic epilogue.

It is hard not to be moved by the singularly brilliant voice of Charles Mingus. In reinterpreting his tunes and those of other Black voices, Stephanie Nilles knows that she is privileged and remains sensitive. She also knows that the fight against racism is a universal cause and that the power of Mingus’s work artistically assists that cause, thus the creation of her moving new recording, I pledge allegiance to the flag – the white flag. 

1. Fables of Faubus
2. East Coasting
3. Oh Lord Don't Let Them Drop That Atomic Bomb On Me 05:06
4. O.P.
5. Goodbye Pork Pie Hat
6. Free Cell Block F, 'Tis Nazi U.S.A.
7. Devil Woman
8. Peggy's Blue Skylight
9. Pithecanthropus Erectus
10. Remember Rockefeller at Attica
11. Alabama

Stephanie Nilles - piano and voice

Ben Monder / Tony Malaby / Tom Rainey - Live at 55 Bar (February 26, 2021 Sunnyside Records)

If anything good has come from the past year, it has been an enhanced appreciation of friendship and communal interaction. In jazz and improvised music, the former is always a blessing, but the latter is a necessity. Guitarist Ben Monder set out with the intent of recording a studio album with longtime collaborators, saxophonist Tony Malaby and drummer Tom Rainey, but circumstances led to a more informal situation, providing a visceral glimpse of these stellar musicians’ rapport.

The performance world was on the brink of shutting down in early March 2020 due to the appearance of COVID-19. Monder decided to take the opportunity provided by his monthly Tuesday residency at New York City’s stalwart jazz club, The 55 Bar, to present a recurring project with Malaby, a bass-less trio with drums. Rainey commanded the revolving drum chair on March 3rd and the two sets were recorded as a remarkable live document of fully improvised music making from three masters, released now as Live at The 55 Bar.

Monder has made a mark on the contemporary jazz world as a brilliant technician, virtuosic soloist and meticulous composer. The concept for his nearly 25-year partnership with Malaby was to focus on improvisation, as the saxophonist’s energy and creativity have always provided a perfect foil for the guitarist. Monder’s relationship with the versatile Rainey goes back even farther to the guitarist’s first demo recordings in the early 1990s; their familiarity is obvious in the ease of communication between them.

There are many active elements in this type of musical approach. Monder considers performing with this amalgamation particularly rewarding because of his bandmates’ abundance of ideas and penchant for improvising compositionally. These traits allow the music to evolve naturally, in a long-form manner, granting the musicians the ability to venture into different places without repeating themselves.

Three long improvisations were recorded that night, each piece unfolding organically. The ebb and flow and the building of tension to release demonstrate just how confident these musicians are in their craft of composing on the fly, in full control of their musical choices. The recording was made by the brilliant producer Joseph Branciforte, who was able to provide gorgeous studio quality sound and help with the narrative arc for the completed recording.

The trio took the suite approach to heart, naming the three pieces as such with the date of performance. The beginning segment, “Suite 3320 – Part I,” begins quietly with guitar arpeggiations, searching tenor moans and skittering drums. The brooding feel blossoms as Malaby pokes and prods at melodic ideas and the ambient guitar harmonics begin to unfurl more and more. Rainey’s tempo and volume build the intensity, and the guitar distortion adds to the density of sound.

“Suite 3320 – Part II” was actually almost the entire second set played on the evening of March 3rd. Malaby’s playful soprano jousts with Rainey’s lightly played snare as Monder patiently builds. The percussion focuses the group in its ascendancy. The saxophone and guitar push against one another, the dissonance electrifying the proceedings. The intensity breaks with waves of controlled reverbed guitar feedback and ghostly plucked tones over pounding drums. The thirty-minute performance rolls through echoing, ambient valleys and rocky, percussive slopes.

The concluding “Suite 3320 – Part III” initially finds the trio in a hazily disjointed space. Malaby’s sputtering tenor vocalizes and bleats over Monder’s dark, densely-packed and reverb-drenched guitar manipulations. Rainey’s drums are relentless as the trio’s level of intensity remains full tilt. A sudden break finds the musicians in an icy realm of false calm, Monder’s cold ominous waves of sound only broken by Malaby’s entreating sax.

Monder, Malaby and Rainey’s Live at The 55 Bar is a rare document of the guitarist convening an impressively supportive and expansive unit in a purely improvisational setting. The recording should reinforce the importance of, and will surely whet the appetite for, live improvised music made in the moment.

1. Suite 3320 - Part I
2. Suite 3320 - Part II
3. Suite 3320 - Part III

Ben Monder - guitar
Tony Malaby - saxophone
Tom Rainey - drums

The Rooibos Quartet - Rooibos (February 26, 2021 Sunnyside Records)

Thoughts of the American Coastal South customarily land upon neighborly folks living a laconic lifestyle amidst Spanish moss and palms. Apart from New Orleans, jazz hotbeds are thought to spring from the North’s industrial, urban centers. Bucking that trend, Charleston, South Carolina has maintained a strong jazz scene for generations and has found a wide-ranging assortment of great musicians attracted to the slower pace of Southern life.

The Rooibos Quartet is one of the outstanding ensembles to emerge from Charleston’s fertile scene. Assembled by young guitarist Jesse Shafer, the quartet, which features pianist Tyler Sim, bassist Fisher Wilson and drummer Kain Naylor, presents their debut recording, Rooibos, a collection of original tunes from Shafer that showcase the quartet’s particular blend of contemporary and classic jazz styles with a laid-back Southern demeanor.

The city of Charleston is a tourist destination that boasts a great art and music scene. The abundance of work for musicians makes it an ideal and comfortable place to set up shop. The jazz legacy that began with the Jenkins Orphanage Band and its graduates, including trumpeter Cat Anderson and guitarist Freddie Green, is celebrated and built upon by local academic institutions, including the College of Charleston.

Originally from Nashville, Shafer was drawn to the small but strong jazz department at the College. The guitarist already had a strong knowledge of folk and bluegrass playing upon his arrival. Shafer was fully immersed into jazz by his school friends, investing time in the study of jazz crossover legends Chet Atkins and Les Paul, then into progressives like Bill Frisell and Marc Ribot. The local scene also nourished his appetite for the music, as he found a helpful mentor in guitarist Tyler Ross, a member of the Charleston Jazz Orchestra.

While he was working in a local music store, Shafer met drummer Naylor. The two began performing regularly around Charleston, where the album’s producer, Wolfgang Zimmerman, a local recording engineer, began following them. Bassist Wilson were friends through the College and when the trio was placed together with pianist Sim on a gig, the Rooibos Quartet was born. All the members of the group are current or former students at the College.

Shafer composed a book of original material for the group, which he presented to Zimmerman. The producer brought Rooibos into his Rialto Row Studio in late February and early March of 2020. Zimmerman has made a name for himself for his work with Band of Horses and other rock acts, but this would be his first jazz recording. The group was ecstatic to record in the studio’s wonderful wood lined room, producing a full, classic jazz sound.

The recording begins with the expansive “A Trip Around The Sun,” an openly played piece that Shafer shaped over the course of a year, its dynamics mirroring seasonal variations in brightness and darkness. The guitarist wrote the quirky “Sewer City Blues” out of frustration with the unseemly garbage problem on the streets of Charleston. The piece owes its bent character to the influence of hobo-chanteur Tom Waits. The serenely mysterious “Ingratiate” is Shafer’s oldest piece, which owes its mystique to its unusual 14-bar form and the quartet’s affecting performance.

The effervescent “Con” reimagines the classic swing to bebop sound that Shafer was attracted to via Les Paul and Charlie Parker, a fitting way to demonstrate the ensemble’s ease in this setting. The gently swinging “Warm Winters” takes its drawl from Charleston’s Southern, slowly twanged influence. Luiz Bonfa’s love song “Gentle Rain” is done in an inspired ¾ time rendition, as the ensemble tried to bring something authentically new to the gorgeous piece while staying true to the form. The recording concludes with the singsong “Wood Blocks and Spinning Tops,” a simple, effective piece that focuses on a nursery song type melody over complex harmonic structure.

The Southern charms of Charleston have certainly attracted a wide breadth of musical talent. The Rooibos Quartet is a perfect example of the next generation of jazz performers pursuing an attractive mixture of modern concepts with a relaxed approach, which can be easily appreciated on the ensemble’s new album, Rooibos.


1. A Trip Around The Sun

2. Sewer City Blues

3. Ingratiate

4. Con

5. Warm Winters

6. Gentle Rain

7. Wood Blocks and Spinning Tops


Jesse Shafer - guitar

Fisher Wilson - double bass

Tyler Sim - piano

Kain Nayler - drums

Diego Barber - Drago (February 19, 2021 Sunnyside Records)

There is only one way to enhance one’s performance and that is to practice until there is a level of confidence in act, and pride in the outcomes. Guitarist and composer Diego Barber seeks new challenges relentlessly. His pursuit of excellence in all his endeavors has led him to the extreme heights of classical guitar technique, contemporary composition and long-distance running, all of these requiring grueling regimens of focused study.

For his new recording, Drago, Barber departs from his recent focus on blending contemporary classical music and jazz to focus on electronic music, utilizing elements from both the classical and dancefloor models. A two-year long study of Logic music programming has led the fleet fingered string specialist to eschew the guitar for the most part to focus on composing pieces in a new and highly personal way.

Barber was attracted to the guitar very early in life and, once he set his sights on the instrument, he began to focus solely on mastering it. Classical repertoire from Bach to Brouwer continues to be an essential touchstone for Barber but he was also touched by the minimalists, like Steve Reich and Philip Glass. Their repetitive looping structures appealed to Barber and he began to hear the connects between that and the development of Detroit Techno and the Electronic Dance Music coming from Berlin. Barber’s interest and infatuation with electronic music has been nearly as longstanding as that of his love for guitar.

There are quite a few classical and jazz artists that have delved into the world of electronic music. Herbie Hancock, Pat Metheny, Tristan Perich, Francesco Tristano and Craig Taborn are just a few that have found intriguing ways to adapt their style to that of electronic music, both popular and experimental.

Like the widespread roots of the famed one-thousand-year-old Drago tree of his native Canary Islands, Barber spans decades to inform the compositional development of this music. Each piece comes from a different place, whether done in sonata form, built by loops or by musical cells. Many of the pieces were inspired by a sound that Barber heard or a rhythm that he generated while on one of his many long-distance races, thus many of the pieces are named for locations of these 50 to 100-mile ultra-marathons that Barber took part in.

The program begins with the title track, a piece that is inspired directly from the Steve Reich grooving, loop-based version of classical minimalism and utilizes guest vocalist Theo Bleckmann’s beautiful stacked vocals and Barber’s own amplifying electric guitar. The mysterious “Leadville” refers to the chilly Colorado mountain town and shows the most obvious parallels to the experiments in electronic composition from the 1960s and 1970s. Percussion master Alejandro Coello is featured throughout on marimba and acoustic percussion. The austere “Utah” began its germination while Barber ran an overnight stretch in the deserts of Utah, jotting down notes when stopping at rest breaks. The piece retains a steady, pacing beat count and a hauntingly dark mix of percussion and electronics.

The continually expanding “Bryce Canyon” continues to gain momentum throughout its development until it reaches a climax near 200 beats per minute and is a perfect two minutes for the dancefloor. The cinematic “Zion Park” relates the composer’s feeling pressure during a grueling race of 100 miles at 1,000 meters elevation, an incredible feat of endurance. The piece uses a cell of melodic and rhythmic information that continues to reoccur throughout the entire piece, developing drama from small repetitive actions. The nocturnally shaded “San Francisco” begins as a twinkling view of this crest filled city on the Bay before its insistence picks up into a late-night sprint.

The hazy resonance of “Santa Monica” emanates from a MIDI guitar that Barber handles deftly, making three vastly different moods emerge from one another, like visiting different pictures in an exhibition. The snow can practically be seen in the mind’s eye on “Cold Spring,” as guest Craig Taborn provides lovely piano and a touch of mystery to this enveloping ambient piece. The program concludes with the electro funk of “Vermont,” a piece where Barber focuses his attention on his electric guitar, reaching exhilarating technical and emotive heights.

The incredible music on Diego Barber’s Drago is a departure from his typical output but it also shows the development of an artist who accepts musical challenges and finds exhilaration in chasing the unknown.

1. Drago
2. Leadville
3. Utah
4. Bryce Canyon 06:14
5. Zion Park
6. San Francisco
7. Santa Monica
8. Cold Spring
9. Vermont

Diego Barber - guitar, electronics
Theo Bleckmann - voice (1)
Alejandro Coello - percussion (2)
Craig Taborn - piano (8)

Ethan Iverson - Bud Powell In The 21st Century (2021 Sunnyside Records)

The effects of the bebop revolution in jazz music are still being felt and explored. Of the half dozen true pioneers of the movement, pianist Bud Powell has remained somewhat in the shadows, although his work has become a major touchstone for true devotees of the music and a principal influence for most of jazz’s most explorative pianists.

Powell’s brilliant original compositions are essential, infinitely listenable but also strangely tricky. Unlike Monk, Parker and Gillespie, the composer neglected to perform them much after their original recordings, so they never became a part of the jazz lingua franca. Pianist and historian Ethan Iverson provides a fantastic validation of Powell’s compositional genius on his new recording, Bud Powell In The 21st Century, a reworking of a number of Powell’s pieces for big band.

Iverson came upon Powell’s music early in his development via the Mosaic boxed set of the complete Powell on Blue Note Records and the essential The Genius of Bud Powell compilation on Verve Records. The music was revelatory for Iverson and has continued to be an inspiration well into his career. That career has always balanced itself between the presentation of new contemporary work and jazz history, essentially Iverson’s involvement with The Bad Plus paired with his work on Do The Math.

After his departure from The Bad Plus, Iverson’s time has been occupied more and more with large commissions, like curating MONK@100, the Monk Centennial event at Duke University, Iverson’s overview of the British jazz scene for the London Jazz Festival, a piano concerto for the American Composers Orchestra, and Pepperland for the Mark Morris Dance Group. It was under the auspices of a commission from Carlo Pagnotta, Enzo Capua and the Umbria Jazz Festival that Iverson’s Powell project was able to take shape.

The popular pull of tribute concerts in jazz institutions has continued to surge, a common draw at Jazz at Lincoln Center and jazz festivals all over the world. Iverson believes fresh creative composition to be almost a requirement for jazz repertory projects to be successful. The project shaped itself into what would be Iverson’s first attempt at arranging for big band; to be presented at the Umbria Jazz Festival in 2019.

For source material, Iverson began toward four quintet pieces that Powell recorded with an incredible group of musicians in 1949. The ensemble of Powell, saxophonist Sonny Rollins, trumpeter Fats Navarro, bassist Tommy Potter and drummer Roy Haynes plays quintessential versions of Powell’s “Bouncing with Bud,” “Dance of The Infidels” and “Wail,” along with Monk’s “52nd Street Theme.” Because this is the only Powell led session with horns, Iverson decided to use these tunes as the backbone of his orchestrations.

Iverson is generally attracted to more idiosyncratic jazz composers who write for their ensembles, individuals like Duke Ellington and Carla Bley. In an effort to bridge a divide that would come from composing and arranging for a one-off big band, Iverson enlisted a tremendous quintet to secure the foundation of his work. Ingrid Jensen had impressed Iverson for years as a triumphant solo voice in Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society Band. Saxophonist Dayna Stephens stood apart for his virtuosity and oblique approach. Bassist Ben Street has been a longtime collaborator, someone who understands both bebop and modernity. The happy opportunity to add drummer Lewis Nash, a master musician who has been the first call of many legends, was too good for Iverson to pass up.

Going into the actual writing and arranging, Iverson knew that he wanted to present Powell’s compositions accurately, doing “no harm” to their original intention. This would be difficult, as the pieces are hard and have finicky details. There were a number of composers and arrangers Iverson looked to for inspiration, including Stravinsky’s arranging of older Italian music and Carla Bley’s take on Spanish folk songs for Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra. Shades of Count Basie and the Dizzy Gillespie Big Band also tint Iverson’s palette.

Iverson’s composed original pieces, like “Bud Powell in the 21st Century” and “Nobile Paradiso,” use Powell’s improvisations as building blocks. Iverson also borrows key harmonic and melodic ideas to inform his “Spells,” short chorales that connect the larger pieces and have the feel of an eerie séance with the celebrated pianist. Pieces like “Continuity” and “Nobile Paradiso” are heightened by Iverson’s mastery of counterpoint, with strands of ideas moving around each other, the latter piece composed of Iverson’s original material that builds like an anthemic Powell composition, like a hill from a grain of sand (with a foxtrot rhythm!). Big moving block chords hammer in the harmonic ingenuity of Powell’s originals under Iverson’s dynamic revisions.

Powell’s touch can be heard throughout the recording. Iverson and other ensemble members quote the pianist’s solo lines throughout, as can be heard in the saxophone section on “Celia” and under Iverson’s capable fingers on “Tempus Fugit,” which happens to be led in by an unaccompanied display of Nash’s impeccable bebop drumming. The gorgeously played French horn feature for Giovanni Hoffer on Powell’s ballad, “I’ll Keep Loving You,” is a true showstopper.

Ethan Iverson’s Bud Powell in The 21st Century is a landmark not only in his career but also in the legacy of Powell, a musician who came from a generation that longed for the opportunities to have their pieces appreciated as the true art it is. Iverson has stylishly recreated the legend’s pieces for a grand big band to perform on a festival stage in Italy. Powell’s spirit should be pleased.

1. Bud Powell In The 21st Century: I. Chorale 02:33
2. Bud Powell In The 21st Century: II. Continuity 04:13
3. Celia 05:10
4. Tempus Fugit 05:02
5. Five Simple Spells: I. Chorale 01:11
6. Bouncing with Bud 04:00
7. Five Simple Spells: II. Waltz 00:53
8. Wail 03:02
9. Five Simple Spells: III. Chorale 00:52
10. Dance of The Infidels 02:49
11. Five Simple Spells: IV. Moderato 01:15
12. 52nd Street 03:50
13. Five Simple Spells: V. Ballad 01:41
14. I'll Keep Loving You 05:46
15. Nobile Paradisco 11:10
16. Un Poco Loco 06:22

Ingrid Jensen - trumpet
Dayna Stephens - tenor saxophone
Ethan Iverson - piano, conduction (Tracks 1 & 16)
Ben Street - bass
Lewis Nash - drums
Giovanni Hoffer - French horn (Track 16)
Daniele Tittarelli - alto saxophone
Manuele Morbidini - alto saxophone, conduction (Tracks 5, 7, 9, 11, 13, 14)
Pedro Spallati - tenor saxophone
Rossano Emili - baritone saxophone
Mirco Rubegni - trumpet
Francesco Lento - trumpet
Francesco Fratini - trumpet
Massimo Morganti - trombone
Roberto Rossi - trombone
Federico Pierantoni - trombone
Rosario Liberti - bass trombone

Gui Duvignau - 3, 5, 8 (2021 Sunnyside Records)

Curiosity is a principle motivator for Gui Duvignau, though what might provide just a diversion for some frequently becomes a passion for the young bassist/composer. From music and art to history and numbers, Duvignau finds ways to immerse himself in subjects, gaining something for the time spent. His new recording, 3, 5, 8, demonstrates his fervor for discovery and his application of it in brilliant fashion.

Duvignau’s French parents were seekers and explorers. After the birth of their son in France and a short time in Morocco, the family settled in Belo Horizonte in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais. Here Duvignau was raised with his brother in a household filled with discovery, musical and otherwise. During his teenage years, the family moved to São Paulo, where Duvignau and his brother were attracted to the local rock and metal scenes. Duvignau began to play electric bass after his brother began his focus on guitar.

Rock music didn’t provide the young bassist with enough of a challenge, so he began to dig deeper into the possibilities of his instrument. Duvignau began listening to jazz, ordering CDs online, and waiting for deliveries of classics from Miles Davis, Jaco Pastorius, Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane and, especially, Charles Mingus. Studying the liner notes and devouring the music, Duvignau began to focus more and more on jazz. He began taking lessons with a local guitarist who gave him fundamentals on jazz harmony without rigid codifications. Duvignau also began to delve into the rich well of Brazilian music, including the music of Cartola, Tom Jobim, Chico Buarque, Baden Powell, and Elis Regina, among many others.

Berklee School of Music in Boston would be Duvignau’s next stop. He focused on composition and bass guitar but was drawn more and more toward acoustic bass. Studies with composer Vuk Kulenovic led Dugivnau more and more into the realm of contemporary classical music. After his graduation in 2007, Duvignau put down the electric bass to focus on the acoustic bass, taking a few lessons from John Lockwood and others but remaining mostly self-taught.

A short stay in Portugal led to a longer one in Paris, where Duvignau really solidified his approach to composition, augmenting his personal expression in this his chosen artistic field. Recordings he made in Portugal and Paris introduced very different sides of his musical personality, the former a focused quartet with singer Sofia Ribeiro and the latter a sextet recording featuring his highly wrought pieces influenced by contemporary classical music and avant-garde jazz.

It was his move to New York City that led to the development of the music on 3, 5, 8. While completing his master’s degree in jazz studies at New York University, Duvignau was able to meet a number of musicians who would help shape his sound and approach to composing. Duvignau was introduced to Argentinean pianist Santiago Leibson at a recording session and they hit it off immediately. Leibson called the great drummer, Jeff Hirshfield, for one of their initial meetings and the three found a quick rapport as they began to play regular sessions and a handful of gigs.

While at NYU, Duvignau studied with the illustrious saxophonist Billy Drewes. Drewes was an inspiration, not only for his incredible playing, but for his compositional practice. The young bassist had become burnt out by writing highly involved compositions. Drewes recommended the practice of writing every day, no matter what came out. This helped Duvignau break through his writer’s block and focus on developing a simpler, more spontaneous compositional style.

When the opportunity to record came about, Duvignau wanted to form a unit of openminded and flexibly expressive players. He invited his trio mates, Leibson and Hirshfield, and added Drewes. Duvignau also brought in German guitarist and fellow Berklee alum Elias Meister to bring a blues-inflected energy into the quintet’s mix.

Initially self-taught as a composer, Duvignau relies on his own experience as much as his training to inform his compositional style. Brazilian music, especially that of the state of Minas Gerais, can be heard throughout his pieces. Duvignau also developed a book of compositions based on the pentatonic scales in order to focus on simplicity in structure; a number of these pieces can be heard on 3, 5, 8.

The recording begins with the rhapsodic “Volta” (Portuguese for “return”), a nostalgic piece for trio with a sense of longing and a loosely played Paul Motian influence. The bouncy “2” is the second piece in Duvignau’s book of pentatonic compositions and is brightly swung by Leibson and Hirshfield. Written as a love song for his partner of Brazilian and Armenian descent, Duvignau’s “Yerevan” is a gorgeous yet somber tune based on theme and variations meant to pay homage to the Armenian people and their struggles. Duvignau’s buoyant bass and Meister’s hazy guitar introduces “Minas,” a song that is informed in feel and rhythm by the bassist’s boyhood home.

The melancholy “Une pensée pour Paris” is a lilting, meditative ballad that was written upon learning of the devastating fire of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, Duvignau’s former home. The playful “Vem Logo!” (meaning “come quickly!”) was written for Durvignau’s recently born niece and is a warm welcome to the world. The ever shifting “Detuned for Drewes” is a dancing tribute to the saxophonist and mentor that encapsulates the energy that Duvignau was able to draw from Drewes. Meister’s strident guitar fits perfectly on “Somewhat,” a piece born of a blues idea. The recording ends with a short and spirited recapitulation of “Detuned for Drewes,” ending appropriately enough with “Right? Wow!”

Finding the poetry in many aspects of life (including numbers), Gui Duvignau has written an ode to his discoveries on 3, 5, 8, whose title is a clever way of announcing his third recording and his focus on pieces for trio and quintet, eight fantastically diverse tunes in total.

1. Volta 04:41
2. '2' 04:12
3. Yerevan 07:14
4. Minas 05:34
5. Une pensée pour Paris 05:57
6. Vem Logo! 06:24
7. Detuned for Drewes 03:03
8. Somewhat 05:04
9. Right? Wow! 00:30

Billy Drewes - tenor saxophone
Elias Meister - guitar
Santiago Leibson - piano
Gui Duvignau - bass
Jeff Hirshfield - drums

Nicki & Patrick Adams - Lynx (2021 Sunnyside Records)

The collaborative essence of jazz ensures that the music is about making connections. These connections can be between individual musicians, different playing styles or even genres, as long as they are joined together in expressions through improvisation.

Brothers Nicki and Patrick Adams have a natural bond that most musicians can never approximate with their peers. Their common upbringing and interests have also given them the idea to blend the aural tradition of jazz with the more written one of classical, with a unique approach that makes their efforts seem buoyant and natural on their new recording, Lynx.

Originally from Prescott, Arizona, the Adams brothers both began playing piano early on at the behest of their parents. In middle school, the two entered the band program, and Patrick took up the trumpet. During high school, they discovered jazz under the guidance of master ceramicist/educator Heath Kreiger. Under Heath’s tutelage, Nicki and Patrick began to seriously focus on the craft, history and aesthetics of jazz improvisation. Heath’s unique approach to jazz education focused on developing a personal sound and left a lasting influence on the brothers.

The elder, Nicki, went to Oberlin Conservatory with Patrick following him not long thereafter. They both gained much from their experience, especially from the impact of educators like Marcus Belgrave, Jamey Haddad and Dan Wall. They spent time apart when Nicki went to the Bay Area after completing school for a year, as a musical director for a theater. When Patrick graduated, the two reunited in New York, pursuing their musical dreams alongside many of their talented Oberlin peers.

The two perform together in a number of configurations, leading their own ensembles, and collaborating with bands of many different styles. They also have collaborated with many of jazz’s finest, including Francisco Mela, Robin Eubanks, Corey Wilcox and Mike King.

Their debut recording as a duo, Lynx, takes its name from an Arizona lake that the brothers frequented during their boyhood years, solidifying bonds both fraternal and musical. The project evolved after Nicki began to reinvestigate classical pieces that he had played or listened to before he devoted his attention full time to jazz. Rather than study scores, the pianist relearned the pieces by ear in an aural learning approach more utilized by jazz and folk musicians. Nicki felt that this approach allowed him more insight into the creative choices of the composers.

Of course, jazz musicians borrow musical information from everywhere and every genre. It was only natural that the conceptual ideas that Nicki was studying began to emerge in the jazz music that he and Patrick were rehearsing together. They began to bring the jazz and classical elements together in a number of pieces of jazz and folk repertoire that they arranged by ear and developed into working arrangements.

Each brother chose four pieces to record on Lynx. Most of the tunes chosen are pieces that might be called in a typical jazz session but each finding particular classical concepts or influences appropriate to it, making for quite a singular performance for each tune. The brothers typically rely on the original harmonic structures to keep the familiarity of the tune, only breaching when the arrangement demands.

The program begins with Joe Henderson’s “Shade of Jade,” a modal piece to which the brothers apply a rhythmically complex pattern derived from Béla Bartók’s Six Dances in Bulgarian Rhythm and Mikrokosmos piano etudes, most notably in the piano ostinato and floating triads. Patrick’s shining trumpet provides a stark intro into Thelonious Monk’s “Pannonica,” which finds itself impressionistically melded with harmonic and rhythmic elements from pieces by Khachaturian, Bach and Prokofiev. Utilizing a Bach-esque basso continuo, John Coltrane’s “26-2” goes in with bubbling energy and a quote of the composer’s “Giant Steps” in the intervallic movement of the piano. Folk legend Nick Drake’s meditative “Things Behind The Sun” stands apart for its poignant, emotional performance without any pretense.

The Adams’ strident take of Wayne Shorter’s “E.S.P.” uses diminished harmonies borrowed from Olivier Messiaen’s Quartet for The End of Time in the piano bass with elements of Indian classical music as a touchstone, the parallelism in the trumpet, piano melody and bass creating unexpected harmonies. The open take of Charlie Parker’s “Cool Blues” provides a perfect space for relaxed brotherly interplay. The stride swing of Art Tatum informs the brothers’ take on Herbie Hancock’s “Actual Proof,” a real departure from the original. The program concludes with Harry Warren’s lovely standard “I Wish I Knew,” performed here with shades of Debussy and Satie impressionism and open Bartók harmonics.

The trumpet and piano rarely appear in a duo setting in jazz. The timbre of both instruments emphasize the attack of the notes and can be generally bright. However, Nicki and Patrick's sounds are distinctive and morph together in interesting ways. Patrick’s trumpet playing is at once lyrical and direct. At times he is reminiscent of the subtlety of Kenny Dorham, while at other times of the incisiveness of Woody Shaw. Overall, the voice-like quality of his sound sits well in the intimate duo context. Nicki's piano arrangements provide a highly detailed, impressionistic backdrop. His solos explore dialogues between the left and right hands through improvised counterpoint, angular bass lines and stride and block chord techniques. In general, while the two are adept at shape-shifting, the album is rooted in a sort of blues vocabulary of the hard bop pioneers which separates it from the broad swath of "third-stream" music.

Nicki and Patrick Adams deliver a cleverly intriguing album with their new release, Lynx. The pieces that they have ingeniously arranged use a wide array of influences and connections that should provide listeners with a new vantage point from which to consider what is “classical” in the musical sphere.

1. Shade of Jade 05:24
2. Pannonica 06:21
3. 26-2 05:25
4. Things Behind The Sun 03:28
5. E.S.P. 05:08
6. Cool Blues 04:38
7. Actual Proof 05:44
8. I Wish I Knew 06:31

Nicki Adams - piano
Patrick Adams - trumpet

Russ Lossing - Metamorphism (2021 Sunnyside Records)

The ultimate goal for most composers is to make the complicated seem effortless. It takes a great deal of individual talent and an incredible amount of trust in your ensemble mates to accomplish this feat. Pianist Russ Lossing’s brilliant work has long been appreciated for its complex blend of rhythmic, harmonic and chance elements that are highly approachable and resonant.

Lossing’s latest recording, Metamorphism, is an extension of his continually evolving compositional identity. Here he presents eight original compositions, each written with its own particular strategy for interplay among a stalwart ensemble of longtime collaborators. It is only with musicians with whom he has established a deeply felt musical connection that this music could actually be realized.

The members of the Quartet have been regular collaborators with Lossing for decades. Each member of the ensemble is a unique instrumentalist with a broad palette and ability to play many styles without conforming to established sounds. Lossing met Michael Sarin some thirty years ago when the drummer moved to New York City from Seattle. Sarin’s pairing with bassist John Hébert, already a longtime associate, provides a variety of rhythmic and harmonic feels necessary for Lossing’s pieces. Lossing was a member of Loren Stillman’s first recorded ensemble, when the saxophonist was only 14 years old, and their musical affinity has grown exponentially over the past 25 years.

The ensemble is crucial to the success of the pieces. The open, impressionistic sensation of Lossing’s tunes has been one that he has always aimed for. The only method of achieving a sensation of naturalness is by allowing the other players a freedom of choice, which means avoiding the temptation to over arrange the pieces. The key is to leave the technical stuff in the background, while focusing on ensemble communication and expression.

The recording begins with the insistent “Three Treasures,” a piece that utilizes call and response patterns based on a theme that repeats itself after variations over a dramatic pedal point in Hébert’s bass. The oldest and most difficult piece is “Sojourn” which features a very technical polyrhythmic motif and a melody that lays across bar lines, making for a particular out-of-time feel. Stillman’s singing alto and Sarin’s flexible drumming style are vital to the success of the performance. The title track is written as a tribute to, and in the intervallic composing style of, the late great drummer/composer Paul Motian. The title of the piece is not only a metaphor for the metamorphosis of an improvisational piece, like a stone - through heat and pressure, it was also Mr. Motian’s email address.

Unlike many of the other pieces presented here, the thematic “Mai” sticks to its tricky compositional form and changes rather than going free during improvisations, an aspect of jazz music performance that is amazing especially as it is carried out in the composer’s intended floating style, as it is done here. “Pileatus” is a short, rhythmic piece, used here as a drum feature for Sarin, and whose title is derived from the scientific name of the Pileated Woodpecker, a species that is common in Lossing’s backyard. The quietly introspective “Blind Horizon” is a tribute to the late pianist/composer Andrew Hill. The piece takes a single idiosyncratic chord that Hill played repeatedly throughout his career to generate the melodic content while transforming the arrangement from structure, where Stillman shines over harmonic changes, into an open, spacy place reminiscent of, but not owing to, Hill’s spacious style.

The dancing melody for “June Jig” was worked from an improvisation that Lossing recorded into his computer with a MIDI keyboard, which was then notated and reworked a number of times by hand and through the notation software Finale until it became this dynamic ensemble piece. The program ends with “Canto 24,” a piece that uses a 13 measure cycle, each measure with a different time signature (much like in Indian classical music), with each instrument playing the unison melody until the cycle breaks, allowing individual improvisations and only bringing back the melody with Stillman at the end while Hébert and Sarin continue to improvise.

Russ Lossing’s music reminds listeners of the importance of both a singular approach to composing and the importance of group interplay in order to carry the performances out. Metamorphism captures Lossing’s musical principles through spirited and ethereal readings from his incredible Quartet.

1. Three Treasures 08:54
2. Sojourn 08:13
3. Metamorphism (for Paul Motian) 12:24
4. Mai 10:51
5. Pileatus 02:30
6. Blind Horizon (for Andrew Hill) 09:21
7. June Jig 06:33
8. Canto 24 09:30

Russ Lossing - piano
Loren Stillman - alto saxophone
John Hébert - bass
Michael Sarin - drums

Kristiana Roemer - House of Mirrors (Sunnyside Records)

Every individual has the opportunity to forge her own path through life making decisions based on internal and external factors. One’s intuitions, lessons learned, relationships and experiences inform the path one takes. Once the course has been taken, there is always reflection on the choices made and on what other choices may have yielded, and what they both may tell about one’s self.

Vocalist/composer Kristiana Roemer likens these wide-ranging deliberations to a disorienting, ever-changing array of looking glasses, thus, the title of her new recording, House of Mirrors. Roemer’s recording debut finds the vocalist at an exciting time in her promising career, navigating her unique path, where she is ready to introduce her fabulously broad musical approach and singular experience to the world.

Born to an American mother and a German father, Roemer grew up in a bi-lingual household in Frankfurt, Germany. Her mother instilled the importance of integrating her American with her German culture, namely through attending their English-speaking church and making long summer visits to North Dakota. Music was an important part of Roemer’s life from early on. She began piano lessons at six and then began singing in church and with a traveling choir; her first efforts at songwriting took place by the age of nine.

Roemer was taking classical voice lessons as a teenager when she met a professional pianist who invited her to sing popular tunes and standards with him at a local lounge, and soon they were performing together regularly. Choosing to continue her music education, Roemer received a scholarship to attend Concordia College in Minnesota for a year before she returned to Germany to care for her mother, who had fallen ill and passed away soon thereafter. During this time, Roemer had enrolled for her bachelor of science at Frankfurt University but soon impulse led her to move to Paris, where she spent three years performing regularly at cabarets and clubs and hosting a jam session, along with studying vocal jazz at the Paris Conservatory and completing her bachelor’s degree from abroad. In Paris, she formed a quartet and began performing her original compositions.

On a summer trip to New York, she fell in love with the City. Though Paris had been instrumental in solidifying her love and pursuit of jazz, the openness of New York’s scene made Roemer feel free to truly spread her musical wings and provided the nurturing ground that allowed her to define her musical voice. While writing music had become second nature to her, she felt that to truly express herself in her storytelling she had to broaden her approach, including her introduction of German lyrics along with English.

Roemer moved to New York soon thereafter and dove directly into the jazz scene there, performing regularly at Rockwood Music Hall, Jazz at Kitano Hotel and Cornelia St. Café, and completing her Master of Music in jazz studies at Queens College. Roemer was anxious to record as soon as she arrived. One of the many musicians she met was bassist Alex Claffy, whose enthusiasm for collaboration motivated Roemer to push through the production of House of Mirrors. Roemer set up recording dates and they brought on pianist Addison Frei and drummer Adam Arruda.

The original pieces on her stylistically diverse and explorative recording were selected with the intention of taking the listener on a journey and telling the story in a direct and honest way. These are compositions that Roemer felt needed to come out so that she could continue her growth and explore new pathways. The pieces span from her time in Paris to her time in New York, many having been written with her ensemble and special guest artists in mind. Many of the lyrics, hers and otherwise, began as poetry.

The story is introduced by the title track, a meditative piece exploring decisions made and paths taken, that’s mood is amplified by guest Gilad Hekselman’s sensitive but spacious guitar. The haunting “Beauty Is a Wound” is a tribute to Roemer’s mother, the music going straight to the heart with stripped-down, minimalist but emotionally charged accompaniment by percussionist Rogerio Boccato. The intrepidly upbeat “Virgin Soil” is an benison given to a sister to go out and find one’s own way; gorgeous solos from Dayna Stephens and Frei emphasize Roemer’s message.

Roemer intentionally includes German language in her music, as there has not been much use of the language in contemporary jazz, which she delivers in a natural, relatable way. In seeking German poetry, she discovered Felice Schragenheim’s “Deine Hände,” an uplifting love poem, written by a courageous woman who knew misfortune and died young at the hands of the Nazis, that Roemer arranged exquisitely for the quartet. The intensely persistent “Dark Night of the Soul” utilizes St. John of the Cross’s poem for content but really shines with Roemer’s brazen recitation of her own writing accompanied by Ben Monder’s guitar exploration. Hermann Hesse’s “Manchmal” is a blue-tinged appeal for humans to see our reflection in nature and mend our relationship with it.

Monder’s shimmering guitar tones provide a gorgeous, enveloping soundscape for Roemer’s “Lullaby for N.,” a thoughtful piece echoing the parting of a friend. Roemer adapted Stanley Turrentine’s “Sugar” into a metrically intriguing arrangement, the paramour’s message of love heightened by Stephens’s brilliant tenor, Frei’s rhapsodic piano and Claffy’s expressive bass. The recording concludes with Charles Mingus’s “Duke Ellington’s Sound of Love,” a tremendous song about the love of music that brings us back to the journey’s true essence and its ultimate goal, the music.

The music of Kristiana Roemer comes from an honest place, a place of appraisals of actions and embracing all potential paths, whether taken or not. Her House of Mirrors is a diverse and brilliantly devised program of music that illustrates where Roemer has been and where she will go in her bright future.

1. House of Mirrors 03:02
2. Beauty Is A Wound 04:14
3. Virgin Soil 04:46
4. Deine Hände 02:01
5. Dark Night of The Soul 04:57
6. Manchmal 03:03
7. Lullaby for N. 03:56
8. Sugar 05:54
9. Duke Ellington's Sound of Love 04:53

Kristiana Roemer - vocals
Addison Frei - piano
Alex Claffy - bass
Adam Arruda - drums
Gilar Hekselman - guitar (1)
Ben Monder - guitar (5, 6, 7)
Dayna Stephens - saxophone (3, 8)
Rogerio Boccato - percussion (2)

Joe Castro / Passion Flower - For Doris Duke (Sunnyside Records)

Sunnyside Records presents the second boxed set of recordings from the archive of pianist Joe Castro, a diverse collection featuring incredible and never heard performances from legends like Paul Bley, Paul Motian, Leroy Vinnegar, Paul Chambers, Philly Joe Jones and many more.

Joe Castro’s love for jazz, and his charming personality, made it possible for the pianist to become intimately involved with musicians of all stripes and abilities. Castro’s relationship with the famous heiress Doris Duke afforded him the financial means to further his relationships with these musicians in jam sessions held at home studios at Duke’s residences, Falcon Lair in California and Duke Farms in New Jersey, and to later record albums of his own work with incredible sidemen and projects led by these acquaintances and friends.

The initial Joe Castro boxed set, Lush Life – A Musical Journey (Sunnyside, 2015), provided an insight into the world of the pianist’s early meetings with the greats of jazz at home recorded sessions. These recordings included Buddy Collette, Chico Hamilton, Teddy Wilson, Stan Getz, Zoot Sims and Lucky Thompson. The box also included a couple of sessions recorded for potential release on Castro and Duke’s Clover label, including a Castro Big Band and the Teddy Edwards Tentet.


The first disc is entitled Trios 1955-1956 – The Artist’s Choice. The program features seventeen tracks recorded at Duke and Castro’s Falcon Lair residence in Beverly Hills, California. All of the tracks feature Castro on piano with the aid of fantastic jazz legends and rhythm men. The ensembles feature combinations of bassists Leroy Vinnegar, Red Mitchell and Paul Chambers and drummers Jimmy Pratt, Lawrence Marable and Philly Joe Jones.

The second disc is Joe Castro’s Friends – At Duke Farms 1956. The disc provides never before heard solo selections from piano great Paul Bley, a full seventeen years before his classic solo recording, Open To Love. There are also pieces performed by Bley with his touring trio of bassist Hal Gaylor and drummer Lennie McBrowne. The other half of the program features recordings for a never realized project of Flo and George Handy, with five tracks of the duo and three with vocalist Flo fronting a twelve piece orchestra directed by composer/arranger George Handy.

The third disc is Joe Castro’s Mood Jazz with Voices & Strings – The Atlantic Album +, which contains the pianist’s first commercial release, Mood Jazz, which was released in 1957, along with previously unissued alternate takes. The album features the arranging of Ray Ellis and Neal Hefti along with musical accompaniment by well-known musicians like drummer Philly Joe Jones, trumpeter Nat Adderley and saxophonist Cannonball Adderley.

The fourth disc is Castro’s Groove Funk Soul – The Atlantic Album +, which is his second Atlantic recording, which was released in 1960, along with a number of previously unissued alternate takes. The ensemble is a fantastic one, featuring saxophonist Teddy Edwards, bassist Leroy Vinnegar and drummer Billy Higgins.
The fifth disc is an unreleased Joe Castro Trio session from 1965 entitled The Sidewalks of New York. The recording is special as it highlights the performances of Castro with his longtime friend, drummer Paul Motian. Teddy Kotick is also featured as the Trio’s bassist.

The sixth disc is Remind Me, a project that Castro conceived for Clover Records in 1965, and worked on through 1966, when the label folded. The recordings feature Castro’s trio of bassist Kotick and drummer Motian alone for half of the tracks, which were recorded in New York in April 1965. Castro took the recordings back to Los Angeles where he added horns with the aid of the Bob Cooper Ensemble, featuring trumpeter Al Porcino, woodwind players Gabe Baltzar, Cooper, Bill Holman, Bill Green and Bill Hood on a number of them. Teddy Edwards can be heard on Gaines and Ellington’s “Just Squeeze Me (But Don’t Tease Me)” and the rare piano stylings of Doris Duke, herself, are likely heard on Billy Strayhorn’s “Passion Flower” and Kern and Fields’s “Remind Me.”

1. Disc 1 - Joe Castro Trios 1955-1956 - The Artist's Choice - It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing) 02:51
2. Disc 1 - Joe Castro Trios 1955-1956 - The Artist's Choice - Blues for Nat 03:23
3. Disc 1 - Joe Castro Trios 1955-1956 - The Artist's Choice - Minuet In Jazz 03:07
4. Disc 1 - Joe Castro Trios 1955-1956 - The Artist's Choice - They Can't Take That Away from Me 03:45
5. Disc 1 - Joe Castro Trios 1955-1956 - The Artist's Choice - St. Louis Blues 03:51
6. Disc 1 - Joe Castro Trios 1955-1956 - The Artist's Choice - Dorshka (for Doris Duke) 04:38
7. Disc 1 - Joe Castro Trios 1955-1956 - The Artist's Choice - Have You Met Miss Jones? 03:40
8. Disc 1 - Joe Castro Trios 1955-1956 - The Artist's Choice - Things Ain't What They Used To Be 04:03
9. Disc 1 - Joe Castro Trios 1955-1956 - The Artist's Choice - Zoot Blues 04:22
10. Disc 1 - Joe Castro Trios 1955-1956 - The Artist's Choice - Black and Blue (What Did I Do To Be So Black and Blue) 03:26
11. Disc 1 - Joe Castro Trios 1955-1956 - The Artist's Choice - Jazzbo's Jaunt 02:30
12. Disc 1 - Joe Castro Trios 1955-1956 - The Artist's Choice - Pennies from Heaven 04:02
13. Disc 1 - Joe Castro Trios 1955-1956 - The Artist's Choice - Blues In The Closet 02:51
14. Disc 1 - Joe Castro Trios 1955-1956 - The Artist's Choice - Straight Life 03:52
15. Disc 1 - Joe Castro Trios 1955-1956 - The Artist's Choice - It's All Right with Me 03:20
16. Disc 1 - Joe Castro Trios 1955-1956 - The Artist's Choice - Sometimes I'm Happy 03:46
17. Disc 1 - Joe Castro Trios 1955-1956 - The Artist's Choice - Taking a Chance on Love 03:33

18. Disc 2 - Joe Castro's Friends / At Duke Farms 1956 - Paul Bley - Blues improvisation in F 04:19
19. Disc 2 - Joe Castro's Friends / At Duke Farms 1956 - Paul Bley - Ballad-blues improvisation in C 01:23
20. Disc 2 - Joe Castro's Friends / At Duke Farms 1956 - Paul Bley - Ballad improvisation in F 04:24
21. Disc 2 - Joe Castro's Friends / At Duke Farms 1956 - Paul Bley - Salt Peanuts 01:41
22. Disc 2 - Joe Castro's Friends / At Duke Farms 1956 - Paul Bley - A Place In The Sun (Main Title) 03:28
23. Disc 2 - Joe Castro's Friends / At Duke Farms 1956 - Paul Bley - Willow Weep for Me 05:35
24. Disc 2 - Joe Castro's Friends / At Duke Farms 1956 - Paul Bley - Time After Time 03:35
25. Disc 2 - Joe Castro's Friends / At Duke Farms 1956 - Paul Bley - After You've Gone 02:23
26. Disc 2 - Joe Castro's Friends / At Duke Farms 1956 - Paul Bley - Willow Weep for Me (alternate take) 05:44
27. Disc 2 - Joe Castro's Friends / At Duke Farms 1956 - Paul Bley - Time After Time (alternate take) 03:42
28. Disc 2 - Joe Castro's Friends / At Duke Farms 1956 - Flo & George Handy - Forgetful (Master take) 03:12
29. Disc 2 - Joe Castro's Friends / At Duke Farms 1956 - Flo & George Handy - Will I Ever Learn? 03:56
30. Disc 2 - Joe Castro's Friends / At Duke Farms 1956 - Flo & George Handy - Leavin' Town (Master take) 04:15
31. Disc 2 - Joe Castro's Friends / At Duke Farms 1956 - Flo & George Handy - Country Boy (?) 03:40
32. Disc 2 - Joe Castro's Friends / At Duke Farms 1956 - Flo & George Handy - When You Are Near (?) 03:50
33. Disc 2 - Joe Castro's Friends / At Duke Farms 1956 - Flo & George Handy - The Trouble with Me Is You 04:04
34. Disc 2 - Joe Castro's Friends / At Duke Farms 1956 - Flo & George Handy - You Wear Love So Well! 03:18
35. Disc 2 - Joe Castro's Friends / At Duke Farms 1956 - Flo & George Handy - Picnic In The Wintertime 02:45

36. Disc 3 - Joe Castro / Mood Jazz with Voices & Strings (the Atlantic album +) - J.C. Blues 05:06
37. Disc 3 - Joe Castro / Mood Jazz with Voices & Strings (the Atlantic album +) - Without You (Tres Palabras) 04:38
38. Disc 3 - Joe Castro / Mood Jazz with Voices & Strings (the Atlantic album +) - Doodlin' 05:08
39. Disc 3 - Joe Castro / Mood Jazz with Voices & Strings (the Atlantic album +) - Ev'rything I Love 04:23
40. Disc 3 - Joe Castro / Mood Jazz with Voices & Strings (the Atlantic album +) - You Stepped Out of a Dream 03:45
41. Disc 3 - Joe Castro / Mood Jazz with Voices & Strings (the Atlantic album +) - If You Could See Me Now 03:39
42. Disc 3 - Joe Castro / Mood Jazz with Voices & Strings (the Atlantic album +) - It's You or No One 04:06
43. Disc 3 - Joe Castro / Mood Jazz with Voices & Strings (the Atlantic album +) - Angel Eyes 04:40
44. Disc 3 - Joe Castro / Mood Jazz with Voices & Strings (the Atlantic album +) - Caravan 04:06
45. Disc 3 - Joe Castro / Mood Jazz with Voices & Strings (the Atlantic album +) - Prelude to a Kiss (unissued) 05:26
46. Disc 3 - Joe Castro / Mood Jazz with Voices & Strings (the Atlantic album +) - How High The Moon (unissued) 03:47
47. Disc 3 - Joe Castro / Mood Jazz with Voices & Strings (the Atlantic album +) - J.C. Blues (unissued alternate take 1) 04:10
48. Disc 3 - Joe Castro / Mood Jazz with Voices & Strings (the Atlantic album +) - J.C. Blues (unissued alternate take 2) 04:45
49. Disc 3 - Joe Castro / Mood Jazz with Voices & Strings (the Atlantic album +) - Doodlin' (unissued alternate take 1) 05:11
50. Disc 3 - Joe Castro / Mood Jazz with Voices & Strings (the Atlantic album +) - Doodlin' (unissued alternate take 2) 05:08

51. Disc 4 - Joe Castro / Groove Funk Soul (the Atlantic Album +) - Groove Funk Soul (In & Out) 05:32
52. Disc 4 - Joe Castro / Groove Funk Soul (the Atlantic Album +) - Yesterdays 07:21
53. Disc 4 - Joe Castro / Groove Funk Soul (the Atlantic Album +) - Day-Dream 07:02
54. Disc 4 - Joe Castro / Groove Funk Soul (the Atlantic Album +) - Could Happen To You 03:32
55. Disc 4 - Joe Castro / Groove Funk Soul (the Atlantic Album +) - Play Me The Blues 09:17
56. Disc 4 - Joe Castro / Groove Funk Soul (the Atlantic Album +) - That's All 05:28
57. Disc 4 - Joe Castro / Groove Funk Soul (the Atlantic Album +) - Yesterdays (unissued alternate take) 07:58
58. Disc 4 - Joe Castro / Groove Funk Soul (the Atlantic Album +) - Play Me The Blues (unissued alternate take) 06:24
59. Disc 4 - Joe Castro / Groove Funk Soul (the Atlantic Album +) - Lover (unissued) 06:47
60. Disc 4 - Joe Castro / Groove Funk Soul (the Atlantic Album +) - Day In - Day Out 05:08

61. Disc 5 - Joe Castro Trio - The Sidewalks of New York - Daisy Mae (Whatever) 04:34
62. Disc 5 - Joe Castro Trio - The Sidewalks of New York - The Sidewalks of New York (East Side, West Side) 08:14
63. Disc 5 - Joe Castro Trio - The Sidewalks of New York - Here's That Rainy Day 04:51
64. Disc 5 - Joe Castro Trio - The Sidewalks of New York - My Ship 04:27
65. Disc 5 - Joe Castro Trio - The Sidewalks of New York - I'm Getting Sentimental Over You 02:28
66. Disc 5 - Joe Castro Trio - The Sidewalks of New York - One Life To Live 04:38
67. Disc 5 - Joe Castro Trio - The Sidewalks of New York - That Old Feeling 04:13
68. Disc 5 - Joe Castro Trio - The Sidewalks of New York - Cheek to Cheek 02:50
69. Disc 5 - Joe Castro Trio - The Sidewalks of New York - Fascinating Rhythm 04:28
70. Disc 5 - Joe Castro Trio - The Sidewalks of New York - Funky Blues 07:56
71. Disc 5 - Joe Castro Trio - The Sidewalks of New York - You Don't Know What Love Is 04:41

72. Disc 6 - Joe Castro Trio / Remind Me with The Bob Cooper Ensemble - Things Ain't What They Used To Be 02:38
73. Disc 6 - Joe Castro Trio / Remind Me with The Bob Cooper Ensemble - Sweet Lorraine 02:58
74. Disc 6 - Joe Castro Trio / Remind Me with The Bob Cooper Ensemble - Get Out of Town 05:02
75. Disc 6 - Joe Castro Trio / Remind Me with The Bob Cooper Ensemble - Remind Me 06:21
76. Disc 6 - Joe Castro Trio / Remind Me with The Bob Cooper Ensemble - Satin Doll 02:42
77. Disc 6 - Joe Castro Trio / Remind Me with The Bob Cooper Ensemble - A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing 04:00
78. Disc 6 - Joe Castro Trio / Remind Me with The Bob Cooper Ensemble - Just Squeeze Me (But Don't Tease Me) 02:51
79. Disc 6 - Joe Castro Trio / Remind Me with The Bob Cooper Ensemble - Lush Life 07:04
80. Disc 6 - Joe Castro Trio / Remind Me with The Bob Cooper Ensemble - Passion Flower 03:29
81. Disc 6 - Joe Castro Trio / Remind Me with The Bob Cooper Ensemble - Remind Me 06:20

Joe Castro - piano
Leroy Vinnegar - bass
Jimmy Pratt - drums
Red Mitchell - bass
Lawrence Marable - drums
Philly Joe Jones - drums
Paul Bley - piano
Hal Gaylor - bass
Flo Handy - vocals
George Handy - piano
Lennie McBrowne - drums
Ed Shank - bass
Ray Ellis Orchestra - Orchestra
Gus Johnson - drums
The Neal Hefti Orchestra - Orchestra
Nat Adderley - trumpet
Julian "Cannonball" Adderley - alto saxophone
Teddy Edwards - tenor saxophone
Billy Higgins - drums
Teddy Kotick - bass
Paul Motian - drums
The Bob Cooper Ensemble - ensemble
Al Parcino - trumpet
Gabe Baltazar - flute
Bill Holman - clarinet
Bill Green - saxophones
Bill Hood - baritone saxophone, bass clarinet