Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Joe Chambers- Samba de Maracatu (2021 Blue Note)

The venerated multi-instrumentalist and composer Joe Chambers has released Samba de Maracatu, a notable Blue Note Records return for a significant figure in the label’s history. The album is a nine-song set of original compositions, standards, and pieces by Wayne Shorter, Bobby Hutcherson, and Horace Silver that features Chambers performing drums, vibraphone, and percussion with Brad Merritt on keyboards and Steve Haines on bass. Special guests include vocalist Stephanie Jordan on a simmering version of “Never Let Me Go,” and MC Parrain on “New York State of Mind Rain,” an inventive mashup of Nas’ 1994 hip-hop staple “N.Y. State of Mind” and Chambers’ 1978 piece “Mind Rain,” which DJ Premiere sampled to construct Nas’ classic.

 On Samba de Maracatu, Chambers asserts himself more as a mallet player, particularly on the vibraphone.  Throughout the album, he uses the vibraphone as the lead melodic and improvisational voice that often converses with Merritt’s piano accompaniments and solos. While Samba de Maracatu isn’t a Brazilian jazz album in this strictest sense, Chambers utilizes various rhythms and indigenous Brazilian percussion instruments on several pieces, including the title track, which references the syncretic Afro-Brazil rhythms that were originated in the north-east region of Brazil.

In the mid-to-late 1960s, Chambers played drums for numerous Blue Note luminaries appearing on some of the decade’s most progressive albums including Shorter’s Adam’s Apple and Etcetera, Hutcherson’s Components and Happenings, Freddie Hubbard’s Breaking Point, Joe Henderson’s Mode for Joe, Sam Rivers’ Contours, McCoy Tyner Tender Moments, Andrew Hill’s Andrew!!!, Donald Byrd’s Fancy Free, and many more.

 The label’s owners – Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff – offered Chambers a chance to record his own album for the imprint during that fertile period, but he was riding so high on recording and touring with so many jazz greats that he declined the opportunity. Chambers eventually did release his own Blue Note debut Mirrors in 1998 featuring trumpeter Eddie Henderson, saxophonist Vincent Herring, pianist Mulgrew Miller, and bassist Ira Coleman.

On Samba de Maracatu, Chambers asserts himself more as a mallet player, particularly on the vibraphone.  Throughout the album, he uses the vibraphone as the lead melodic and improvisational voice that often converses with Merritt’s piano accompaniments and solos. While Samba de Maracatu isn’t a Brazilian jazz album in this strictest sense, Chambers utilizes various rhythms and indigenous Brazilian percussion instruments on several pieces, including the title track, which references the syncretic Afro-Brazil rhythms that were originated in the north-east region of Brazil.

1. You and the Night and the Music (Arthur Schwartz/Howard Dietz)

2. Circles (Joe Chambers)

3. Samba de Maracatu (Joe Chambers)

4. Visions (Bobby Hutcherson)

5. Never Let Me Go featuring Stephanie Jordan (Jay Livingston/Ray Evans)

6. Sabah el Nur (Karl Ratzer)

7. Ecaroh (Horace Silver)

8. New York State of Mind Rain featuring MC Parrain (Joe Chambers/Fenton Chambers)

Joe Chambers: vibraphone, conga drums, claves, guiro, cowbell, surdo, repinique, shakere, quica

Brad Merritt: piano, synthesizer

Steve Haines: bass, acoustic

Stephanie Jordan: voice / vocals

MC Parrain: voice / vocals

Ian Charleton Big Band - A Fresh Perspective (March 16, 2021)

Charleton leads his eighteen-piece big band on ten tracks featuring his original compositions and new interpretations of standards including “Stardust,” by Hoagy Carmichael, Irving Berlin’s “Blue Skies,” Marvin Fisher’s “When Sunny Gets Blue,” Vincent Youmans’ “ Tea for Two,” and “Everything I’ve Got,” by Rogers & Hart

Charleton, a Senior Chief Musician, who was the Head of Academics at the Naval School of Music, where he taught arranging, and is a graduate of the University of North Texas, burst on the scene with his 2013 debut CD, Brain Chatter. His long-awaited follow-up, A Fresh Perspective, showcases his extraordinary gifts as an inventive and engaging composer, and an imaginative arranger. His featured soloists on this date from southeastern Virginia are trumpeter Kerry Moffit, trombonist John Lloyd, Richard Garcia on alto and soprano sax, and tenor saxophonist Keith Philbrick, all supported by a quicksilver rhythm section with pianist Bart Kuebler, bassist Ryan Persaud, guitarist Wes Wagner, drummer Bob Habib and the leader’s wife, Emily Charleton on vocals. With his encyclopedic knowledge of the big band idiom - from Basie to Kenton and beyond - Charleton’s four original compositions: the swinging, Basie-bounced, “1 West 67th Street,” the breezy “Sunday Morning,” the bluesy “Party on Park,” and the title track, syncopated in 6/4 time, show that he can write songs that dance and trance with the best of them.

Charleton’s takes on standards are equally impressive, as evidenced by his Latin interpretation of “When Sunny Gets Blue,” two ballad renderings of “Tea for Two’’ and “Stardust,” the waltzy, “Blue Skies,” and a rousing reading of “Everything I’ve Got,” both laced with Emily Charleton’s vivid vocals.“El Otono,” a samba grooved selection, is composed by pianist/composer (and University of North Texas alum) Stefan Karlsson.

Charleton’s love of the big band tradition is a lifelong affair. Born in 1975, he grew up in Kentucky, Illinois and Texas, started playing the saxophone in the fifth grade, and was influenced by Charlie Parker and Cannonball Adderley. He was introduced to jazz in high school, played in a local blues band, and started writing his own compositions at fifteen. He earned his BM in 1999 and his MM in 2001 in Jazz Studies from the University of North Texas, joined the Navy that same year, and played in, composed for, and led Navy bands on five continents. A Fresh Perspective showcases Ian Charleton’s service to his country, and to the swing.

1. 1 West 67th Street (c/a Ian Charleton) 6:18
2. Sunday Morning (c/a Ian Charleton) 8:15
3. A Fresh Perspective (c/a Ian Charleton) 9:06
4. Everything I’ve Got (Rogers/Hart Arr. Ian Charleton) 2:31
5. Stardust (Hoagy Carmichael. Arr. Ian Charleton) 5:52
6. El Otoño (Stefan Karlsson Arr. Ian Charleton) 4:41
7. Blue Skies (Irving Berlin Arr. Ian Charleton) 4:27
8. Tea For Two (Vincent Youmans Arr. Ian Charleton) 3:05
9. When Sunny Gets Blue (Marvin Fisher Arr. Ian Charleton) 7:37
10. Party on Park (c/a Ian Charleton) 8:12

Madre Vaca – The Elements (JUNE 12, 2021

The latest project by the stimulating modern jazz quartet Madre Vaca is no less than the musical depiction of the four elements of the world.

Guitarist Jarrett Carter, pianist Jonah Pierre, bassist Thomas Milovac, and drummer Benjamin Shorstein each contributed one extended piece to a memorable jazz symphony that represents Fire, Water, Earth and Wind.

The collective Madre Vaca (which in English means “Mother Cow”) never plays the expected. Their previous project, 2020’s Winterreise, recast Franz Schubert’s song cycle as modern jazz performed by a dynamic and creative octet.

For their fourth album, The Elements, Madre Vaca transforms the four elements of the earth into music that is often quite cinematic and always inventive. Each of the members of the quartet (guitarist Jarrett Carter, pianist Jonah Pierre, bassist Thomas Milovac, and drummer Benjamin Shorstein) contributed an extended piece that challenged the musicians, blending together compositions with improvisations filled with color, character, and subtle surprises.

Shorstein’s “Fire” depicts both the good and bad of fire. Guitarist Carter takes the lead at first with the other musicians contributing stimulating accompaniment, pianist Pierre builds on the wondrous mood, bassist Milovac adds to the atmosphere, and drummer Shorstein takes a fiery solo before the four musicians improvise together at a rapid tempo, leading to the inevitable explosive conclusion.

Carter’s “Water” starts peacefully with the depiction of a lake and the beginning of a rain storm that picks up momentum as it progresses, building in tension as the water becomes a surging river.

Milovac’s “Earth” sees the planet as a beautiful place but one that is regularly beset by natural disasters. Its contradictions are very much prevalent in the episodic music which alternates a quiet but complex calm with passionate contrasts including a section in which the musicians dramatically speed up the tempo together.

Pierre’s “Wind” has the quartet emulating a breeze (the bowed bass is a major asset). A melody soon emerges along with a happy optimistic mood that concludes the four movements of the jazz symphony.
Since 2017, the members of Madre Vaca and their musical friends have recorded 13 albums on their Madre Vaca label and seven have thus far been released including four ambitious projects by the main group: Nexus (2018), Nero (2019), Winterreise (2020) and now The Elements.

The Elements is Madre Vaca’s finest hour so far, a musical portrayal of the world that we inhabit.

1. Fire (Benjamin Shorstein) 14:53
2. Water (Jarrett Carter) 09:03
3. Earth (Thomas Milovac) 09:13
4. Wind (Jonah Pierre) 07:31

Jarrett Carter - Guitar
Thomas Milovac - Bass
Jonah Pierre - Piano
Benjamin Shorstein - Drums

Recording Engineer – JeanCarlo Mendez
Cover Art – Andre Gruber
Mixing – JeanCarlo Mendez, Dan Moore
Mastering – Brett Thorngren

Stefano Travaglini - MONK (Notami Jazz Records)

MONK - Fifteen Piano Reflections

"The end result is that Monk’s music does indeed stand strong when played in a non-traditional manner, and that Stefano Travaglini possesses a brilliant imagination that can utterly transform well-known literature into new and fascinating musical experiences." Thomas Cunniffe

“The same music from two very different perspectives; Thelonious Monk was an artist ahead of his time while Stefano Travaglini is solidifying his place in the chronology of modern music.” Karl Ackermann, All About Jazz

“The stirring and inventive take on Round Midnight, for example, is hair-raising. Loosened up in tempo but still keeping the wondrous sentiment and structure of the original, this piece is one of the most beautiful on the record.” Filipe Freitas, Jazz Trail
A classic jazz album from the 1950s was titled “The Unique Thelonious Monk”. Rarely has an adjective been more apt, for Monk’s remarkable body of compositions took jazz through a prism rarely approached before. Monk’s cryptic instructions to his musicians—“use the melody”; “don’t play bebop on my tunes”—only scared away generations of jazz musicians from exploring his music. Monk’s percussive approach to the keyboard was initially dismissed as faulty technique, but it eventually influenced every pianist who tried to perform his work. If that sounds like a grand overstatement, just compare virtually every other jazz recording of a Monk composition to the distinctive approach heard on the enclosed CD. Now to be sure, there’s nothing artistically wrong with performing Monk in a forceful manner—obviously, both the composer and the jazz musicians who followed him prefer it that way—but what if we took away that percussive element and examined Monk’s music as pure music? After all, surprising and enlightening results have come when taking music out of its traditional element (think of the Swingle Singers’ recordings of Bach). The music of Thelonious Monk deserves—and could well benefit—from this kind of artistic scrutiny.

Stefano Travaglini has studied classical music as a composer, pianist, conductor and oboist, but he decided that his heart was in improvised music. Travaglini prefers the term “free improvisation” to “jazz” because he has recorded extemporized variations on a wide variety of musical styles. His debut recording, “The Hungarian Songbook” was based on folksongs, and he expanded his musical viewpoint on his recent solo album “Ellipse”. He credits his classical training for helping him develop his own unique language which crosses between the improvised and composed music of the last century. I would add that Travaglini’s detailed attention to motivic development is probably another benefit of his classical studies.

There is another crucial element from the classical tradition which relates to this particular album. We often hear of classical pianists who fall in love with the sound of a particular instrument. For some pianists, that preference is manifested into their contracts (for example, “Vladimir Horowitz is an exclusive Steinway artist”). The extreme example is this practice is that of Glenn Gould, who so loved his Steinway piano (serial number CD 318) that he bought the instrument and transported it to every concert hall and studio where he played! At a 2018 recording session at Paris’ Studio Sequenza, Travaglini played a Fazioli F278 grand and the combination of the instrument and the room inspired him to record this solo album offering a new—and some might say radical—approach to the music of Thelonious Monk. Travaglini prepared for this recording for several months, but purposely avoided writing out any arrangements. As he puts it, “I just decided what to do and where to direct the music but not how!” On the day of the recording, Travaglini sat at the Fazioli F278 and improvised his interpretations of Monk’s classic works. None of the resulting interpretations were cut or edited.
The Monk compositions which Travaglini chose should be familiar to most jazz fans. Yet, those melodies are not always easy to find. The opening track “Trinkle Tinkle” finds the pianist breaking the melody into tiny pieces and reassembling them in a new and surprising order. Travaglini’s delicate touch and liberal use of the sustain pedal bring an entirely different pianistic approach to this music, and an unknowing listener might misidentify “Trinkle Tinkle” as a thoroughly-composed piece from a 20th century classical composer! “Children’s Song” was originally adapted by Monk in two keys, and Travaglini uses the bitonal aspect as a starting point. The melody leads him into a startling direction, and the reiterations of the melodic germ are transformed each time they appear. In an alternate take released after Monk’s death, the composer created an abstract variation of “Well, You Needn’t” that—had the recording been released—would have altered the way the song was forever played. In Travaglini’s version, the original melody barely appears until the final minute of the track. His earlier choruses imagine what would have happened if Mozart wrote the tune. In contrast, the next track, “Ruby, My Dear” transforms the melody into atonal two-voice counterpoint.

“Criss-Cross”, one of Monk’s most revered compositions has been analyzed in print by several musicians and composers, and was the subject of an extended Third Stream composition by Gunther Schuller. Here, Travaglini develops the distinctive falling motive of the melody, letting the idea guide the harmonic movement until the final moments when the chords and melody are reunited. The dizzying ostinato which accompanies “Straight, No Chaser” leads into a fascinating musical vortex reminiscent of Lennie Tristano’s “Descent into the Maelstrom”. A welcome respite from the intensity comes with a gentle rendition of “Ugly Beauty”. Listen to how Travaglini captures the essence of both words of the seemingly oxymoronic title with a well-placed modulation and a shift in harmonic density. The melody of “Bemsha Swing” is fragmented. Note that Travaglini’s accompanying left hand figure is connected to the melody in such a way that it sounds like the two elements belonged together all along, despite being created nearly 70 years apart.

In a way, “Round Midnight” is the most straight-forward performance on this album. Certainly the melody appears reasonably unadorned and at times, Travaglini adheres to the original chord structure. But when he diverts from that harmonic sequence, he discovers new avenues which enlighten our knowledge of this jazz standard. In Travaglini’s hands, “Monk’s Dream” is more sinister than the original. We will never know the scenes which may have played during Monk’s slumbers, but Travaglini’s music might provide a clue. Similarly, “Introspection” leads us into the dark corners of the mind through this unsettling re-harmonization.
On first hearing, Travaglini’s version of “Evidence” might seem worlds apart from Monk’s original Blue Note recording. However, go back to that original recording and hear how Monk’s melody appears gradually over the course of the side—just like this new interpretation. Then marvel at where this choppy melody takes Travaglini! “Brilliant Corners” was originally conceived as a piece played in two tempos—one chorus in slow tempo, and the second in double-time. In what might be his most radical departure from the original compositions, Travaglini rejects the dual tempo idea and instead submits the piece to a contrapuntal treatment. “Misterioso” uses another powerful left-hand ostinato, but unlike “Straight No Chaser”, the right hand improvisations are just as forceful as the accompanying figure. The closing track dissects “In Walked Bud” through a dramatic slow tempo and a striking transformation of the melody.

The end result is that Monk’s music does indeed stand strong when played in a non-traditional manner, and that Stefano Travaglini possesses a brilliant imagination that can utterly transform well-known literature into new and fascinating musical experiences. Thelonious Monk’s original conceptions live on through his many recordings, and in the traditional cover versions by superb jazz musicians. Yet, it is because of the recorded legacy that recordings like this one are made possible. Just like Alice in Wonderland, we can see through the looking glass and find other glorious images.

1. Trinkle tinkle 03:33
2. Children's song 03:57
3. Well, you needn't 03:56
4. Ruby, my dear 03:57
5. Criss cross 03:51
6. Straight no chaser 03:26
7. Ugly beauty 03:53
8. Bemsha swing 03:51
9. Round midnight 06:19
10. Monk's dream 03:19
11. Introspection 03:55
12. Evidence 05:55
13. Brilliant corners 04:17
14. Misterioso 03:40
15. In walked Bud 03:55

Recorded, mixed and mastered at Studio Sequenza (Paris) 2019, May 5
Sound engineer, Thomas Vingtrinier

Christopher Hoffman - Asp Nimbus (Friday, March 26th 2021 Out Of Your Head Records)

“Somehow, he manages to contribute a unique, fresh voice in a field that is crowded with excellent recordings.” --Avant Music News

Christopher Hoffman - Asp Nimbus (OOYH 009): With Asp Nimbus, cellist Christopher Hoffman very intentionally sought to make a more straight-forward recording than his 2018 release, Multifariam. Multifariam was an electro-acoustic tour de force in the vein of Miles Davis’ electric years, MF Doom, and the horror/sci-fi composer John Carpenter. Hoffman played mad scientist, chopping and pasting studio recorded snippets from Gerald Cleaver, Tony Malaby, Christina Courtin, Craig Weinrib and a slew of others into what was a 16-track masterpiece. Asp Nimbus is not that kind of album. Inspired by Bobby Hutcherson's Oblique and Happenings, and Henry Threadgill's Everybody’s Mouth's a Book (Hoffman is a mainstay in a number of Threadgill’s ensembles of the past 10 years), Asp Nimbus was recorded in January 2020 with the goal of capturing the group dynamic and raw live energy of their quartet performances.

That is a surprisingly difficult feat to achieve in the studio, yet this album exceedingly succeeds in doing so. With the exception of the piano contribution of David Virelles on Dylan George there are no overdubs, and we hear the music exactly as it was performed. The recording presented a new kind of challenge for Hoffman as a soloist, as he previously tended to write music that was predominantly collective in nature. Since Asp Nimbus is a more traditionally jazz-oriented album, Hoffman is featured heavily as a leading voice. He absolutely shines when placed front and center, and this recording is sure to further cement his place in the top-tier of improvising cellist/composers active today.
Hoffman chooses the title of each piece to reflect the vibratory state that he finds in the music. For instance, the first track Discretionary reflects a growing attitude in the world today--the idea of acting on one's own authority or judgment. The second track, Dylan George, was written for his late brother who passed unexpectedly in 2016. By chance they overdubbed David Virelles’ part on Dylan George while on break during a studio session for a new Henry Threadgill composition. Hoffman considered it an added blessing to have Henry in the room listening while they recorded. To hear Chris speak of it, it is obvious that this piece in particular means a lot of things to him, and ultimately it's a tribute to Dylan.

Knowing that he wanted vibraphone when forming the quartet in Fall of 2018, Bryan Carrott was an immediate and obvious choice, as Hoffman has long loved his playing in Threadgill's Make A Move, on Dave Douglas' Witness, and as a part of The Lounge Lizards. Hoffman and drummer Craig Weinrib play together a lot, most notably in Henry Threadgill’s Double Up, and are frequently recruited in tandem as side-people by the likes of Jonathan Finlayson and Roman Filiu for their deep connection. Bassist Rashaan Carter and Weinrib have a similar special relationship, and together are a propulsive force throughout Asp Nimbus. Cello, vibraphone, bass, and drums are an atypical instrumentation for what Hoffman considers to be a more traditional jazz album (in fact, I can’t cite one recorded example of this exact instrumentation).
By default the combination will pull your ear towards chamber music and contemporary classical, and Hoffman’s work in film, whether intentional or not, surely contributed to the cinematic arc that is present over these 8 tracks and 32-minutes. There aren’t many recordings of any genre to compare it to, and whatever the inspiration was for Asp Nimbus the result is unique. That alone makes it an album worthy of repeated listening, but the masterful performance of these four world-class improvisers, and the compositional maturity on display is sure to demand attention as one of the finest recordings of 2021. Asp Nimbus is due out March 26, 2021 on Out Of Your Head Records in both digital and vinyl formats.

“...a great example of how advanced and complex in great hands can sound simply great.” --Jazz Music Archives
1) Discretionary
2) Dylan George
3) Asp Nimbus
4) Angles Of Influence
5) Orb
6) Non-Submersible
7) For You
8) The Heights Of Spectacle

Christopher Hoffman - cello, compositions
Bryan Carrott - vibraphone
Rashaan Carter - bass
Craig Weinrib - drums
David Virelles - piano (track 2 only)

All Compositions By Christopher Hoffman
Produced, Mixed & Mastered By Christopher Hoffman
Recorded January 8 & 9 2020 by Lily Wen at Figure 8 Studios

Christopher Hoffman is a cellist and film-maker. He has the honor of performing in Henry Threadgill’s Pulitzer Prize winning ensemble Zooid as well as Double Up & 14 or 15 Kestra: Agg. Chris regularly performs with the Grammy nominated Anat Cohen Tentet, Anna Webber Septet (featured on her critically acclaimed Clockwise), Rudy Royston’s Flatbed Buggy, Michael Blake string band, Tony Malaby, and the Christopher Hoffman Quartet. He has worked with Martin Scorsese (Shutter Island) and has performed with Yoko Ono, Bleachers, Butch Morris, Marc Ribot, Christina Courtin, Spring Awakening, Anthony Coleman, Marianne Faithfull, Ryan Adams, Iron & Wine, Jeremiah Cymerman, Michael Pitt & many others He has performed at the Kennedy Center, Library of Congress, Newport Jazz Festival, Carnegie Hall, David Letterman, North Sea Jazz Festival, Umbria Jazz Festival, Saalfelden, SF Jazz, Chicago’s Symphony Center, Walker Arts Center and all over western Europe & the United States.

Richard Ford's sensual 'Soon' cover (March 26th, 2021)

L.A.-based British composer/producer Richard Ford releases a cover of The Blue Nile’s “Soon”

As an accomplished composer, producer, and bassist, as an Emmy-winning music editor, and executive music producer for film, L.A.-based Brit-transplant Richard Ford humbly maintains a resume of impressive accolades. He has worked with many Oscar-winning filmmakers on such films as Sideways, Argo, and Hidden Figures and, all this as a kind of second career after spending his early adult life as bass player for British music icons like Joe Jackson, Bram Tchaikovsky, and revered guitarist Bill Nelson.
Ford is now set to drop his latest single, a cover of The Blue Nile song “Soon” (out March 26, 2021) just ahead of his forthcoming album BP2, to be released later this spring.

A long-time fan of The Blue Nile’s songs from the late 80s and early 90s, Ford notes that “Soon” showed up serendipitously on his playlist a couple of years ago and he immediately started thinking about the possibility of covering it for his upcoming project. The single pays homage to the original track with raw, sweet, and ethereal vocals by Canadian songwriter and singer Kessi Blue.

Kaktus Einarsson of Fufanu shares stunning new video for 'Kick The Ladder' (Oli Records)

Kaktus Einarsson

Album ‘Kick The Ladder’ released May 21st via One Little Independent Records
Kaktus Einarsson - Kick The Ladder (May 21, 2021 Oli Records) at Republic of Jazz