Saturday, March 6, 2021

Masabumi Kikuchi - Hanamichi (April 16, 2021 via Red Hook Records)

The final studio recording from the late Japanese pianist Masabumi Kikuchi,

Hanamichi is the culmination of a lifetime of musical exploration and discovery

Debut release by Red Hook Records features masterful, definitive performances 

“[Kikuchi] was continually searching for his ‘voice’ that he couldn’t articulate with words. It wasn’t until a few years before he died that his ‘voice’ found him!” – Gary Peacock

Six revelatory tracks by the late Japanese pianist Masabumi Kikuchi are featured on Hanamichi, the debut release by Red Hook Records, due out April 16, 2021, in digital, LP, and CD formats. Recorded over a two-day New York session on a magnificent Steinway, the music marks a divergence from the mostly free improvising Poo (Kikuchi’s nickname), who died at age 75 in 2015, practiced during his final years. Kikuchi’s radiant playing sparkles with melodic exploration and expression in renditions of lesser-known tunes and popular standards.

As Kevin Whitehead writes in these excerpts from the album’s liner notes:

“I don’t have any technique,” Kikuchi protested to the New York Times’ Ben Ratliff, a year and a half before recording Hanamichi. More accurate to say he’d developed his own. He played with fingers curved, hands moving crablike or poised banana-bunched. Sometimes his palms drooped below the keyboard, and sometimes he played with hands crossed or overlapping. You can hear the resultant sonic knots on “Improvisation” and the first “My Favorite Things”: churnings from which instant melodies suddenly arise.
For Hanamichi, producer Sun Chung nudged him toward playing tunes, in addition to his free improvisations. That proved to be a good idea. Poo didn’t bring music or a setlist, calling selections in the moment. One is a personal standard, a staple of  his sets since 1970, the ballad for his daughter “Little Abi.”

You can measure how radically Kikuchi transforms Mabel Wayne’s brisk Spanish waltz “Ramona” by the seven-second gap between the first and second notes of the melody once he finally gets around to it. Languid tempo lets him build, and the final melody statement in a new key is freighted with accumulated feeling. That tempo lets us hear Kikuchi’s command of pedaling and of overtones at the margins: the high thin sheen of ringing harmonics that persists through changing chords.

While some pianists who ride sustain pedal overplay, Kikuchi pares back, choosing notes with extra care for clarity. Humming piano harp is a shifting backdrop to present action, not a heavy curtain descending on it. Kikuchi’s “Summertime” announces the melody with playfully ambiguous barroom tremolos and distorts the graceful timing of Gershwin’s internal cadences. All those dynamics he minds are on display: piano rings in many ways, across the registers — another zone of dynamic variation. In the performance’s back half, an overflight of chattering birds/dissolving high chords unhatches Poo’s eerie buzzard voice. Other pianists sing along with their right hands; Kikuchi’s keening would beam in from beyond, an independent voice. On Hanamichi, his utterances are few and surprisingly on point, intensifying musical effect.

Two radically different “My Favorite Things” confirm Hanamichi’s improvisatory spontaneity: two days, two perspectives. Taking his time on the longer take, Kikuchi finds implications in the melody and harmony that skirling modal versions gloss over. As on “Abi” he strikes hammered-anvil chords, dynamic alloys of timbre, harmony and attack. They signify, and remind us, that Masabumi Kikuchi’s piano music is not about rippling over the keys but making the instrument sound.

Ramona (L. Wolfe Gilbert and Mabel Wayne) 06:40
Summertime (George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin) 11:23
My Favorite Things I (Oscar Hammerstein and Richard Rodgers) 05:08
My Favorite Things II (Oscar Hammerstein and Richard Rodgers) 06:30
Improvisation (Masabumi Kikuchi) 05:36
Little Abi (Masabumi Kikuchi) 05:52

Masabumi Kikuchi - piano

Masabumi “Poo” Kikuchi (October 19, 1939 – July 6, 2015) was a Japanese jazz pianist and composer. Born in Tokyo, he studied music at the Tokyo Art College High School. He worked with a diverse range of musicians, including Lionel Hampton, McCoy Tyner, Mal Waldron, Elvin Jones, Miles Davis, and Gary Peacock. His vast discography covered a wide range of styles, ranging from straight-up post-bop and vanguard classical to fusion, synthesizer, and digital dub. After winning a DownBeat magazine contest for overseas musicians, he won a full scholarship for Berklee College of Music, playing piano for Sonny Rollins’ Japanese tour before departing for the United States. He gained renown as a leader, sideman, and featured guest, recording albums and touring with jazz music’s top players. Over the decades he experimented with electric music, synthesizer, improvisation, and new forms. In 1990 he released the Bill Laswell-produced Dreamachine and began his significant, longtime collaboration with drummer Paul Motian. He continued to play and release new music until his death in 2015.

Red Hook Records is a new label launched in 2020 by former ECM producer Sun Chung. Red Hook Records is a place for encounters, where musicians have opportunities to interact with creative minds, share insights, explore and carve new adventurous ways of creative wayfaring. Red Hook aims to dissolve musical boundaries through the interweaving of musical genres and the exploration of intercultural collaborations. Among the label’s upcoming releases are new projects by trumpeter/composer Wadada Leo Smith, drummer Andrew Cyrille, and electronic musician Qasim Naqvi.

Masabumi Kikuchi – Hanamichi
Red Hook Records – Catalog Number 1001
Release date April 16, 2021

The Justin Rothberg Group – Hurricane Mouse

Very happy to release my 3rd solo album. So proud of all the work we did as a band leading up to this release. All the rehearsals, shows and hours spending time together is what you're hearing when you listen to this record.. You're hearing a real band that spent time together developing this. This wasn't something thrown together just for a record. Everyone had a little creative input.

1. Hurricane Mouse 07:09
2. Justin Rothberg - Tom G 07:08
3. Hotel, Show, Repeat 05:58
4. Hot Dog Ranch 08:04
5. Bad Apple 03:15
6. Green Room 09:05
7. G-Sus Band 05:40
8. The Layoff Song 07:20
9. South Beach Banjo 04:36
10. Piece of Mind 07:32
11. Beach on Xmas 02:42
12. Old Gift Card 06:28

Justin Rothberg - Guitar, mandolin, compositions
Todd Groves - Woodwinds, mixing/mastering
Jon Price - Bass
Hiroyuki Matsuura - Drums
Andy O'Neill - Percussion

The Grasso-Ravita Jazz Ensemble – Jagged Spaces (2021)

Their set, which also features saxophonist Benny Russell on tenor and soprano, pianist Greg Small, and drummer Nuc Vega, covers a variety of moods and grooves, and includes some heated straight-ahead jazz.

Guitarist Skip Grasso and bassist Phil Ravita have recorded a set of original and fresh new jazz, high-quality material that can be adopted by today’s jazz artists. They gathered a particularly strong quintet and the results are the nine new originals that comprise Jagged Spaces. With tenor and soprano-saxophonist Benny Russell, pianist Greg Small, and drummer Nuc Vega all adding their musical personalities to the quintet, the Grasso-Ravita Jazz Ensemble on Jagged Spaces performs four songs by Grasso, two apiece by Ravita and Russell, and one from Small.

The set begins with Grasso’s “Jagged Spaces,” which has a singable melody along with fluent and unpredictable soprano, guitar, piano and drums solos. It serves as a fine introduction to the group. The relaxed jazz waltz “Her Life Incomplete,” “Songhai” (highlighted by Benny Russell’s tenor solo which is both soulful and explorative), and the minor-toned straight ahead blues “Blue Sunshine” (which has a particularly speedy bass solo by Ravita) keep the momentum flowing.

One piece flows logically to the next one yet each stands out as a potential future standard. “Circles” is mildly funky and has thoughtful piano and passionate soprano solos. “All About Cynthia” is a warm tender ballad while “Latin For Leandro” has a bit of urgency in its theme, leading to inspired guitar, tenor and bass solos. The last two pieces, “The Homecoming” and “Chasing Shadows,” conclude the project with optimistic and quietly joyful playing.
All of the five musicians are skilled improvisers who are active in the Baltimore/Washington area. Skip Grasso is a freelance guitarist and has recorded with the Don Junker Big Band and the Hank Levy Alumni Band in addition to occasionally performing as a solo guitarist. Bassist Phil Ravita has performed in a wide variety of settings with nationally known artists. Benny Russell has led an all-star orchestra (the New York Association), worked with the Next Legacy Orchestra, produced concerts, and written several notable commissioned pieces for large ensembles. Pianist Greg Small, who is also a talented trumpeter, has worked with many local artists at numerous jazz festivals while drummer Nucleo Vega is also in great demand for his tasteful and supportive playing

Together, these five musicians on Jagged Spaces have not only recorded the debut of their promising group but are introducing nine new pieces that deserve to be heard and savored by jazz listeners.

1. Jagged Spaces 06:46
2. Her Life Incomplete 05:32
3. Songhai 06:51
4. Blue Sunshine 06:45
5. Circles 08:09
6. All About Cynthia 07:57
7. Latin for Leandro 09:05
8. The Homecoming 04:56
9. Chasing Shadows 04:28

Skip Grasso- Guitar
Phil Ravita - Acoustic Bass and Electric 6-string Bass
Benny Russell - Tenor saxophone, Soprano saxophone
Greg Small – Piano
Nuc Vega - Drums

Michaela Steinhauer – Changes & Choices (2021)

On Changes & Choices, jazz singer-lyricist-composer Michaela Steinhauer performs a fascinating program of originals that range from memorable melodies to stretches of free improvising. Teamed with alto-saxophonist Alexey Kruglov and pianist Roman Stolyar, Steinhauer covers a wide range of styles and grooves while constructing a consistent narrative.
Michaela Steinhauer is a storyteller with a flexible voice who displays a wide range both in notes and emotions. She is also a talented improviser who constantly challenges herself and her instrumentalists.

Ms. Steinhauer’s latest project, Changes & Choices, is a conceptual album in which the songs, connecting free tonal improvisations with a narrated story, form a drama about a seasoned lady reminiscing about the past, letting go of the memories and emotions, and finding inner peace. It was recorded in Moscow in a trio with alto-saxophonist Alexey Kruglov and pianist Roman Stolyar. The singer wrote all of the music except for Ivory Stone’s “Abandoned Chapel.”

Alexey Kruglov and Roman Stolyar are both very well known in the free jazz music world. Kruglov has collaborated with a wide range of artists including Jimmy Heath, Christian McBride, Joe Lovano, Gary Bartz, Joachim Kuhn, and Viacheslav Ganelin among many others. He has performed at quite a few festivals, leads Krugly Band, and has released more than 70 albums. Stolyar has worked with Dominic Duval, William Parker, Vinny Golia, Oliver Lake and others, leading at least ten albums of his own.

The three musicians have years of experience playing together and, during Changes & Choices, they shift between styles with ease. “Me, Myself and I” starts quietly and then becomes a playful tune with Steinhauer displaying her wide range, particularly after the piano solo. She is dramatic on “Why Is She Still Here” (one of several songs with a memorable melody) and sings freely on “She’s Dancing.” The warm ballad “Choices” is followed by Kruglov’s adventurous alto playing which sometimes recalls Eric Dolphy on “Abandoned Chapel.” Here as throughout the program, Stolyar contributes both stimulating accompaniment and creative solos.

“Moving” has a catchy theme, “Nothing New Under The Sun” features some particularly assertive and passionate singing which becomes quite free, and the joyful “The Other Day” has Steinhauer’s spirited scat-singing before the episodic “She Smiles” concludes the thought-provoking program. Throughout Changes & Choices, the interplay between the three musicians is colorful and inventive.
Born and raised in Germany, Michaela Steinhauer began singing as a child, played piano from the age of nine, and performed with a pop/rock band that she co-founded when she was 16. She always loved to both improvise and compose music and was drawn towards jazz. In 1999 she moved to Moscow where she studied with some of the top Russian jazz musicians. She recorded her debut album, performed on a regular basis throughout Europe, worked as a vocal educator, and did all of the composing (in addition to writing the stories and screenplays) for four musicals

In 2014 Michaela moved to New York, studying at Queens College and earning a Master’s degree in jazz studies before returning to Germany in 2018. In her career she has recorded eight albums, using such sidemen as Craig Handy, Wallace Roney, Orrin Evans, and Hendrik Meurkens.

The adventurous yet accessible and intimate Changes & Choices introduces the multi-talented Michaela Steinhauer to a worldwide audience as she perfectly balances improvisation with compositions, storytelling with unpredictable flights that feature her beautiful voice and her skilled sidemen.

1. Me, myself and I 7:22
2. Why is she still here 5:44
3. She’s dancing 6:54
4. Choices 6:20
5. Abandoned chapel (words and melody Ivory Stone) 6:10
6. Moving 6:58
7. Nothing new under the sun 3:49
8. The other day 7:31
9. She smiles 4:57

Michaela Steinhauer - Vocals, Lyrics, Music, and Storyline
Alexey Kruglov - Alto Saxophone
Roman Stolyar - Piano

Jonathan Kane And Dave Soldier – February Meets Soldier String Quartet (2021 EEG Records)

Legendary NYC composers, band leaders, multi-instrumentalists and long time collaborators Jonathan Kane and Dave Soldier join forces with two of their most enduring projects—the trance-blues ecstatic minimalism of Jonathan Kane’s February, and the groundbreaking experimental string quartet innovations of Soldier String Quartet. With collective experience that include Swans, La Monte Young and Rhys Chatham for Kane, and John Cale, Bo Diddley and Kurt Vonnegut for Soldier, this pair has got stories.

February Meets Soldier String Quartet weds overtone-drenched drones with Delta and Chicago blues, trance, minimalism, jazz, no-wave, Haydn, and the great American songbook. It’s music that reconciles hypnosis with the physicality of a sweat-drenched juke joint. These are sounds for dancing, meditating, having sex, or banging your head against the wall. 

Jonathan Kane is a downtown NYC legend, as co-founder of the no-wave behemoth Swans, and the rhythmic thunder behind the massed-guitar armies of Rhys Chatham and the three-hour blues excursions of minimalist godfather La Monte Young—and as one of the hardest-hitting drummers on the planet. His critically acclaimed trance-blues releases February, I Looked At The Sun and Jet Ear Party, power guitar-driven minimalism into the blues, and the blues into guitar-driven harmonic maximalism. His live band Jonathan Kane’s February has performed internationally to kinetically charged audiences. Kane has also worked with The Kropotkins, Transmission, Circus Mort, John Zorn, Gary Lucas, The Kane Bros. Blues Band and Jean-Francois Pauvros. He appears on over 75 records.

Dave Soldier’s many projects include the Thai Elephant Orchestra consisting of 14 elephants in northern Thailand, the cult Delta punk band the Kropotkins, The People’s Choice (The World’s Most Unwanted Music), the Soldier String Quartet, the Brainwave Music Project, and coaching children to compose their own music in Harlem, Brooklyn, and Guatemala. He has performed as violinist, guitarist, and composer/arranger with Bo Diddley, John Cale, Kurt Vonnegut, David Byrne and others, appearing on over 100 records, including 20 featuring his compositions for classical and jazz musicians. Soldier, as Dr. David Sulzer is also a professor at Columbia University Medical Center in the Departments of Psychiatry, Neurology, and Pharmacology. His book Music, Math and Mind on the physics and neuroscience of music will be published in February by Columbia Press.

1. Hate To See You Go. 9:16. Walter Jacobs – Arc Music/BMI

Little Walter’s Chicago blues classic becomes a full on trance-blues dance floor workout.

The relentless riffs begin and never let up, blooming in full force with a luscious orchestral string section and a slashing Albert Ayler-inspired violin solo.

2. It Was A Very Good Year. 8:06. Ervin Drake – ASCAP

Popularized by Frank Sinatra, this staple of the great American songbook takes the listener on an instrumental journey through a life as seen through the lens of two NYC Downtown Music practitioners.

3. Requiem for Hulis Pulis. 16:09. Jonathan Kane – Mythco Music/BMI

A long form trance-blues voyage that takes minimalism to the crossroads where John Lee Hooker, Gavin Bryars, Muddy Waters, Steve Reich and Shostakovich come together to discuss what’s for dinner.

4. Vienna Over The Hills. 11:15. Dave Soldier – Rigglius Musc/ASCA

A gauzy dream-cum-nightmare of the worlds of Mozart, the Pastorale symphony, Mahler, Fritz Kreisler, Arnold Schoenberg, Klimt, Anna Freud and the Vienna Woods after it tore itself limb from limb.

Jonathan Kane – Drums, Guitars, Bass

Dave Soldier – Strings

Available on SPOTIFY

Zoe Scott – Shades Of Love (2021)

“With Shades of Love, vocalist Zoe Scott artfully blends shades of jazz and bossa nova into a vivid musical portrait of love, longing and romance. . . .
These songs are sung from the heart.”
“You can’t help but connect with this album . . .”

Shades of Love is a meticulously curated collection of 12 hit songs, reimagined, by international recording artist, Zoe Scott, and produced by Bossa Nova stalwart and 10X Grammy and 2X Emmy winning, Moogie Canazio.

Zoe honors the authentic style and original sound cultivated by Bossa Nova originators João Gilberto and Antonio Carlos Jobim, enlisting the talents of Bossa Nova legends, guitarist-arranger Torcuato Mariano, and Daniel Jobim, grandson of Antonio Carlos Jobim. Daniel is a featured performer on two of his grandfather’s most iconic songs; dueting with Zoe on “Wave,” and playing piano on “Quiet Nights.”

Along with these two beloved Bossa Nova classics, Zoe reimagined iconic songs originally recorded by Stevie Wonder, Amy Winehouse, The Beatles and more, including: “I’ll Stand By You,” made famous by Chrissie Hynde; “This Girl’s In Love With You” written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, recorded by Herb Alpert; “7 Lives,” an intimate anniversary gift written by Brazilan, Zé Ricardo, to his wife.

Shades of Love is Zoe’s love letter to Brazil’s iconic music. This is the music the world needs now: an invitation to be transported to a place and time where feeling love is an artform.
In her past life as an indie rocker in black leather, Zoe Scott never imagined recording an album like Shades of Love. Bossa nova is a radical departure for British- born Zoe Scott, “I remember the hard edges of it all. I loved it at first — the angst, the power, the energy, but simultaneously, I recall how boxed in I felt,” says Zoe, “I remember the moment I felt ‘this isn’t me anymore’ and I started a journey of self-discovery and healing. With that came new artistic expressions and new ways to see, and receive love. When I first heard Antonio Carlos Jobim, I was swept away. “I felt his soul through his music; through Bossa Nova and that was it. I had to make this album.”

Pressing inward, Zoe plunged heart first on a mission to find, and express the freedom, sensuality, and romance she was drawn to through Bossa Nova. Each of the 12 songs on Shades of Love is a vignette; a chapter in her life’s book, and an expression of what she calls, “feeling in.

In her journey from performing original indie rock to Bossa Nova covers, she embraces an expansive, openhearted vulnerability she had never experienced before, and in the process, connected her craft with who she was becoming as a person. “Bossa Nova taught me that there is life in the quiet spaces. I find peace, love, and joy there. It’s my hope this album opens the doors to the hearts of anyone who listens.”

1. Quiet Nights (Antonio Carlos Jobim and Gene Lees) 3:46
2. I’ll Stand By You (Chrissie Hynde, Thomas Kelly, and William Steinberg) 4:08
3. This Girl’s In Love (Burt Bacharach and Hal David) 3:49
4. 7 Lives (Ze Ricardo and Carla Rigolin Hassett) 3:55
5. Wave (Antonio Carlos Jobim) 3:35
6. The More I See You (Harry Warren Mack Gordon) 3:05
7. Baby It’s You (Burt Bacharach, Mack David, Barney Williams) 3:05
8. Once I Loved (Antonio Carlos Jobim, Vinicius de Demoraes and Ray Gilbert) 4:18
9. My Cherie Amour (Stevie Wonder, Henry Cosby, and Sylvia Moy) 3:31
10. In My Life (John Lennon and Paul McCartney) 3:02
11. Triste (Antonio Carlos Jobim) 4:09
12. You Know I’m No Good (Amy Winehouse) 4:01

Zoe Scott - Vocals
Torcuato Mariano - Acoustic & Electric Guitar, Synths, B3, Orchestra Arrangements
Paulo Calasans - Fender Rhodes
Andre Vasconcelos - Bass
Felipe Alves - Drums
Daniel Jobim - Acoustic Piano (1), Vocals (5)
Bill Brendle - Synth (10), Orchestra Arrangements (4, 9)
Tim Pierce - Electric Guitar (2, 12)
Rodrigo Sha - Clarinet (4)
Marlon Sette - Trombone (6)
Jesse Sadoc - Flugelhorn (7)
Steve Tavaglione - EWI (8)
Felipe Melanio e Viny Melanio - Bass Guitar (2, 9, 11)

Hugh Manwell – Hugh (2021 Onza Records)

Born out of his studies at Juilliard in the mecca of Jazz, New York City, Hugh Manwell crashed on the scene in 2014 creating his own lane for his unique, contemporary sound. A live multi-instrumentalist and producer, Hugh Manwell intricately blurs the line of Jazz, Funk, and Soul while remaining true to his own raw, uncut sound. Hugh's style has been compared to a mixture of artists such as Robert Glasper, J Dilla, Miles Davis, BadBadNotGood, and Jackie Mclean, and more.

With his debut project, Hugh, Hugh Manwell delivers 4 genre blending Contemporary Jazz songs on NYC based record label, Onza Records. The 4 track EP showcases his multi-instrumental playing capabilities. On the short project, Hugh shows his strengths playing Drums, Bass, Guitar, Keyboards, and Saxophone on each song. From the upbeat disco-esq House Of Glass to the slowed down psychedelic grooves of The One And Only, you're sure to find something that satisfies your hunger. The album pulls inspiration from artists such as Robert Glasper, J Dilla, Miles Davis, BadBadNotGood, Jackie Mclean, and more.

1. The One And Only 02:35

2. House Of Glass 03:00

3. Slow It Down 02:40

4. Bricks 03:05

Hugh Manwell on Alto Saxophone, Keyboards, Bass, Guitar and Drums


James Brandon Lewis / Red Lily Quintet - Jesup Wagon (May 7, 2021 Tao Forms / Aum Fidelity)

TAO Forms is =very= excited to [soon!] present the entirety of this astonishing new work from the fertile creative mind of tenor saxophonist–composer James Brandon Lewis. Performed by the Red Lily Quintet, an exceptional & singular inter-generational ensemble, this album speaks to the forever-evolving continuum of the jazz tradition.

Voted Rising Star Tenor Saxophonist in the 2020 DownBeat Magazine International Critic’s Poll, James Brandon Lewis supercharges his remarkable evolution with Jesup Wagon, a brilliant and evocative appreciation of the life and legacy of turn-of-the-19th century African-American renaissance man George Washington Carver. The album – to be released on May 7, 2021 – consists of seven pieces that create a portrait of stunning clarity and depth.

There is so much special about this recording, James’ 9th, starting with [on the way in] the lavish artwork, including a reproduction on the cover of Carver’s own tantalizing drawing of the Jesup Agricultural Wagon, which is shown in a photograph on the back cover, rendering a dialogue of representation and abstraction that Lewis models in the music. And while liner notes are generally more relied upon than celebrated, Jesup Wagon’s are delivered by the great UCLA American historian Robin D.G. Kelley, who in 2009 released the definitive Thelonious Monk biography 'Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original'. His notes, printed lovingly on an ochre background, contain much historical detail about Carver, particularly as they relate to the tunes. The fact that Kelley was willing to write them tells you something about the power of the music on the album, which Kelley calls “a revelation.”

If “revelation” is a word commonly used to describe master saxophonists like John Coltrane, Albert Ayler, Pharoah Sanders and Dewey Redman, then it fits easily in the horn of James Brandon Lewis, who is a keen student of those and many other elders. But while boundless energy characterizes his playing, it is also grounded by a deep sense of narrative, which is why he is attracted to histories, like Carver’s, or to theories like his own Molecular Systematic Music, used on his superb previous 2020 Intakt album, 'Molecular', or to artistic genres such as surrealism, modeled by Lewis on the stunning 'An UnRuly Manifesto' from 2019.

Helping James get it all out on Jesup Wagon is the Red Lily Quintet, anchored by the tectonic rhythm section of bassist William Parker and drummer Chad Taylor, and rounded out by cornetist Kirk Knuffke and cellist Chris Hoffman. Parker, who James says “has looked out for me ever since I arrived in New York City,” is a genius of the stand-up bass who performed with grand-master Cecil Taylor for 11 years straight. He is also a renaissance man in his own right. Chad Taylor, “one of the most melodic drummers I’ve ever played with,” James says, is a Chicagoan who has gifted to New York some of the energy and drama the windy city is known for. Kirk Knuffke is one of New York’s rare cornet players, using that instrument’s impish tone to explosive effect on dozens of records by New York jazz heavies. Chris Hoffman made his bones playing Henry Threadgill’s demanding music in a few of the great alto saxophonist’s bands, and has worked with artists as diverse as Yoko Ono, Marc Ribot and Marianne Faithful.

James grew up in Buffalo, which he calls a “groove town” of “hard workers” like Grover Washington Jr., Charles Gayle, Rick James, and Ani DiFranco, among them. Starting out on clarinet when he was 9, James moved to alto sax at 12 then tenor at 15. He attended Howard University in Washington, D.C. where he studied jazz fundamentals, then enrolled at Cal Arts in Southern California, working with greats like Wadada Leo Smith, Charlie Haden, and Joe LaBarbara. Notching his MFA there, he did a residency at the Banff International Workshop in Jazz and Creative Music where he worked with trumpeter Dave Douglas, pianist Angelica Sanchez and saxophonist Tony Malaby, among others. It was in Banff where he dove into the world of free jazz, continuing in that vein at an Atlantic Center for the Arts residency led by iconic New York City pianist Matthew Shipp.

Shipp and a few others lured him to New York City in 2012, where he quickly fell in with the cutting-edge artists, including drummer Gerald Cleaver and William Parker, that populate the jazz scene there. His second album, 'Divine Travels', released in 2014, featured the latter two musicians. Two albums he made in duets with Chad Taylor – 'Radiant Imprints' (2018) and 'Live in Willisau' (2020) – demonstrated that James had no hesitation dancing on the same wild turf that John Coltrane entered with his latter-day records featuring Rashied Ali on drums, although James says the inspiration was more Dewey Redman and Ed Blackwell’s duet, 'Red and Black in Willisau', recorded live in 1980. “Chad and I bonded over that one,” James says. Either way, it’s heady company.

Lewis also has an affinity for the spoken word, demonstrated on Jesup Wagon by a few timely placed short recitations. “Music is enough. But the older I get it’s important for me to have the listener hear my speaking voice,” he says. “Makes it more organic. I like to tell a story with an album.”

Poetry is just one of Lewis’ many obsessions, which also include painting, hip-hop and philosophy. “All of the people I admire have that kind of depth,” Lewis says. “William Parker, Oliver Lake, Yusef Lateef, all these amazing artists. George Washington Carver was a musician, a painter, a prolific writer, in addition to what most people know about him. Having a broad range just makes the cast iron skillet more seasoned.”

And now, in our pandemic era, James soon delivers Jesup Wagon, essentially a collection of tone poems – or, as Duke Ellington might have called them, “tone parallels” – Duke being the instigator of this type of programmatic jazz.

Poetry in music is what we get in this new masterpiece from James Brandon Lewis, who may well be crowned a master himself in the not-too-far future.
1. Jesup Wagon
2. Lowlands of Sorrow
3. Arachis
4. Fallen Flowers
5. Experiment Station
6. Seer
7. Chemurgy 09:52

James Brandon Lewis: tenor saxophone, composition
Kirk Knuffke: cornet
William Parker: bass, gimbri (on tracks 2 & 7)
Chris Hoffman: cello
Chad Taylor: drums, mbira (on track 6)

Walter Smith III - Still Casual (July 23, 2021 Whirlwind Recordings)

When Walter Smith III released his fourth album Still Casual in 2014, people listened, and the album was heralded as one of the top releases of the year. Now, fans of the saxophonist and composer can experience the tenorist’s wide-ranging release in a fresh new format on Vinyl *for the first time* on this special 2xLP, 180 gram limited edition printing in gatefold artwork.

Smith’s discography is pleasingly joined-up. As In Common 2 follows In Common, Still Casual references his 2006 solo debut Casually Introducing. The title might be another one of Smith’s trademark riffs, but the album is as committed to exploration as any other. Over the course of ten original tracks, Smith covers a swathe of musical and emotional ground.

The players assembled for Still Casual speak volumes for the quality of Smith’s company. Trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire joins Smith for explosive soloing on ‘Fing Fast’ and ‘Something New’. In Common co-convenor Matthew Stevens provides reflective harmonic support and muted solo colours alongside the understated backings of Taylor Eigsti. Together, Harish Raghavan and Kendrick Scott provide moments of tension and intrigue from the backline, adding suitable punch to the opener ‘Foretold You’.

Chronologically, the album precedes the In Common projects, and comes right as Smith hits his stride as a composer and arranger. From the elaborate (‘About 360’, ‘Processional’) to the personal (‘Greene’ is dedicated to saxophonist Jimmy Greene, whose daughter was killed in the Sandy Hook school shootings in 2012), Smith shines across fast-flowing vernacular and reflective, tender tones. Still Casual showcases a group stretching themselves in a way that never seems hurried, delving into a powerful collective energy to test their limits instead.

1. Foretold You (Preview Only) 00:48
2. Kaleidoscope (Preview Only) 00:47
3. Something New (Preview Only) 01:15
4. Apollo (Preview Only) 01:25
5. Greene (Preview Only) 02:53
6. Processional (Preview Only) 01:19
7. Fing Fast (Preview Only) 01:19
8. July (Preview Only) 01:19
9. About 360 (Preview Only) 01:19
10. Goodnight Now (Preview Only) 01:19

Walter Smith III - tenor saxophone
Taylor Eigsti - piano
Matthew Stevens - guitar
Harish Raghavan - bass
Kendrick Scott - drums
Ambrose Akinmusire - trumpet

Cory Weeds - O Sole Mio! Music From The Motherland (2021 Cellar Live)

Cory Weeds delivers a blistering set of Italian themed tunes backed up by one of the pre-eminent organs bands in jazz today!

The results speak for themselves: swinging bop lines executed by all, crackling rhythm section accompaniment and interaction, and an ensemble sound that underscores the values of swing, groove and participatory interaction over a carefully selected set of compositions--thanks to the support of Giulio Recchioni and the Italian Cultural Centre--that celebrate through reinvention and interpretation some great Italian music ("O Sole Mio," "Toma A Surriento"), as well as compositions taken from the rich history of contribution that Italian-Americans have brought to jazz and the American popular song (Marmarosa, Corea, Martino, Mancini).

Although to some, perhaps, the ideas presented here may appear on the surface to be disparate and tangentially connected: a jazz version of "O Sole Mio," a fifth instrumentalist added to a longstanding quartet or even the Hammond B3 organ in jazz (a relatively late addition to the music's instrumentarium with an unusual historical pedigree of roller rinks and makeshift churches), jazz has long been about thwarting normative conventions and looking for points of intersection that connect and unite players and sounds that span nationalities, race, language, gender and musical history.

1. O Sole Mio 07:14
2. Mr. Lucky 05:12
3. Speak Softly Love (Theme From The Godfather) 08:09
4. On The Stairs 05:55
5. Estate 07:22
6. Chick's Tune 06:11
7. Torna A Surriento 08:07
8. Moody Blues 06:01
9. Capricci di Camere (Whims OF Chambers) 06:22

Cory Weeds – alto saxophone
Eric Alexander – tenor saxophone
Mike LeDonne – Hammond B3 organ
Peter Bernstein – guitar
Joe Farnsworth - drums

Produced by Cory Weeds & Mike LeDonne
Recorded at Armoury Studios on October 6, 2019
Engineered, mixed and mastered by Chris Gestrin

Reza Khan - Imaginary Road (March 26, 2021)

Guitarist Reza Khan paints a soundtrack for one’s thoughts on Imaginary Road, creating a musical road trip.

The set of melodic contemporary jazz features Khan, fellow guitarist Miles Gilderdale (of Acoustic Alchemy), a supportive rhythm section with bassist Mark Egan and drummer Maurizio Zottarelli, and the soundscapes of Philippe Saisse.
In his career, Reza Khan has created his own musical world, performing music that is often easy-listening but never predictable. His guitar solos, while inspired at times by Pat Metheny, Lee Ritenour and Wes Montgomery, have their own musical personality.

On Imaginary Road, his sixth album as a leader, Khan is joined by his longtime band (pianist Matt King, bassist Mark Egan, drummer Maurizio Zottarelli and, on two selections, rhythm and Brazilian guitarist Sergio Pereira) along with welcome guest appearances from David Mann (on soprano, flute and other wind instruments), electric guitarist Miles Gilderdale (best-known for his work with Acoustic Alchemy), and Philippe Saisse on keyboards.

Imaginary Road begins with “Waiting For The Sky,” a melodic piece that has a happy optimistic feel (as if to say that anything is possible) with some heat generated by Mann on soprano and guitarist Gilderdale. “Neo Funk” sounds like the start of a road trip. It features contrasting but complementary guitar solos from Khan and Gilderdale, and inventive statements from pianist King and Saisse on synth. “I See Stars” is a warm ballad with Khan’s guitar in the lead of the core group which is joined at times by Mann on flute and a melodic signature bass solo by Mark Egan. “La Liason,” while musically depicting the end of a love affair, is a thoughtful original that expresses hope for the future featuring Phillippe Saisse on Melodion.

One of the most memorable selections on this collection is “Midnight Runner,” an atmospheric performance which could easily serve as a soundtrack. “Broken River” has a strong forward momentum and gets funkier as it progresses. “Seven Miles Road” is a colorful journey that includes a guitar-flute tradeoff while the energetic “It’s Happening” is most notable for a fine statement from Mark Egan and arguably Matt King’s most rewarding piano solo of the project. The spiritual piece “Somewhere East” looks towards Khan’s Eastern roots while still keeping his feet planted in contemporary jazz; Mann’s soprano playing adds plenty of passion. This enjoyable set concludes with “Imaginary Road,” a happy closer that gives each of the musicians an opportunity to groove joyfully to its conclusion.

Born in Bangladesh, Reza Khan grew up as part of a musical family and was trained on Indian percussion from the age of eight. But after hearing the album Frampton Comes Alive, he permanently switched to the guitar. His early influences included Pat Metheny, the Rippingtons, and Acoustic Alchemy. Khan’s first band, Yours Sincerely, had a best-selling album but the guitarist soon switched gears to pursue a career in international relations. Moving to the U.S., he graduated from Queens College with a degree in computer science. Khan worked for the United Nations and spent a period living and playing music in South Africa. Since returning to New York, Reza Khan has developed his own fresh style and recorded a series of popular albums: 2009’s Painted Diaries, A Simple Plan, The Dreamwalker, Wind Dance, and Next Train Home.

Reza Khan and his group have performed throughout New York and Europe during the last few years, building up an audience that will clearly be pleased by the highly enjoyable music of Imaginary Road.

1. Waiting for the Sky** 3:35
2. Neo Funk** 4:08
3. I See Stars* 5:51
4. La Liaison* 4:57
5. Midnight Runner 5:56
6. Broken River** 5:12
7. Seven Miles Road** 5:28
8. It’s Happening** 5:53
9. Somewhere East 6:25
10. Imaginary Road 5:16

Composer: Reza Khan

Guitars: Reza Khan - Nylon and Electric Guitar, Sergio Pereira* - Rhythm Guitar & Classical, Miles Gilderdale** - Electric Lead Guitar, David Mann - Strings and Wind Instruments
Rhythm Section: Maurizio Zottarelli - Drums, Mark Egan - Bass, Fernando Saci - Percussion
Keyboards and Sound Design: Matt King - Piano, Philippe Saisse - Synth, Moog, Melodion and Mallets