Saturday, March 19, 2022

Harry Skoler - Living In Sound: The Music of Charles Mingus (April 22, 2022 Sunnyside Records)

The righteous and bombastic nature of the great bassist/composer Charles Mingus made him a polarizing personality. His unique personality, combined with his groundbreaking music, were magnetic for open-minded listeners. Clarinetist Harry Skoler discovered Mingus and his music early in life. This discovery would change his entire trajectory as a person and musician, which Skoler celebrates on his new recording, Living In Sound: The Music of Charles Mingus.

Skoler had a challenging adolescence while growing up in Syracuse, New York during the 1960s and early 1970s. While seeking solace from a traumatic event, he discovered the world of Charles Mingus, initially from the bassist’s Mingus Moves LP (Atlantic, 1974). The overwhelming impact on Skoler led him to investigate both Mingus’s legendary musical oeuvre and his autobiography, Beneath the Underdog. Mingus’s words and music resonated with the young musician. It is as though he had found truth in the work of one artist.

It wasn’t long before Skoler was able to experience Mingus in the flesh at Syracuse University’s Jabberwocky student club. The experience was beyond anything that Skoler had experienced up until then. Mingus’s powerful presence and command were larger than life. The experience was imprinted deeply on Skoler and is represented in an original graphic story by Dave Chisholm included with Living In Sound.

Over forty years later, Skoler already had a wonderful career as a working musician and professor at the celebrated Berklee College of Music. In 2018, his life was saved from a ruptured artery; then depression set in. This is when Skoler met saxophonist Walter Smith III. Meeting Smith proved to be the catalyst and spark that Skoler needed. Skoler immediately felt that he needed to record again and asked Smith if he would be willing to produce a new album, to which Smith agreed.

It was the collaborative effort of Skoler and Smith that proposed a project celebrating Mingus with strings. Skoler was excited by the possibilities and the project went forward with Smith suggesting the string quartet, jazz accompanists, and arrangers for the pieces. The producer was able to gather an all-star group, which included pianist Kenny Barron, bassist Christian McBride, drummer Johnathan Blake, trumpeter Nicolas Payton, and vocalist Jazzmeia Horn. A string quartet of violinists Megan Gould and Tomoko Omura, with violist Karen Waltuch and cellist Noah Hoffeld was also commissioned.

The recording features arrangements by some of the brightest compositional minds in jazz, namely Darcy James Argue, Ambrose Akinmusire, and Fabian Almazan. The pieces to be performed were selected ad hoc by the arrangers or by Skoler and Smith. The arrangers were trusted to do whatever they wanted in the arrangements. The pieces were ready in August 2021, when Skoler met the band and string quartet at Sear Sound for two days of recording.

The recording begins with Fabian Almazan’s arrangement of “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat,” bittersweet strings leading to Skoler’s laid back reading of one of Mingus’s most beloved tunes. Darcy James Argue twists “Peggy’s Blue Skylight” dramatically, as the rhythmic strings bounce intricately off one another and McBride and Barron stretch out on their individual solos. Argue created a perfect showcase for Skoler on “Duke Ellington’s Sound of Love,” providing an at times lush, then spare, arrangement allowing the clarinetist to dial into the same wistful feelings of respect and love for Mingus’s hero, Duke Ellington, with the aid of McBride’s supportive bass.

Mingus’s striking “Remember Rockefeller at Attica” is filled by Almazan’s pen with the chilling effect and violence that its namesake event inspired; Skoler’s pained screaming through his clarinet, and Payton’s thoughtful trumpet are highlights of the recording. Akinmusire’s arrangement of Don Pullen’s “Newcomer” is nuanced and deep, the tune being from the Mingus Moves LP that was the origin of Skoler’s Mingus appreciation. Brilliant vocalist Jazzmeia Horn brings Doug Hammond’s “Moves” to life, the subtlety and strength of her voice amplified by the meditative tone poem arranged by Almazan.

Argue chose to tackle “Sue’s Changes” for a thrilling and inventive suite with ever changing emotions and transitions, played masterfully by the ensemble and providing Payton some true solo highlights. “Invisible Lady” is a gorgeous, mysterious piece loved by Skoler; Akinmusire’s arrangement provides languid, noirish tones. Skoler’s original, “Underdog,” was completed under the wire, although the conception was developed over months. The composer wrote the piece just prior to the final recording session as a sketch that provides freedom for all the musicians to express themselves without hindrance.

The music that Harry Skoler, Walter Smith III, and their brilliant cast recorded on Living In Sound captures the many moods of the iconoclastic Charles Mingus. There are shades of tumult, harmonic depth, conceptual depth, and abandon. A perfect tribute to the legend to mark his centennial year. 

1. Goodbye Pork Pie Hat
2. Peggy's Blue Skylight
3. Duke Ellington's Sound of Love
4. Remember Rockefeller at Attica
5. Newcomer
6. Moves
7. Sue's Changes
8. Invisible Lady
9. Underdog

Harry Skoler - clarinet
Kenny Barron - piano
Christian McBride - bass
Johnathan Blake - drums
Jazzmeia Horn - vocals
Nicholas Payton - trumpet
Megan Gould - violin I
Tomoto Omura - violin II
Karen Waltuch - viola
Noah Hoffeld - cello

Mike Holober & Balancing Act - Don't Let Go (April 15, 2022 Sunnyside Records)

It’s an appropriate name for a Holober-led band; in many ways, Holober’s management of his many musical inspirations is a balancing act. On one hand, much of what he’s best known for is his work with larger ensembles like the WDR Big Band, the HR Big Band, and the Gotham Jazz Orchestra, whose latest work with Holober at the helm, Hiding Out, earned a 2020 GRAMMY® nomination. On the other, there’s the magnetism of even greater self-actualization, of writing for and leading a smaller group.

“After focusing on big band work for so long,” Holober says, “Balancing Act exists to satisfy my needs to write for and lead a smaller group again and make a completely personal statement, where the fruits of the collective are matched with band leadership and personal artistic goals.”

But the balancing isn’t just finding the sweet spot between large groups and small; it’s also about striking the balance between Holober’s classical and jazz impulses. Don’t Let Go is a 14-part song-cycle divided into two sets — one for each of the album’s two discs — recorded in October 2019 at Aaron Davis Hall on the campus of the City College of New York, where Holober has taught since 1995. The work is intended to be heard in the order presented, much like the song-cycles of classical influences like Robert Schumann, Samuel Barber, and Ralph Vaughan Williams.

Of course, when the roster of sidemen is composed of Marvin Stamm (trumpet and flugelhorn), Dick Oatts (alto and soprano sax, flute), Jason Rigby (tenor sax, clarinet, bass clarinet), Mark Patterson (trombone), Mike McGuirk (bass), and Dennis Mackrel (drums), one knows there’ll be no scarcity of jazz-rooted improvisation. The presence of Brazilian vocalist Jamile only enhances the group’s expressive palette and dynamic interplay.

Rhapsodic in nature, Don’t Let Go’s structure and presentation will appeal to listeners across the musical spectrum. At times it presents like classical-inspired jazz; at other times like jazz-inspired classical. That’s by design. Holober formed Balancing Act in 2015, with its eponymous premiere recording landing on many jazz critics’ “best of” yearly roundup lists. In 2017, Holober sought (and won) a commission from Chamber Music America’s New Jazz Works program to create Don’t Let Go because, as he puts it, he’s drawn to “contrasting elements and ideas, mixing styles, grooves, and influences from diverse jazz and classical languages.”

So then, it’s no surprise he utilizes the talents of vocalist Jamile in a manner slightly unconventional. “Although some of the music contains lyrics,” explains Holober, “Balancing Act is not designed as a singer’s showcase. I employ voice as another frontline instrument, often singing wordless notes.”

This is why Holober describes Balancing Act as “a jazz octet with voice.” Listen to set-one’s “Four-Letter Words,” “Kiss the Ground,” and, especially, “A Summer Midnight’s Dream” and “Morning Hope” to get a sense for the diversity of contexts in which Jamile’s expansive musicality is employed. When she’s not featured out front, bringing Holober-penned lyrics to life, she’s not on break; whether it’s scatting improvisationally or wordlessly vocalizing lines typically not meant for voice, Jamile is utilized as another piece of the octet’s instrumentation, adding texture and color.

Holober says the spiritual impetus for Don’t Let Go was born from his desire to “explore the concept of ‘hope’ in the context of current social, political, and environmental realities.” This hope is manifested in the way he’s chosen to present this program—pieces that are individually self-sufficient but inextricably bound to their musical companions and maximally effective, both emotionally and musically, when presented as a unit. This governing principle applies not just to the whole but to the parts themselves, the individual songs of the cycle.

“Necessary,” the closer of the first set, speaks well to Holober’s commitment to exposing the connection and striking the balance between the individual and the collective, with sparkling individual displays by Rigby and Patterson giving way to section playing of the highest precision.

“I Wonder,” the second set’s opener, continues Holober’s exploration in duality and contrasts, opening with an atmospheric solo piano prologue before showcasing the rhythm section (plus Jamile) as a swaggering quartet punctuated by concentrated bursts of horn support. The horns are foregrounded once more in “You’re a Long Way from Home,” but it’s not necessary to keep score. Whether it’s Holober with a jaunty, bouncy solo (“Touch the Sky”), Oatts piercing through a bossa nova-induced reverie on soprano sax (“Letting Go”), or Jamile and Stamm trading star-turns on a melodic, theatrical ballad (“You Never Know”), every one of these talented musicians gets their just due here.

The title track and closer serves as the spiritual anthem for this concert-length suite. No mere suggestion, this is a musical imperative, at once uplifting and defiantly optimistic. Crafted specifically in these times and for these times and speaking to both head and heart, this song cycle lends credence to Downbeat’s assessment of Holober as “one of the finest modern composer/arrangers of our time.” 

1. Breathe Deep
2. Morning Hope
3. Four-Letter Words
4. Kiss The Ground
5. Burnin' Daylight
6. A Summer Midnight's Dream
7. Necessary
8. I Wonder
9. You're A Long Way From Home
10. You Never Know
11. Smile Slow
12. Letting Go
13. Touch The Sky
14. Don't Let Go

Jamile - voice
Marvin Stamm - trumpet & flugelhorn
Dick Oatts - alto, soprano saxophone, flute
Jason Rigby - tenor saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet
Mark Patterson - trombone
Mike Holober - piano & composer
Mike McGuirk - bass
Dennis Mackrel - drums

Fergus McCreadie - Forest Floor (April 8, 2022 Edition Records)

Scottish pianist Fergus McCreadie returns with a brand new studio album ‘Forest Floor’ that follows the highly acclaimed Cairn, released in January 2021. Building on the superlative reaction to Cairn, Forest Floor develops similar traits and characteristics but imbued with even greater maturity, interaction and vision. The Scottish folk influences developed in Cairn remain central and define Fergus’ and the trio’s sound.

1. Law Hill
2. The Unfurrowed Field
3. Morning Moon
4. Landslide
5. Forest Floor
6. The Ridge
7. White Water
8. Glade

Fergus McCreadie - Piano
David Bowden - Double Bass
Stephen Henderson - Drums

Produced by Fergus McCreadie
Executive producer Dave Stapleton

Nat Birchall - AFRO TRANE (May 27, 2022)

Third all-solo outing from Nat Birchall. This time Nat pays homage to the patron saint of the tenor saxophone, John Coltrane. With a balanced programme of original songs and John Coltrane compositions the album focusses on the more Afrocentric aspects of the music.

1. Acknowledgement (A Love Supreme Pt 1)
2. Trane's Garden
3. India
4. Afro Trane
5. Dahomey Dance
6. Folk Song For Trane

Nat Birchall - Tenor & soprano saxophones, bass clarinet, zurna, piano, Korg Minilogue, harmonium, bass, drums, hand drums, mbira, percussion

Spencer Zahn - Pale Horizon (May 13, 2022 Cascine)

The music of multi-instrumentalist Spencer Zahn is marked by openness: spacious sonic landscapes, rich with contributions from his creative community. Zahn’s newest album, Sunday Painter, is a refined step forward for the New York City-based musician a lush collection of instrumental songs that undulate along waves of jazz, ambient pop, Americana, and neo-classical.

1. In The Days of Slowness
2. Belonging
3. Sadly, Slowly
4. Wake
5. Miss You
6. When I Follow
7. In The Tall Grass
8. Curious Frame
9. Goodnight, Faintly
10. But For You
11. How To Say Goodbye
12. Hana, My Love

Glass Museum - Reflet (April 29, 2022 Sdban Records)

Belgian instrumentalists Glass Museum have found the perfect balance between piano and drums, where jazz and electronics collide, uniting the surgical precision of the best contemporary jazz, à la Gogo Penguin and Badbadnotgood, with the electronic influences of Jon Hopkins or Floating Points.

In motion since 2016, the duo consisting of keyboardist Antoine Flipo and drummer Martin Grégoire, have a rich history written around a powerful connection to duality. From the initial impact of the ‘Deux’ EP in 2018, to the synthetic and organic textures of the critically acclaimed 2020 album ‘Reykjavik’, Glass Museum has found its balance in symmetry.

Released 29th April via the groove-obsessed Sdban Ultra label, ‘Reflet’ was born out of a desire for freedom, a wish to innovate and travel differently. This new piece stands out as an artistic climax crafted at the crossroads of time and genres, an electronic proposition wrought by two brave hearts, tempered by the organic reflections delivered through computer free melodies. An album which places the human at the core of its compositions and in order to return to a more instinctive and instantaneous means of creation, the duo retreated to a secret location in one of the most remote parts of the Ardennes. It’s there, in the shade of spruces, that the album was first born.

Extremely cinematographic, ‘Reflet’ delivers a panoramic view point: jazz, breakbeat, minimal techno and deep house, collide on neo classical grounds. From the dynamic instrumentation of album opener ‘Caillebotis’ to the absorbing oscillations of ‘Shiitake’ and grand gestures of the album title track, ‘Reflet’ is an odyssey running through troubled times, an ode to night time, to life, dreams and to all rhythms that convey emotions beyond words. Like its immersive creative process, the album offers a counterpoint and, above all, endless perspectives. Elsewhere, the pulsing, melodic ‘Auburn’ and entrancing electronic textures of ‘Opal Sequences’ continue the exploration before the strutting ‘Kendama’ showcases the electronic sensibilities that are buried within their productions. 

1. Caillebotis
2. Shiitake
3. Ellipse
4. Reflet
5. Swimming Trees
6. Auburn
7. Opal Sequences
8. Kendama

Grossman / Morris-Smith - Curious Music (April 8, 2022 Astral Spirits)

This is a split release with RESEARCH RECORDS in Australia. For Australian customers PLEASE order directly from Research here:

The music on this album was created using only Electric Guitar *

Using a single instrument - Electric Guitar - As A frame and the studio as the limit.

ie :
The sound of ‘Harp’
The layering of a single, guitar chord.

The sound of ‘Trumpets’ & ‘Saxophone’
Were designed and treated using fuzz / Wah Wah / Pitch Box / Delay & Mic Gate.

The sound of ‘hi hat’ was designed through the scratching of two guitar strings repeatedly

Thank you for listening
Michael Grossman & Jai Morris-Smith

Curious Music.

*Jai’s watch can be heard as it marks the next hour. Side I ending.

*The last phrase of guitars on side II was recorded and played back using a dictaphone.

1. "Curious Music I" I. Catalogue of Dreams, II. Miles Beneath Antarctica
2. "Curious Music II" I. Shalom (Peace Be With You), II. Silk III. Catalogue Of The Universe /(The Conversation)

Guitar & Treatments - Michael Grossman
Guitar & Treatments - Jai Morris-Smith

All Compositions
Written, Recorded Mixed & Produced by
Michael Grossman // Jai Morris-Smith
2020 - 2021

Mastered By Mikey Young
Artwork By James Coe

Fred Anderson & Hamid Drake (March 2022 Thrill Jockey Records)

The closest of relationships gives its members space to expand, change, develop, and play. Tenor saxophonist Fred Anderson and drummer Hamid Drake have just that kind of partnership, one that has seen them periodically move apart and work extensively on other fronts – Anderson tending to the recent relocation of his major jazz venue the Velvet Lounge; Drake in a dizzying array of globetrotting ensembles – but always returning to the fold, digging in together and checking out what’s been learned in the interim. Over the course of some three decades, master saxophonist and prodigy percussionist have continued to reconfirm their commitment to their joint project.

Following up on their acclaimed Thrill Jockey 2004 CD Back Together Again, Drake and Anderson set out to show just how much they’d grown, how beautifully their work together has evolved. Drafting an all-star band consisting of fellow-Chicagoans, the twosome entered John McEntire’s Soma Studios and proceeded to record their most relaxed, perfectly balanced date yet. In a discography that has gone from a handful of rare LPs fifteen years ago to a staggering number of discs on various labels today, it may seem hyperbolic to call From the River to the Ocean Fred Anderson’s greatest album yet, but the empathy and cohesiveness of the ensemble, coupled with the saxophonist’s brilliant, searching improvisations, makes it a ringer.

From the River to the Ocean is an especially varied outing, ranging from Anderson’s classic set-closing blues “Strut Time” to the meditative, spiritual, modal track “For Brother Thompson,” dedicated to the late trumpeter Malachi Thompson and featuring bassist Harrison Bankhead on brooding piano and Drake chanting in Arabic. The record’s title track and the closer, “Sakti/Shiva,” find bassist Josh Abrams laying down an astounding bed on guimbri, the three-stringed Moroccan acoustic bass familiar to fans of Gnawa music. Drake knows exactly how to work with guimbri, as evidenced on his CD The Wels Concert (Okka Disk) with guimbri player Mahmoud Gania and saxophonist Peter Brötzmann. Another of the CD’s delights is guitarist Jeff Parker, known to many through his work with Tortoise and Isotope 217 and his prominent place in the current jazz guitar pantheon. Here, Parker displays an immense sensitivity and melodic genius, sharing solo spotlight with Bankhead’s cello on “From the River to the Ocean” and sculpting a stunning array of shapes on the group’s swinging take on Anderson’s “Planet E.”

Underneath is all is Hamid Drake, an intensely creative soul who has continued to challenge himself. Drake’s growth is not measured in how many different instruments he plays – indeed, he’s scaled back his arsenal over the years – but in the depth and musicality of his feeling. On this record he is remarkably light and airy, playing with tremendous delicacy and clarity. It goes to show that you don’t need to muscle your way into someone’s ears. Propulsion can be introduced without a pneumatic drill, and Drake instigates an avalanche of rolling forward momentum on the opening moments, inspiring the two basses and guitarist to move, to make something moving, and in turn to further inspire Fred Anderson to some of his most forceful and imaginative playing yet documented.

If the individual is a small receptacle of expressivity, a mountain spring if you will, then it is in ideal settings like this one that the springs join forces, turning into streams, then bigger and bigger tributaries, finally swelling into rivers that open into the oceanic creative waterways. Thank goodness Anderson and Drake have tapped into that wellspring, drawing directly from the source. 

1. Planet E 14:42
2. Strut Time 21:15
3. For Brother Thompson 07:44
4. From the River to the Ocean 13:35
5. Sakti / Shiva 06:24

FRED ANDERSON Saxophone on all tracks.
HAMID DRAKE Drums on "Planet E," "Strut Time," and "For Brother Thompson." Frame Drum on "From the River to the Ocean."
JEFF PARKER Guitar on "Planet E," "Strut Time," and "From the River to the Ocean."
HARRISON BANKHEAD Cello on "Strut Time," Piano on "For Brother Thompson." Bass on "Planet E" and "From the River to the Ocean."
JOSHUA ABRAMS Bass on "Planet E," "Strut Time," and "For Brother Thompson." Guimbri on "Sakti/Shiva" and "From the River to the Ocean."

Recorded by John McEntire at Soma EMS
Photographs by Jim Newberry
Design by Azita Youssefi and Sheila Sachs

"Planet E" and "Strut Time" written by Fred Anderson.
"For Brother Thompson" written by Harrison Bankhead.
"Sakti/Shiva" written by Fred Anderson, Joshua Abrams with help from Hamid Drake.
"From the River to the Ocean" written by Joshua Abrams and Hamid Drake.

Véhicule - Grand Dentelé (March 2022 rohs! records)

"One day, my piano (a nice upright Feurich made in Langlau in 1984) was opened because the hammers had to be repaired. The strings were visible and the cylinder was removed. Like this, the piano looked like a boneless animal with his skin removed.

Like the Beef Skinned from Soutine, or an anatomic picture from Vesale. I started tapping on the strings, on the wood case, scratching the keys and the strings, to bring life back to this carcass. It was the beginning of the first track, L’allégorie de la Carcasse. This album is like a reconquest of the keyboards and a tribute as well. Synthesizers, piano, pump organ and even the computer keyboard, are the principal source of the tracks. I tried to keep a pleasure of playing, of improvising, in the spirit of jazz music which I love.

I used other instruments and objects, like shakuhachi and turntable. However, the composition process needs to go back and forth between instruments and computer, analogic and digital, improvisation and editing. Sometimes, the computer and the machines makes you do things that you didn’t expect. It’s the life of the music and the creation. And it’s the dimension that I want to keep with Véhicule: not a dogmatic way of composing, but just a journey, always surprising, in the sounds.." 

1. A1. L'allégorie de la carcasse 05:51
2. A2. Joe Zawinul's sleep 05:36
3. A3. Descente de flics sourds 06:42
4. B1. Notre Dame des Caves 06:04
5. B2. Heidegger's slippers 03:19
6. B3. Vishnu's remorse 08:22

Music: Sylvain Milliot
Mastered by: Andrea Porcu
Record label: Lᴏɴᴛᴀɴᴏ Series
Publisher: ROHS! RECORDS

Ewan Bleach - Ewan the Night’n the Music (March 2022 Old Style Records)

“Ewan, the Night'n the Music” is a ballads album, a tribute to the poetic side of jazz improvisation and the rich melodic compositions of the old songwriters. Whilst inspired on the most part by the poetic genius of two jazz giants, Sidney Bechet and Lester Young , who Ewan sees respectively as the sun and moon of jazz reed players, he is also seeking an authenticity his improvisations, a sense of timelessness and an appreciation of the “now” whilst conjuring up the old spirits with the nuances of the past. This is meant to be an album for melting into your chair at the end of hard day, mellow and soothing, but not without moments of pathos and passion

1. Body and Soul 04:26
2. Deep Purple 04:09
3. Memories of You 05:12
4. You and the Night and the Music 05:18
5. Prelude to a Kiss 04:50
6. Si Tu Vois Ma Mère 03:44
7. When I Grow Too Old To Dream 03:10
8. The Very Thought of You 04:29
9. The Nearness of You 04:20

Patrick Shiroishi - 442 (March 2022 Cønjuntø Vacíø)

After many many delays, today we present our first 2022 release, and a very special one for us.

Patrick Shiroishi is a Japanese-American multi-instrumentalist & composer based in Los Angeles.

"This piece was inspired by the 442nd infantry regiment, the most decorated military unit in history and composed of all japanese american soldiers. The piece is presented here in acoustic and electric versions, both being born from the same melody. If you are not familiar with their story, I implore you to take a look". - Patrick Shiroishi

We've been in love with Patrick's music for a long time and it's an honor to have a piece of his work on the label.

The 442 lathe cut 7" is limited to 30 copies. Artwork by Marc Miró.

You can now listen/download the digital version and pre-order the limited 7" version. Orders will start shipping on March 14th.

1. 442 (Acoustic) 05:51
2. 442 (Electric) 04:24