Vijay Iyer’s “Mutations” available on ECM Records

Vijay Iyer. Photo provided.

Vijay Iyer. Photo provided.

According to a recent news release, Mutations is Vijay Iyer’s first album as a leader for ECM Records, and a recording that will widen perceptions of the pianist-composer’s work. At its center is “Mutations I-X”, a composition scored for string quartet, pianist, and electronics. A major piece built out of cells and fragments, it veers through many atmospheres, from moment to moment propulsive, enveloping, lyrical, luminescent, and strangely beautiful. Through thematic interactivity, the interweaving of acoustic and electronic sound-textures, and some decisive improvisational interventions in notated music, Vijay Iyer has created a multi-faceted suite whose very subject is change. Iyer gives a positive value to the concept of ‘mutation’ in this music, and variously appears in it as an interpreter of notated elements, as an improviser, and as  “a sort of laptop artist, mixing in noise and different sounds,” encouraging the transformative processes.

Mutations was  recorded at New York’s Avatar Studio in September 2013, with Manfred Eicher as producer,  and casts new light on Iyer’s creative range. In recent seasons Vijay’s personal approach to jazz and improvising has resonated with both press and the public, and multiple poll wins and awards including, most recently, a MacArthur Foundation fellowship, have raised his international profile. Yet important aspects of his work have remained undocumented on disc. Over the last 10 years, Iyer has written music for chamber ensembles of various formations, much of which “involves different approaches to improvisation as well as notation. I’m happy to have this chance to let it be heard alongside other work I have been doing that’s more in a jazz vein, or more connected to the jazz community.”

Christine Jensen’s second release “Habitat” features jazz orchestra

Saxophonist and composer Christine Jensen‘s second album with her Jazz Orchestra marks a significant growth in her writing for large ensemble. Habitat (available March 11 on Justin Time Recordsjensen) features six compositions, all with a deeply ingrained sense of place.
“I always search for a theme in my writing,” Jensen explains in a recent news release. “The only question is whether the theme comes out of the music or vice versa. This time, the music came from places, or the feelings and imagination of place.”
For Jensen, the process of writing for large ensemble is a time-consuming one. “I average about two pieces a year,” she admits, from the initial sketch to orchestration to revision after reading it through with the band. The compositions have now grown to be explicitly for the orchestra. Jensen achieves the fine balance of small group improvisation with large ensemble orchestration and melodic development, in the vein of her inspiration Bob Brookmeyer and her contemporary (and fellow McGill alumnus) Darcy James Argue.
Much of the band remains intact from the Juno award-winning Treelines, including featured trumpet soloist Ingrid Jensen, with a few key personnel changes. Rich Irwinassumes the drum chair here – “he’s a studio drummer with a great sense of time, and he listens to every detail of the music,” Jensen enthuses. The foundation of the band is in good hands with Irwin, returning bassist Fraser Hollins, low brass specialist David Martin, and Samuel Blais on baritone saxophone.
If the low end of the band is solid, the rest of the band shines.” This mix of accuracy and familiarity with Jensen’s music allowed Habitatto unfurl more quickly. “We only did two takes of almost everything,” Jensen says, still in awe that a recording of this grandeur only took a day-and-a-half of studio time with the full orchestra.
The rapport between Christine and Ingrid Jensen is in full evidence on “Treelines,” a 2010 commission from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. An episodic piece that seamlessly weaves its way from open improvisation to straight ahead swing, Ingrid serves as the pivot for each new section. “It’s reflective of how we hang out together,” Jensen says with a laugh. “In two hours, we can cover a lot of ground, from serious music analysis to philosophy to goofing off with our kids.”
One of Jensen’s strengths as a large ensemble jazz composer is her ability to link contemporary harmonic language, as evidenced in the beautiful chorale writing on “Blue Yonder,” with traditional big band structures and swing.
“I grew up playing dance band music, and I’m probably the last generation to get to do that, where I sat in a section with people that taught me to play music from their era,” Jensen recalls. “I’ve played the Basie and Glenn Miller books to death as a student. That music is in me.”

Graveface Records’ Xiu Xiu announces Nina Simone covers album “NINA”

NINA-Xiu-Xiu-cover-artWith an artist as wide-ranging and prolific as Xiu Xiu‘s Jamie Stewart, it can be hard to put into words what, exactly, his music sounds like. But when it comes to Stewart’s forthcoming NINA, he certainly doesn’t sound like himself.
NINA is a thank-you note, a love letter and a kind of musical fan-fic for the late icon Nina Simone. This being Xiu Xiu, of course, Stewart’s tribute album is far from a collection of straight covers. Rather, he and long-time collaborator Ches Smith — “the only person I know who could understand this in his heart and also handle the technical side of fearlessly reorienting such wonderful music” — bring Simone into focus through their own avant-dark lens.
“The idea came being back stage in Austin, Texas, opening for Swans and feeling like I did not play well,” Stewart explains in a news release. The night before, he and Swans’ Michael Gira had discussed Simone, their love both for her talent as a musician and her fearlessness as a civil rights activist, and how Simone inspired them to make better work. Feeling down on himself, yet inspired both by the memory of Simone and the “epic and beautiful persistence” of Gira and Swans, Stewart decided to honor Simone and challenge himself in making NINA.
To that end, NINA was recorded in just one day, all in first or second takes. In doing so, Stewart captured the immediacy of the feelings that inspired the record, but it was also a practical decision. Stewart is a busy man. In the next year alone he has a new full-length Xiu Xiu record coming out, along with other planned releases, and an event with conceptual artist Danh Vo at Milwaukee’s Walker Arts Center in October. Last month, he wrapped up another performance, “Dark Materials,” with visual artist Monika Grzymala and choreographer Jeremy Wade at Hamburg’s Internationales Sommerfestival and he’s also been busy touring with Swans and working with Eugene Robinson from Oxbow on their side project, Sal Mineo.

 

OKeh Records announces new signings as part of “The Sound of Next” campaign

okehFollowing its re-activation in January 2013 with releases that included projects by Bill Frisell, Bob James & David Sanborn, Michel Camilo and John Medeski, SONY Masterworks‘ OKeh Records is proud to announce their next wave of signings. The artists, who are part of the label’s ”The Sound of Next” campaign are: saxophonist Craig Handy, Tunisian oudist/vocalist Dhafer Youssef, guitarist Nir Felder, drummer Jeff Ballard, saxophonist James Brandon Lewis, African vocalist Somi, and trumpeter Theo Croker.

“Each label, and OKeh is no exception, needs a good balance of established artists and newcomers to reflect what is happening in the world of music today,” states Wulf Müller, who oversees A&R for OKeh Records and ideated the re-launch in a recent news release. “The second phase of the re-launch is to focus on great new artists with different backgrounds and different takes on what jazz can be, but they all have one thing in common – they are part of Global Expressions in Jazz.”

To showcase the label’s new talent in “The Sound of Next” campaign, OKeh will release a seven-track “The Sound of Next” sampler featuring one song from each of these artists.

“The first wave of OKeh presented well-known masters of the jazz arts: John Medeski, Bob James and David Sanborn, Michel Camilo, and Bill Frisell,” explains Chuck Mitchell, senior vice president at Sony Masterworks U.S. “Now comes ‘The Sound Of Next’ – fresh expressions by established voices: Craig Handy’s 2nd Line Smith and Jeff Ballard’s Trio. And new dimensions opened by new voices: Somi, James Brandon Lewis, Dhafer Youssef, Theo Croker, and Nir Felder. ‘The Sound Of Next’ is a divining rod, a no-risk device to discover great global expressions in jazz, a midst the daily noise. For OKeh, ‘The Sound of Next’ is also ‘The Sound of Now.’”

Lafiya Music artist Bobby Watson to release new album on in honor of 50th anniversary of March on Washington

watson_check_cashingSaxophonist-composer-producer-educator Bobby Watson is proud to release, Check Cashing Day, the second self-produced recording on Watson’s label, Lafiya Music. Coinciding with Watson’s 60th birthday, the March on Washington’s 50th anniversary and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s iconic ”I Have A Dream” speech, the project is now available digitally and set for  release on Nov. 26, 2013.

As Watson reflects, Check Cashing Day serves as “a commentary on where we’ve been, where we are, and where we need to go as a people, as a country, and as a global community.” Instead of focusing on the iconic “I Have A Dream” aspect of Dr. King’s speech, Watson chose to concentrate on another very significant part: the reason why over 300,000 people, black and white, gathered in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 28, 1963. Dr. King spoke of coming to Washington to cash a 100-year-old check, a moral check that the founding fathers wrote into the Declaration of Independence, but to this day, the check keeps coming back marked ‘insufficient funds.’ “This, being the year of my 60th birthday, I sadly understand that Dr. King’s dream has not been fully realized and the struggle continues,” says Watson in a news release.

Introducing poet and spoken word artist Glenn North from Kansas City, Mo, Check Cashing Day is a concept recording with 15 tracks portrayed in the vein of musical theatre. “I asked Glenn to put some poetry, from his perspective, to several of my compositions, as well as one written by vocalist Pamela Baskin-Watson and two by bassist Curtis Lundy,” Watson says. ”It was my desire with this project to produce poetry that would in some ways cleanse the soul,” North says. In addition, Watson’s release features trumpeter Hermon Mehari, pianist Richard Johnson, drummer Eric Kennedy, flutist Horace Washington, and trombonist Karita Carter.

With Watson’s commentary on the ongoing struggle of today’s racial inequalities spotlighted on compositions such as the title track “Check Cashing Day (For Ms. Trudy)” and “MLK on Jazz (Love Transforms),” he offers a recording that provokes positive conversation and continued movement towards Dr. King’s ‘dream,’ so that the ‘dream’ becomes a reality in today’s world. “The result is something more powerful and thought provoking than I could have imagined,” reflects Watson.

2013 promises to be a banner year for Watson, reuniting with his critically acclaimed Horizon quintet for their 30th anniversary as well as celebrating his own 60th birthday. Boasting a top-notch resume that ranges from his tenure as a member of Art Blakey’s JazzMessengers (eventually becoming musical director) to co-founding Horizon with drummer Victor Lewis as an acoustic quintet modeled after the Jazz Messengers, Watson plans to tour in 2014 with Horizon for their seminal anniversary. Watson will also tour with his “I Have a Dream” project in 2014 and is planning several release performances (to be announced).

 

Bill Frisell’s Big Sur Quintet to headline North American tour through 2014

Big Sur Quintet. Photo by Monica Frisell

Big Sur Quintet. Photo by Monica Frisell

OKeh announces a 12-city North American tour for Bill Frisell‘s Big Sur Quintet (Nov. 6, 2013, through Jan. 23, 2014). The tour is in support of his new album, Big Sur, and will feature violinist Jenny Scheinman, violist Eyvind Kang, cellist Hank Roberts and drummer Rudy Royston (who are all featured on the album as well).

The tour will include performances at the Sunset Cultural Center in Carmel, Calif.; Kuumbwa Jazz in Santa Cruz, Calif.; The Shedd in Eugene, Ore.; The Aladdin Theater in Portland, Ore.; The Earshot Jazz Festival in Seattle, Wash.; Wexner Center for the Arts in Columbus, Ohio; Clifton Center in Louisville, Ky.; SPACE in Evanston, Ill.; Wolftrap in Vienna, Va.; Le Poisson Rouge in New York City; Cedar Cultural Center in Minneapolis, Minn., and SFJAZZ in San Francisco, Calif.
The project marks Frisell’s OKeh debut as well as the first album featuring the Big Sur Quintet (which combines his 858 Quartet and Beautiful Dreamers trio). Born of a Monterey Jazz Festival commission in 2012, Big Sur features an hour of original music, that explicitly references the coastal-mountain environment of Big Sur, California. The quintet recorded Big Sur at Fantasy Studios in Berkeley, California, with longtime Frisell collaborators Lee Townsend and Adam Muñoz producing and engineering, respectively.
The commission included a residency at Glen Deven Ranch, an 860-acre property bequeathed to the Big Sur Land Trust. Glen Deven’s beauty and quietude provided Frisell with both inspiration and something even more rare: time to be alone with his muse (for the first ten day stay in April 2012).
“It was extraordinary. You’re surrounded by forest, and there’s a trail that you can walk to the end of the bluff, where the land just drops off and you see the whole panorama of the Big Sur coast and the Pacific Ocean,” says Frisell in a news release. “That’s what I woke up to every morning. It was incredible.”

 

Earnest Pugh’s “The W.I.N. Experience” debuts at top of gospel chart

Earnest Pugh. Photo provided.

Earnest Pugh. Photo provided.

Stellar Award nominated balladeer Earnest Pugh  has returned to the top of the music chart with his new, highly anticipated The W.I.N. (Worship In Nassau) Experience.  The CD debuts at No. 1 on next week’s Billboard Top Gospel Albums chart, and the radio single “More of You” climbs to #14 on Billboard’s Hot Gospel Songs chart.

“It’s impossible to articulate in words what I am feeling right now,” says Pugh in a news release. “Though it’s my sixth CD release, my heart leaps with joy and appreciation today just as it did 15 years ago when I released my very first CD. I am blown away by the response, love, and support of the W.I.N. Project. I cannot take all the credit. I have been blessed with an amazing team of people to create and push this project. There are so many people to thank such as my personal staff, radio promoter Damon Stewart, TKO Marketing, Central South Distribution, plus, all of the great guest artists and singers. They all put their hands to the plow and we never looked back.”

Recorded live in Nassau, Bahamas, in the Grand Ballroom of the Atlantis Hotel, the album commemorates Pugh’s 20-15 Celebration -20 years in ministry and 15 years in the music industry. The full-length concert boasted cameos by gospel icon Shirley Caesar, Bishop Rance Allen, LeJuene Thompson and the energetic choir, Vincent Tharpe & Kenosis. The companion DVD video will soon hit retail shelves as well. For more information, visit www.earnestpugh.com.

 

Mosaic Records release “The Complete Sun Ship Session” includes new music

Photo Credit: Chuck Stewart

Photo Credit: Chuck Stewart

According to a recent news release, Mosaic Records is set to release The Complete Sun Ship Session which includes newly discovered and previously unissued alternate takes from one of the final studio sessions by the John Coltrane Quartet. The three LP set will be released August 6 and was also made available on a two-disc set through Verve Records on April 16.

Sun Ship, recorded Aug. 26, 1965, captures one of the last sessions by the Classic John Coltrane Quartet (Coltrane, pianist McCoy Tyner, bassist Jimmy Garrison and drummer Elvin Jones). It comes at the culmination of a year in which Coltrane arguably reached his creative peak, a year rich in such masterworks. The Sun Ship album, though, was not issued until 1971, one of several Coltrane albums issued by Impulse Records after his death. And Sun Ship was, like many jazz albums, the product of editing between takes, a process overseen by John’s widow Alice.

John Coltrane‘s Sun Ship session was recorded at the RCA Recording studio on 24th Street by engineer Bob Simpson who also did superb work with Sonny Rollins, Charles Mingus, Albert Ayler and others. The original three-track masters with the tenor sax on one track, the piano and bass on another and the drums on the third track were recently discovered, enabling the complete session to be released for the first time. Kevin Reeves remixed the entire session from the original three-track masters with great sonic results, improving greatly on the original LP mix. Mosaic has remastered them and pressed them on 180-gram vinyl at the renowned Record Technology Inc. plant in Camarillo, Calif.

This limited edition set is available exclusively from Mosaic Records.

The Tony Rich Project LIVE in DC – August 3

The-Tony-Rich-Project-in-DC-2013

Pianist/composer Myra Melford releases first solo recording on October 22

Composer/pianist Myra Melford. Photo Credit: Michael Wilson

Composer/pianist Myra Melford. Photo Credit: Michael Wilson

Pianist, composer and Guggenheim fellow Myra Melford realizes two long-cherished dreams on her beautiful new release, Life Carries Me This Way (Firehouse 12). The album is both Melford’s first solo piano recording and a tribute to her friend, the late California visual artist Don Reich. Each of the eleven tracks was directly inspired by one of Reich’s rich, colorful canvases, brought to vivid sonic life by Melford’s deeply spiritual and personal compositions.

In the artist’s work, Melford found a range of artistic expression equal to the diversity and vibrancy of her own broad palette of invention. “Don takes a wide range of approaches to painting, from very abstract to almost cartoonish,” she explains in a news release. “Seeing his paintings made me want to play the piano, and his very wide range from abstracts to landscapes to still lifes allowed me to cover a range of my own playing from dense, polytonal, high-energy work to very simple, beautiful melodies. I felt like there was room for all of that in the scope of his artwork.”

Reich, who passed away in 2010 after suggesting a number of artworks for Melford’s interpretation, was a longtime friend of the pianist’s family. It was that closeness that led Melford to choose his work as the basis for her long-awaited solo debut. “There’s something so immediate and personal about any kind of solo,” Melford says. “But particularly for me to play solo piano, I’m completely exposed, I’m not covered up by the orchestration or by other people playing. So that seemed to be the best way for me to communicate personally how I feel about Don’s artwork. There’s no one else to interpret it but me.”

Such personal connections were vital to Melford’s approach to writing this music. Reich’s paintings “Barcelona” and “Sagrada Familia” immediately summoned memories of Melford’s own visits to the Spanish city and its landmark Gaudí-designed church. “My experience in those places was overlaid against stories that Don had told me about being there,” Melford says. “So there were several levels of information that went into informing how the music came about for each piece.”

Most important, perhaps, was Melford’s friendship with the artist, whose personality is laced throughout her meditations on his work. “Don was a really quirky, unique individual and a very joyful person,” she recalls. “He took great pleasure in life and was a really keen observer. He was very sense-oriented, so that also informed my perception and my response to his paintings.”

Typically for Melford, who has drawn inspiration from a number of spiritual, musical and artistic traditions throughout her career, Life Carries Me This Way is a solo album that is still something of a collaborative effort. “Another way to describe that would be a sense of connectedness,” she suggests. “Nothing really exists in a vacuum, and of course all of these connections that are important to me are part of how I express myself as an artist.”

Raised in a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed house, Melford grew up literally surrounded by art, and has since crafted a singular sound world that harmonizes the intricate and the expressive, the meditative and the assertive, the cerebral and the playful. She draws inspiration from a vast spectrum of traditions and disciplines, from the writings of Persian poet Rumi and the Uruguayan journalist Eduardo Galeano to the wisdom of Zen Buddhism and the Huichol Indians of Mexico, to the music of mentors like Jaki Byard, Don Pullen, and Henry Threadgill.

Melford’s palette expands from the piano to the harmonium and electronic keyboards or to amplifying barely audible sounds in the piano’s interior. Her playing can build from the blissful and lyrical to the intense and angular. In 2013, she was named a Guggenheim Fellow and received both the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation’s Performing Artist Award and a Doris Duke Residency to Build Demand for the Arts at San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. She was also the winner of the 2012 Alpert Award in the Arts for Music and has been honored numerous times in DownBeat’s Critics Poll since 1991.