Trumpeter John Raymond re-examines jazz standards on second project

On his sophomore CD, Brooklyn-based trumpeter/composer John Raymond ventures into Foreign Territory, taking a refreshing and exciting look at the jazz tradition with a set of original music that retains the music’s classic aspects while feeling entirely contemporary.

To realize his modern reimagining of traditional elements, Raymond assembled a stellar quartet that is uniquely qualified to seamlessly merge past and present. He called on two gifted peers – pianist Dan Tepfer, who has gone to further time-spanning extremes with his adaptation of Bach’s Goldberg Variations, and bassist Joe Martin, who has worked with innovators like Kurt Rosenwinkel, Brad Mehldau, and Chris Potter – and a legend who helped to define the very tradition that Raymond is reexamining, drummerBilly Hart. Overseeing the session was the great horn player John McNeil, whom Raymond refers to as a mentor and “undercover jazz trumpet guru.”

Labeled “a prepossessing young trumpet player” by the New York Times, Raymond has worked with musicians such as John Abercrombie, Chris Potter, Ben Williams,Orrin Evans, Gilad Hekselman, Linda Oh and Otis Brown III, and been featured at the FONT Festival, Winter Jazz Festival and Center City Jazz Festival. He has also distinguished himself as an elite horn arranger working with top gospel and R&B artists across the country, most clearly evidenced by the three GRAMMY-nominated songs for which he has arranged and recorded horns.

Foreign Territory is a vast departure from Raymond’s 2012 debut release, Strength & Song, which featured a more self-consciously “contemporary” sound with traces of rock and gospel influences. The Minneapolis-born trumpeter began his follow-up in the same vein, but the new music didn’t seem to fit with his vision. Around the same time, he connected with McNeil and the two began to convene regularly at the elder trumpeter’s house, where they’d discuss music and play standards together.

“That sparked a lot of revelations for me,” Raymond says in a recent news release. “I feel like there’s a lot of pressure on young musicians to be ‘innovative.’ But I noticed that I felt most relaxed and authentic and honest with myself when I was playing over standards or embracing the traditional aspects of the music. So I realized that I had to break free of the pressure that I was putting on myself to do something ‘new’ and instead decided to take familiar ideas and turn them on their heads to find something new inside each of them.”

Raymond’s incredible quartet was key to navigating that uncharted terrain, he says. “I think one of the biggest reasons I chose these guys for this music was because I knew that they were going to truly improvise. I knew they were going to take it to a place musically that was unknown and undiscovered. This was my vision from the start – to find a group of musicians that would bring such a high level of spontaneity to the music that it would create both a sense of mystery and a sense of joy in exploring the unknown.

Vocalist Allan Harris releases new project “Black Bar Jukebox”

allanharrisThe Brooklyn-born, Harlem-based vocalist/guitarist/bandleader/composer Allan Harris has reigned supreme as one of the most accomplished and exceptional singers of his generation. Aptly described by the Miami Herald as an artist blessed with, “the warmth of Tony Bennett, the bite and rhythmic sense of Sinatra, and the sly elegance of Nat ‘King’ Cole.”
Evidence of Harris’ multifaceted talent can be heard on his 10 recordings as a leader; his far-flung and critically-acclaimed concerts around the world, from Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York, and Washington DC’s Kennedy Center, to the 2012 London Olympics, and a number of prestigious bookings in Europe, The Middle East and Asia, and his numerous awards, which include the New York Nightlife Award for “Outstanding Jazz Vocalist” – which he won three times – the Backstage Bistro Award for “Ongoing Achievement in Jazz,” and the Harlem Speaks “Jazz Museum of Harlem Award.”
Harris’ new album, Black Bar Jukebox, produced by Grammy Award-winning producer Brian Bacchus (Norah Jones, Gregory Porter), is his most compelling and comprehensive recording to date.
“Believe me, what Brian brought to the table was wonderful,” Harris says in a news release, “not only because of his music, but also because of the vision, and the way he hears things. I’m enamored with the sound I got.” Inspired by the jazz, R&B, soul, country and Latin sounds that emanated from jukeboxes in African-American barbershops, clubs, bars, and restaurants, from the mid to late twentieth century, the album — which features Harris’ accomplished band of three years: drummer Jake Goldbas, bassist Leon Boykins, and pianist/keyboardist Pascal Le Boeuf; with special guests, percussionist Samuel Torres and guitarist Yotam Silberstein — also marks his moving and momentous return to his jazz-centered, Harlem roots, where he heard all those aforementioned styles, genres and grooves in the Golden Age of the seventies.
“Growing up, I heard the sound of Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman, and Nat King Cole,” Harris says, “I was always cognizant of jazz.”
In this soulful setting, Harris would meet many jazz and R&B stars who worked at the Apollo and came by the restaurant to eat and hang out. Another aunt, Theodosia Ingram, won the Apollo Theater’s Amateur Night Competition and performed at a number of Manhattan clubs, including The Lenox Lounge under her stage name, “Phoebe.” It was through her, that Harris would meet and be mentored by a seminal jazz figure, Clarence Williams. “We used to go to his record store, and he’d come into our house on Lincoln Avenue,” explains Harris. “At the time I was a child … I just thought that was just a part of my life. And later, I understood the gravity of the depth of his history. Yes: Clarence Williams opened up a lot of doors for me, to really get me into this genre calledjazz.” It was Williams who brought Louis Armstrong to the Harris home, and babysat the future crooner, who was frightened by Satchmo’s gravelly, “frog like voice.”
Black Bar Jukebox, a diverse and dynamic disc, showcases Allan Harris at the zenith of his all-encompassing artistry. “I’m a storyteller through the genre of jazz,” concludes Harris.

New project by violinist Diane Monroe and vibraphonist Tony Miceli available on Aug. 19

miceliTwo of Philadelphia’s most revered jazz artists unite for an intimate, exploratory duo session on Alone Together, due out August 19. Violinist Diane Monroe and vibraphonist Tony Miceli have a decade relationship that is evident throughout their debut collaboration. The album’s thirteen tracks encompass the wide range of the pair’s mutual interests, from jazz to classical, standards to spirituals, originals to classics, and even an unexpected TV theme song.
“I’ve always been fascinated by how two instruments can play together and make a complete picture,” says Miceli in a news release. “A duo is very personal. It’s about as personal as you can get. It’s just the two of you, and every note one plays is going to effect the other.”
“It’s all about blending,” Monroe adds, “finding a sound that works individually as well as collectively.”
Both Monroe and Miceli have long histories of forging rich collaborations in Philadelphia and beyond. Monroe has bridged the jazz and classical traditions for most of her career. She studied at Oberlin Conservatory, Philadelphia Musical Academy, Michigan State University, and the Curtis Institute of Music. She toured for more than a decade with the Max Roach Double Quartet and the Uptown String Quartet and performed extensively as a member of the String Trio of New York, all ensembles which fused classical virtuosity with jazz improvisation. Over the course of her career she’s played with such renowned artists as Percy Heath, Steve Wilson, Dave Grusin, Joe Lovano, Reggie Workman, Wycliffe Gordon, and Uri Caine, and is currently a member of saxophonist/composer Bobby Zankel’s Warriors of the Wonderful Sound big band.
Miceli has been a force on the Philly jazz scene since 1980 while touring the world and mentoring young players as an educator. In 1990 he co-founded the group Monkadelphia, dedicated to playing the music of Thelonious Monk. He is also a member of the PhilOrch Jazz Ensemble, a quartet featuring members of the Philadelphia Orchestra. He has worked with countless jazz luminaries as both a leader and a sideman, including David Liebman, Jimmy Bruno, Ken Peplowski, John Blake, John Swana, Joe Magnarelli, Steve Slagle, Larry McKenna, and many others.
During 2009, the two developed a sound together, and by 2010 began a series of live webcasts from Miceli’s basement. These virtual concerts not only placed the pressure of a live situation on the duo’s shoulders, but allowed them to gradually accrue a loyal fan base. “I always felt like we had an audience with the webcasts,” Monroe recalls. “I have a very active imagination, so as soon as I get on stage I get scared, no matter where it is. I play differently, hence that’s where the growth comes in.”
“Over that year, I learned so much about music,” Miceli continues. “We really stuck together through thick and thin and finally felt like we could cover all the bases of the music.”
The diverse material the duo selected for Alone Together reflects the breadth of their experiences. “We wanted to find interesting, different kinds of tunes that would cross over a little bit,” explains Miceli.

SuperBand returns with Mack Avenue Records release available Sept. 2

superbandMack Avenue SuperBand’s Live From The Detroit Jazz Festival – 2013 documents a concert at the Motor City’s capacious Hart Plaza by an ensemble of leaders culled from Mack Avenue Records‘ extraordinary artist roster. It’s the second configuration of the group, which debuted at the 2012 Detroit Jazz Festival, mixing veteran stars with mid-career leaders and up-and-comers. The resulting album, Live From The Detroit Jazz Festival – 2012, received critical kudos for the fiery chemistry and soloistic derring-do contained therein.

Back for round two are trumpeter Sean Jones, guitarist Evan Perri, and the rhythm section of pianist Aaron Diehl, bassist (and music director) Rodney Whitaker and drummer Carl Allen, plus Gary Burton returns as a special guest. Joining the mix are veteran soul/jazz saxophone giant Kirk Whalum and the sensational vibraphonist-marimbist Warren Wolf. The results are scintillating-a program as cohesive and precise as a studio recording, but infused with energetic vibrations emanating from the several thousand hip, enthusiastic fans who attended the concert.

Whitaker attributes the simpatico in part to his process of following collective, inclusive principles in organizing the program. “I solicited everyone’s input,” he says in a news release. “With artists at this level, you don’t need to dictate every moment. Sometimes it’s more important to listen and facilitate. When you have a conversation with everyone about what music we’re playing and the direction we want to go, everybody buys in.”

Whitaker discerns several common denominators that promoted camaraderie. One is the role of gospel music in the musical development of Whalum, Jones, Wolf, Diehl, Allen and himself during formative years. “Everyone – not just those who grew up in church – tries to tell a story in the way they play, in the way they try to touch an audience and say something to them,” he says. “They put together their solos to get across a message that music is not just about notes, but has some greater meaning, whatever you may translate that to mean.”

That communicative quality permeates the proceedings. So does the high level of mutual respect of each member for the musical abilities of all the others.

“Everyone liked performing together,” Whitaker says. “You could feel it in the rehearsals. Everyone felt empowered. There was no hierarchy, no one playing the star. In 2012, the idea was more to have a showcase for everyone’s skill, and have people come on and off the bandstand. This year, Al and Denny wanted a more cohesive sound, and that’s how all the musicians felt, too.”

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.”