Mitch’s Tuesday night music spotlight: Ken Navarro, “Juliet”

Contemporary smooth jazz guitarist Ken Navarro performs his No. 1 hit single “Juliet” from his 2015 album “Unbreakable Heart.” For more information about Ken, go to http://www.kennavarro.com/.

Jacob Garchik’s ‘Ye Olde’ explores prog rock and faux-medieval influences

(Photo by Peter Gannushkin)

(Photo by Peter Gannushkin) Trombonist/composer/arranger Jacob Garchik with Brooklyn avant guitarists Mary Halvorson, Brandon Seabrook, and Jonathan Goldberger as well as drummer Vinnie Sperrazza.

From trombonist and composer Jacob Garchik comes a fantastical and sublime work of the imagination. Ye Olde is a super band of three of Brooklyn’s baddest guitar heroes, let loose in a fun house, playing ping pong with listeners’ ears: guitarists Mary Halvorson, Brandon Seabrook and Jonathan Goldberger are joined by drummer Vinnie Sperrazza and Garchik on trombone.

Over the past 21 years in New York City, Garchik has created an eclectic career, working with Henry Threadgill, Laurie Anderson, Natalie Merchant, John Hollenbeck, and Lee Konitz; crafting over 50 arrangements as the “in-house”arranger for the Kronos Quartet; leading his award-winning jazz trio; creating his acclaimed solo project The Heavens: The Atheist Gospel Trombone Album; and co-leading Brooklyn’s first Mexican brass band, Banda de los Muertos.

Ye Olde, his fourth CD, draws from such varied influences as prog rock concept albums, Richard Strauss’s tone poems, and 90s game consoles. Garchik envisions Ye Olde as a “band” of heroes, traversing a Brooklyn that never was, taking part in surreal adventures amidst a landscape of ruined castles/apartment buildings. To help his quest he brings along Mary Halvorson (Anthony Braxton, Marc Ribot’s Sun Ship), Brandon Seabrook (Gerald Cleaver’s Black Host, Ben Allison), Jonathan Goldberger (Red Baraat, Bizingas), Vinnie Sperrazza (James Williams, Stew) and a pile of analog electronics.

 

Mike Reed introduces ‘A Different Kind of Dance’ to listeners

Mike Reed

Mike Reed

When drummer, composer and bandleader Mike Reed isn’t playing music he spends much of his time watching others making it. But he also observes audiences. As a concert and festival organizer, he’s informally noted the interaction between performer and audience for years, and while his rapidly expanding discography makes plain he privileges art above all else, his awareness of the listener is always present.

A New Kind of Dance, the sixth album by his long-running quartet People, Places & Things presents the same deft interactive rapport between alto saxophonist Greg Ward and tenor saxophonist Tim Haldeman; the same crisp rhythmic drive provided by the leader and bassist Jason Roebke; and the same indelible mixture of bluesy depth and measured freedom as its superb predecessors. A New Kind of Dance advances the boundaries of the quartet’s repertoire further than ever and adds two guests to the mix: pianist Matt Shipp and trumpeter Marquis Hill.

“I wanted to challenge the quartet situation and make things slightly more dimensional, such as having three-part horn arrangements or having another harmony/rhythm instrument to dictate the path,” Reed said in a recent news release.

“I thought Matthew Shipp would throw some curve balls at the rest of the band. He has some elevated perspectives on improvising, while not standing on top of an ivory tower. His improvising is very humanistic, but he has no problem cutting people down to size, so that everyone can operate on a level playing field. Marquis seemed to be the right choice to find the right trumpet blend with Greg and Tim. His tone can keep things very centered, and he plays with a purpose.”

Here is an older video of People, Places & Things in action.

Saxophonist Ivo Perelman’s trio projects show relationship between the senses

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Each of the three new recordings from Ivo Perelman – albums entitled Complementary Colors,Villa-Lobos Suite, and Butterfly Whispers (available October 30 via Leo Records) – exhibits a different approach to improvised music from the indefatigable Brazilian-born saxophonist. Each album represents a unique “first” for Perelman. For most artists, releasing three such iconoclastic forays at once would constitute a burst of the imagination, but Perelman is not most artists. He has documented his current creative fervor with nearly 25 albums over the last five years.
On the duo recording Complementary Colors, Perelman and his longtime collaborator, acclaimed pianist Matthew Shipp, explore the ties that bind the visual and the aural arts. In addition to his work as a groundbreaking improviser, exploring the outer limits of the saxophone’s tonal range, Perelman is also a prolific and respected visual artist, whose work hangs in collections across four continents; at the time of these releases, he was in Brazil, overseeing the third major exhibit of his paintings and drawings in his native land. But for all that, Complementary Colors represents the first time he has sought to unite these two aspects of his artistic vision.
Up until now, this has primarily manifested itself in his canvases. “I paint using musical impulses, translated, and transmuted into the shapes and colors,” he explains in a recent news release. “When I paint, I feel my synesthesia is rhythmic; I visualize a rhythm and it’s very strong in me.” From there, the rest of the painting takes shape: “The rhythmic structure almost dictates what the colors will be; the rhythms in my paintings ask for the colors – ‘This should be a red,’ for instance.” But on Complementary Colors, he applied the process in reverse, allowing the recorded playbacks to dictate the titles, based on the hues and mixtures that came to mind. And apart from any crisscrossed sense or extramusical pigments, the music itself occupies the high plateau achieved by Perelman and Shipp on their previous release, Callas, on which they attained a new level in their already telepathic musical communication.
On Villa-Lobos Suite, Perelman again discovered a deeper context for the music after it had been recorded: despite the fact that it bears the name of his countryman Heitor Villa-Lobos, this “suite” took shape without any preparatory study or even discussion of the man who is generally considered the 20th century’s leading Latin American composer of classical music. In fact, the project originally had another name altogether; it was only after Perelman listened back to the recording that he found qualities unexpectedly redolent of his youth, when as a classical guitar prodigy he studied Villa-Lobos’s music extensively. “That music is to me my second skin,” he says; haunting echoes of it bubbled from the raw mixes of the album.
What makes this recording unique in Perelman’s towering discography is the presence of not one but two viola players as his only accompanists. In recent years, the saxophonist has discovered a new musical soulmate in Mat Maneri, with whom he has worked on several noteworthy projects (starting with the score to the Brazilian film A Violent Dose Of Anything in 2014). But serendipitously, Perelman became acquainted with a second violist – the Canadian musician and author Tanya Kalmanovitch – when he heard Maneri playing an instrument borrowed from her. Perelman instantly fixated on the idea of performing with this small “string section”; in his words, “I suddenly had this idea – ‘What would be better than one viola?’ Having two violas! … I had never thought of such a thing, because I never thought there would be another Mat Maneri, a viola player someone so compatible with me. But two of Mat Maneri would be better than one!”
Thanks to the instrumentation, the performances on Villa-Lobos Suite have a classical, almost symphonic quality that helped inspire the album’s title; in addition, the violas’ presence evokes the saxophonist’s own ability to mimic the sounds, range, and even the textures of string instruments (which he has explored on previous albums with a string quartet, as well as with Maneri alone).
The third new release by Perelman, Butterfly Whispers, teams him with pianist Shipp and another frequent collaborator, drummer Whit Dickey. So what distinguishes this recording is not the particular personnel, but rather the overriding concept of the album as a unified piece of “program music” – an artistic concept that, in its attempt to invest instrumental performance with specific extra-musical meaning, could not differ more profoundly from Perelman’s own methodology of total spontaneity.
The titles of the individual pieces, supplied by Brazilian poet Diva Galvao – titles like “Pollen,” “Wet Land,” “Plowed Field,” and “Secret Garden” – suggest some hidden saga awaiting discovery. “Most modern listeners (myself included) shy away from attaching literal narratives to instrumental music,” writes Grammy-Award winning annotator Neil Tesser. “But on Butterfly Whispers, Perelman actively encourages us to do so – to make up our own stories to fit the music, whatever form those stories might take … It may also result from Perelman’s conscious decision to pare things down,” Tesser continues. “His improvisations have become shorter and correspondingly more focused: the tracks on Butterfly Whispers average less than five minutes, whereas albums from a few years ago often included tracks of two and three times that length. Here, he says, ‘I went for a more compositional approach, a more condensed way of distilling and presenting the ideas. I wanted to edit more the musical thought.'”
For more information on Ivo Perelman, please click here.
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Scott DuBois takes listener through varied landscapes on ‘Winter Light’

Photo Credit: Arek Wyderka

Scott DuBois. Photo Credit: Arek Wyderka

Nineteenth-century philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson called art an “expression of nature.” Guitarist Scott DuBois‘ Winter Light transports the listener on a day’s journey from earliest dawn into deepest night, illustrating the day’s changing light through varied landscapes and weather conditions. He has loved representations of this evolution in visual art, especially in the paintings of Claude Monet, who often worked on several canvases at once in order to track the day’s shifting light. Winter Light captures such visions in sound.

The New York City Jazz Record has described DuBois’ writing as “captivating music for the meditative thinker.” This telling expression goes quite some way towards unlocking its essence, since the guitarist composes in an associative way, through pictures. Indeed, Winter Light, which marks his debut as an artist on the ACT label, has a strongly programmatic concept running right through it. The listener is taken on a journey through a winter’s day. As we witness the progression from before daybreak right through to the depths of night, DuBois draws the listener in with sounds vividly portraying myriad shifts in the balance of light, leading us through different landscapes, and even making us feel the ever-changing patterns of the weather.

The guitarist’s first five albums have received major critical acclaim. Black Hawk Dance earned the maximum 5-star rating from DownBeat Magazine. His next album, Landscape Scripture, was one of the “Top Ten Jazz Albums of 2012″ as selected by the highly influential coast-to-coast American network, National Public Radio.

Composer/pianist Myriam Alter evokes nostalgia with ‘Crossways’

alterCrossways is composer/pianist Myriam Alter‘s third production for Enja Records (licensed to Justin Time Records in North America).  Her mother grew up in Saloniki, which has given Greece some of its greatest musicians, artists, poets and thinkers, thus providing a rich background for Alter to draw upon. Her father was born in Istanbul and lived there until he was 17 when he moved to Belgium. Being brought up around these different cultural influences left an imprint on Alter and has influenced her music and compositions throughout her life.

Alter gathered a standout ensemble, with diverse cultural backgrounds like her own, to come from all over the world to produce the tight overall sound on Crossways. At the center of the music is Italian accordion virtuoso Luciano Biondini. He is joined by American (now Netherlands based) clarinetist John Ruocco, who fulfills an important soloist role in a similar fashion to his role on Alter’s previous albums. Belgian bassist Nic Thys always impresses with his strong acoustic bass foundation, and the liquid tuba of Belgian Michel Massot will be a discovery for many. The creative young Dutch percussionist Landers Gyselinck provides steady rhythmic  support and is making a name for himself in both the jazz and the avant-garde rock scene, and Italian Michel Bisceglia provides subtle, crisp piano solos with his arrangements that truly balance and support the compositions.

“I chose Crossways because of my own upbringing. I came from a Judeo-Spanish family and lived in Belgium,” says Alter in a news release. “Once you add that to the background of these musicians, all those cultures meet in the music.” Crossways not only refers to the diversity and eclecticism in the musicians’ backgrounds but also to the instrumentation for the album. The unique combination of accordion, clarinet, and tuba along with the traditional instrumentation adds a distinctive element to Alter’s music that is undeniable and also adds succinctly to the warm melodies throughout the recording. 

Although most of the performances were improvised, the melodies were arranged to evoke a certain feeling of peacefulness and tranquility. For Alter, it’s the feelings of nostalgia in the arrangements that provoke these feelings that she hopes draw the listener back. “I want these melodies to create a warm and loving feeling so the melody really sticks with the listener,” explains the composer.

Kamasi Washington releases ‘The Epic’ as deluxe three-LP set

"Kamasi Washington: The Rhythm Changes," a Film by B+

“Kamasi Washington: The Rhythm Changes,” a Film by B+

Saxophonist Kamasi Washington is releasing his critically acclaimed debut album, The Epic, as a deluxe three-LP set. The set includes three black 180 gram vinyl records in individual 3mm spine-sleeves with custom artwork, with the full set housed in a rigid outer slipcase. The set also includes two 12-inch poster inserts featuring exclusive artwork by KC Woolf Haxton with a story adaptation and calligraphy by Kenturah Davis. Masters were half-speed cut by Matt Colton at Alchemy Mastering. For more information, go to http://ninjatune.net/release/kamasi-washington/the-epic.

Seven Wonders of the Ancient World inspire saxophonist’s second project

wondersStraight-ahead jazz’s fixation on the past can often lead to stagnation. But on his dazzling new album, Wonders, Los Angeles-based tenor saxophonist Scott Jeppesen attacks the problem in an unlikely way: he reaches way further back. So far back, in fact, that there’s no room for imitation. The album draws its inspiration from the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World — and without photos or videos or first-hand accounts, Jeppesen says he had to dream up what these millennia-old places might have been like.

“Part of the allure of these wonders is the fact that they’re not there anymore — that provides challenges, but it also provides freedom,” Jeppesen says in a recent news release. “I did a lot of my writing for this album at the piano, closing my eyes and thinking, ‘What if I was actually living in those places — what could that possibly be like?’”

Recorded with an expert quintet, Wonders demonstrates not only Jeppesen’s silvery tone and his suspense-building skills as a soloist, but also his talents as an arranger and composer. He has written and arranged for such world-famous talents as Stevie Wonder, Dave Brubeck and Steve Miller on tours and in televised performances. These experiences have helped mold his approach.

But Jeppesen’s biggest influence came early, from the late saxophone legend Joe Henderson, who mentored Jeppesen when he was still a teenager growing up in Sacramento.

“The guys I’ve worked with down here in L.A. have influenced my work in many ways, but I always feel Joe exerts the strongest pull on me,” he said. “Sometimes he would play bebop and other times he’d play stuff that made you say, ‘What in the world was that?’ His message to me was: If you hear a sound that’s what you should play — no matter how quirky, weird, or what time signature it was in — because your ears don’t lie. In spite of all the rules and boxes that are placed around you when you’re going through the jazz education system, make sure to focus on what are your ears telling you to do, and follow them into the unknown.”

Jeppesen is about to complete his doctoral degree in Jazz Studies at the University of Southern California, finishing many years of schooling that have put him under the tutelage of many notable mentors such as Shelley Berg and Bob Mintzer. Jeppesen wrote much of Wonders in sessions with esteemed pianist Russ Ferrante, of the Yellowjackets, who challenged Jeppesen to embrace the harmonic complexity of his own ideas, and to “start to think polytonally.”

With help from fellow emerging L.A. musicians Larry Koonse on guitar, Josh Nelson on piano and keyboard, Dave Robaire on bass and Dan Schnelle on drums, Jeppesen interweaves elements of funk and early-1970s electric fusion with sleek but heady modern jazz. He fits it all snugly into the format of a straight-ahead quintet, leaving space when needed and dialing up the intensity with masterful control.

Wonders follows on the heels of Jeppesen’s well-received debut, 2014’s El Guapo, which received glowing reviews from many outlets, including DownBeat (the magazine singled out Jeppesen’s “creative writing” and “swinging playfulness”).

Composer/drummer Mike Reed releases new project with longtime quartet

reedA New Kind of Dance, the sixth album by Mike Reed’s long-running quartet People, Places & Things presents the same deft interactive rapport between alto saxophonist Greg Ward and tenor saxophonist Tim Haldeman; the same crisp rhythmic drive provided by the leader and bassist Jason Roebke; and the same indelible mixture of bluesy depth and measured freedom as its superb predecessors. While the quartet was originally conceived to pay homage to an overlooked era in the rich history of Chicago jazz — namely, the soulful hard bop created by the likes of John Jenkins, Wilbur Campbell, Wilbur Ware, John Neely, and Frank Strozier, among others, in the mid-to-late 50s — the combo has since developed an-ever expanding repertoire, whether examining the potency of the Amsterdam scene on the 2013 album Second Cities Vol. 1 or digging into the music of contemporary Chicago figures on its 2009 album About Us. A New Kind of Dance advances the boundaries of the quartet’s repertoire further than ever.

“I don’t think that the group’s original mission has much to do with this project, but I do think, at its core, the music is meant to be nimble and smart with the arrangements,” says Reed in a news release. “However, it’s never meant to be too smart or removed from the audience.”

Reed’s connections to the Amsterdam scene are rooted in family ties — his mother grew up there — but he’s since developed strong relationships to musicians there. He had befriended the South American expat Sean Bergin, who died in September of 2012, and the influence of his music is very clear A New Kind of Dance. Bergin wrote the hard shuffling “Reib Letsma” and his love of South African kwela has long infected the Dutch scene, as heard on Michael Moore’s ebullient “Kwela for Taylor.”

“There’s an influence of grooving improvised music, mostly made in Europe, but which seems to have an original influence from South Africa,” Reed says. “Many of those early recordings did have some participation by former members of [South African expats] the Blue Notes, which made me look a little closer at that, and then made me realize the correlation between the music of Sean Bergin, ICP and many of the Dutch and some of the English Improvisers. It also seems to parallel the highly conceptual improvising of members of the AACM, who also did not shrug off the more grove-heavy nature of their own musical roots. I guess maybes there’s a desire to remember that this band is enjoyed most on a visceral level and to give in to the area that music effects people viscerally, mostly seen in movement.”

 

‘Touchstone’ captures pianist/vocalist Ariel Pocock’s versatility

pocockAriel Pocock, 22, has received international acclaim as a captivating jazz pianist, vocalist, and composer. Recognized by notable institutions such as Downbeat, the Kobe-Seattle International Jazz Vocal Competition and the Essentially Ellington Competition at Lincoln Center, where she won both the outstanding pianist award as well as the Ella Fitzgerald Outstanding Vocalist Award.
Touchstone (Justin Time Records), Pocock’s debut album features fresh takes on classic jazz standards, original compositions, and her own arrangements of singer-songwriter material. She worked with producer Matt Pierson to compile this interesting mix of songs.  The inclusion of some of her favorite jazz standards like “Devil May Care,” “Exactly Like You,” and “Ugly Beauty” as well as some of the singer-songwriter material are a glimpse into the music Pocock loves as a musician. Although the music is diverse by category, it is tied together with the distinctive playing and vocal style that Pocock exudes.
Pocock is not the only musician that shines on Touchstone. The featured musicians include saxophonist Seamus Blake, guitarist Julian Lage, bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Eric Harland.  This all-star band also helped shape the reflective and meditative feel to the album as well. Although this particular group of musicians had never played together, the communication and musical dialogue on this album is apparent from its onset. With some of the arrangements being improvised in-studio with all the musicians contributing ideas and crafting parts, it is easy to tell that all the musicians believed in communicating Pocock’s love for the songs.
On teaming with such a great lineup of musicians Pocock states in a recent news release, “Working with Larry, Eric, Julian, and Seamus was incredible. They are truly some of my favorite musicians alive today. I’ve looked up to them all for years and it was quite surreal getting the opportunity to actually record with them. I arrived at the studio on the first day with some fairly serious nerves, but after meeting the band and showing them my ideas for the recording, I was totally at ease and so excited to get started.
Above all, I genuinely love every song on this album, and I hope that the listener can feel the joy that went into this album. I wanted this album to be an honest snapshot of the music I love and where I am as a musician right now. Touchstone feels organic and introspective to me and I hope that it comes across to the listener.”
A captivating performer, Pocock has headlined many notable venues and music festivals, including Ronnie Scott’s London Club, Iowa City Jazz Festival, Elkhart Jazz Festival, Twin Cities Jazz Festival, Stanford Jazz Festival, Bellevue Jazz Festival, and in July 2015 had the opportunity to perform at the prestigious Festival International de Jazz de Montréal.
A recent graduate of the University of Miami’s Frost School of Music where she studied under the Stamps Family scholarship, Pocock is based in North Carolina where she continues to compose and maintain an active performing schedule.