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.

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.

New release reflects diverse jazz styles of Mack Avenue SuperBand

superbandUp tempo grooves meet listeners from Mack Avenue SuperBand’s “Live From the Detroit Jazz Festival – 2014″ release. The project documents the third incarnation of the Mack Avenue SuperBand, an all-star ensemble of bandleaders from the superb roster of the Motor City jazz label. Once again, this powerhouse congregation joined forces under the leadership of bassist Rodney Whitaker to dazzle a hometown crowd in picturesque Hart Plaza, with the results captured for another knockout live recording.

Joining Whitaker as three-time veterans are his longtime rhythm section partner, drummer Carl Allen; pianist Aaron Diehl; and guitarist Evan Perri of Hot Club Of Detroit. Alto saxophonist Tia Fuller returns from the SuperBand’s debut outing after taking the second year off, while vibraphonist Warren Wolf and tenor saxophonist Kirk Whalum make it two in a row after joining the band for the first time in 2013.

The SuperBand comprises a distinctive blend of generations and styles, which Mack Avenue Records President Denny Stilwell says captures the diversity of the label itself.

“The SuperBand has always been and will always be a mix of veteran players and top younger talent, which really represents the Mack Avenue roster,” Stiwell says in a recent news release. “When you look at this particular line-up, there are a wide range of styles represented: from the Django-influenced guitar approach of Evan Perri to the soulful/gospel leanings of tenor saxophonist Kirk Whalum, and when you consider the other players, you can find just about everything in between. And each of them are bringing performing and writing chops that are top shelf.”

The final – and perhaps most important – member of the ensemble is the enthusiastic Labor Day weekend crowd. “The Detroit Jazz Festival is one of the best live festivals on Earth to play,” Whitaker says. “That audience is pushing you to play and encouraging you. Then you’re on the bandstand with a lot of cats that really admire each other, so the combination of having a good time and an excited and lively audience makes for a great recording.”

Or, as Diehl adds succinctly, “Quite simply: Detroit knows jazz. They’ll let you know when you’re on the right track, and certainly when you’re not.”

Whitaker sees the gospel roots of most of Mack Avenue’s artists as the common thread that binds them together and allows a once-a-year gathering like the SuperBand to be so successful. Even guitarist Perri, who would seem to be an outlier with his gypsy jazz influences, is a Detroit native in whom the bassist recognizes the influences of Motown, funk, and soul. The SuperBand helps to lend a distinctive identity to a label whose artists spans multiple generations, styles, and hometowns.

“These days, not everyone who plays jazz necessarily lives in New York,” Whitaker points out. The Detroit Jazz Festival is the culminating place where we all get together every year and talk about music and career development – and form a mutual admiration society. It makes the label more of a family. The hang is part of the music, and the hang happens every Labor Day weekend.”

For Whitaker as music director, the hang begins several months earlier, as he reaches out to each musician to solicit their contributions to the year’s repertoire. Of the half-dozen tunes on this year’s release, all but one were written by members of the SuperBand. The exception is Herbie Hancock’s “Riot,” which kicks off the album in combustible fashion with fiery solos from Wolf, Perri, Diehl, Whitaker, and Allen.

Orrin Evan’s project “The Evolution of Oneself” comes in September

orrinevansPianist Orrin Evans takes stock of the pivotal moments that shape the trajectory of a life on The Evolution of Oneself, his new release on Smoke Sessions Records available on Sept. 11. The album is itself a landmark in Evans’ musical evolution, introducing a remarkable new piano trio with two longtime associates but first-time collaborators: bassist Christian McBride and drummer Karriem Riggins. The result is a raw and thrilling excursion incorporating a startlingly wide range of influences, from jazz and neo-soul to country and hip-hop.
As suggested by the title, The Evolution of Oneself explores deeply personal terrain, with Evans reflecting on the road he’s traveled to become the man and musician he is today. “This album is about personal evolution,” he explains in a news release. “For me, there have been different moments or people in my life that have made me evolve. You can call it change, but ultimately you’re still the same person from the day you came out of your mother’s womb. But you evolve, and that process is what this record is about.”
Through 25 albums as a leader and co-leader, including his neo-soul/acid jazz ensemble Luv Park and the bracing collective trio Tarbaby, Evans has always followed a vigorously individual path. The Evolution of Oneself is no exception, with Evans setting a pace that brings out fiery, gut-churning playing from both McBride and Riggins — two of modern jazz’s most renowned and distinctive voices in their own rights.
While The Evolution of Oneself takes the concept more literally than usual, an Orrin Evans recording session is always a family affair, with a party atmosphere and guests stopping by whether they end up contributing or not. “Being in the studio and doing what I do is no different than a cookout on a Saturday night,” Evans says, and that openness is reflected in the raucous verve of this album.