Mack 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.”
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.”
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).
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).
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.
Saxophonist Miguel Zenón has long been occupied with finding common musical threads in the North American jazz tradition and the music of the African diaspora in the Caribbean and Latin America, and his newest project, Oye!!! Live in Puerto Rico, is his latest triumph in this quest.
Taking a break from recording with his usual quartet, Zenón’s own Miel Music is releasing a live recording with The Rhythm Collective, a group that first came together in 2003 to participate in the Jazz Ambassadors Program, sponsored at the time by the U.S. State Department and The Kennedy Center.
“We made that trip about ten years ago and got the opportunity to tour several countries in West Africa for about a month and a half,” said Zenón in a news release. “All the music on this album was either developed during that trip or inspired by the experience.” The Rhythm Collective is comprised of Tony Escapa on drums, Aldemar Valentín on bass, and Reinaldo de Jesús on percussion; all of them native Puerto Ricans and some of the most coveted musicians in their respective fields. Recorded in 2011 at Taller Cé, a short-lived performance space in San Juan, the album is a riveting, dynamic shift from much of Zenón’s previous work.
“I’ve always enjoyed the sound of the chord-less jazz trio, but I wanted to do something different with it and incorporate Caribbean and Puerto Rican music,” said Zenón. “The idea for this band was to focus more on the rhythmic aspects of the music. There are no chordal instruments used, in other words no pianos or guitars stating the harmony. This makes the music a bit more open harmonically, giving more importance to single melodic lines. But at the end of the day, the drums and the percussion are what drive these tunes.”
The palpable energy that emerges from the recording represents Zenón’s quest to bring greater jazz awareness to Puerto Rico. After winning the MacArthur Foundation Fellowship (also known as the “genius grant”) in 2008, Zenón has sponsored a series of concerts, which he calls Caravana Cultural (or Cultural Caravan) in small rural towns around the island designed to educate audiences about the music of jazz greats such as John Coltrane and Thelonious Monk. The stated goals of Caravana Cultural can be read on Zenón’s website (along with recent concert lineups and videos of past performances throughout Puerto Rico). Although the Rhythm Collective concerts were not part of that series, the shows captured here at Taller Cé were recorded in part with funding from the MacArthur Fellowship.
Rather than the hard-driving intensity of Zenón’s work with his regular quartet, the Rhythm Collective is sparer in approach, more about creating an atmospheric space where rhythmic pulses created by different members of the group could connect.
Oye!!! Live in Puerto Rico fulfills the listener’s desire for a new spin on a familiar rhythmic tradition, from a loftier, improvisational perspective. As a live performance, the recording contains the energy created by the interaction with the audience, raised on Afro-Caribbean dance music, but yearning to break free to a new space.
“In this band, we all happen to be Puerto Rican and grew up around this kind of music,” said Zenón. “Even though what we’re doing here is centered around a rhythm thing, the experimental part was second nature to us. We are all already interested in fusions between material that could be considered edgy, so it was fairly easy for us to push things a little bit; just to see how far we could take the combination of all these elements while still feeling comfortable within our individual musical personalities.”
Lavish Records artist Tracy Randall isn’t supposed to be here. In 2006, he was diagnosed with acute blastic leukemia and after aggressive rounds of chemo and radiation therapy, his doctors gave up and in February 2007 told him to go home and prepare to die.
“The doctor told me to get my affairs in order because he didn’t know if I had 3 months or 6 months to live,” Randall said in a news release. He left the office that cold, rainy afternoon and started walking.
“I began to pray and talk to God not about me but about my family and their survival because I’m the breadwinner,” as he walked past the 42nd Street subway where he usually caught the train and kept walking, talking. “By the time I got to 96th Street, this voice said, `You’re going to be okay.’”
Randall fought his illness back with his renewed faith and improved his diet. He also began an expensive medical therapy that isn’t covered by insurance.
“I don’t want people to think that I no longer have the illness,” Randall says. “I have pain and depression. There are times that I don’t sleep for days because I am afraid to sleep. However, my faith has grown tremendously. I am still growing, and I still get mad and ask God, ‘Why me?’ Yet, He touched my soul, and I am still here.”
It’s against this backdrop that Randall wrote his new radio single, “It Feels Good,” a bouncy track guaranteed to make the stiffest body move.
“I opened up my eyes and thanked God for a new day,” he sings on the up-tempo beat. “I’ve been blessed in so many ways if I wanted to write ’em down there wouldn’t be enough pages.”
The song is the latest single from Randall’s sophomore CD “Troubled Times” that features 14 tracks of what he calls rhythm & gospel.
“It’s gospel music,” Randall said. “But it has that urban R&B beat.”
He just wrapped a new concept video on the track and has now incorporated pop radio with his inspiring tune “I Am All You Need” debuting at No. 36 on the Top 40 Main chart this week with almost a 50 percent increase in spins.
The Lake Charles, La., native grew up on a musical diet of Donny Hathaway and Stevie Wonder. After completing his undergraduate degree from LeMoyne-Owen College in Memphis, Randall was signed to the Isley Brothers’ T-Neck/Island Records label. After Universal/Polygram took over the company in 1999, he left to start Lavish Records. He released his first gospel CD “Sinners Have Souls, too” in 2007 and has done a lot of behind the scenes work in the music industry.
Randall co-wrote four songs on Shaggy’s Grammy Award nominated “Summer in Kingston” CD that reached No. 1 on Billboard’s Top Reggae Albums chart in 2012.