Metropolitan Room / Hot House Jazz magazine 2015 award ceremony.
September 2016 Hot House Jazz Guide Now Available!
Winning Spins by George Kanzler
A sense of jazz history and tradition permeates the two albums that are this month’s Winning Spins. Trombonists Steve Turre and Reggie Watkins organize their albums around homages to rich heritages. In Reggie’s case: a whole CD dedicated to a legendary trombonist of the mid-to-late 20th Century, Jimmy Knepper; in Steve’s CD: a desire to honor those who influenced him, both the leaders he worked with and the players who came before him and helped shape his conception of the instrument. Additionally, Steve enlists the help of those he calls “three grandmasters” of jazz for his rhythm section.
Avid Admirer: The Jimmy Knepper Project, Reggie Watkins (BYNK Records), features Reggie in a quintet setting with tenor and soprano saxophonist Matt Parker, pianists Orrin Evans (6 tracks) and Tuomo Uusitalo (3 tracks), bassist Steve Whipple and drummer Reggie Quinerly. The album’s closer is Gordon Jenkins’s standard, “Goodbye,” but the other eight selections are all compositions by the late trombonist, probably best known for his extensive big band work and stints with Charles Mingus’ bands.
Now in his mid-40s, Reggie only met Jimmy, who died at 75 in 2003, once. But Jimmy’s daughter was so impressed with his interest that she gave Reggie her father’s trombone. Jimmy’s tunes, in smart arrangements by Reggie, are among the many pleasures of this album, along with a scintillating rhythm section and engaging solos by the leader and the saxophonist.
Among Jimmy’s obsessions was Charlie Parker, whose solos the trombonist spent many hours transcribing and analyzing; so it’s surprising that his compositions here show more Mingus influence. “Cunningbird,” which might allude to Parker’s sobriquet, is ethereal with the theme by trombone and soprano sax in suspended time, sans rhythm, and with solos over an implied 6/8 beat, with Orrin getting Monkish in his solo.
Most of Jimmy’s pieces are mid-to-up swingers, cast in the 32-bar, AABA song form with the performances enlivened by arrangements fleshed out with contrapuntal horn introductions and theme choruses. The Mingus strategy of changing tempos, and contrasting A and B sections, shows up on the funky blues with a smoother B section, “Ogling Ogre.”
The perky, boppish “Primrose Path,” highlights the interaction of bass and drums in a series of on-the-money fours trades. Reggie, like Jimmy, manages to improvise with an originality and creativity avoiding clichés and predictable phrases—in an entirely distinctive trombone style. His playing and the constantly engaging repertoire, as well as the first-rate band, make this a welcome album as well as a fitting tribute.
Reggie Watkins Quintet showcases his new CD at Cornelia Street Cafe on Sept. 1.
Photo Credit: Sienna Watkins
Winning Spins by George Kanzler
Colors for the Masters, Steve Turre (Smoke Sessions), comes from a musician a full generation older than Reggie, one who has become among the most distinguished trombonists on the jazz scene today. Here, for the first time, Steve works with a super rhythm section of genuine giants and NEA Jazz Masters: pianist Kenny Barron, bassist Ron Carter and drummer Jimmy Cobb.
Joining them on four of the ten tracks to form a hard bop-like quintet, is tenor saxophonist Javon Jackson, channeling strains of early John Coltrane in his sound.
One of Steve’s originals helpfully confirms this impression: “JoCo Blues,” a mid-tempo blues with wide, modal-like, intervals suggestive of Coltrane and McCoy Tyner, culminating in the horns trading fours.
Besides demonstrating his masterful command of the trombone at varied tempos, Steve also pays tribute to his mentors/early leaders and trombone influences. Among the former is Art Blakey, whose Jazz Messengers are invoked in the quintet original, “Taylor Made,” with its funky tune and stop-times; Rahsaan Roland Kirk, who recommended Steve play sea shells, which he does here brilliantly on the bossa standard “Corcovado;” and trumpeter Woody Shaw, with whom he first recorded Wayne Shorter’s “United,” done here in a brisk, catchy quartet version.
In what has become a tradition on his albums, Steve includes a tune by pioneering bebop trombonist J. J. Johnson, “Coffee Pot,” a boppish contrafact of “All God’s Chillun Got Rhythm.” In a nod to his Caribbean roots, his title tune swings in and out of 4/4 and an Afro-Latin montuno rhythm.
Steve also honors the rich tradition of muting the trombone, an art largely lost among modern players. He uses a Harmon mute on Monk’s “Reflections,” a subtle cup mute on his Cedar Walton influenced “Mellow D for R.C.,” and an Ellingtonian plunger-muted open bell on “When Sunny Gets Blue.” Throughout, Steve and the truly grandmaster rhythm section make this a stellar album.
Steve Turre celebrates the release of his new CD at Smoke, Sept. 9-11.
Photo Credit: John Abbott
Another Reason to Celebrate by Elzy Kolb
It’s no wonder tenor saxophonist Abraham Burton has such an affinity with drummers. Since elementary school, he’s been hanging out with Nasheet Waits, whose father, Freddie Waits, was a drummer renowned for his work from early Motown to Max Roach’s M’Boom. Once Abraham picked up the sax and Nasheet started on drums, it was only a matter of time before they made their way to Freddie’s home studio, often joined by drummer Eric McPherson. “That’s how we started,” Abraham recalls. “We hung out and jammed, creating, and making cassettes.”
Since those early days, Abraham has worked with a breathtaking range of drummers including Louis Hayes, Cindy Blackman Santana, Billy Hart, Arthur Taylor and Roy Haynes. “I’ve always gotten along with drummers—there’s no ego, they’re laid back. Of course, it’s important to have some ego, it will push you to be better. It’s how you channel it that matters.”
Abraham points out, “Louis opened me up completely. He gave me so much freedom; if I had an idea, he’d have me work it out—on the bandstand. Cindy is off the chain, she can play so many moods and styles. Art taught me music, what this thing is all about. And Roy—I’d wonder if I was even in the right place, he’d be playing so much incredible stuff.”
The saxophonist will hit the bandstand with a two-drum trio—comprising Eric McPherson and Jonathan Barber—at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola Sept. 6, as part of Jazz at Lincoln Center’s month-long Generations in Jazz festival which aims to feature players across generations. “Jonathan has been an inspiration to me; it’s been beautiful to see him growing and taking the music seriously. This trio has played together in private, and in different combinations publicly, so we’re extremely familiar with one another.”
They’ll focus on originals, playing as a unit as well as solo and in different duo pairings. “It’s going to be exciting and diverse, not all about exploring and playing hard,” he notes. “I love ballads, so we’re sure to get one or two in each set. And I love old tunes, so it will be a combination of things. We keep it fun.” And there may be some special guests joining in.
Abraham also plays Smalls Sept. 9-10 with his quartet, including Eric, bassist Dezron Douglas and pianist David Bryant
Fresh Takes by Nathan Kamal
This month, pianist Tuomo Uusitalo’s trio celebrates the release of Love Song, a work of clear and quiet intensity and his second CD as a leader.
Tuomo’s compositions and standards repertoire employ a wide variation of color and density and free improvisation weaves in and out of his work. In his trio’s rehearsals, broad, conceptual conversations play predominantly. Tuomo says, “In rehearsal we play something and then talk about whether it was musical or not. How did it serve the purpose we wanted it to? We hear different perspectives from each player,” he says. “You might even consider just talking before the gig to be a ‘rehearsal.’”
A native of Finland, Tuomo’s CD is a document of changes in his musicianship during his time in New York. “It’s a good image of how I sound, and the direction in which I want to go,” he explains. His CD release set will include works from the record, new compositions and standards.
Hear the Tuomo Uusitalo Trio featuring bassist Myles Sloniker and drummer Itay Morchi with special guest Will Vinson on sax at Smalls Jazz Club on Sept. 12 for the Love Song release party.
Hot Flashes by Seton Hawkins
Contemporary Jazz Cruise Artist Spotlight: The Bad Plus
In this age of all-star supergroups, pick-up bands and guest spots, it’s rare to find a working jazz band that holds a consistent line-up. Rarer still, is to find a successful working jazz band operating under a collective leadership model. This is a shame since, historically, such outfits—the Art Ensemble of Chicago, the World Saxophone Quartet, the Modern Jazz Quartet, among others—have developed some of the most extraordinary music in jazz while forging truly iconic identities.
Therefore, it’s no small wonder that an ensemble like The Bad Plus has stood out so profoundly in this century. Co-led by pianist Ethan Iverson, bassist Reid Anderson and drummer Dave King, this Midwest trio burst onto the scene more than 15 years ago and has remained the gold standard of modern piano trios with its unique fusion of multitudinous styles. Making its cruise debut on the 2017 Contemporary Jazz Cruise, The Bad Plus undoubtedly stands out as a highlight in the already stellar line-up.
The polymath approach and shared leadership of The Bad Plus has been a hallmark of the group since its origins. “I think we’ve managed to be a force in the jazz world in saying that this needs to be group music,” Ethan notes. “Historically, you’ll find the jazz records we love have a group aesthetic. You may see ‘John Coltrane Quartet’ on the cover, but A Love Supreme exists because of the way those four musicians played together. The music we loved from jazz and from rock—groups like Rush and The Police were very illuminating for us—had this group aesthetic. What’s great about this is that every night all three of us are equally invested in communicating the group message.”
Indeed, even a cursory glance at its discography demonstrates the collectively negotiated and shared vision of three highly distinct musical personalities; and it has allowed them to tackle anything from standards to Bowie to Bacharach to Stravinsky, with their interpretations of The Rite of Spring standing as a particular group highlight.
Most recently, the band turned heads with a highly acclaimed quartet outing, inviting Joshua Redman—who also appears on the cruise—into the fold for tours and a successful recording. “There are many connections between us and Josh,” Ethan notes. “So when we had a week at the Blue Note and were asked to bring in a guest, we suggested Josh. It went really well and that led to our making the recording.”
As the group prepares for their first voyage on a Jazz Cruise, they’ll be going in with fresh material and concepts. Their latest album, It’s Hard, hit stores in August, offering a series of refreshing takes on works of Prince, Cyndi Lauper, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Ornette Coleman. Indeed, the ensemble has never stood still musically and has frequently offered game-changing epiphanies on where this music is capable of going. On the cruise, they will be one of the most exciting prospects.
To book a space on The Contemporary Jazz Cruise, visit www.thecontemporaryjazzcruise.com.
Photo Credit: Josh Goleman
The Latin Side of Hot House by Emilie Pons
Eddie Palmieri: Master of Tension and Release
Pianist Eddie Palmieri exudes self-confidence: “I don’t guess that I will excite you with my orchestra,” Eddie says, “I know it.” The groundbreaking NEA Jazz Master has been awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award and ten Grammy Awards; he recorded with Tito Puente and he changed the recording industry format from 3.5 to 8.5 minutes with his “Azuca Pa Ti,” which was added to the Library of Congress in 2009.
Eddie thinks that performing is about making people feel good. Being on stage is “the most sacred moment of my life,” he says, “because at that moment, whoever works so hard to buy tickets to come to see me…there is nothing else on their mind except the music that I am giving them: they are not thinking about their problems, the rent they have to pay, their bills, the low wages that they are receiving; all of that is erased as soon as I start playing.”
The pianist, who describes himself as a “frustrated drummer,” says that the secret to successful performances has to do with the mastery of tension and release. “To reach the maximum rhythmic and harmonic musical climax,” he explains, “you have to have tension and release within all these compositions. That takes study; that takes knowledge; that takes reading. That took me many years.” And rhythm is what Eddie thrives on: “The drums, to me, in the rhythms section, is the pulse of my life,” he says. “There’s no other rhythm in the planet that excites me like the structures that came out of Cuba. I learnt them intuitively and then I learnt them scientifically.”
So Eddie prefers to call his music “Afro-World” rather than salsa, about which Tito Puente used to say, “I put salsa in my spaghetti, baby!” “It’s not just one country that knows how to play the instruments,” Eddie says. He also likes the term “Afro-Caribbean.” “The influence that the Puerto Ricans received coming from Cuba in the 1950s and the 1960s is what kept the music going after the embargo in Cuba,” Eddie explains. “So it became Afro-Caribbean and now it’s Afro-World.”
As far as the future of salsa music, Eddie is a little pessimistic. “There is no real Latin orchestra that plays what I play and what they do on the radio is really Latin pop,” he says. He describes Latin pop as “toned down salsa.” “They took away the tension and resistance so it will never excite you,” he adds. “They don’t know how to generate that anymore.”
Now Eddie is having his music orchestrated for symphonic orchestra. “I would like to do a debut at Carnegie Hall with my music and also playing some classical piano pieces that I was playing when I was a young man.”
On Sept. 17, Eddie Palmieri performs at the Lehman Center for the Arts with his large orchestra featuring vocalist Herman Olivera. Nelson Gonzalez is the musical director and performers include Johnny Rodriguez, Ruben Rodriguez, Bobby Allende, Ricardo Pons, Paoli Medias and Nicky Marrero, and will be led by Cuban pianist, arranger and composer Emilio Morales.
Photo Credit: Erik Valind
Crossing Bridges by Cary Tone
Born in Switzerland and residing in Brooklyn since 1998, pianist and composer Sylvie Courvoisier has over 25 recordings as a leader and is a formidable creative force on the international improvising scene.
Q- What do you think life would be like for you if you had remained living in Switzerland, where you were born and raised?
A- I would play piano, play gigs and write music, like I do now. I probably would have started a venue or a music festival in my hometown and invite my favorite musicians to come and play there.
Q- In the most general possible terms, what are some of your influences; music, books, movies, dance?
A- Since 2010, I have been working with the great contemporary Flamenco dancer Israel Galvan from Sevilla, Spain. Israel has been a huge creative influence and I toured for six years with him on his project "La Curva." I wrote the music and played the piano in "La Curva." We performed about 200 shows in a six-year period and finished the tour with our last show, almost 3 weeks ago!
Music: So many. Every day I discover new great music and musicians.
Books: Les écrits de Laure and so many others. I'm a big fan of Georges Bataille, Simone de Beauvoir . . .
Just to name 3 movies: Women in the Dunes, Hiroshi Teshigahara; Top of the Lake, Jane Campion; Paris Texas, Wim Wenders.
Q- Do improvisations come from compositions? Or the other way around?
A- For me improvisation and composition have a similar relationship. One feeds the other. Some musicians and composers describe improvisation as a spontaneous composition. Ideally it is.
Writing music is a slow process and gives you a chance to choose your notes more carefully. When composing, you are not limited to technique. Writing music is also a great tool to expand and push you beyond your limits.
Q- If you were telling someone about musical improvisation and they were completely unfamiliar with what that meant, what's the first thing you would say?
A- Musical improvisation is a conversation and reflection between musicians. Sometimes it is a conversation on a specified subject and sometimes it is totally open.
Q- Two musicians with whom you have close associations, John Zorn and Mark Feldman. How did those relationships develop?
A- John Zorn and Mark Feldman are amazing people, musicians and composers. They both challenge me to become a better musician and composer. I've been playing music with Mark for 19 years and we have been married for 16 of those years! It is hard for me to talk about how our relationship developed. I just know that we play better now than 19 years ago. John Zorn is just an incredible composer and musician who cares about his community and his friends. He has been a great inspiration for me, even before I met him.
Q- What makes musical relationships last?
A- Respect, challenge, recordings and gigs.
Q- What can be taught about music and what can't?
A- Theory, technique, form and harmony can be taught. Poetry and individuality cannot.
Q- What do you know today that you didn't know 20 years ago when you moved to NYC?
A- How to practice; how to rehearse and prepare music efficiently.
Q- If you weren't a musician what would you be doing with your life?
I have no idea. Ever since I was 8 years old, I have wanted to be a musician. I don't have any other talents. Maybe I could be a cat sitter or a dog walker.
Q- What have you been listening to lately?
A- Yesterday I listened to Steve Lehman's new album called Selebeyone. It is ridiculously amazing.
This week I heard many great musicians playing John Zorn's Bagatelles at the Village Vanguard. The lineup included the fantastic Craig Taborn, Mark Feldman, Tyshawn Sorey, Peter Evans, Jon Irabagon, Matt Mitchell, Dan Weiss, Kim Cass and many more who were all so inspiring. I also heard the beautiful duo of Tim Berne and Hank Roberts at Korzo.
Tonight I'm going to hear more Bagatelles with Kris Davis's 4tet with Drew Gress, Tyshawn Sorey and Mary Halvorson and later I will hear the Mary Halvorson 4tet with Miles Okazaki, Tomas Fujiwara and Drew. I'm very excited about this and I'm also thrilled to hear women leading their own bands and presenting them at the Village Vanguard!
Q- If there's an afterlife, one piece of music you heard here that you'll remember there?
A- The Goldberg Variations.
Q- You're having a dinner party and can invite three musicians. Who are they?
A- Thelonious Monk, Glenn Gould and Igor Stravinsky.
Sylvie Courvoisier performs at Roulette Sept. 16 with Ikue Mori's OBELISK and Sept. 18 for Ned Rothenberg's 60th Birthday Party.
Photo Credit: Caroline Mardok