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Metropolitan Room / Hot House Jazz magazine 2016 award ceremony.
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Winning Spins by George Kanzler
Ambitious albums from a pair of talented young pianists, Christian Sands and Gerald Clayton, comprise this month’s Winning Spins. Both have had the benefit of working in the bands of two of today’s best bassists: Christian as a member of Christian McBride’s trio, Gerald in the bands of his father, John Clayton.
Christian, who turns 28 this year, celebrates his debut with a CD spotlighting the full range of his pianistic and composing talents, while Gerald, 32, expands his scope beyond the trio to showcase his compositions and arrangements with a band ranging from quintet to septet, plus occasional voices.
Reach, Christian Sands (Mack Avenue), features a core piano trio with bassist Yasushi Nakamura and drummer Marcus Baylor, which appears on four of the ten tracks. Christian explores some of his influences and heroes with the trio, paying homage to Chick Corea on “Armando’s Song,” with its dazzling, cross-hand lines, and “Bud’s Tune,” a tribute to early modern jazz piano masters Bud Powell and Herbie Nichols. He plumbs the depths of his piano’s range on his own exotic, expressionistic “Sign of the Rainbow People,” and closes the album with a lush evocation of romanticism on the Oscar-winning song, “Somewhere Out There,” from the animated movie An American Tail.
Adding percussionist Cristian Rivera, the quartet dances through an Afro-Cuban groove on the leader’s “Oyeme!” his command of scintillating montuno rhythms reflecting his time in Bobby Sanabria’s band. One of the stylistic shifts in 21st Century jazz has been the additional freedom afforded drummers and both of these Winning Spins reflect that change. No longer is the drummer a timekeeper, or even a steady swinger, leaving much of the time feel in the hands of the bassist. Marcus ranges freely, expanding the rhythms with off-beat accents.
When Marcus Strickland adds his tenor sax to the band on “Pointing West,” the drummer weaves a twisty, stuttering rhythm under the theme, then initiates a fast swing beneath sax and piano solos, in a track reminiscent of John Coltrane. Saxophonist Marcus also doubles in dubbed bass clarinet with his tenor sax on the leader’s foray into wider soundscapes, “Freefall,” with synthesizer and keyboard overdubs for a futuristic vibe.
Joining the trio on three tracks is Gilad Hekselman, whose polished, clean tone on electric guitar blends perfectly with Christian’s precise touch. Two Christian originals range from the Latin groove of “Reaching for the Sun” to the rocking backbeat of “Gangstalude,” bracketing a creative version of Bill Withers’ “Use Me,” stretching the melody almost beyond recognition and ending with a guest cameo solo from Christian McBride’s arco bass.
Photo Credit: Fran Kaufman
Anat Cohen’s Global Residency by Stephanie Jones
A framed poster commemorating a 2004 appearance at Carnegie Hall serves as more than a memory hanging on the wall. For composer, clarinetist and saxophonist Anat Cohen, the image is a reminder of how far passion, focus and collective creative expression can push an artist–and the music.
When she traveled from Tel Aviv to Boston to study at Berklee College of Music—as a horn player inspired by lineage, from Louis Armstrong to Dexter Gordon—Anat found her soul gripped by rhythms, harmonies and cultural traditions from around the world, particularly those from the musical legacy of Brazil.
After more than a dozen globally-influenced recordings as both leader and co-leader, Anat continues to write her musical narrative with deliberate spontaneity. “I don’t like to play the same way twice,” she says. “I like to find the little variations in music, and the little interactions.”
For Anat, each new interaction is an opportunity for exploration. After a year of experimenting with the original arrangements of composer and visionary Moacir Santos’ celebrated canon of Brazilian music, Anat’s friend and colleague, seven-string guitar master Marcello Gonçalves invited her into the studio for some experimenting of their own.
When she talks about Outra Coisa (Anzic Records, 2017), her recent duo release with Marcello, Anat’s voice leaps into a new register, as a palpable excitement escapes her lips. “I fell in love,” she says. “The music is so beautiful. Those melodies of Moacir Santos are just eternal melodies. It’s a great combination of Afro-Brazilian rhythms and jazz. The rhythm is African roots, and then you have these swinging melodies on top of it.”
For the album, Marcello selected 12 of Moacir’s distinctive compositions, written and arranged for large, orchestral ensembles, and reimagined each as a duo piece for seven string guitar and clarinet. As a result, Anat had to experiment with interpreting melody in a way that served Marcello’s unconventional arrangements of Moacir’s works.
“There’s something more relaxed in the way I felt about interpreting the melodies of Moacir Santos,” she says. “So, in general, I chose to play the melodies, instead of the upper register of the clarinet, in the lower register.”
For many artists, a duo recording demands trust, vulnerability and tremendous poise. Because Marcello had worked through so much of Moacir’s music, himself, Anat had the opportunity to interpret freely with and alongside him. And for Anat, the dynamic between the instruments became clear. “(Marcello) does the hard work because he’s playing all the orchestra parts,” she says. “I play one note at a time; he plays many.”
Though she fully embraces the range of melodic choices unique to the clarinet, Anat also tends to focus many facets of her artistic expression on comping—a context she has explored, in part, through the Choro tradition, one of her truest loves. “In ‘modern music,’ I play the melody, I play a solo and then I basically stop,” she says. “The nice thing about Choro music is that I can always find countermelodies while other people are playing, and it’s okay.”
Anat’s penchant for weaving in and out of the band, in what she calls a “double agent” role, serves the exploration and social communion of the Choro tradition. Rosa Dos Ventos (Anzic Records, 2017), her second record co-led with Trio Brasileiro, explores both the structural precision and open-ended personal interpretation of Choro. “What unified us was the Choro tradition,” she says, “but the compositions—I confess that some of it was to my surprise.
“Some of it was a little more traditional, a little more Choro-like; some of it was almost like heavy metal played by acoustic instruments without any amplification; some of it was a little more Oriental for the handpan drum, so it went out of the traditional Choro and into contemporary music.”
Beyond the bold and inclusive nature of the compositions, what gives Rosa Dos Ventos its resonating vitality is synergy among the players. The Lora brothers Alexandre and Douglas, who play pandeiro and handpan, and seven string guitar, respectively; and ten string bandolim master Dudu Maia complement Anat’s appetite for spontaneity and communal celebration.
“It was love at first sight,” she says of the trio, when they first met several years ago as instructors at Centrum’s Jazz Port Townsend Choro Workshop. “We started to play, and it just felt wonderful.” Recording the album in Rio de Janeiro proved equally fulfilling, and the process of its development, comprehensive.
“It’s not like you bring the chart and put it in front of the musicians and one-two-three, just play and see what happens,” she says. “The process was much more teaching each other the melody, talking about how it feels: a lot of group work. Some of the songs were a little bit more defined, and some songs, as we were learning them, we were experimenting with who was going to play which part.”
Traveling the world to play with like-spirited musicians and explore unique concepts in musical traditions, Anat kindles a renewed artistic passion time and again. Her eagerness to discover and create has allowed her to refine her immense musical ears and evolve her musicianship. “There’s so much music,” she says. “Musicians who can play anything are the people I look up to.”
For the younger generation of players who might struggle with timidity or maybe even an aversion to unexplored sounds and patterns, Anat offers an enduring perspective. “When we are uncomfortable, that’s when we grow,” she says. “If we always play what we’re comfortable playing, then we might not be challenged–and not grow. So, it’s important to sometimes jump into deeper water.”
Anat Cohen with Trio Brasileiro plays Jazz Standard May 16-17.
Photo Credit: Shervin Lainez
T.K. Blue: A Pan-African in Paris by Eugene Holley Jr.
Still youthful at 64, saxophonist and flutist, T.K. Blue (Talib Kibwe) has been playing Pan-African jazz for three decades; he has been pianist Randy Weston’s musical director for 26 years and was a sideman for a wide array of jazz stars from Jackie Byard, Archie Shepp and Dizzy Gillespie, to Dee Dee Bridgewater, Bobby McFerrin and Little Jimmy Scott. His ten recordings as a leader include A Warm Embrace (2014) and the critically-acclaimed, tribute to Charlie Parker, Latin Bird (2013).
His latest CD, Amour, is his heartfelt tribute to France and its eternal capital, where he moved two years after receiving a master’s degree in music education from Columbia University. “I lived in Paris from December 1981 to January 1990,” Talib says from his Jersey City home. “Going to Paris opened my eyes up to music from many cultures that I was not exposed to in New York. I matured a lot. I learned French and I learned how to speak some African languages, including Wolof, which is a language from Senegal. So those experiences broadened my horizons and my musical landscape.”
Talib’s French embrace of the black musical diaspora are captured on the CD’s 11 tracks with two alternating combos, featuring percussionist Roland Guerrero, pianist/vibraphonist Warren Wolf, bassists Jeff Reed and Essiet Essiet, drummers Eric Kennedy and Winard Harper, Swiss-born harmonica virtuoso Gregoire Maret and Trinidadian trumpeter Etienne Charles.
The leader’s soulful and sinewy alto and soprano sax lines sing and swing on the recording’s straight-ahead, ballad, bossa nova, Latin and African moods and grooves. They include the bebop paced, “Banlieue Blue,” titled after a jazz festival T.K. played in Paris’ northern suburbs; a soprano sax-piano duet rendition of Sidney Bechet’s florid standard, “Petite Fleur;” a Brazilian interpretation of Wayne Shorter’s “Infant Eyes;” Herbie Nichols’ funky, “Dream Time;” Melba Liston’s 5/4 tribute to Elvin Jones, “Elvin Elpus;” and an Afro-Cuban version of John Coltrane’s “Resolution.”
Amour is also dedicated to Talib’s Trinidadian mother, Lois Marie Rhynie whose Louis Armstrong recordings inspired him to play trumpet at the age 8, before he switched to flute and, later, saxophone. “Requiem for a Loved One (Part II),” and the Latin-tinged “A Single Tear of Remembrance” are Talib’s impassioned salutes to her. A bonus track, “Portrait of Lois Marie Rhynie,” can be heard on tkblue.com and purchased on iTunes.
“She visited me quite often in France, Paris and Cannes, from 1982 to 1989,” T.K. says. “And she lived for one year in the south of France in a village called Rocquebrune, located above Monaco around 1993-94. I toured Algeria and mom came along. She also came on one of my State Department tours to West Africa. It was a true blessing to take her to Africa.”
On Amour, Talib’s mastery of West African rhythms is aurally evident on “Aboulaye (Prospere),” with Talib on the African thumb piano, aka the kalimba, paying tribute to the leader of the great Senegalese band, Xalam.
But the towering Jamaican/African-American pianist Randy Weston, who toured Africa and lived in Morocco, is Talib’s biggest influence. They first met in 1978, when the saxophonist played with pianist Abdullah Ibrahim. After a few years of playing in informal jam sessions, Talib’s professional relationship with Weston began in 1981 when the pianist moved to France.
T.K. became Randy’s music director in 1991, when Melba Liston fell ill during the making of Weston’s CD, In the Spirit of Our Ancestors. On Amour, the bouncy “204,” which was Randy’s address in Greenwich and Talib’s address in the 18th arrondissement, is his soulful shout-out to Randy’s composition, “Hi-Fly.”
“His influence on me is tremendous,” T.K. says of his mentor. “Randy always brought in different musical elements, showing the connections between all of them going back to Africa. So, when I went there, I heard all those rhythms that reminded me of calypso, ska, reggae, gwo-ka from Guadeloupe and zouk from Martinique. And the biggest thing I admire about him is that at 91, he’s gone beyond the nomenclature of music. He’s at another level. For him, it’s a sound. That’s the ultimate level I want to get to.”
T.K. Blue, with Gregoire Maret, Essiet Essiet, Zaccai Curtis, George Coleman Jr. and Chembo Corniel, inaugurate the Salsa Meets Jazz series at Dino’s, above Dinosaur Bar-B-Que with a CD release concert on May 15.
Hot Flashes by Seton Hawkins
Musician-Club Owners’ Corner
No one can accuse Mark Morganelli of lacking ambition. Originating with a concept in 1979 to present great artists’ concerts in his loft, his Jazz Forum Arts organization has since expanded and evolved into the jazz staple of Westchester County, with a concert presence that extends throughout the tristate area.
Offering up a superb array of both free and low-cost concerts to communities throughout the year, Jazz Forum Arts has hosted luminaries including Art Blakey, Betty Carter, Lionel Hampton, Wynton Marsalis, Clark Terry, Sonny Rollins, Diana Krall, Dave Brubeck and many, many more. In fact, it may prove more expedient to simply list artists that Mark hasn’t presented.
This year, Jazz Forum Arts makes a unique move, one that represents both stepping forward and looking back to its history, as it prepares to open the latest iteration (the third, for those keeping score) of the Jazz Forum, a physical concert venue that debuts in Tarrytown this month. The decision to develop a club and re-launch the Jazz Forum initially occurred almost by accident.
“My wife Ellen and I decided to downsize and sell our house in Dobbs Ferry, where we had lived for many years,” Mark explains. “But the downsizing didn’t work! What happened instead was after seeing six to ten houses that didn’t speak to us, we saw this commercial building in Tarrytown, which did speak to us. I immediately thought ‘performance space’ when I walked into the downstairs.” From there, Mark and Ellen got to work, refashioning the basement space into a working jazz club, securing parking deals, corporate sponsorship, a liquor license and marshaling their resources and knowledge to launch the venue.
For Mark, this represents an exciting new opportunity to build upon the foundation of Jazz Forum Arts, and one in which he could tap into decades of community goodwill to develop. Indeed, having presented in the area for many years, Mark was able to galvanize the town’s support for the venue’s opening.
As the concept continued to grow and develop, his booking approach for the venue emerged too. “We’re going to present 8 and 10 p.m. sets on Fridays and Saturdays, at or near a $20 cover charge. Sundays we’ll be presenting Brazilian music from 4 to 7 p.m., which I’m very excited about,” he notes.
His current roster of artists in discussion for performances is breathtaking, and speaks to his longstanding relationships and connections with artists now enthused at returning the love. In addition, the space will endeavor to showcase the local community offerings by presenting a rotating exhibition of artworks from the surrounding area, as well as by serving craft beers from local microbreweries.
The Jazz Forum will prove a welcome addition to Tarrytown, and its weekend programming promises a top-notch infusion of masterful jazz talent into the area’s cultural scene. This summer will be a particularly exciting opportunity for jazz lovers as the Jazz Forum’s programming interlocks with the broader Jazz Forum Arts summer events. To learn more, visit www.jazzforumarts.org.
Photo Credit: Bob Plotkin
Fresh Takes by Nick Dunston
Pianist and composer Chris McCarthy is proving to be one of the of the most imaginative and impressive forces in the New York jazz scene. Now based in NYC after having earned his bachelor’s degree at New England Conservatory, Chris is releasing his debut album, Sonder, this month.
On the beginnings of his band, Chris recalls, “We were all playing with Jason Palmer every weekend at Wally’s [a Boston jazz club], which allowed us to develop a cohesive sound. Playing with Jason in itself was also just an amazing learning experience.”
Sonder features Chris’ own compositions as well as covers of his favorite artists, both inside and outside the jazz world. On making those covers his own, Chris says, “I chose the band before I chose the tracks, and I could really hear them playing and interpreting those grooves and parts well. We were actually able to record the entire album straight through in one take!”
Chris McCarthy holds his album release party for Sonder at Club Bonafide on May 14.
The Latin Side of Hot House by Emilie Pons
Ariacne Trujillo: A riveting voice in the NYC Latin scene
Deep melancholy contests resurgent hope through the low, raspy voice of Cuban singer, keyboardist and pianist Ariacne Trujillo. “Sometimes when it seems that you are falling millions of miles behind, you are mysteriously moving forward,” she explains. “When there’s hope; there’s no fear. Never give up no matter what life brings you.” And Ariacne, who has performed with Paul Simon and has been on many Cuban TV shows, is not about to give up.
Only a very courageous woman could thrive as she has: while raising her 10-year-old son, Niack, on her own, Ariacne works fulltime. “I’m a single mother, working almost every night,” she writes. “I teach in the afternoon and many times I have recordings. I wake up, take my son to school and go back to sleep. I wake up again, do lunch, and sometimes give piano and singing lessons. Then part of my afternoon is taking care of my son. Then off to work.” That makes for a particularly packed schedule. “It is hard to be father and mother [at the same time],” Ariacne adds.
This is still a man’s world, she explains. So, it’s all the more impressive that Ariacne, not unlike many other vibrant female players in New York City, has managed to make a name for herself as a Latina musician around so many accomplished male performers. “It is so satisfying when [men] count you as another musician, and not a fragile girl who is trying to stand up,” she reveals. “It is great when you realize you are part of the wolfs’ pack.”
For the last two years, the Cuban musician has been performing with her trio at the midtown Cuban restaurant Guantanamera where she holds a weekly residency. Her trio features two very successful musicians on the NYC scene: Greek bassist Panagiotis Andreou and Cuban percussionist Mauricio Herrera. Ariacne has been playing with them for more than ten years. “Mauricio brings all the Afro-Cuban flavor while Andreas brings his amazing melismas and Oriental harmony,” she explains.
Ariacne has also been working with percussionist Pedrito Martinez for many years. Before appearing with her trio at Guantanamera, she was performing with Pedrito. They started at the venue in 2005. Pedrito is one of the most in-demand percussionists in New York City. “Playing with Pedrito has been one of the strongest experience I have had,” Ariacne says. “Everyone has grown up in the band. My solos have gotten better, my tumbaos are fuller and more rhythmically accentuated. Playing with Pedrito has defined my style.”
In her native Cuba, Ariacne started on the piano at four. She was trained as a classical musician, and her influences range from Bach, Chopin, Debussy, Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky to Ernesto Lecuona, Chucho Valdéz, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Nino Bravo, Xiomara Laugart and Los Muñequitos de Matanzas. But she is also inspired by American jazz, R&B and pop singers including Aretha Franklin, Nina Simone, Etta James, Chaka Khan and Whitney Houston. Like these women, Ariacne, who has her own recording studio, concludes that she is “blessed to be able to do what she has worked so much for.”
Ariacne Trujillo performs with her trio every Tuesday and Wednesday in May at Guantanamera; every Saturday at Cuba Restaurant & Rum Bar. On May 12, she performs at Amor Cubano and May 13 at the Union Arts Center in Sparkill with saxophonist Erik Lawrence. On May 20, she’s at Las Palmas restaurant in West New York.