Winning Spins by George Kanzler_David Murray

Winning Spins by George Kanzler

Two tenor saxophonists who emerged on the jazz scene in the 1970s—David Murray and Chico Freeman—are featured on the two albums comprising this Winning Spins. Both Murray, a co-founder of the World Saxophone Quartet, and Freeman, the son of Chicago tenor legend Von Freeman, have had varied, productive careers and both have spent recent long periods of time living outside the United States. So, both albums mark homecomings for the pair. And the tenor saxophonists also spotlight the distinctively personal sounds of their second instruments: Murray’s bass clarinet and Freeman’s soprano saxophone.

 

Perfection, David Murray, Geri Allen & Terri Lyne Carrington (Motéma), features the unusual trio format of a horn with piano and drums (no bass). Dubbed The Power Trio, it is an arresting combination, shifting the burden of carrying the beat and rhythm largely to the drummer, Carrington, who handles it with creative aplomb, with judicious assists from Allen’s piano comping.

 

The openness of the bass-less configuration prompts Murray and Allen to engage in acrobatic interaction, spurred on by Carrington’s conjuring of beats from her bass drum and tom toms, as well as ride cymbal. The results are high energy and exhilarating, especially on Murray’s hard-driving originals, “Mirror of Youth” and “The David, Geri & Terri Show.” The former kicks off the CD with tenor sax wailing over rollicking piano and syncopated drum beats, a strain that alternates with a more swinging 4/4 carried by the cymbals. The latter tune features tenor intoning a funky staccato riff theme, with Carrington’s snare prominent in the mix.

 

As a sax player, Murray represents a stylistic compendium of tenor sax history, his wide vibrato and muscular timbre updating the sound of such early tenor giants as Coleman Hawkins and Ben Webster; his passionate, ecstatic attack—greatly enhanced by his command of circular breathing—evoking the spirit of Albert Ayler and Pharoah Sanders.

 

He’s also capable of the capacious, romantic side of tenors like Webster and his Ellington successor, Paul Gonsalves. His tenor combines with wordless vocals (not credited) on Allen’s lyrical theme “The Nurturer,” with some of the pianist’s most expansive soloing, while he channels the sound of Wayne Shorter on Carrington’s “Samsara (For Wayne).” He proves to be a ferocious swinger, too, on the drummer’s swift riff theme, “Geri-Rigged,” as her fast, ticking rhythm evolves into a duologue with Murray’s tenor in a breathless middle section.

 

Bass clarinet is introduced on Carrington’s short “D Special (Interlude),” while the trio’s jauntiest, whimsical piece, “For Fr. Peter O’Brien” by Allen, also features sparkling repartee between bass clarinet, piano and brushes. The album’s title piece is a debut recording of an Ornette Coleman tune given to Murray as transcribed by Bobby Bradford from a head by the late alto saxophonist. It is given a spirited performance by a sextet, with bassist Charnett Moffett, trombonist Craig Harris and trumpeter Wallace Roney Jr. joining the trio.

The Power Trio of David Murray, Terri Lyne Carrington and Geri Allen heard on Perfection, appears at Birdland, May 17-21.

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Winning Spins by George Kanzler_Chico Freeman

Winning Spins by George Kanzler

Two tenor saxophonists who emerged on the jazz scene in the 1970s—David Murray and Chico Freeman—are featured on the two albums comprising this Winning Spins. Both Murray, a co-founder of the World Saxophone Quartet, and Freeman, the son of Chicago tenor legend Von Freeman, have had varied, productive careers and both have spent recent long periods of time living outside the United States. So, both albums mark homecomings for the pair. And the tenor saxophonists also spotlight the distinctively personal sounds of their second instruments: Murray’s bass clarinet and Freeman’s soprano saxophone.

 

Compared to the high energy of Perfection, Spoken Into Existence, Chico Freeman 4-Tet (Jive), is serene, yet magisterially commanding. Freeman has a warm, full but not heavy vibrato sound on tenor sax, and a rare, limpid, crystalline tone on soprano sax, his instrument on six of the 13 CD tracks. He asserts his swinging tenor credentials out of the gate, opening with the Victor Feldman/Miles Davis classic “Seven Steps to Heaven," one of only a pair of tracks not by Freeman or his band mates. The other, Stanley Turrentine’s “Soft Pedal Blues,” is Freeman’s rare foray into slow, muscular tenor signifying.

 

However, the album is predominantly more lyrical, favoring ballad and mid-to-slow tempos, including a couple of fetching waltzes and an odd meter, Asian inflected “India Blues” on soprano sax.

 

Pianist Antonio Farao contributes two originals, the airy “Free Man” for soprano and the swinging, modally inflected “Black Inside” for tenor; bassist Hans Kanzig’s “Niskayuna” has tenor gliding along at a dance tempo. Freeman’s originals include a quintet of pieces written for his five daughters with each composition varying in time signatures and easy tempos and all exhibiting obvious affection for the subjects.

 

This is Freeman’s European band (completed by drummer Michael Baker) and the CD stands as an impressive record of his artistry in recent years.

           

Chico Freeman debuts his new Plus+Tet with pianist Orrin Evans, bassist Kenny Davis, drummer Nasheet Waits and percussionist Rato Weber at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola on May 19.

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Hot Flashes by Seton Hawkins

Wycliffe GordonThe Jazz Cruise and Contemporary Jazz Cruise Artist Spotlight

The 2017 Contemporary Jazz Cruise and Jazz Cruise promise an exciting array of top-shelf talents. Among them, the master trombonist Wycliffe Gordon lends his formidable gifts and brings with him a unique status as one of the only artists to have performed on The Jazz Cruise, the Smooth Jazz Cruise and now the Contemporary Jazz Cruise.

 

While that fact may be surprising to some, to those who have been following Gordon’s remarkable career closely, it may seem almost a foregone conclusion that he would be in demand for all the cruises. A highly versatile, genre-busting multi-instrumentalist, Gordon has carved an incredible career for himself as a musician, composer and educator, always presenting uniquely themed shows and fronting a band of like-minded artists who can jump across genres at a moment’s notice.

 

Indeed, Gordon’s shows are some of the most fun and enjoyable jazz programs to check out. Diverse and ambitious in scope, his performances serve up a sundry set of sounds without ever seeming jumbled, random or unplanned. While he offers some stellar programmed shows like History of the Jazz Trombone and Dreams of New Orleans, Gordon particularly shines in the club settings with a looser, yet still highly considered set.

 

“There’s no one formula to presenting a show,” Gordon explains. “But as you do it more, you build a sense of how to do it and you learn to read the audience and understand what they’re liking and responding to. Learning to read them helped me to develop a sense of how to build each show. Whether you’re programming to a specific theme or not, you want to create a particular flow, and you want to present something that is, musically speaking, like a good conversation. It should be a little bit of this and a bit of that, some swing, some up-tempo, some ballads. And as you read the room, you can change things as you see fit.”

 

While Gordon himself is able to jump genres rapidly and effectively, what makes his shows all the more striking is his band’s ability to follow his ever-shifting lead and to execute it effectively as a unit. Drawing on heavyweight talents like Eric Reed, Dion Parsons and Michael Dease, Gordon has consistently constructed ensembles capable of carrying out his often artistically demanding visions.

 

“I love having a band where if I want to play bebop, New Orleans, gospel, ballads, any genre, I can call on them to do it,” Gordon notes. “Because that’s the way you get true freedom in your music and it’s what I love most about playing.”

 

That sense of freedom and the vision to execute it has ensured Gordon’s longstanding place as today’s top trombone master. Indeed, as 2016 continues, Gordon finds himself working in broad musical settings, all while heavily engaging his talents as an educator. In May alone he is working nonstop across three continents in a wide range of settings, including a May 12 appearance at the Tribeca PAC as part of the Highlights in Jazz Audience Favorites concert, joined by Bucky Pizzarelli, Alexis Cole, Nicki Parrott, Bria Skonberg, Frank Vignola, Alvin Atkinson. As 2017 opens with The Jazz Cruise and the Contemporary Jazz Cruise, listeners will have much to look forward to with what Wycliffe Gordon will bring to the floating party.

 

Visit www.thejazzcruise.com and www.thecontemporaryjazzcruise.com for more details.

 

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Crossing Bridges by Cary Tone

Marta SanchezSince arriving in New York City from Madrid four and a half years ago on a Fulbright Scholarship to study at New York University, pianist Marta Sanchez has established herself as a composer and leader of projects worth keeping an eye on. Her influences are eclectic, including genres as diverse as classical music, rock and electronic music.

 

Q- You’re a European woman jazz musician. Say a few words about how those three identities define your working life?

A- These identities influence my music, for sure, but I don’t want to think about how they could define my working life since they are things that I cannot change.

Q- Does the jazz scene in Madrid have similarities to what you found when you arrived in NYC?

A- The scene in Madrid has some similarities, but it is not even comparable because it is way smaller. It is less varied and less competitive. You cannot count how many saxophone players are in NYC, while you can name every jazz saxophone player living in Madrid. The stylistic range that you can find in NY is huge, while in Madrid the variety is much narrower. That doesn't mean that there are not great musicians and composers in Madrid; there are incredible ones, actually, but the diversity that you can find in NY is non-existent in Madrid.

Q- You are both a pianist and a prolific composer. Describe how those two parts of you mingle? 

A- Writing music and playing piano are two different ways of expressing myself. Also, most of the time I compose music that I'm going to play. However, I feel more confident as a composer. I might have less technical or mental limitations, I don't know, but I think so far I’ve been able to express what I have inside in a more developed and personal way as a writer than as a pianist.

Q- Which musicians in NYC do you most enjoy hearing play your music?

A- In general, the musicians that I like the most playing my music are the ones that play in my band. We have been playing for some time already; they are my friends, and they understand what I want. But I have to say that I also enjoy when new musicians play my music because they bring something fresh. Let's just say that I’ve always called musicians that I thought would play my music in a beautiful way and I’ve enjoyed what they all brought to the stage.

Q- You won some jazz competitions in Spain and other European countries. What are your thoughts on these competitions, personally and generally?

A- Well, I’ve never won a competition as a bandleader. I was either a co-leader or just part of a band led by someone else. It was always with good friends though. Conceptually, music competitions don't make much sense since art is not measurable. It is not about being better or worse.

In a pragmatic sense, and personally, it was really helpful for the band I was participating with. Most of the contests offered the recording and release of a CD, which is a great learning experience; others offered performance opportunities. That doesn't mean that the winner is necessarily better than the other participants, but ultimately someone gets something that is going to help their career, so I guess it is good. Also, every contest I’ve participated in was a great hang and, thanks to them, I met a lot of musicians from all over Spain.

Q. Partenika, your 2015 recording, was very well received by jazz listeners and critics. Did that appreciation bring more opportunities to play live? Do you pay attention to that sort of recognition?

A. I’ve been so humbled by the media’s reaction, although sometimes I think it is excessive. I wish that it had brought me more opportunities to play live, the appreciation from critics is just one part of the equation. I don’t pay that much attention to that sort of recognition but I like that other people enjoy my work, it doesn’t matter where it comes from. That helps me to keep working hard to make more and better music.

Q. How does conservatory training prepare you for life as a working jazz musician?

A. The conservatory doesn't prepare you for your life as a working jazz musician! I have to say that my experience in the conservatory in Madrid was not the best. I think I had two teachers who really loved music and inspired me to listen and investigate, and the rest just made me want to quit.

Q. Do you set aside time for music listening live or on recordings? What was the last great thing you heard?

A. Yes, of course I do. I go out almost every night to listen to music. That's something special about living in NY, and it is a privilege that I want to take advantage of. I have seen a lot of really good things lately: Bill Frisell with Tomas Morgan duo, Sam Harris trio, Sullivan Fortner with Lage Lund, Ethan Iverson with Ben Street, Dayna Stephens and Eric McPherson… just to name a few recent concerts that I’ve really enjoyed. The last thing that I thought was truly special, really something else, was Craig Taborn playing solo piano at the Winter Jazz Fest.

Q. If there's an afterlife, one piece of music you heard here, that you'll remember there?

A. “The Rite of Spring” by Stravinsky.

Marta Sanchez is at Korzo’s Konceptions Music series May 17.

Photo Credit:  Antonio Porcar

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Leny Andrade: the 1001 Colors of Samba and Bossa Nova by Emilie Pons

Leny Andrade: the 1001 Colors of Samba and Bossa NovaWhen on stage, 73-year-old singer Leny Andrade transports her audience to her native Brazil and its suave bossa nova with the unique texture of her poignant voice. “I understood early the voice has colors,” is her explanation when asked about her uncommon talent. She adds that if an artist only uses one color, such as yellow, nobody will like it. "You look at that and see ‘yellow yellow yellow—there is no blue flower on that canvas; everything is yellow.”

 

But with Andrade on stage, one experiences myriad colors and emotions, from joy and sorrow to love and loss. And Andrade's calling is not just a fad: she has been singing professionally for 52 years.

 

Andrade started singing when she was 16; and, like Nina Simone, she is a classically trained pianist, which gives her an even better understanding and grasp of music. “I studied classical piano for 12 years,” she says. So she truly knows “what music is, what each note does and what each note is,” she explains. She also knows what types of chords musicians are playing behind her and what the “perfect chord” to play is.

 

That knowledge makes her demanding with her sidemen. “I want the best in music,” Andrade says. “I am not easy. I don't forgive a mistake.” But Andrade is thrilled to have recorded Alegria de Viver with guitarist Roni Ben-Hur last fall; the duo will celebrate the album release this month.

 

Thorough training, deep knowledge of the music, and passion make Grammy winner Andrade the established singer she has become. She can perform complex music and is able to memorize countless lyrics. “The music has been the most important thing I have done in my life for 52 years,” she explains. But Andrade's secret could also stem from her only drinking coffee and water. “Beer puts me to sleep,” she says. Still, when she is on stage, she is very confident and fearless.

 

She is inspired by singers such as Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, Carmen McRae or Shirley Horn. She loves Vaughan's and McRae's “low notes” and Fitzgerald's “high notes.” She is also a fan of Dianne Reeves and Tony Bennett. And for her, “the bossa nova is like a daughter of jazz, because of its rich harmonies.”

 

Naturally, Andrade is also inspired by Brazilian artists: poet Vinicius de Moraes and singers Antonio Carlos Jobim, Dori Caymmi and Nelson Cavaquinho. And ultimately, harmonies, rhythm and melodies are Andrade's reason to live. “I like poets,” she says. “I like painters; I like actors; I like cinema. But without music, it would be impossible to live. If one day I don't like what I am singing, I will stop.”

Leny Andrade and Roni Ben-Hur celebrate the release Alegria de Viver at Birdland May 10-14.

Photo Credit: Ryan Paternite

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