Recommended: Mike Baggetta Quartet – “Thieves and Secrets”

September 15, 2014


Mike Baggetta - "Thieves and Secrets"Guitarist Mike Baggetta has quietly become one of the must-follow artists on the scene.  It seems like every project he becomes involved with has something new and different to offer.  His Tin/Bag collaborations with trumpeter Kris Tiner have yielded some fascinating, unconventional conversations, both in guitar-trumpet duo form (like 2011’s Bridges) and also in a quartet with drummer Harris Eisenstadt and clarinetist Brian Walsh (2007’s And Begin Again).  There’s also Canto, Baggetta’s solo project of etudes for prepared guitar, and his contribution to Jeremy Udden‘s spectacular folk-jazz recording Plainville.

His Quartet’s 2009 debut Small Spaces was a modern straight-ahead session, full of sharp angles and opaque melodies.  The Quartet returned in 2011 with Source Material, which transitioned into a blend of Brian Blade Fellowship nu-jazz and the folk-jazz from the Plainville sessions.  There was a dark melancholy juxtaposed with a countryside shade of post-bop.  It was also more relaxed and comforting in its way.

These were all projects that displayed Baggetta’s fluidity in disparate scenarios, requiring a creative imagination to rise to a level of artistic craftsmanship.  And, now, on his 2014 release Thieves and Secrets, Baggetta brings all of the varied ingredients of past works together, and projects them into an entirely new vision that’s one step ahead of the total sum of its influences.  The music of Thieves and Secrets is a freer sort of folk-jazz, one that is as likely to bend the ear with a little twang as it is to slip in some bop chatter, and as comfortable fading out like moonlight as it is swimming in a sea of dissonance.

Songs like “Transmission” and “Nova Scotia” have the presence of storm clouds, sometimes crackling with a lively electricity and other times hitting the ears with a comforting cool sonic mist.  The steel strings of guitar share the same space as the low moans and high cries of saxophones.  Drums are either a rapid pulse of the sussurance of brushes, and bass its dark shadow or bright halo.

The song “Thieves, Secrets” opens with an Eivind Opsvik bass solo, then George Schuller softly on drums with a nice and easy cadence.  Riggy and Baggetta enter on sax and guitar, slipping in verses with care and feeling, like the blues sung out over a nighttime campfire.  There’s a lovely melodic phrase Rigby keeping returning to, and even when the quartet develops the song into something much stronger, much brighter, that phrase is what brings them back down to earth for the finale.  It’s a pattern that gets repeated throughout the album.

“The Wind” also opens with a simple melody that offers many doors to many paths extending out to potential destinations.  And like “Thieves, Secrets,” the song gradually builds up to a Big Sound before returning back to a calmer state for its conclusion.  It’s the kind of thing that, on past recordings, might’ve been compared to the Brian Blade Fellowship, but now, the way Baggetta expresses this particular facet, it has its own distinct personality outside the immediate sphere of influence or connection.

The folk-jazz comes through clear on tracks like “Hidden Things” and “Country Wisdom.”  On the former, there are no fences up to keep the musicians corralled, and Rigby takes the opportunity to go wandering on sax.  On the latter, it’s the closest thing to song form on the album, and the quartet’s casual recitation of melody is made much more than pretty when they stagger it in a way to drive up the anticipation of its resolve.

“World Leaders” serves up some post-bop, with the rhythm section of Opsvik and Schuller laying down the foundation.  They develop a snappy chatter, to which Baggetta and Rigby bounce ideas off the surface… a conversation that grows in acerbity via the intensity of the musicians and the utilization of electronic effects.

The album ends with a rendition of “Bridges,” a Baggetta composition performed in a duo set with trumpeter Kris Tiner.  It goes a long way to showing the writing talents of Baggetta that this song has so much room for expansion that upping the personnel and instrumentation doesn’t ever risk the song becoming unwieldy or overcrowded.  There’s a bit of languid melody, there’s some wild expressiveness, there’s a country road peacefulness and a Big Sound uproar, and it’s all of the ingredients that go into this album and it’s all encapsulated by one song.

A remarkably interesting album from an artist who has had, thus far, a remarkably interesting career.

Your album personnel:  Mike Baggetta (electric & acoustic guitars, electronics), Jason Rigby (tenor & soprano saxophones), Eivind Opsvik (upright bass), and George Schuller (drums, cymbals, percussion).

Released on Fresh Sound New Talent.

Jazz from the Brooklyn scene.

Available at:  eMusic | Amazon CD | Amazon MP3


Tiny Reviews: Andy Biskin Ibid, John Chin, & Tal Gur

September 14, 2014

Your Sunday edition of Tiny Reviews!

Featuring:  Andy Biskin Ibid Act Necessary, John Chin Undercover, and Tal Gur Under Contractions.



Andy Biskin Ibid – Act Necessary

A quartet of clarinetist Andy Biskin, trombonist Brian Drye, drummer Jeff Davis, and cornetist Kirk KnuffkeAct Necessary plays out like each musician is attempting to recount a dream they had about performing New Orleans jazz, tin pan alley, swing, blues, and polkas… with each member of the quartet vividly channeling the dreams of early music forms, but now, awake and the dream fading, can’t help but color the dream retelling with sounds and methods of the present day.  This is not a throwback album, but there’s no doubt it will appeal greatly to the old-school fans.  And considering how entrenched each of these musicians are in the NYC scene, often with varied projects that sound nothing like Act Necessary, it’s going to offer all kinds of value to those jazz fans whose ears are very much attuned to the music of today.

Released on Strudel Media.

Available at:  eMusic | CDBaby | Amazon MP3



John Chin – Undercover

Refreshingly loquacious trio session from pianist John Chin, who’s joined on this live performance by bassist Orlando le Fleming and drummer Dan RieserUndercover has got some originals, some renditions (Coltrane, Shorter, Ellington).  A tune like “Edda” illustrates Chin’s talent for shifting from bursts of quick dialog to pauses of melodic restatement served up with a most appealing emphasis.  Whether up-tempo or simply coasting with his foot off the gas pedal, Chin’s piano seems to carry further and with greater strength than his unfussy delivery might otherwise indicate.  It’s not unlike the strange intimacy generated by a huge firework show viewed from afar.

Released on Brooklyn Jazz Underground Records.

Available at:  eMusic | Bandcamp | Amazon: CDMP3



Tal Gur – Under Contractions

Under Contractions is an oddly compelling album.  Led by Tal Gur‘s alto & soprano saxes, this quartet (rounded out by Eyal Maoz on electric guitar, Sam Trapchak on double bass and Nick Anderson on drums) uses languorous passages as the seed for further explorations.  Many tracks possess a lazy, peaceful ambiance that is all kinds of attractive, and sometimes these moments build into freer, more vociferous passages that leave the serenity behind.  The quieter moments make the rousing sections that much more compelling by point of comparison.  Neat album.

The album is Self-Produced.

Available at:  eMusic | CDBaby | Amazon MP3



Some of this material was used originally in the weekly new jazz releases column I write for eMusic’s Wondering Sound, so here’s some language protecting their rights to the reprinted material as the one to hire me to write about new jazz arrivals to their site…

New Arrivals Jazz Picks” reprints courtesy of, Inc.
© 2014, Inc.

As always, my sincere thanks to eMusic for the gig.

Something Different: Tom Varner – “The Swiss Duos”

September 13, 2014


Tom Varner - "The Swiss Duos"Enjoying one of those mornings when I just follow random leads across the internet, moving from one artist and one album to the next, I stumbled across The Swiss Duos, the 2000 release of French horn player Tom Varner.  On it, he collaborates with four different pianists in duo performances:  George Gruntz, Gabriela Friedli, Christoph Baumann, and Hans Feigenwinter.  The album consists of twenty-four tracks, but with most lasting no more than a minute or two.  And while the duration of the pieces may suggest mere interludes, the actuality of these tunes is simply that they are brief expressions that reach their fullness in a very short time.  There is something very refreshing about that.  The music is direct and to the point, and when a song does extend out a bit (as a few do), it’s not done unnecessarily and only until the particular idea has been fully realized.

But it’s hearing French horn in this context that really drew my interest.  It’s not a common instrument to hear on a jazz album, though not unprecedented, either, to be sure.  Varner himself has appeared on albums by John Zorn, Miles Davis, Steve Lacy, Bobby Previte and Franz Koglmann (among others), as well as recordings under his own direction and where he was behind the steering wheel.  What I most appreciate about this session is that French horn isn’t part of a larger ensemble and acting in a complementary role… Varner’s French horn is standing there in the wide open, and how it interacts with piano is going to come through unobstructed without the distraction of other ensemble instruments.  I thought it would be an interesting listen going in, and my assumption was met.  The conversations recorded on The Swiss Duos are a winner, measured both as an enjoyable listening experience and as a source of curiosity.

“Bursting Hymn” and “Quasimodo” have Varner offering solemn tones and excitable ones, with pianist George Gruntz serving up some chipper accompaniment.  And Gruntz is no less cheerful even when he and Varner speak from the soul on “Big George Blues.”  But it’s on a track like “Summertime,” where Varner fully displays the melodic side of his instrument and framing Gruntz’s upbeat disposition in a new light that this particular collaboration shines brightest.  It’s an effect given even greater definition on a rendition of “It Could Happen To You,” with its smoky presence and patient, evocative discourse.

It’s the kind of approach Varner adopts in most of his duets with Gabriela Friedli.  Both of the tunes “Soft” and “Gabriela” shine down with the distant warmth and hazy form of moonlight.  “Big Fall” sees some atonality enter the frame, and the shift to a certain dissonance is completed on the frenetic “Circuits.”

And it’s that kind of behavior that typifies most all of Varner’s duets with pianist Christoph Baumann.  Tracks like “Play,” “Barbarians,” and “Alien Bug” present themselves as would a series of sparring sessions… the trade of punches, bobbing and moving, circling one another as they look for an opening.  The only reprieve is the melodic interlude of “Funny,” which slows things down and attains a relative peacefulness.

The duets with pianist Hans Feigenwinter represent the strongest collaboration of the four.  One of the longer pieces on the recording is a rendition of Feigenwinter’s “Elegy,” which provides Varner his best opportunity for extended melodic development on the album.  Feigenwinter, who has a talent for creating sublime music with brass instruments in small combos (see his excellent 2014 album Whim of Fate), continues that trend here.  “What Is This Thing Called First Strike Capability?” sees the duo in a greater state of agitation while still showing the same care and concern to melodic development… an approach continued on the melancholy “Cool.”

An interesting recording.  I’m glad I stumbled upon it.

Your album personnel:  Tom Varner (French horn), George Gruntz (piano), Christoph Baumann (piano), Gabriela Friedli (piano), and Hans Feigenwinter (piano).

Released in 2000 on Unit Records.

Jazz from the Seattle, Washington scene.

Available at:  eMusic | Amazon MP3


Omer Klein Trio – “Yemen”

September 12, 2014


Today’s featured video is from the Omer Klein Trio, performing the song “Yemen” at Studio Sextan – La Fonderie just this year, for the internet show “Alternate Take,” by U-Go & Play.

Klein has received several mentions on both this site and my eMusic/Wondering Sound Jazz Picks column.  He was the pianist on one of my all-time favorite albums, Omer Avital’s Suite of the East, which was the Bird is the Worm #3 album of the year for 2012.

Your video personnel:  Omer Klein (piano), Amir Bresler (drums), and Haggai Cohen-Milo (bass).


Have a great start to your weekend!


Recommended: Arve Henriksen – “The Nature Of Connections”

September 11, 2014


Arve Henriksen - "The Nature Of Connections"There are no songs here.  Using the word ‘tunes’ is out of place.  The Nature of Connections, the new release by trumpeter Arve Henriksen presents pieces that possess no semblance of form.  This music is revealed as beauty in motion, providing an illusion of presence… a timelessness where each piece has no beginning, no end, just an existence in the present moment of a particular expression.

And it is absolutely gorgeous.

The core trio of trumpet, bass and drums is partnered with a string trio of violins, fiddles, and cello.  There are no divisions of labor here.  Strings occupy the same space as the trumpet trio, with no one instrument seated permanently at the head of the table.  Henriksen may be the group leader, but his behavior on the bandstand indicates a view toward equality under the spotlight.

The influence most evident is of Nordic folk.  Sharing territory with that of violinist Oskar Schonning’s excellent 2012 release The Violin, Henriksen infuses small doses of Norwegian jazz and chamber music into these pieces.  This is peaceful music that doesn’t sit still and where serenity is not a permanent state of being, but always the final landing spot.

A few tracks challenge the notion of serenity.  The urgency of strings provides “Hymn” a bit of propulsion.  Bassist Mats Eilertsen takes a winding path through the string trio.  The interplay between his bass chatter and the sudden surges of harmony from the string trio is a powerful device.  Eventually Henriksen steps in on trumpet and lifts right up, with strings following soon after.

Drummer Audun Kleive spurs the string trio on and gets the pulse rate up a bit on “Keen.”  Henriksen crafts a melodic thread with some defined features and rides it for the length of the piece.  It’s the closest this album gets to structured expression, and its value as a tool of differentiation can be measured in the clarity it brings to the pieces with a vaguer shape and definition.

“Arco Akropolis” lays the drama on thick with a rise of intensity and tighter trajectories locked within a smaller roaming area.  It, like “Keen” before it, provides something just a little bit different, and gives the prevailing serenity some texture and personality.

The album returns to form with the concluding song, “Salm.”  Graceful, poignant, tranquil, and, like the rest of the album, it is absolutely gorgeous.

Your album personnel:  Arve Henriksen (trumpet, piccolo trumpet, piano), Mats Eilertsen (double bass), Audun Kleive (drums), Nils Økland (violin, hardanger fiddle, viola d’amore), Svante Henryson (cello), and Gjermund Larsen (violin, hardanger fiddle).

Released on Rune Grammofon

Music from

Available at:  eMusic | Amazon: CDMP3Vinyl

And if you purchase directly from the label, they have a couple different types of vinyl options in addition to the CD.