Brian Blade Fellowship – “Chorale For Horns And iPad App, In The Pouring Rain”

September 1, 2014


On a special Labor Day edition of These are videos that I like, we feature the Brian Blade Fellowship, performing their song “Landmarks” on a rainy day in a tunnel at Fort Adams State Park and the Newport Jazz Festival.

There’s a fun story behind this performance, which you can read about by following this LINK to the NPR Music site, who originally tried to set up a private exhibition following the Fellowship’s performance at the Newport Jazz Fest.

And while you’re at it, here’s a LINK to NPR’s Blog Supreme, who, obviously, covers Jazz for NPR.

And here’s a LINK to my review of the Fellowship’s 2014 release, Landmarks, from which this video’s song originates.

Your video personnel:  Myron Walden (bass clarinet), Melvin Butler (soprano sax), Jon Cowherd (iPad synthesizer), Chris Thomas (bassist, sans instrument), and Brian Blade (drummer, sans instrument).

Video Credits:  Mito Habe-Evans & Patrick Jarenwattananon (producers), Saidah Blount (event manager), Mito Habe-Evans, Colin Marshall & Nick Michael (videographers), Kevin Wait (audio engineer), and Colin Marshall (editor).

Thanks to all of you for making this cool video.

And thanks to everyone for supporting this site.

Have a great Labor Day!


Yves Léveillé – “Sur la Passerelle”

August 31, 2014


Today’s featured video is from the Yves Léveillé Septet, performing the song “Sur la Passerelle” from their 2014 release Essences des Bois.

It was performed in 2013 at Le Cégep Marie-Victorin in Montreal, Canada.

Your video personnel:  Yves Léveillé (piano), Roberto Murray (saxophone), Adrian Vedady (double bass), Alain Bastien (drums), François Richard (flute), Marjorie Tremblay (oboe), and Simon Aldrich (clarinet).


Have a great Sunday!


3 Guitars: Albums by Chris Schlarb, Eric Hofbauer, & Alexander Turnquist

August 30, 2014

Saturday Tiny Reviews special edition!

Featurning Chris Schlarb Making the Saint, Eric Hofbauer American Grace, and Alexander Turnquist Flying Fantasy.

Today’s column focuses on three guitarists, each releasing a solo project recording (well, one has guest musicians performing).  None of the recordings would qualify as jazz per se, though in some cases, the musicians have been involved in jazz projects.  These are just three albums that I find comforting and intriguing, and which continue to engage me regardless of the passing of time and frequency of listens.

I often leave the Saturday slot for the Something Different series or very blog-y posts and opinion pieces and columns.  Today, it’s just three tiny reviews of guitar albums I really enjoy.

Let’s begin…



Chris Schlarb- Making the Saint

Chris Schlarb - "Making the Saint"Making the Saint plays like a cathartic experience.  After a trio of intricate, highly-collaborative albums (Twilight & Ghost Stories and the two-part Psychic Temple release), guitarist Chris Schlarb became the recluse, retreating to an historic 140-year old cabin secluded in the San Bernardino mountains.  He brought with him a few guitars and some recording equipment.  He hit the record button and exhaled all of the creativity that had been building up during the time spent on previous projects, both in studio and on tour.

This is introspective guitar music, but sounds to be offered up with a genuine thought to sharing with others.  The 19-minute title-track opens the album with the susurrant hum of electronics juxtaposed against the calm poetry of electric guitar blowing sonic bubbles into the air.  The brief vocal conceit of “The Great Receiver” keeps the tranquility intact, and though it doesn’t quite stand up to the rest of the album’s tracks, there’s a heart-on-the-sleeve quality to the song that is difficult not to admire.

“The Fear of Death Is the Birth Of God,” with its deeper resonance and washes of electric guitar and electronics brings a sense of urgency to ambient music, an expressionism not unlike fellow-guitarist Roy Montgomery.  It’s a type of style where the truly profound is discovered in the confluence of sonic undercurrents.  The album’s coda is a charming little rendition of the standard, “My Foolish Heart,” which provides an interesting, additional perspective on where Schlarb’s creative center is versus a more traditional locale.  It’s an illuminating conclusion to an unobstructed view of an artist’s flow of ideas.

Your album personnel:  Chris Schlarb (acoustic & electric guitars, electronics, voice).

Released in 2014 on Asthmatic Kitty Records.

Available at:  Bandcamp | eMusic | Amazon: CDMP3Vinyl



Eric Hofbauer – American Grace

Eric Hofbauer - "American Grace"American Grace is the third installment of guitarist Eric Hofbauer‘s “American Trilogy” series, a sonic perspective on American society & culture, expressed through a mix of original compositions and selected renditions that speak to his point of view.

There are standards like “Stella by Starlight,” and there are takes on blues songs like King Oliver’s “West End Blues,” and “Blind” Willie Johnson’s “God Moves on the Water,” the Beatles’ “Dear Prudence” and a song from Willie Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.  There’s also “Idumea,” a sacred harp hymn, which comes from similar roots to that of the recent Dave Douglas-Uri Caine recording, Present Joys.  This rendition, in addition to a take on Ornette Coleman’s free jazz “Peace,” speak to the heart of Hofbauer’s vision and how he finds ways to express it concisely and consistently, no matter how diverse the source materials.

And regardless of whether songs move with a tranquil lull or furtive activity, there’s a contemplative nature to these tracks, so that even when all kinds of personality shines through on a particular song, there’s always the sense that something subtle is getting slipped under the radar.  This quality provides the necessary intrigue to songs that may only seem simple at first blush.

It’s a nifty facet of Hofbauer’s creative arc, and an interesting contrast to his contributions to other projects, like the Argentinean Jazz of Pablo Ablanedo’s Octeto and Jorrit Dijkstra’s Bolt.

Your album personnel:  Eric Hofbauer (guitar).

Released in 2013 on Creative Nation Music.

Available at:  eMusic | Bandcamp | CDBaby | Amazon: CDMP3



Alexander Turnquist – Flying Fantasy

Alexander Turnquist - "Flying Fantasy"The 12-string guitar of Alexander Turnquist is the sound of snow falling fast, and never quite touching the ground.  There is something so very peaceful and calming about this terrifically frenetic music.  The beauty of Flying Fantasy is viewed in stark contrast to pain and fear that preceded its creation, first, with the recovery period from nerve injury to Turnquist’s left hand, and then shortly after, a bout of meningitis.  It says something about how creativity is both a refuge and a launching point for hope and transformation.

Several tracks, like “House of Insomniacs” and “Finding the Butterfly” bring in vibes, cello, and vocal harmonics to add some richness to the sharp complexion of 12-string guitar.  The addition of piano accompaniment to “Wildflower” adds a new dynamic, a bit of warmth in contrast to vibraphone’s iciness, and a slower cadence to contrast with 12-string guitar’s wind sprints.  The same can be said for the color of French horn to a track like “Red Carousel.” Title-track “Flying Fantasy” is just the occasional strum of guitar, some loops and the sparse twitter of effects.  The silence of this track is almost startling.  The album ends much in the way it began- “Cloud Slicing” keeps a brisk pace, marked by the intermittent murmur of piano.

Just a gorgeous recording.

Your album personnel: Alexander Turnquist (acoustic 12-string guitar, grand piano, Hammond B3 organ), Pamela Stein (vocals), Christopher Tignor (violin), Marlan Barry (cello), Jeremy Thal (French horn), Matthew O’Koren (vibraphone, marimba), and Andrew Hiller (snare drum).

Released in 2014 on Western Vinyl.

Available at: eMusic | Amazon: CDMP3Vinyl


Tiny Reviews: Oscar Penas, Tyler Blanton, & Sara McDonald

August 29, 2014

Tiny Reviews edition!

Featuring:  Oscar Penas Music of Departures and Returns, Tyler Blanton Gotham, and Sara McDonald A Very Tiny Big Band Album.



Oscar Penas – Music of Departures and Returns

Oscar Penas - "Music of Departures and Returns"Lovely Latin jazz session from guitarist Oscar Penas, who delivers a series of flowing melodies atop a pleasant murmur of percussion.  Violinist Sara Caswell balances nicely with the electric sound of Penas’ and Moto Fukushima’s guitar and bass.  Even when Penas turns up the heat on “Etude No.1,” the song never gets too heavy.  Various guests sit in, with the greatest benefits provided by additional percussion to help round out drummer Richie Barshay’s contribution, but Paquito D’Rivera on clarinet and Gil Goldstein on accordion are sure nice, too.

A few tracks have Penas in a trio formation with just bass and drums, whereas the other tracks bring in violin, electric bass, clarinet, accordion, and a nifty guest vocal spot by Esperanza Spalding.  The two faces of this album complement one other to perfection, each enhancing the other by leaving openings just waiting to be filled with their respective sounds.

Music of Departures and Returns is a beautiful album that just seems to keep getting prettier with the passing of time.

Your album personnel:  Oscar Penas (guitars), Sara Caswell (violin); Moto Fukushima (6-string electric bass); Richie Barshay (drums, cajon), Edward Perez (bass), Rogerio Boccato (drums, percussion), Paquito D’Rivera (clarinet), Gil Goldstein (accordion), and Esperanza Spalding (vocals).

The album is Self-Produced, released on Penas’ Musikoz label.

Available at:  eMusic | CDBaby | Amazon CD | Amazon MP3



Tyler Blanton – Gotham

Tyler Blanton - "Gotham"A crack line-up on this exciting quartet session led by vibraphonist Tyler Blanton.  Mostly up-tempo tunes that move at a brisk pace, but no matter what speed attained, the songs maintain a diverting conversational tone.  Compositions that peck at the lines that separate modern jazz from indie-rock, giving the songs a nice edge to balance with the warm geniality of vibes.

The relentless drive of “Never Sleeps” transitions nicely into saxophonist Donny McCaslin’s slow unwind of melody, which, in turn, makes a nice transition of its own into the brooding title-track “Gotham.”  Nate Woods is the perfect fit for this project, as he continues to display his talent at leaving his mark on up-tempo, rhythmically driven albums.  The pulsing “Cogs” and the slick “Tunnels” continues to toy with tempo, treating time like an icy surface to glide across the length of the album.  The album ends nicely with the slow build of “Breaking Through the Clouds,” providing each musician the opportunity to stretch their legs.

Gotham is one of those albums with a personality easy to take to.

Your album personnel:  Tyler Blanton (vibes, malletkat), Donny McCaslin (tenor sax), Matt Clohesy (acoustic & electric basses), and Nate Wood (drums).

The album is Self-Produced, released on Blanton’s Ottimo Music label.

Available at:  CDBaby | Amazon CD | Amazon MP3



Sara McDonald – A Very Tiny Big Band Album

Sara McDonald - "A Very Tiny Big Band Album"Charming debut from vocalist Sara McDonald.  There’s a refreshing simplicity to it all.  McDonald’s voice gets out front and rides the melody from first note to last.  The big band sends out one wave of harmony after the other to where it’s impossible to tell where one surge ends and the next begins.  This is jazz big band as comfort food.  It’s also how “Dead the Trees” and “Plans” open A Very Tiny Big Band Album.

However, “Isobel” has a burst of intensity where the ensemble breaks formation, letting emotional gusto win out over structure.  It’s a nice bit of deviation.  McDonald gets a little indie-pop action going with a cover of Grizzly Bear’s “Southern Point.”  The album closes with “Sand Castles,” which returns the album to its opening voice, though it does take the liberty of going out with a bang for the big finale.

An enjoyable recording that’s got some charm and panache.

Your album personnel:  Sara McDonald (vocals), Johannes Schneider, Matthias Lindermayer, Vincent Eberle, Thomas Rath (flugelhorns), Daniel Smith, Karl Muskini, Lukas Bannte, Felix Schluter (trombones), Bernhard Adam, Franziska Glas, Gabriel Keeser, Sebatian Wehle, Florian Leuschner (saxophones), Martin Seiler, Franziska Glas (flutes, clarinets), Lukas Voith (piano), Martin Wessalowski (guitar), Yvo Fischer (bass), and Stephan Treutter (drums).

The album is Self-Produced.

Available at:  Bandcamp



The Tyler Blanton & Sara McDonald tiny reviews are original to Bird is the Worm, but some of the Oscar Penas tiny review was used originally in the weekly new jazz releases column I write for eMusic (via Wondering Sound), so here’s some language protecting their rights to that bit of 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.

Bob Stewart – “Connections: Mind the Gap”

August 28, 2014


Bob Stewart - "Connections- Mind the Gap"More often than not, it’s the visionaries of jazz that are likely to incorporate the non-traditional instruments into their sonic lexicon.  Bob Stewart plays the tuba.  And while it’s not uncommon to see the tuba as part of the lower register section of a jazz orchestra, there’s going to be a certain number of forward-thinkers and avant-garde statesmen who will view instruments like the tuba in a different frame of reference.  It’s why, in addition to more straight-ahead projects by artists like Wynton Marsalis and Nicholas Payton, Stewart and his tuba have been enlisted to work with a number of artists whose work situates itself out on the fringes… musicians like Muhal Richard Abrams, Don Cherry, Charlie Haden, Lester Bowie, David Murray, Arthur Blythe, Bill Frisell and Charles Mingus.  It’s those last three names that have a particular relevance to Bob Stewart’s new release, Connections: Mind the Gap.

Back in 1992, music producer Hal Willner spearheaded a tribute album to the late great Charles Mingus, bringing together a wide cross-section of different musicians from different genres (of which guitarist Bill Frisell was a key component) to reinterpret Mingus’s music.  Bob Stewart, who had performed with and recorded for Mingus, was a part of that recording, entitled Weird Nightmare: Meditations on Mingus.  Its mix of jazz, avant-garde, folk, rock, classical, pop and spoken word created an intoxicating blend of music that sounded a bit like each of those genres, but in its totality sounded like something completely different, entirely new.

Over twenty years later, and Stewart’s Connections: Mind the Gap has created an album that utilizes a similar recipe while devising a meal that, in and of itself, is no less mesmerizing and inimitably singular.  The music is a thick fog of influences, creating a wall of impenetrability out of something that shifts focus from one passage to the next.  Tracks like “Simone,” “Bush Baby” and “Odessa” express themselves with an odd tunefulness, behaving like a sonic Rube Goldberg contraption where disparate moving parts incomprehensibly function in concert to guide the song from first note to last.

The latter two of those three tracks are Arthur Blythe compositions.  The history between Stewart and Blythe goes back over thirty years to the NYC loft scene, and has included some excellent sax-tuba-percussion trio sessions, as well as larger unit works, both serving to expand the horizon line of jazz and the role of tuba in it.  The fact that Stewart is able to breathe life into these pieces in a modern setting and with a new vision says a lot about the staying power of the original music as well as Stewart’s ability to show new facets of that vision with the changing of time.

Also front and center on Connections is the five-part suite “In Color,” dispersed throughout the recording, and featuring Stewart’s tuba interacting with the swirling harmonies of the string quartet, PUBLIQuartet, of which his son Curtis is a founding member (as well as a member of Stewart’s working unit, First Line Band).

The rendition of Mingus’s “Jump Monk” comes out swinging and allows the traditional elements to rise to the surface.  This is also the case with three other renditions.  One is of Henry Thomas’s “Fishin’ Blues,” which has guitarist Jerome Harris taking a turn at vocals on a blues track with a lazy afternoon charm.  Another is an inspired rendition of “Monk’s Mood,” with its boozy disposition and a melody viewed through a haze and rhythms staggering with an impossible fluidity.  And then there’s Astor Piazzolla’s “Libertango,” with its bursts of propulsion and unqualified grace, adding a nice dose of differentiation to the album while remaining part of its confluence.

Just a brilliant album, serving up something quite different without turning its back on all that has come before.  It’s a testament to the diversity of projects that Stewart has been a part of and his ability to transcend conventions imposed upon his instrument.

Your album personnel:  Bob Stewart (tuba), Matt Wilson (drums), Jerome Harris (guitar, vocals), Randall Haywood (trumpet), Nick Finzer (trombone), and the PUBLIQuartet: Curtis Stewart (violin), Jannina Norpoth (violin). Nick Revel (viola), and Amanda Goekin (cello).

Released on Sunnyside Records.

Jazz from NYC.

Available at:  eMusic | Bandcamp | Amazon CD | Amazon MP3