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


My eMusic Jazz Picks are up at Wondering Sound

August 27, 2014


As most of you are aware, I have been writing a weekly column for that gives a rundown of the best of the new Jazz releases each week (my Jazz Picks).  Well, eMusic has spun off their editorial function to a completely separate site, called Wondering Sound.  It’s still an eMusic thing, but my Jazz Picks will now be posted over on the Wondering Sound site.

So don’t freak out when the link takes you to an unfamiliar site.  I’ll be reprinting this introduction for the next handful of weeks, just so that everyone becomes familiar with the changes.

Now, that said, my new recommendations have just been posted up on the Wondering Music site HERE.

Notable albums from this week’s article are:

Jerome Sabbagh - "The Turn" Gonzalo Levin Octeto - "Gonzalo Levin Octeto"Stefano Bollani - "Joy in Spite of Everything" The Bad Plus - "Inevitable Western"





… and a handful of other solid options.  I think there were 15 recommendations in total this week.


Baldych & Herman – “The New Tradition”

August 26, 2014


Adam Baldych & Yaron Herman - "The New Tradition"The current release in the ACT Music Duo Art Series pairs up violinist Adam Baldych and pianist Yaron Herman.  Both are fresh off previous recordings on the same label (Baldych with Imaginary Room and Herman with Alter Ego) in which they each displayed an impressive virtuosity and a talent for evoking dramatic intensity.  Both of those recordings had the musicians in larger ensembles.  The New Tradition puts them in the intimate setting of a duo collaboration.

There is a strong folk music presence at work here, but it’s vaguely expressed… a sort of homogenized mix of influences that allows the artists to move in directions without boundaries, while simultaneously keeping the spotlight on the quality of their musicianship.  It’s not a far stretch to compare this style of music to that of the quartet Oregon… musicians who as much as anybody were influential in coining the term World Jazz.  Furthermore, The New Tradition hits upon a similarly exquisite serenity typical of an Oregon release… tranquil, yet active in just the right ways and often to great effect.

“Riverendings” comes right out of the gate with that strong folk presence.  It’s a song that announces that tranquility and dramatic surges will be the order of the day.  It’s a proclamation that holds true through the entirety of the recording.

“Legenda” and “Letter for E.” display the Baldych device of the grand theater, of unabashed dramatics.  Herman shows on these tracks that he is able to take the baton from a huge Baldych solo and apply some elegance to the song without breaking the continuity.  And it’s a pleasant development that Herman takes on that role, as he has proven himself just as capable at firing off the big notes for the dramatic builds.

But it’s not all about Big Sound.  On “June,” Baldych shows he’s more than just melodic bombast when he sticks to pizzicato for the duration of the song, the sound of his violin’s pinched strings weaving seamlessly into the melodic lines of Herman’s piano.  Their rendition of Krzysztof Komeda‘s “Sleep Safe and Warm” possesses all the distant warmth and latent spookiness that made it so successful in the soundtrack to Rosemary’s Baby.

Both heartbreaking and lovely, “Lamentation of Jeremiah” challenges from both ends of the emotional spectrum.  “Relativities” lays it on even thicker, upping the dose on both qualities.  “Canticles of Ecstasy” goes for elegance and doesn’t let go once the duo has it in its embrace.

Swinging in the opposite direction, Baldych and Herman unleash on “Quo Vadis,” exploding with intensity and balancing things out after a series of tunes situated at the peaceful end of the spectrum.

An enjoyable recording, good for both quiet moments and active ones, and a great opportunity to hear a conversation between two talented musicians emerging as forces on their respective instruments.

Your album personnel:  Adam Baldych (violin) and Yaron Herman (piano).

Released on ACT Music.

Available at:  eMusic | Amazon CD | Amazon MP3


Adam Baldych - "Imaginary Room"Here’s a review of Baldych’s previous release, Imaginary Room , which I still get back to from time to time.  Jacob Karlzon is the pianist for that session, which is a nice treat.  –> LINK

Yaron Herman - "Alter Ego"I’m very surprised to discover that I never reviewed Herman’s Alter Ego.  I was sure that I had.  It makes me suspicious that I have a first draft out there somewhere that I never wrapped up and published.  While I look into that, here’s where I made his album one of my eMusic Jazz Picks –> LINK


Get the Blessing – “Lope and Antilope”

August 25, 2014


Get the Blessing - "Lope & Antilope"There is a palpable shock felt at that moment when an artist’s sound reveals an evolution from what has come before.  All of those hints and possibilities and brief experiments suddenly coalescing into a brand new cohesive voice, a completely different type of expressionism, yet one that can be traced back to the origins earlier of albums.  UK quartet Get the Blessing just did that with their 2014 release Lope and Antilope.

Their 2008 debut All Is Yes held plenty of promise.  There was a looseness to this music of tight grooves, a casual sort of sonic happenstance applied to danceable tunes.  But the quartet shed a lot of that casual ease as they dug in deeper on the grooves with 2009′s Bugs In Amber and 2012′s OC DC.  The former painted with broad strokes, building enthusiasm one big note after the other, and working tempo like an angry driver would a gas pedal during rush hour traffic.  There were moments reminiscent of their debut, like the alluring “Tarp,” but this was music brash and bold.  The latter album attained a tunefulness as it developed its grooves, and that led to more structure to the songs, giving them a precision that contrasted with the appealing looseness of their debut.  The group was trying out new things while building onto old.

Lope and Antilope is an album of songs.  There is a structure built into everything, even during those moments when the group delivers melodic passages with an off-the-cuff sincerity that cuts to the bone.  Songs like “Quiet” and “Hope (For the Moment)” with their serpentine melodies, a round-about way of charging straight-ahead.  Bass resonant and direct, a compass.  Sax and trumpet sigh peaceably.  Electronic effects squeak and drip and fall like rain over the drum’s insistent tempo.  This music’s electric personality speaks to it being fully improvised, created over the course of four days of recording, an immutable sense of being In The Moment no matter what post-production and studio manipulation may have been applied after the fact… that quality of organic inspiration, created from the ground up.

Rock band Morphine inched up close to the border between indie and jazz.  The bass-sax-drums trio brought a rhythmic element to their indie-rock swagger that hinted that they were only one final leap from crossing over that border.  Get the Blessing sounds to have approached that same spot, but situated themselves on the opposite side of the line.  There are both rhythmic and melodic elements to this music that will appeal to listeners who spend more time reading Pitchfork than Downbeat, even as heart of the music beats one of the many possible futures ahead for the modern jazz scene.  There is something simultaneously Today and forward-thinking about this music.  It’s not a fusion or blend of genres; it’s simply a concrete, new perspective on how Jazz can be expressed.

Get the Blessing

Get the Blessing

The blaring notes, held long and steady, on “Little Ease” and “Viking Death Moped” mine similar territory to that of Morphine’s saxophonist, Dana Colley, but the trumpet and sax of Pete Judge and Jake McMurchie develop things far outside the tidy bundle of song that Morphine typically crafted.  And “Hope (For the Moment),” with its mechanical buzz and hum and its spirited saxophone dance, behaves with a crooner’s confidence… the kind of articulation that Morphine’s Mark Sandman would have appreciated.  But it’s the pulsing tempo, as trumpet and sax twirl and tiptoe across its surface, that keep things tethered to the modern UK jazz scene.

That rhythm section of bassist Jim Barr and drummer Clive Deamer have pop music ties of their own, having been a part of the cast of ambient-trip hop act Portishead.  That group’s peculiar blend of implied serenity and bursts of activity influenced more than a few artists who followed in their footsteps.  It’s also in play on Lope and Antilope.

“Corniche” scoots right along, rhythms in bunches, while trumpet solos over the top with long lengths, contrasting cadences while still connecting the dots.  “Trope” charts a similar course, but now it’s sax outpacing the rhythm section.  There’s a kinetic energy built up from the core of these tunes that behave as a separate life within the context of the song, as if the rhythm section has achieved a sonic form of quantum physics where their contributions exist in two states of rhythmic positioning… doing their own thing while also creating something else that fits the ensemble goals to a tee.  The melodic squiggles on “Antilope” lead to several nifty sections where soloists give the impression of taking the song in a new direction just to have the ensemble surge up and envelop the soloist in the cadence, and as one, ontinue on together.

Some songs behave more as interludes.  The hazy “Luposcope” and the formidable “Viking Death Moped” sit at opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of intensity and loudness, but behave in much the same way as guides between songs, escorting the listener from the disconnected conclusion to one song and the beginning of the next.

The album closes with “Numbers,” a song that sounds like the reflection of opening track “Quiet” on the surface of a choppy sea.  Electronics and effects run it through while melodic strains provide a lit path marking the direction of the song to the album’s finish line.  It’s an inspired conclusion to an inspired album.

One of the best things released all year.

Your album personnel: Jake McMurchie (tenor & baritone saxes, effects), Pete Judge (trumpet, flugelhorn , piano , looping and effects), Jim Barr (bass, electric bass, bass V1, effects), Clive Deamer (drums, tambourine), and guest: Adrian Utley (guitar).

Released on the Naim Label.

Jazz from the UK.

Available at:  eMusic | Amazon: CDMP3Vinyl

Or purchase the music directly from Naim Label.


Get The Blessing – “Corniche”

August 24, 2014


Today’s featured video is by Get The Blessing and the song “Corniche” from their excellent 2014 release Lope and Antilope.

A review of that album will be posting on Bird is the Worm tomorrow morning, so here’s a taste of what you’ll hear.

Get the Blessing has put out a couple really cool, old-school music videos.  Definitely worth checking them all out.  This one was directed by Sam Wisternoff for Ill Spectre Productions.


Have a great Sunday!