Colin Vallon – “Rruga”

April 30, 2012

My review of Colin Vallon‘s Rruga has been pubbed over at Music is Good.  After the lead-in paragraph, you can follow the link to read the read of the article at MiG.


The ECM catalog is filled with piano trio albums of austerity and minimalism.  For a piano trio to approach an album with a Doing More With Less minimalism is a daring venture, because the high risk is a drowsy album that ends up sounding flimsy and thin or, worse perhaps, lounge music for the late night dinner set.  It’s not an easy thing to do, the peaceful piano trio recording.

The choice of notes has to be impeccable, since there ain’t gonna be as many to offer the listener.  Honor has to be paid to the silence, and used as effectively as the sound made from the black and whites.  Bass and drums have to be more than just tools of accompaniment, but in the framework of the quiet piano trio, they need to be sure to only use their Inside Voices.  And then there’s the compositions themselves… (read the rest of the article, HERE, at Music is Good).

Your album personnel:  Colin Vallon (piano), Patrice Moret (double bass), and Samuel Rohrer (drums).

Released on the ECM Records label in 2011, and one of the year’s best.

Jazz from the Bern, Switzerland scene.

Recommended: Lynne Arriale – “Solo”

April 30, 2012


Following up on her strong quartet album Convergence, pianist Lynne Arriale returns with a solo recording—a risky venture for any artist.  In an ensemble setting, a musician has collaborators with whom to work and exchange ideas before the record button is punched, and more importantly, while the session is on the move.  In ensemble play, a musician’s unformed ideas or sound can be made whole by the other musicians in the ensemble; this is a big reason why group improvisation is such a glorious thing in jazz, that the whole is greater than the sum of its individual parts.  Everyone brings something to the moment and it all fits together.  However, in a solo project, the musician is completely alone, his/her artistry naked.  There is no one to talk to but the listeners themselves. Solo albums are revealing moments, and it is because of that that, when they succeed, they elicit such an emotionally profound reaction.

Which brings us to Arriale’s Solo.

Your album personnel:  Lynne Arriale (piano).

The opening notes of Solo are symbolic in the ways that count most. “La Noche” begins with discordant notes in descent, a sense of dramatically falling down a flight of stairs.  Arriale, however, never loses her balance, never hits ground. Instead, she exudes a grace and control that epitomizes her sound throughout.  Can one even fall if they breathe elegance with each step and note?  Is it falling or simply flight?  Arriale gives no insight into these questions, but provides the thrilling sensation of both.

Much like a brief glimpse, the subtlest touch can convey substantive and heavy emotions, as does Arriale with her expressions on piano.  Solo is never fussy, never overbearing.  On “Dove,” a tune of sublime beauty, Arriale gets everything it is possible to get out of each note without meticulously wringing them dry or ponderously studying them from every angle.  Arriale has attained such a level of mastery in her approach that all she requires is a brief moment of polish before she moves on.  It would be easy to describe it as effortless, but accuracy would be better honored by supposing that hard work and deliberation has resulted in a near subconscious fluidity of motion and thought.  Said differently, Arriale knows what notes she’s looking for and can find them right quick.

Solo is a mix of originals and covers.  Two of the selections come from Thelonious Monk.  On “Evidence,” Arriale presents the composition as she sees it, no more, no less.  While she passes on attempting a groundbreaking turn on Monk’s version, she also avoids doing a by-the-numbers rendition.  As such, like the other selections, the tune settles naturally into the flow of the album.  The album flow, from first note to last, remains undisturbed, with Arriale alone at the center of it all.

It’s all about the elegance.

Released on the Motema Records label.

Jazz from NYC.

Download a free album track at AllAboutJazz, courtesy of the artist and label.

Available at eMusic.  Available at Amazon: CD | MP3


My review of Lynne Arriale’s Solo was originally published at AllAboutJazz)

Bird is the Worm gets a shout-out on NPR’s A Blog Supreme (thanks, Patrick)

April 29, 2012


As the title says, I got a mention on NPR’s A Blog Supreme, in their weekly Around the Jazz Internet column.  You can read the article HERE.

I’m flattered by the shout-out because it’s always nice to know that people are reading my site and finding something to like here, but also because A Blog Supreme is a site that I personally enjoy reading, and it’s a nifty feeling when the reader learns that he is also a readee, too.  (And, yes, I’m leaving the word “readee” in place, even though my site’s spell checker and grammar adviser screamed in pain after I typed it.)

A Blog Supreme is run by Patrick Jarenwattananon.  I don’t know him personally, but based on the quality of content on A Blog Supreme, from my outside perspective, he seems like one of the people helping to make Jazz a better place.  Thanks, Patrick.

Here’s a link to NPR’s A Blog Supreme.

A few notes on other items in that article:


For the record, I voted for the Takin’ Off version of “Watermelon Man” in Patrick’s Herbie Hancock twitter poll.

Aside from simply preferring the Takin’ Off version. that album is all wrapped up in nostalgia for me.  It’s not my favorite Hancock album, but it is probably the one I have the strongest memories of.

I was well into my discovery of everything jazz.  I was at the stage where I was adept at discovering new jazz through some of the standard avenues that most jazz fans become accustomed to… branching out by sideman, other artists on the same label from the same decade, etc etc etc.  I, also, was getting pretty good at making educated guesses at what I might and might not like, but still wide-eyed to the point where there really was no such thing as a bad album choice.  I was almost exclusively listening to jazz from the fifties and sixties at this point, though occasionally take a hit on new releases; Bill Frisell, certainly, Henry Threadgill, too.  Javon Jackson, Omer Avital, Donald Harrison, Joshua Redman, Wayne Horvitz, some ECM titles here and there, to name a few.  But mostly I was crunching through anything that was on Blue Note, Prestige, Riverside, Impulse, ESP, Columbia, Steeplechase, old-school ECM, Muse and Joel Dorn’s wonderful 32 Jazz re-issues of the Muse label, and so on and on.

I was living in Denver, up on Capitol Hill, and within walking distance of all types of great music stores.  My favorite of the group was Jerry’s Record Exchange, over on Colfax.  I could go on all day about that place, but I’ll save it for a future post.  Also within a short walk was Wax Trax, which back in the 90s, took up almost half the block of 13th, between Washington and Pearl.  Wax Trax had their main store right on the corner of 13th & Washington, then also had a used store next door, and a vinyl only store right across the street.  I want to say that they also occupied another storefront along that stretch, perhaps a Jazz & Blues only store, but the memory is a bit hazy.

So one day, I’m out walking around my Capitol Hill neighborhood, just enjoying a beautiful autumn day and basking in the joy of living in a city where mountain ranges loomed over the horizon and the future was as wide as the Big Sky above me.  Naturally, I said to myself, “Let’s go buy a new cd!”  So I walked into Wax Trax and began flipping through the racks.  I wasn’t there long.  I was browsing through the Herbie Hancock section when I saw the cd of Takin’ Off.

Aside from the strong visual appeal of yet another classic Blue Note album cover, I immediately noticed Dexter Gordon‘s name appearing as a sideman.  Gordon was a huge favorite of mine then (and still is, actually).  I was completely hooked on Gordon’s One Flight Up, and probably owned another ten albums of his at that point, most of them as the session leader.  So, one, I was intrigued to hear him in a sideman role, but waaaay more intrigued by hearing how Gordon and Hancock meshed.

I mean, right there in front of me, an opportunity to hear Dexter Gordon and Herbie Hancock, two of my favorite jazz musicians (and two of the first jazz musicians I ever heard, but that’s a story for another post), and it;s album that has been waiting for me to hear it for nearly thirty years.  I grabbed that cd up, paid for it, and walked home, feeling even happier than I felt before entering the store.

It was one of those rare and wonderful days when nothing particularly momentous occurred to time stamp the day as special, but was simply filled with small observations and tiny events that were individually relatively insignificant, but their sum total was a reminder of how massively joyful life can be… the sun lighting up the Rocky Mountains, the color of autumn leaves blanketing the neighborhood, a quick stop into a favorite bar for a quick shot and word with the friendly bartender, an exchange of waves with familiar faces from the neighborhood, the act of walking into a music store on a whim and finding a gem of an album… everything.  It was one of those days where the day could do no wrong.

And it didn’t.  Takin’ Off was a blast to hear.  I ended my afternoon sitting in my 4th floor apartment, listening to the album as I read the liner notes and looked over the session photos, my windows an unobstructed view of the Rocky Mountains and the downtown Denver skyline.


And regarding that Brian McKnight – Duke Ellington Orchestra thing… that was real?!  I thought that was just a running joke you and Nate Chinen and Jason Crane had going on Twitter.  Guh.


Josh Maxey – “The Language of Sound and Spirit”

April 28, 2012

My review of Josh Maxey‘s The Language of Sound and Spirit was originally published at AllAboutJazz.  You can read the original article HERE, at AllAboutJazz).


Sometimes it’s all about setting the tone.

If done right, if the musician finds a way to indelibly stamp the album’s vision in those brief opening moments, no matter what comes after, those notes are imprinted on the listener’s ears.  And if the music varies from opening note to last, the juxtaposition of the memory of the introductory sound and that which follows, potentially creates a complex sonic palate that makes for the most fascinating music.

Guitarist Josh Maxey does just that.  If trumpeter Miles Davis’ title-track to In a Silent Way conjures up images of a lighthouse looking out over a serene harbor on a cloudy day, then Josh Maxey’s opening track to The Language of Sound and Spirit is the boat drifting in slowly on languid ocean waves and aimed for the pier.  And though the album gets rockier and fiercer as it proceeds, it never shakes that initial sensation of blissful peace.

Your album personnel: Josh Maxey (guitar), Brian Charette (organ), Chase Baird (saxophones), Jeremy Noller (drums), and guests: Michael Cioffero (acoustic guitar, singing bowls), David Nicholson (acoustic guitar, singing bowls), Jessica Martinez Maxey (flute), and David Parnell (vocals).

The opener is simply titled “Part I.” Maxey’s guitar bends notes, twists them like misshapen glass until they sparkle and glow and warp light all over the place.  Jeremy Noller delicately crashes cymbals across the surface, his bass drum a thumping undercurrent.  Chase Baird calls out plaintively on sax, the caw of seagulls over the open water, while Brian Charette’s organ eerily encircles the entire crew. It’s life on open water.

There’s a brief interlude of sax on the loose and drums gone wild.

And that’s when the album starts to swing.

Tracks “Part II” and “Part III” keep an oft repeated phrase on sax in their pocket as the band grooves along.  Maxey and band keep a light step through it all, and their path is untroubled.  It’s not so much that this music sounds well-rehearsed as it does that the musicians’ vision of what the music should be is so clear that they can’t help but hit the right notes.  This, ultimately, provides a seamless presentation of the compositions with all the glorious joy of group improvisation.

“Part IV” is a stunning track.  Rustic, with an easy sway and churn.  It’s a blues, but as viewed in the reflection of disturbed water. Maxey’s electric guitar takes an inquisitive approach to notes, but when it finds one it likes, he sets it on fire.  Michael Cioffero sidekicks on acoustic guitar, adding a rhythmic ingredient that imbues the song with a Big Sky expansiveness that’s as startling as it is exemplary. Baird moves in with sax, and solos over the top, and Charette also, in turn, launches into a solo of his own, but it’s when he and Baird shadowbox that they truly shine here. Throughout it all, Noller’s drums fill in every crevice, his cymbals like glue between the notes, and maintains the tune’s breezy swing.

The album ends with “Rehearsal,” a return to the sound of those opening moments. A little more dissonant this time around, a bit choppier, but no less resonant. That it fades out, slowly, distantly, is not only apropo, but thematically satisfying.

Josh Maxey is on a quest to compose and record six albums in one year’s time. This album counts as number three in that effort. It’s a remarkable statement that he can bring about creativity this inspired on the fly, and in the slim time frame he’s afforded himself.

The album is Self-Produced.

Jazz from NYC.

You can stream the entire album on Maxey’s bandcamp page.  You can also purchase it there.  And remember, bandcamp allow you to download files in many formats, including lossless, at no extra charge.

Download a free album track at AllAboutJazz, courtesy of the artist.

Available at eMusic.  Available at Amazon: MP3

Jazz of the Past and The Art of Time Traveling

April 27, 2012


So, I got some cds in the mail today.  Three, to be exact.  Before I had finished staring at the cover of the second to flip to the third, I was already traveling back in time to the day and place of the recording session.

The thing of it is, I was never there to begin with.  Hell, the recording dates on two of the albums occurred not long after I had gotten sufficiently adept at walking on two feet.  The third cd was recorded before I was born.  But still, just the sight of those album covers took me back.

And that’s one aspect of the power that Music Of The Past has on me.  Staring at album covers and liner note photos of jazz albums recorded back in the fifties and sixties, especially some of those classic Blue Note and Prestige and ESP album covers or the great liner note photos of the Impulse albums, the sense of history is so palpable that I can feel it pulling me back in time, as if I had been there to witness the recording session personally.

The ability to conjure memories and nostalgia for times and places that I never actually experienced… that’s power.

And I have to admit, as focused as I am on the jazz of the present day, it’s an aspect of older jazz albums that I had forgotten about.

We create because we are compelled to.  Creativity is a truly awesome human trait, and the act of expressing all the imagination and unspeakable thoughts and emotions bouncing around inside our heads and hearts and souls through an expression of art, it’s just about the purest acts of humanity we can give substance to.

What is important in creativity is the artistic expression in the present moment, where it’s just the artist(s) and their art… the rest of the universe doesn’t exist.  This act, a distillation of imagination and creativity while existing only in that moment, it makes an imprint in Time.  That imprint is represented by an album or a book or a painting, etc, but there is an emotional and psychological presence to it that is so much more than just the physical product one can hold in their hands.  And it’s so damn palpable.  It’s why I can open the mail, look down at a cd cover from a recording session that occurred forty years ago, and feel myself traveling back to a time and place I’d never been, and feel the itch of memories for events that never happened to me personally.

Now, that is why art is important.  We create these things that are expressions of ourselves which affect others in a variety of profound ways, and which will continue to do so even as they outlive the artists who created them.

And the artists of today?  The jazz artists recording right now as I write this?  If you put your heart into your music, in forty years, in four hundred years, people will still hear the beat of your heart as clearly as they hear the notes from your instrument.  And they just might travel back in time to see it in person.

Anyways, that’s what I felt as I flipped through the above albums.  Just felt like putting it down in type.  I’m pretty sure I’ve had a discussion (or discussions) over on the AllAboutJazz forum with others on this same subject.  It’s not a new experience, this sense of time travel, but its recurrence never lessens its potency.