Recommended: Jean-Michel Pilc – “What Is This Thing Called?”

February 4, 2015


Jean-Michel Pilc - "What Is This Thing Called?"A seriously absorbing solo set from pianist Jean-Michel Pilc, who casts a myriad of reflections off the classic gem, Cole Porter’s “What Is This Thing Called Love?”  More vignettes than songs, most of the album’s 31 tracks don’t go over two minutes in length.  But in those brief moments, Pilc finds a way to say quite a bit.  Impressive without being showy, succinct without being trite, Pilc gets right to the heart of the matter with each piece.  The effect is one of clarity in the moment and a gradually increasing expanse of imagery over the course of the album… tiny snapshots that allow a view of the big picture to slip in along the way.

Cole Porter’s song is the inspiration, tether, jump-off point, binding agent and thematic device.  Pilc deftly ranges both near and far from the original, but he never gets too close and turns the album into some by-the-numbers tribute album, and he never strays so far from the theme to nullify the concept in its entirety.  Pilc changes things up.

The scattering marbles of “Glide” is followed immediately by the Sunday morning solemnity of “Look,” which, in turn, is followed by the glittering downpour of “Cross,” and each sounds as natural flowing one from the other as if they were all poured from the same glass.  None are glaringly obvious homages to the Porter original nor do they completely turn their back on where they’re from.  And speaking of that original, Pilc’s minute-twenty reverie on Porter’s classic tune is endearingly sweet, gently touching upon the melody with the care of a parent brushing hair away from their child’s eyes.

Pilc answers the titular question with the closing track “Now You Know What Love Is,” a song that is reverential, arresting and sometimes a bit whimsical.

Your album personnel:  Jean-Michel Pilc (piano, whistling).

Released on Sunnyside Records.

Jazz from NYC.

Available at:  Bandcamp | Amazon | eMusic


Recommended: Christian Wallumrød – “Pianokammer”

January 28, 2015


Christian Wallumrod - "PIanokammer"After so many projects with massive productions, it’s refreshing to hear a solo piano recording from pianist Christian Wallumrød.  Taking a spin on a number of grand pianos, and utilizing a number of editing and recording techniques, Wallumrød’s 2015 release Pianokammer allows him the space to show the bare elements at the heart of his unconventional music.

The extended drone of opening track “Fahrkunst” possesses a wavering tone, barely above a whisper, whereas “Hoksang” is a deeply melodic reverie, emphasizing the joy of a daydream over its introspective quality.

“Second Fahrkunst” returns to the opening’s drone, but pelts it with raindrops of notes, falling with an infrequency and unpredictable pattern that thwarts the possibility of the drone lulling the listener to sleep.

“School of Ecofisk” begins as merely a murmur, then breaks into a rapid chatter of notes, an expression where dissonance reveals the soft beauty within.

The easy-going “Boyd 1970” reflects the gospel elements that Wallumrød brings to his various projects.  He gives this tune a sunny disposition, whereas on the album finale, “Lassome,” the church music exhibits a bigger, effusive presence.  Where “Boyd 1970” was a kick back and enjoy track, “Lassome” is more a call to action.  It fades out to the wavering drone of the opening track, coming full circle by concluding on the same note that set the whole album into motion.

It’s a fascinating look into the quaint eccentricities that inform so much of Wallumrød’s grand productions.

Your album personnel:  Christian Wallumrød (piano, effects).

Released (Feb. 9, 2015) on Hubro Music.

Jazz from Norway.

Beautiful cover art by Morten Spaberg.

Available at: Amazon CD/MP3/Vinyl


Myra Melford – “Life Carries Me This Way”

November 18, 2013


Myra Melford - "Life Carries Me This Way"Regardless of the project, pianist Myra Melford has always possessed a conversational style.  As a member of Trio M, her bursts of keyboard chatter fit seamlessly with the drums and bass of Matt Wilson and Mark Dresser… two artists who also thrive in creating fluid motion from the raw material of crisp statements expressed in bursts of energy.  This style also has suited her well in collaboration with clarinetist Ben Goldberg, both in live performance and also as part of her Be Bread ensemble (which also includes Matt Wilson)… Goldberg’s stylistic expressions match well with Melford’s quirkiness, and the odd melodic beauty they shape with rhythmic patterns that scurry and scrape across the landscape of a tune are terrifically engaging in that way improvised dialog can shatter expectations and inspire new ones.

And it’s especially important not to overlook her Trio and Extended Ensemble recordings for hatOLOGY, in which punches are thrown in bunches, the blues coexists peacefully with avant-garde expressionism, and stormy rhythmic fronts occasionally part clouds to make room for exquisite melodies to slip through.  And at the other end of the spectrum, Melford’s duo recording with fellow-pianist Sakoko Fujii found gentle ways to create environments of chaotic discourse.

And these are just some of the highlights of a performing career that has contributed to projects that typically develop out of sight of the main thoroughfare and which possess an impressive array of original works.  It’s why it’s so hard to believe that this is truly Melford’s first solo effort.

On Life Carries Me This Way, Melford pays tribute to her friend, artist Don Reich, who passed away in 2010, and whose work is the inspiration for the album’s songs.  The personal nature of her connection to the source of the music’s inspiration, the association with existing creative works in the form of paintings, and the intrinsic challenges faced by any musician in a solo setting have resulted in a recording as beautiful as Melford must have intended it to be, and insightful to the listener to hear a facet of Melford’s music that hasn’t often come to light when she has other musicians in the room to converse with.

Your album personnel:  Myra Melford (piano).

On Life Carries Me This Way, Melford doesn’t state the melodies so much as slowly exhale them, like plumes of smoke that mask their final shape until fully revealed.  Though that’s not to say that Melford’s deft use of her instrument’s percussive qualities is abandoned.  On “Park Mechanics,” Melford opens with a demeanor akin to the sunnier side of town, but grows increasingly agitated with flurries of notes.  Not unlike many of her contributions to other projects, the melody is to be discovered in fractured glimpses seen between rhythmic lines.  And on “Piano Music,” her quirky expressiveness assumes a fluid motion that behaves as a story told with an indescribable chronological order.

However, the heart of the album shows itself on melancholy tracks like “Red Beach” and “Red Land (for Don Reich).”  Melford whispers the melody as if from across the room… bits and pieces are captured by the ear, and imagination fills in the rest.  “Japanese Music” is offered up as missives, glittering, as tiny sparks of emotion, whereas “Curtain” is equally obtuse, yet exists at the opposite end of the spectrum, delivered in a deluge of notes in which a little bit of the melody is everywhere all at once.  And then there is the quietly musing “Moonless Night,” which unfolds with an old soul patience.

Intriguingly, there are a couple tracks that adopt these two characteristics, yet end up sounding derived from neither.  The quirky inclinations and declinations of “Attic Music” behave like a melody skipping across a landscape of rolling hills, and “Sagrada Familia” tumbles in tight circles, concerned with form through slight differentiations in the folds.

In many ways, the music of this album comes closest to resembling Melford’s duo collaboration with reedist Marty Ehrlich, an artist who very much fits in stylistically with aforementioned artists like Ben Goldberg and Matt Wilson, and who has a proven talent for eliciting the melodic sensibilities of those he collaborates with.  A recording like Spark shares many of the qualities mentioned thus far, with its comforting tone even when expressing discomfited ideas, and its easy comportment when faced with plenty of space to fill and the immediate understanding of just the right amount of sound to enhance it.

The album ends with “Still Life,” perhaps the most song-like of all the album tracks.  Aside from the allure of its elegance and abounding warmth, the presence of its easily traceable shape provides a sublime palpable finality to an album of strong undercurrents, sensed, but often indirectly.

A beautiful recording.

Released on the Firehouse 12 Records.

Jazz from the Berkeley, California scene.

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

The CD version includes photos of Reich originals.

Tiny Reviews: Drye & Drye, Busk, Cirrus, Ale Moller & Bohuslan Big Band, and Bill Carrothers

October 20, 2013

Tiny Reviews edition!

Featured album:  Drye & Drye Open Letter.

Plus:  Busk Nur Eins, Cirrus Meli Melo, Ale Möller & Bohuslan Big Band PegasusBill Carrothers Love and Longing.



Drye & Drye – Open Letter

Drye and Drye - "Open Letter"An enjoyable bop session from the father-son team of Howard and Brian Drye, who each bring an equal share of compositions to the table… all original, and all themed around the influences in their lives, both musical and personal.  Tunes possess a driving force, a definitive linearity, regardless of whether they’re speeding right along or taking a casual stroll through the countryside.  While this is a straight-ahead jazz recording, some tracks, like “Blues for Jimmy” are straight out of the past, whereas a track like “Ossification” has a tone that’s clearly modern, yet never endangers the album’s cohesion.  Strongest moments are when melodies spring from the heart of lovely harmonic development.

Your album personnel:  Howard Drye (baritone sax), Brian Drye (trombone), Jeff Hermanson (trumpet, flugelhorn), Mike McGinnis (clarinet, alto & soprano saxes), Dan Fabricatore (bass), and Vinnie Sperrazza (drums).

Released on NCM East.

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


Other Albums of Note: 


Busk – Nur Eins

Busk - "Nur Eins"Trio of Anders Filipsen on piano, Thomas Rehling on bass, and Lasse Ehn on drums.  Released on the ILK Music label, and this is exactly the kind of piano trio session one would expect them to release… an uneasy serenity, strategic utilization of silences, and moments of spontaneous acerbity.  Sunday morning music for the avant-garde fan.

Released on ILK Music.  Available at:  eMusic | Amazon CD | Amazon MP3


Cirrus – Meli Melo

Cirrus - "Meli Melo"Cirrus is the quartet of Eva Haugen (vocals), Inge Breistein (saxophone), Stein Inge Brækhus (drums), and Theodor Onarheim (bass).  Quiet tunes for quiet rooms.  Out of Norway, so there’s gonna be some expectation of serenity, but this album has got some bite to it from time to time… but it’ll get its teeth into you very calmly.  An album with some personality.  Neat stuff.

Released on Norcd.  Available at:  eMusic | Amazon MP3


Ale Möller & Bohuslan Big Band – Pegasus

Ale Moller - "Pegasus"Multi-instrumentalist Ale Möller and the Bohuslän Big Band straddle the dividing lines between big band jazz and European folk and throw in little electronic eccentricities here and there.  Music that’s more often to stretch out for a sweeping grandeur, even when the moments are quiet and reserved.  Music that will keep a listener’s interest, either via its beauty or its differentiation from conventional big band albums.  Plenty of nice sections, but especially those contributions of trombonist Karin Hammar.

Released on Prophone Records.  Available at:  eMusic | Amazon MP3


Bill Carrothers – Love and Longing

Bill Carrothers - "Love and Longing"Bill Carrothers has a quiet energy on piano, one which often expresses itself like a firefly… a tiny light that can be seen from far away, enchanting in the way it dances through the air.  On his newest, Carrothers presents a set of solo tunes, including a few where he adds vocals (with some dramatic effect at times, not unlike the evocative effect of a Tom Waits love song).  It’s a nice laid-back affair, an informality that increases the intimacy of the recording.  For an alternate facet of Carrothers’ music, try his trio recording To the Moon, reviewed on Bird is the Worm.  Also, there’s a nice interview of Carrothers on NPR’s A Blog Supreme.

Released on La Buissonne.  Available at:  eMusic | Bandcamp | Amazon MP3



The Drye & Drye review is original to Bird is the Worm, but portions of the other reviews were originally used in my Jazz Picks weekly article for eMusic, so here’s some language protecting their rights to that reprinted material as the one to hire me to write about new jazz arrivals to their site…

New Arrivals Jazz Picks,“ “New Arrivals Jazz Picks,” and “New Arrivals Jazz Picks,” reprints courtesy of, Inc.
© 2013, Inc.

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

Tiny Reviews: Fabrizio Bai, Kris Davis, Swedish Mobilia, Marc Cary & Jamie Breiwick

October 12, 2013

Tiny Reviews edition!

Featured album:  Fabrizio Bai Etruscology.

Plus:  Kris Davis Capricorn Climber, Swedish Mobilia Did You Hear Something?, Marc Cary For the Love of Abbey, and Jamie Breiwick Spirits: Live at the Jazz Estate.



Fabrizio Bai – Etruscology

Fabrizio Bai - "Etruscology"Led by the classical guitar of Fabrizio Bai, this quartet session offers up a set of absorbing music with its version of Mediterranean-influenced Jazz.  Some tracks have a languorous seaside disposition that let melodies hover complacently in full view.  Other tracks take a richly textured rhythmic approach, and let the melodies ride the crest of the wave.  In both instances, the quartet provides a clear path to the melody at all times, and that trait taken into account with their personal take on Italian regional folk music provides a strong point of view and some very catchy tunes.  A listen to fourth track “Danzatori di Pietra” sums it up perfectly… memorable melody, dynamic rhythm, and a personal voicing.

Your album personnel:  Fabrizio Bai (classical guitar), Massimo Guerri (saxophones, clarinets), Andrea Beninati (cello, percussion), and Maurizio Costantini (double bass).

Released on Dodicilune Records.

Available at:  eMusic MP3 | Amazon MP3


Other Albums of Note:


Kris Davis – Capricorn Climber

Kris Davis - "Capricorn Climber"Compelling new album by pianist Kris Davis, who delivers plenty of songs shaped with an eerie geometry.  Some tracks possess a disconcerting presence, whereas others drift serenely on uneasy seas.  A strange beauty that both entices and rebuffs.

Your album personnel:  Kris Davis (piano), Mat Maneri (viola), Ingrid Laubrock (sax), Trevor Dunn (bass), and Tom Rainey (drums).

Maneri is having a strong 2013, and he’s hit a plateau where I’m on the brink of saying that if you see his name in the personnel section, just buy the album and don’t think twice.  Stream a track on the artist’s site.

Released on Clean Feed Records.

Available at:  eMusic MP3 | Amazon MP3


Swedish Mobilia – Did You Hear Something?

Swedish Mobilia - "Did You Hear Something"Highly improvisational, and with generous use of electronics and effects, Swedish Mobilia draws up an intriguing display of the unformed nature of raw creativity, performing improvised music that sometimes sounds like the psychedelic Jazz of the past, sometimes sounds like the experimental jazz-rock of the present.  While nothing about this album is pretty, per se, it does have a smokey presence that gives an alluring quality to experimental dissonant music.  Some compelling things going on here.

Your album personnel: Andrea Bolzoni (guitar, electronics), Daniele Frati (drums, percussion), Dario Miranda (bass, electronics), and Luca Aquino (trumpet).

Released on Leo Records.

Available at: eMusic MP3 | Amazon CD | Amazon MP3


Marc Cary – For the Love of Abbey

Marc Cary - "For the Love of Abbey"Solo piano recording from Marc Cary, honoring his longtime mentor (and bandleader) Abbey Lincoln.  Remarkably evocative recording.  Full of life, yet possesses a zen-like expressiveness so that the music never comes off as pushy.  When taking on the challenge of a solo recording, some artists feel the need to bring the fireworks to compensate for the singularity of a solo instrument point of view, but thankfully Cary has the wisdom and confidence to let the songs blossom as they were meant to, and without trying to shape them into something they are not.  A beautiful album that will likely continue to reveal itself with subsequent listens.

Stream a couple album tracks on the artist site.

Released on Motema Records.

Available at:  eMusic MP3 | Amazon CD | Amazon MP3


Jamie Breiwick – Spirits: Live at the Jazz Estate

Jamie Breiwick - "Spirits"Recorded live at the Milwaukee joint The Jazz Estate, this straight-ahead session, led by Jamie Breiwick, has plenty of heart and soul.  Originals, some compositions by Wayne Shorter and Duke Ellington, plus covers of artists like Death Cab For Cutie, Radiohead, and Taylor Swift.  Just a likable album that swings plenty, and expresses melodies with a care and thoughtfulness emphasizing their lyricism.  Good stuff.

Your album personnel:  Jamie Breiwick (trumpet), Tony Barba (tenor sax), Tim Ipsen (bass), and Andrew Green (drums).

Released on Blujazz Productions.

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



The Fabrizio Bai review is original to Bird is the Worm, but portions of the other reviews were originally used in my Jazz Picks weekly article for eMusic, so here’s some language protecting their rights to that 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.
© 2013, Inc.

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