Terry Bartolotta Group – “Above the Clouds”

March 11, 2013


Terry Bartolotta - "Above the Clouds"As much as I enjoy the experimentalism of modern jazz artists and the inventive directions they take as they expand the territory, there is something supremely refreshing about a new release that transports me decades back to when my listening time was dominated by albums with names like Art Blakey, Kenny Dorham, and Donald Byrd.  That’s a lot of the Jazz I grew up on, the Jazz that marks a definitive starting point for my original excursion into the genre.

Above the Clouds by the Terry Bartolotta Group recaptures much of the excitement of the bop era of the sixties.  It has the vibrancy of the present and the nostalgia of the past.  It’s the kind of album that can take a person back.

Your album personnel:  Terry Bartolotta (guitar), Nick Sednew (trumpet), Alex Beltran (tenor sax), Nathan Kawaller (bass), and Lucas Gillan (drums).

Bartolotta typically leads out on guitar, as he does on the opening track, but it really deserves mentioning that it’s the bass and drums combo of Kawaller and Gillan that establish this album’s presence.  Right from go, they set a brisk pace that stamps its mark upon this music, a mark that’s felt even when the tempo slows down later into ballad territory.  But when it comes to tempo on a Hard Bop performance, it’s not just about speed… just as essential is offering up a cheerful attitude, even when the rhythm takes a turn for the serious.  Hard Bop has a potent mix of speed and celebration, a joyfulness that often leaves in a cloud of dust.  On the first two album tracks, the title-track and then “Through the Square,” that’s what the Kawaller-Gillan duo create.

As I mentioned before, Bartolotta leads out on most tunes.  His guitar offers warm notes, bent like rays of refracted sunlight.  He shines both as soloist and as an accompanist, and specifically, it’s his transitions between those two roles that elicits some of the best moments of the album.  Too often, a musician who switches between lead and support roles offers up their parts as two unrelated approaches.  On guitar, Bartolotta makes that transition without finding in necessary to make a wholesale change in wardrobe.  There’s a cohesion to the facets of Bartolotta’s expressiveness, and it’s an achievement that allows a musician to create a sound that’s greater than the sum of its individual notes.

The opening two tracks are scorchers.  It isn’t until the third track, “Mood Piece,” that brings the first sign of a slower way of life.  Music swirls like wisps of smoke in a room with low ceilings, and at times, feels a bit insubstantial.  It isn’t until later on, when they take another shot at the ballad form with “Song For Amelia” that the quintet highlights their strengths at a slower gait.  There’s a greater confidence here in their expressions of delicacy.  Whereas on “Mood Piece,” they gave the impression of fearing they’d shatter the composition if they played with too much force, on “Song For Amelia,” they’re in better form, providing a weightiness to a smokey tune… a heavy impact at slow speeds.

The center of the album assumes a more casual pace than the album bookends.  It provides some decent breathing room for Sednew and Beltran to stretch out on trumpet and sax.  When playing side-by-side, their individual approaches offer the most rewards in the nuanced differences between the two.  But they contribute the strongest parts when the song is a race and they take turns handing the baton off to one another.  There is something so damn satisfying about the transition from brass to woodwind and back again when the musicians don’t miss a beat, ripping off notes that finish each others sentences.  Thrilling, really.

The album ends with “Aerial View of a City,” what may be the strongest track on the album.  There is something intriguingly modern in the way guitar washes across the surface of the music as trumpet and sax play over the top.  It’s a very cool form of accompaniment, and it ushers Bartolotta into a more conventional solo.  This song also marks a return to the fierce gallop and heat of the opening tracks.  Just a great way to finish things off.

Something here for everyone to like, but seeing as I often tend to feature the kind of music that strays out toward Jazz’s fringes, Above the Clouds is definitely one I recommend that the old-school Jazz fans scoop up.  These are young Jazz artists who clearly embrace a classic Jazz sound and use their voice to keep it going in the present day.

The album is Self-Produced.

Jazz from the Chicago scene.

Available at Bandcamp, where you can stream four of the album songs, as well as purchase the album in a number of file formats.

Available at eMusic.  Available at Amazon: CD | MP3

Boyd Lee Dunlop – “The Lake Reflections”

March 10, 2013


Stories like this next one serve as essential reminders of why we should never give up hope.  It’s about pianist Boyd Lee Dunlop and his sophomore release The Lake Reflections.

Boyd Lee Dunlop - "The Lake Reflections"

Dreams and good fortune operate under their own capricious rules and, oftentimes, seem to run contradictory to what we each of us may view as pragmatism or common sense.  Sometimes good things happen to us, seemingly, through no fault of our own, lacking any apparent causality, and yet confers the eminent vindication for refusing to quit.

Your album personnel:  Boyd Lee Dunlop (piano).

Boyd Lee Dunlop, all of 85 years old, released his first album in 2011.  Dunlop began playing piano at an early age.  Living in a poor section of Buffalo, NY, he used a junked piano with missing keys that sat out in his family’s back yard.  His brother, Frankie, played drums.  Frankie Dunlop later went on to have a storied career as a musician, playing on classic jazz albums (and personal favorites) like Thelonious Monk’s Criss Cross and Monk’s Dream and Monk’s live Newport recording with Miles Davis, as well as on Charles Mingus’s Tijuana Moods and Sonny Rollins’ Alfie soundtrack.  In the meantime, Boyd Lee stayed in Buffalo, playing the local circuit in between jobs at the steel mills.  The brothers had divergent career arcs.  Boyd’s path is not an uncommon one.

But then it does get a bit unusual.  In his 80′s, Boyd was now living in a Buffalo nursing home and passing his time playing a junked piano with missing keys that sat in the cafeteria… a piano, ironically, that was not too far removed from the piano that he first drew notes from for the first time nearly 70 years earlier.  Photographer Brendan Bannon visited the nursing home regarding an art project.  However, after meeting Boyd and hearing him play, it wasn’t long before Bannon collaborated with others to get Boyd’s music back into the public sphere.  The result was the 2011 release Boyd’s Blues.

Boyd Lee Dunlop - "Boyd's Blues"

With Buffalo musicians Sabu Adeyola on bass and Virgil Day on drums, the recording is a heartwarming set of straight-ahead classic jazz.  Blues with soul, bop with heart, and music that could not be mistaken for anything but Jazz.  The album, and Boyd’s story, got decent press, and was well received.  Dan Barry wrote a nice article for the New York Times and NPR pubbed an article and on-air story on its Weekend Edition feature.  Live performances were lined up.  Everyone likes a story about a huge comeback, and this one was a classic.

Not long after, Boyd suffered a severe heart attack.  And despite hovering close to death, Boyd has turned that setback into yet another chapter in his comeback story.  After a recovery period, Boyd decided the time was ripe for his sophomore release.

Brendan Bannon - Lake Erie 2A solo piano recording, the songs on The Lake Reflections are inspired by photographs Brendan Bannon took of Lake Erie.  The music reflects the crisp serenity of the source material.  There is a stark beauty to this music, a warm stateliness that possesses both elegance and a smile.

And where Boyd’s Blues moved at a brisk stroll, The Lake Reflections has the slow unhurried pace of a body of water on a lazy afternoon.  Reminiscent of the music of fellow pianist Red Garland’s trio sessions, this is peaceful music that can fill a room with its sound, despite its unassuming, wisp-ish presence.

And it’s the music’s unhurried pace that is the album’s real charmer, in that it allows so much room for Dunlop to breathe.  Moments of dramatic expressiveness are able to maintain their composure within the solo context, and changes in tempo or emotional transitions from warmth to iciness have sufficient time to develop within the expanse of time from first note to last.

And that the music moves at a casual pace, with everything that Dunlop has been through and the numerous times he justifiably may have feared that time was running thin, it supremely illustrates the plateau he’s achieved, that he can come out the other side and record an album of meditative reflection that shines so bright in its own time.

Lovely music and a great story behind it.

Self-Produced, and released on Dunlop’s and Bannon’s Mr. B Sharp Records label.

Jazz from the Buffalo, NY scene.

Available at Amazon: CD | MP3

Boyd’s Blues, also available at Amazon: CD | MP3

And here’s the link again to Dunlop’s artist site.

And here’s the link again to Bannon’s artist site.

Floriaan Wempe “Flo’s Flow” and John Turville Trio “Conception”

January 10, 2013


Floriaan Wempe – Flo’s Flow

Floriaan Wempe - "Flo's Flow"When a young musician records a strong straight-ahead jazz album that for all intents and purposes is effectively flawless, I immediately become hesitant.  It’s one thing to hear sparks of brilliance.  It’s also another thing for the recording to be highly regarded, but somewhat outside the box.  But when the album covers well-established territory like 1960s Hard Bop, an area that some of Jazz’s greats created and thrived in, well, I try for an extended pause before expressing anything that might resemble effusive praise.  But, really, even after repeatedly listening to Floriaan Wempe‘s debut, Flo’s Flow, I really can’t find much of anything wrong with it.

It’s a remarkable album, and one that should delight Jazz fans who prefer when modern artists elicit strong echoes from Jazz’s past.

Your album personnel:  Floriaan Wempe (tenor sax), Karel Boehlee (piano), Jos Machtel (double bass), Willie Jones III (drums), and guests:  Tom van der Zaal (alto sax) and John Ruocco (clarinet).

Wempe has a strong presence on tenor sax, displaying an awareness of the best spots to add an extra ounce of delicacy to accentuate the intensity of a string of notes that preceded it, and when to step out and when to join hands with his veteran cast.  Seven of the eight tracks are Wempe compositions (the sole exception a Coltrane tune).  Guest appearances of alto sax and clarinet illustrate Wempe’s talents as a composer extend to layering in ingredients that add some pleasant texture to the album’s overall feel, with Ruocco’s clarinet being especially enjoyable.

Just an all-around impressive debut.  I’m very excited to see where all this leads.

Released on the Challenge Records International label.

Jazz from the Hague, South Holland, Netherlands scene.

Available at eMusic.  Available at Amazon: CD | MP3


John Turville Trio – Conception

John Turville - "Conception"There are two sides to John Turville‘s magnetic piano trio album Conception.  There’s the straight-ahead modern piano trio album… brooding melodies that cook in immaculate jazz rhythms.  And then there are the chaotic tunes that subversively emit avant-garde messages of deconstruction.

The duality of these two facets combine for a winning album.

Your album personnel:  John Turville (piano), Chris Hill (double bass), Ben Reynolds (drums), and guest:  Eduardo Vassallo (cello).

Tracks like “Arc-en-Ciel,” “Conception,” “Pharoah-ant,” and a cover of Radiohead’s “Scatterbrain” allow Turville’s trio the opportunity to display both their knack for the right solos at the right time and solid group-interaction.  Whereas tracks like “Barrio Once,” “Elegia,” and “Milonga” incorporate guest cellist Vassallo and Turville’s background in tango for songs that make an intriguing composite of an undercurrent of schisms.

The flow from one album track to the next can be startling, as a soft-spoken pretty tune can immediately shift to a song wielding sharp flashes of strings and crooked piano lines.  But this is a big part of what makes this a winning album, those sudden jolts of differentiation, keeping the ear attuned to what might come next, while, in the meantime, enjoying the track that’s offered in the moment.

Really, just one of those recordings that has slowly accreted my appreciation with subsequent listens.

Released on the F-IRE Collective label.

Jazz from the UK.

Available at eMusic.  Available at Amazon: CD | MP3

Reggie Quinerly – “Music Inspired By Freedmantown”

December 19, 2012


Tying music into a location can be a tricky thing.  Towns mean many things to many people.  A person’s view of a city often looks very different from what those around him see.  And then there’s the difficulty of translating that view into a work of art.  A lot can go wrong.

On Music Inspired by Freedmantown, drummer Reggie Quinerly draws his inspiration from Freedmantown, an area of Houston, Texas that once boasted the largest percentage of African-American homeowners immediately following the Emancipation Proclamation.  Later referred to as the Fourth Ward, this was also where Quinerly spent his childhood years.

We know this, because on fifth track, titled “Interlude,” he tells us.  And this is where it all could’ve fallen apart.  On “Interlude,” Quinerly speaks to the listener.  Backed by a church organ, Quinerly gives a short history of Freedmantown, then explains what the town means to him personally.  To risk a break in the flow of the album by directly addressing the listener, it’s such a bad idea.  Well, except those rare times when it actually works.  And the reason it works is something Quinerly points out in the interlude, stating that his intention wasn’t “to try to recreate the music of this particular place, but what I did want to capture was a certain soulfulness… of music and the people… and the love.”

On Music Inspired By Freedmantown, Quinerly does exactly that.

By simply attempting to present an impression of Freedmantown through his personal lens, Quinerly avoids the pitfall of turning the album into a history lecture and makes it, instead, an artistic expression of creativity, leaving plenty of room for each listener’s imagination to leapfrog off the facts in whichever direction they choose.  In a very subtle, very deft way, Quinerly inspires daydreams of a town that most listeners will never see in their lives.

That’s pretty cool.

Let’s talk about that music…

Your album personnel: Reggie Quinerly (drums, percussion), Tim Warfield (tenor sax), Mike Moreno (guitar), Gerald Clayton (piano), Vicente Archer (bass, electric bass), Antoine Drye (trumpet), Matt Parker (tenor saxophone), Corey King (trombone), and guests: Sarah Elizabeth Charles (vocals), and Enoch Smith Jr. (vocals, piano, organ, and some arranging).

Most tracks open with gusto and then proceed to swing.  Album-opener “#13 A Corner View from Robin Street” gets things started with a rollicking mood almost celebratory.  And eighth track “The Virginia Gentleman” is a hopping up-tempo piece with choppy emphases and interludes of delicate swaying.  But these are just two examples of an album that is typically gonna keep everyone’s feet moving.

Second track “Live From the Last Row” is a bit more inquisitive, a moody bossa hybrid, though Quinerly’s exuberance on drums never lets any gloom settle in.  Moreno’s guitar refracts notes with alarming delicacy and precision.  It’s a sound that worked well on the modern nu-jazz of Brian Patneaude’s Riverview, and it’s cool to see that Moreno can bring that same sound to Quinerly’s old-school jazz album and have a similar positive effect.  The same can be said about the swinging heat Moreno brings to fourth track “Fenster.”

The title-track is probably my favorite.  A soulful groove light on its feet, Enoch Smith’s barely audible vocals riding it like a cresting wave, and trumpet and sax nudging the tune forward.  Even the congregation of voices that pop up from time to time, as if the recording studio was located in a neighborhood church, enhance the tune’s warmth and accessibility.  One of those songs that makes it so damn easy to like.

Seventh track “A Portrait of a Southern Frame” comes in a close second for favorite album tune.  A somber, moving piece, Drye’s trumpet takes it nice and slow, and couldn’t possibly achieve a lovelier tone to express sadness.  The bridge has a wonderful moment of Clayton’s piano taking deliberate steps and contrasting against Quinerly’s frenetic drumming.  This leads back to Drye restating the melody, slow and somber to end the tune.  Just wonderful.

“#2 Xylent Letters” is another standout track.  A tune with brooding undertones, Warfield’s sax brings a surging element that Clayton’s piano cuts sharp cross-sections out from.  And all of this happens with Moreno’s guitar dancing in and out of punching range on guitar.  The appealing quality here is that Quinnerly sounds to have juxtaposed a meandering post-bop section atop a classic hard-bop tune.

“Victoria” is the other album track with vocals.  Sarah Elizabeth Charles sings a blues, accompanied by elegant piano work.  Quinerly sits this one out, and the vacuum this presents allows Charles’s voice the room to stretch out a bit and add some emotional punch that might’ve been sacrificed for the sake of percussion.

The album ends with the only two non-original compositions:  “I’m Old-Fashioned,” which features a nice solo on drums, and “Sentimental Journey,” which Quinerly admits to choosing because it’s a favorite of his mother’s.  While not falling out of line with the album that proceeded it, these two songs also don’t add anything significant.  The only real weak spot on the album (if solid jazz can actually be construed as a ‘weakness.’).  It would’ve been better had Quinerly cut these two tracks out and either ended with the powerful “Victoria” or added one additional original composition as the album closer.  This, however, comes down to nitpicking over what was, ultimately, an excellent recording.

I first gave this album a spin back in August, and now five months later, Music Inspired by Freedmantown is becoming an increasingly necessary part of my music routine.  It deserves far more attention that it appears to have received, especially considering this is Quinerly’s debut.  An auspicious recording debut, to be sure.

Released on Quinerly’s Redefinition Music label.

Originally from Houston, TX, Quinerly is part of the NYC jazz scene.

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

Available at Amazon: CD | MP3

Tiny Reviews: Laurent Coq/Miguel Zenon, Michael Pedecin, Sean Noonan, Szilard Mezei, & Fischermanns Orchestra

November 8, 2012

Tiny Reviews, featuring:  Laurent Coq & Miguel Zenon Rayuela, Michael Pedicin Live at the Loft, Sean Noonan A Gambler’s Hand, Szilard Mezei Szabad Quintet Singing Elephant, and Fischermanns Orchestra Conducting Sessions.



Laurent Coq & Miguel Zenon – Rayuela

Based on the literary work Rayuela by Argentinean writer Julio Cortázar, Laurent Coq and Miguel Zenon have created a beautifully textured album.  Their approach to translating the novel into music ranges from thematic interpretations of the book’s subject matter to literal notations based on the letters composing story character names.  I’m always a sucker for clever premises like this, but this is an album so finely constructed that one could be oblivious to compositional schemes and inspirations, and not risk sacrificing the tiniest bit of enjoyment.

Your album personnel:  Laurent Coq (piano), Miguel Zenon (alto sax), Dana Leong (cello, trombone), and Dan Weiss (drums, tablas, percussion).

This is one of those albums that sounds so much bigger than the personnel credits would make one assume.  The richness of sounds gives the illusory impression of an outfit larger than a quartet.  Sweeping melodies, cloudbursts of rhythms, a flair from the dramatic, and a cohesiveness like woven silk.

While Coq’s piano and Zenon’s sax are the driving forces behind this recording, enough can’t be said about the integral contribution of Leong and Weiss.  Leong’s sections on cello (like on “La Maga”) elevate the song to a new plateau, and Weiss’s use of tabla (like on album opener “Talita”) bring a sonic tactility to the music that’s an indispensable element of the album’s rich texture.

Released on the Sunnyside Records label.

Available at eMusic.  Available at Amazon: CD | MP3


Michael Pedicin – Live at the Loft

Tenor sax vet Michael Pedicin has been making quality jazz under the radar for a little while now.  He’s back with another recording, bringing in a quintet for a live date that features only ballads.  Most he stays true to form on, though a few nice up-tempo surprises.  A special treat is his version of Coltrane’s “Africa,” which gets a nice bit of swing into it.

Your album personnel:  Michael Pedicin (tenor sax), Jim Ridl (piano), Johnnie Valentino (guitar), Andy Lalasis (bass), and Bob Shomo (drums).

Released on the Jazz Hut Records label.

Available at eMusic.


Sean Noonan – A Gambler’s Hand

Drummer Sean Noonan’s music takes a storytelling approach.  Noonan likes building a narrative for his music.  Definitely the case here, a suite of compositions for drums and string quartet.  Very much a Third Stream recording, mixing in classical and jazz… heavier on the former in this instance.  Really one of those albums that moves beyond the concept of genre.  Some breathtaking moments on strings, like the “I Feel the Clouds,” but also plenty of bluster and drama to keep the heart racing.  Something different, for sure.

Your album personnel:  Sean Noonan (drum set, percussion), Tom Swafford (violin), Patti Kilroy (violin), Leanne Darling (viola), and David West (cello).

Released on the Songlines Records label.

Available at eMusic.


Szilard Mezei Szabad Quintet – Singing Elephant

Violist and composer Szilard Mezei continues to find the balancing act between compositional form and improvisational approach.  This time he leads a quintet in a set of modern avant-garde music.  Sometimes the tunes have a pleasant drift, other times they announce themselves with audacity.  Fans of Harris Eisenstadt’s work might want to spend some time here.  Second mention of Mezei on the site; the other time for his vocal ensemble.

Your album personnel:  Szilard Mezei (viola), Hunor G. Szabo (drums), Peter Bede (tenor sax), Adam Meggyes (trumpet, cornet), and Erno Hock (double bass).

Released on the NotTwo Records label.

Available at eMusic.


Fischermanns Orchestra – Conducting Sessions

The Fischermanns Orchestra is a big band that’s way more avant-garde than anything your parents used to dance to in the ballrooms.  Squaks and skronks aplenty throughout the compositions, though even with the dissonant noises, there are times when forms become apparent.  Neat album, definitely not your everyday thing.

Your album personnel:  Samuel Blätter (synth, trumpet, conductor), Bodo Maier (trumpet), Daniela Künzli (alto sax), Lino Blöchlinger (alto sax, sopranino sax, electronics), Nathanael Bosshard (tenor sax), Philipp Z’Rotz (bass clarinet, clarinet, conductor), Simon Petermann (trombone), Juan Sebastian Rozo (euphonium), Ivan Estermann (tuba), Jan Trösch (guitar, conductor), Martina Berther (electric bass), Philippe Zeltner (percussion), Emanuel Künzi (percussion), Reto Eisenring (snare drum), and Thomas Reist (bass drum).

Released on the Unit Records label.

Available at eMusic.



The Zenon/Coq 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 eMusic.com, Inc.
© 2012  eMusic.com, Inc.

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