Matt Wilson Quartet – “Gathering Call”

March 28, 2014


Matt Wilson - "Gathering Call"Drummer Matt Wilson has a style and sound that just naturally seems to result in bouts of euphoria.  Whether swinging like mad or hard driving head first, Wilson is emphatic in his approach, and the logical reaction is to sit up, take notice, and smile.  Even on a rare moody track, there’s a joyfulness that’s tough to miss.  With a stellar line-up and simpatico modes of communication, Wilson’s crew burns through a set of straight-ahead tunes that just sing with a wild enthusiasm.

Your album personnel:  Matt Wilson (drums), Jeff Lederer (tenor & soprano saxophones, clarinet), Kirk Knuffke (cornet), Chris Lightcap (bass), and John Medeski (piano).

Wilson opens the album with a rendition of Duke Ellington’s “Main Stem,” and gets things off to a brisk pace.  Lederer and Knuffke trade volleys on sax and cornet, feeding off the high voltage established with the very first notes.

“Main Stem” is one of a couple Ellington tunes he hits upon, of which about half of the album’s thirteen tracks are renditions, the other half Wilson originals.  Second track “Some Assembly Required” falls into the latter category, with the kind of crazed motion and serious concentration associated with children skipping rope in tandem… and equally as fun.

“Dancing Waters” is another Wilson original, and illustrates that his writing talents aren’t all just a matter of high octane.  Opening with a nifty Lightcap bass solo, this leads into long slow sighs from the wind instruments… a place where the melancholy is a construct of beauty and nothing about its expression is bittersweet.

This leads seamlessly into the thick groove and funky swagger of the Hugh Lawson tune “Get Over, Get Off and Get On.”  Channeling the spirited charm of Yusef Lateef’s late-60s outfit, Medeski incites the act of motion with his lively piano work and sets the groundwork for some crack solos by Knuffke and Lederer.

As a tribute to recently deceased jazz legend Butch Warren, Wilson includes the Warren composition “Barack Obama” on this session.  Intriguingly, Wilson delivers it with light tones of delicate sadness, of that meeting point where sorrow and celebration come together and transform into something of a wistful, comforting blues.

The title-track “Gathering Call” is a short piece, and it comes on fast and furious.  This differs from Wilson’s other rendition of an Ellington tune… on “You Dirty Dog,” Lightcap’s walking bass line develops a cadence not unlike a cool stroll down the street, where motion has both a confident bravado and a light touch.  On tenor sax, Lederer belts out a solo, loading up with each punch.

Wilson’s “Hope (for the cause)” takes a minute to reveal itself before coalescing into a beautiful, drifting melodic passage.  His interlude “Dreamscape,” on the other hand, gets right to the point with a clattering of sticks, piano twittering excitedly, and wind instruments punchy and irrepressible.

Perpetually overlapping lines of communication highlight the animated “How Ya Going?”  It gives the sense of one conversation breaking off into complementary fragments, reuniting at strategic words and phrases, and revealing that it has always been one conversation from the very start.

Wilson continues the Jazz tradition of adapting modern pop songs for Jazz performance with a rendition of Beyonce’s “If I Were A Boy,” and like those who came before him, Wilson susses out the melodic facets and possibilities unaddressed by the original.  Wilson sticks to the melody’s original path, allowing tangential diversions from its course to add some depth and nuance.  Substituting the original’s melodramatic flourishes with a bit of intense deconstruction is a nifty swap of emotional devices, and brings out a new aspect of the song’s character.

“Pumpkin’s Delight,” an up-tempo burner of Charlie Rouse’s from his Sphere days, sees the album in its homestretch.  The quintet toys with tempo a bit here, as a fierce Lederer sax solo feeds into a Medeski piano solo that leaps and lags with an enticing playfulness… an effect punctuated by a thrilling Wilson drum solo.

The album ends with the traditional love song “Juanita,” a lovely tune expressed with a loving grace and noble elegance by the quintet, concluding the album on a quieter note but no less evocative than its predecessors.  Outstanding.

Wilson’s newest is what Jazz is all about.  This album has all kinds of heart.

Released on Palmetto Records.

Jazz from NYC.

Available at:  eMusic | Amazon CD | Amazon MP3


While most of this review is original to Bird is the Worm, some of it was written when I originally recommended Gathering Call in my weekly eMusic Jazz Picks column… so here’s some language protecting eMusic’s rights to the 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.

Jacob Anderskov “Strings, Percussion & Piano” and Christian McBride “People Music”

November 30, 2013


Jacob Anderskov – Strings, Percussion & Piano

Jacob Anderskov - "Strings, Percussion & Piano"On his newest release Strings Percussion & Piano, pianist Jacob Anderskov hasn’t developed a new formula for his particular form of quirky expressiveness, but he is shining a creative light through a new, unexpected facet.  Anderskov has been working lately with a quartet that includes Chris Speed, Gerald Cleaver and Michael Formanek, and their 2012 release Granular Alchemy is well worth hunting down.  But on his newest, he goes with a new line-up that consists of strings and percussion, and by doing so, shows a new expanse of possibilities for his particular sound.

Some tracks dive into a more familiar dissonance, like “Impermanence I” and “Diamonds Are For Unreal People III,” but if that’s what you’re looking for, scoop up a different Anderskov recording… this one is about the beautiful harmonies, sometimes with a sunrise warmth, sometimes with a haunting spell of darkness.  The meandering piano stroll through the park of “Waldhorn” is part and parcel with the string trio’s ominous tones of “Soil,” just as it is with the string harmonies of “Hungarian Conditions” that sound more to burrow through the earth than soar across the horizon.

A fascinating album, and adds to Anderskov’s already fascinating collection of recordings.

Your album personnel:  Jacob Anderskov (piano), Christine Pryn (violin), Anette Slaatto (viola), Ida Nørholm (cello), and Peter Bruun (drums).

Released on ILK Music.

Available at:  eMusic | Amazon CD & MP3



Christian McBride – People Music

Christian McBride - "People Music"It’s no easy task to position oneself at Jazz’s center and perform music that sounds like the birth of a new season.  The risk is to receive the response of “heard that before.”  However, with People Music, bassist Christian McBride deftly neutralizes that risk with music that’s vibrant and bursting with energy.

The quintet follows strong melodies into songs like running backs letting their blockers clear a path, and once they break into the open field, that’s when the superstars take over.  The harmonic fireworks of “Listen to the Heroes Cry” offer up some beautiful layering of complementary sounds, whereas a track like “Gang Gang” provides a stream of dynamic solos that seem without end.

Most tracks run at a brisk pace, but even a few of the up-tempo pieces leave space to swing.  The quintet slows things down for the gently swaying “Ms. Angelou,” but for the most part, the pulse bops at a faster clip, with “The Movement Revisited” serving, perhaps, as the upper constraint, and from there, it’s just a matter of degrees as to “how fast.”

Just a great straight-ahead session, the kind of jazz that sounds like Jazz while never sounding redundant or cliched or anything but full of life.

Your album personnel:  Christian McBride (bass), Steve Wilson (alto sax), Warren Wolf (vibes), Peter Martin (piano), Carl Allen (drums), with guests Christian Sands (piano) and Ulysses Owens Jr. (drums) filling in on two album tracks.

Released on Mack Avenue Records.

Available at:  eMusic | Amazon CD & MP3

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).

[bandcamp track=2233511311  bgcol=FFFFFF linkcol=4285BB size=grande]

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).

[soundcloud url=”″ params=”color=ff6600&auto_play=false&show_comments=false&show_artwork=false” width=”90%” height=”85″ iframe=”true” /]

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