Sax Men: John Ellis, Sherman Irby, Frank Macchia (CD reviews)

Quick reviews of new releases from three saxophonists – three varied approaches to the art of jazz.

John Ellis & Double-Wide, Puppet Mischief (Obliqsound)

The New York tenor saxophonist and bass clarinetist, a former Charlie Hunter sideman, honed his chops in New Orleans with the likes of pianist Ellis Marsalis and bassist Walter Payton and still spends time there; his Double-Wide band has turned in infectious performances at Jazz Fest, the Louisiana Music Factory (see below clip from the store, in 2008) and elsewhere around the Crescent City.

That NOLA vibe — street-born brass bands, Mardi Gras culture, a convivial intermingling of multi-ethnic cultures — reigns supreme on Puppet Mischief, on which Ellis is joined by sousaphonist Matt Perrine, drummer Jason Marsalis, new addition Brian Coogan on organ, and guests Gregoire Maret and Alan Ferber on harmonica and trombone, respectively. The funk is deep, the pleasure is steep, and the whole thing comes off as an irresistible rolling carnival, with musical cues variously taken from early and modern jazz, circus bands, soundtrack music, vaudeville, and even European folk music.

“Fauxfessor,” a nod to New Orleans’ piano professors (like Professor Longhair), hints at Crescent City rhythms, and the slowly flickering, almost mournful “Carousel,” with its wandering tuba, wah-muted bone and start-stop passages, wouldn’t have been out of place in a Fellini film. “Okra & Tomatoes” is swaggering and punchy, and highlighted by Ellis’s bluesy tenor turn, while instruments rise and fall on the moody “Dewey Dah”  and Maret’s soulful playing is showcased on the title track. The aptly titled “Dubinland Carnival” is a raucous-to-peaceful gem and “This Too Shall Pass” sounds like a vintage New Orleans funeral march, threatening to turn into a slo-mo gospel celebration. Feel it.


Sherman Irby Quartet, Live at the Otto Club (Black Warrior Records)

Alabama-born Irby, a soul-jazz alto player in the mold of Cannonball Adderley, made inroads on the New York scene — playing with his own band and the likes of pianist Marcus Roberts, the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra and trumpeter Roy Hargrove — in the late ’90s, and released a pair of CDs on Blue Note. But he’s been a bit under the radar since, aside from playing in Elvin Jones’ last band.

Irby’s fourth disc for his own label documents a February 2008 show in Napoli, Italy, where he led a quartet on standards plus his own “Laura’s Love Song,” a shimmering, Latin-tinged ballad, and  Hargrove’s “Depth.” His sound is as big and warm and blues-drenched as ever, and his dexterity and the free-flow of his ideas are often astonishing; a case in point is the sprawling tete-a-tete with drummer Darrell Green that opens John Coltrane‘s “Countdown.” But the programming, aside from a surprisingly slow and sultry version of the Miles Davis burner “Four,” is on the staid side, and the half-American, half-Italian band is not his best.


Frank Macchia, Folk Songs for Jazzers (Cacophony, Inc.)

Saxophonist-woodwind player and arranger Macchia, leading a heavy-hitting large jazz ensemble driven by drummer Peter Erskine, bassist Trey Henry, guitarist Grant Geissman and pianist Tom Ranier, takes on American folk songs in a manner that feels simultaneously reverential and tongue-in-cheek. Here it swings hard, there it’s cutesy, everywhere the compositions boast an appealing array of instrumental colors and cross-cutting figures.

Singer Tierney Sutton, not unexpectedly, handily finds her way into a haunting version of “Red River Valley,” while Ellis Hall gives a lift to a shifting-gears redesign of “Amazing Grace.” The leader gets some well-utilized solo time on a hard-charging, Latin-edged “Skip to My Lou,” a mellow “Tom Dooley” and a swirling, almost eerie “Kumbaya.” Not your dad’s big-band album.

Disc of the Day: Lionel Loueke, “Mwaliko” (CD review)

Lionel Louke, Mwaliko (Blue Note)

It seems like just a minute or two ago that Benin native Lionel Loueke was making his first splash on the global jazz scene. He provided gorgeous West African-flavored flourishes for trumpeter Terence Blanchard‘s mid-’00s groups and made key contributions to performances and recordings by bassist Charlie Haden and pianist Herbie Hancock (including a stellar show with the latter at Jazz Fest in New Orleans).

Several indie releases and two Blue Note discs later, the guitarist, educated in Africa, France, and at Berklee College and the Thelonious Monk Institute, is more than fulfilling the promise of those early appearances. Mwaliko has Loueke joined by instrumentalists and singers from Africa and the U.S. for a variety of originals, a traditional from Benin, and a slippery, brightly interactive duet with drummer Marcus Gilmore on Wayne Shorter‘s “Nefertiti.”

That tune, like nearly everything else on the recording, suggests a real musical intimacy between Loueke and his collaborators. Clearly, there’s some wavelength-sharing going on here, including beautiful, bouncy exchanges between his guitar lines and mouth sounds, and longtime Benin-born friend Angelique Kidjo‘s singing, on the opening, joyful “Ami O” and the pensive “Vi Ma Yon,” a Beninese folk song.

Loueke, bassist Massimo Biolcati and drummer Ferenc Nemeth — AKA the guitarist’s touring band, known as Gilfema –sound like three of a perfect pair, so attuned they are to each other, on Loueke’s searching, vocals-showered “Griot,” Nemeth’s haunting ballad-to-groover “L.L.” (which feels a bit Methenyesque) and Biolcati’s rhythm-tricked “Shazoo.”

Two other bassist-vocalists team with Loueke to great effect.

Young upright phenom Esperanza Spalding joins in on the pretty, lilting “Twins,” and the aptly named, funk-edged “Flying,” both written by Loueke and both suggesting that these musicians’ singing and instrumental talents are made for each other.

Cameroon-born electric bassist Richard Bona is aboard for the floaty “Wishes” and the closing, insistently percolating “Hide Life,” as sunny and intoxicating a piece of African-infused jazz as you’re likely to hear this year.


For more on Lionel Loueke, check out Steve Hochman’s interview with the guitarist, online at Spinner.

George Wein’s New Deal: New Booking Strategies, Impressive New Festival Lineup

Last year, veteran jazz impresario (and sometime pianist) George Wein pulled out of his Festival Productions, and the company’s long-running JVC Jazz Festival in New York went under.

Another summer, another production company, another fest: Wein’s recently launched New Festival Productions is presenting the CareFusion Jazz Festival New York from June 17 to 26, according to Ben Ratliff’s piece Tuesday in the New York Times.

Wein, according to the story, apparently has spent a lot of time over the last year or so putting his ear to the ground, to get a street-level feel for what’s bubbling up in the jazz world.

As a result, the fest will feature club shows — at the Jazz Gallery, Jazz Standard, Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola and elsewhere — by the likes of Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society, clarinetist Anat Cohen, pianist Jason Lindner, pianist Jason Moran‘s trio with guitarist Mary Halvorson and trumpeter Ron Miles; the bands Tortoise and Mostly People Do the Killing; and groups led by bassist Eric Revis, pianist Craig Taborn, saxophonist Chris Potter and others.

In addition, Wein has booked several big draws — pianists Keith Jarrett‘s trio, Herbie Hancock‘s “7oth Birthday Celebration” with Wayne Shorter, Joe Lovano, Terence Blanchard and others, ), Brazilian singer-songwriter Joao Gilberto, and trumpeter smooth-jazz trumpeter Chris Botti — for Carnegie Hall shows.

CareFusion, a medical device company, is also the major sponsor of the revived Newport Jazz Festival, now called George Wein’s CareFusion Jazz Festival , the Chicago Jazz Festival, and festivals in Monterey, California; Sydney, Australia; and Paris.

For the full CareFusion Jazz Festival New York lineup, click here, or see below:

Thursday, June 17

Keith Jarrett, Gary Peacock, Jack DeJohnette
Stern Auditorium/Ronald O. Perelman Stage at Carnegie Hall /
8pm / $40 – $90

Sun Ra Arkestra directed by Marshall Allen
The Studio Museum in Harlem / 7:30pm / $15 Public; $10 Members, Seniors, Students

Ralph Hamperian’s Tuba d’Amour
Bill Ware Group
John McNeil Quartet
Puppets Jazz Bar / 6pm, 9pm & 12am / $15

Craig Taborn
The Jazz Gallery / 9pm & 10:30pm / $15 Public; $10 Members

Seabrook Power Plant
Mostly Other People Do The Killing
Zebulon / 9pm & 10:30pm / FREE

Friday, June 18

The Jazz Gallery All-Stars with Roy Hargrove, Claudia Acuña, Ambrose Akinmusire, Lage Lund, Gerald Clayton, Ben Williams and Pedro Martinez
Peter Norton Symphony Space / 8pm / $15

Bitches Brew Revisited
Celebrate Brooklyn! Performing Arts Festival at Prospect Park Bandshell / 7:30pm / FREE

John Ellis “The Ice Siren”
The Jazz Gallery / 9pm & 10:30pm / $15 Public; $10 Members

Queens Jazz Orchestra directed by NEA Jazz Master Jimmy Heath
Flushing Town Hall / 8pm / $32 – $120

Alphabet Soup with Zack O’Farrill & Adam O’Farrill
Arturo O’Farrill Quartet
Randy Johnston Trio
Puppets Jazz Bar / 6pm, 9pm, & 12am / $15

Saturday, June 19

An Evening with
Chris Botti
Stern Auditorium/Ronald O. Perelman Stage at Carnegie Hall / 8pm / Ticket Price TBA

An Evening in Louis Armstrong’s Garden
Howard Alden, Anat Cohen, Marion Felder, David Ostwald, Randy Sandke
Louis Armstrong House Museum / 6pm / $15

Eric Revis Quartet
The Jazz Gallery / 9pm & 10:30pm / $15 Public; $10 Members

The Drumheads with Ben Monder, Jaime Affoumado, Diego Voglino Victor Bailey Group
Alex Blake Quartet
Puppets Jazz Bar / 6pm, 9pm & 12am / $15

Hazmat Modine
Slavic Soul Party
Barbès / 8pm & 10pm / Ticket Price TBA

Sunday, June 20

Father’s Day Celebration
Winard Harper Group
The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture / 3pm / Ticket Price TBA

Anthony Coleman Plays Jelly Roll Morton and Anthony Coleman
Anthony Coleman (Solo)
Damaged By Sunlight
Barbès / 8pm & 10pm / Ticket Price TBA

Cooper Moore Trio
Peter Evans Group
Zebulon / 9pm & 10:30pm / FREE

Monday, June 21

Jazz Talks
The Jerome L. Greene Performance Space / 7pm / Ticket Price TBA

Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society
Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola / 7:30pm & 9:30pm / Ticket Price TBA

Skirl Records Showcase:
The Benefit Band
Ben Perowsky Quartet
Barbès / 8pm & 10pm / Ticket Price TBA

John Tchicai Group
Zebulon / 9pm & 10:30pm / FREE

Tuesday, June 22

Jon Faddis with Howard Alden, Gene Bertoncini, Romero Lubambo, Russell Malone
Peter Norton Symphony Space / 8pm / $15

Eddie Palmieri Y La Perfecta II
City Parks Foundation’s Soundview Park / 7pm / FREE

Francisco Mela’s Cuban Safari
Jazz Standard / 7:30pm & 9:30pm / $15

The Genius of
João Gilberto
Stern Auditorium/Ronald O. Perelman Stage at Carnegie Hall / 8pm /
$35 – $95

Wednesday, June 23

Punch Brothers featuring Chris Thile
Julian Lage
The Town Hall / 8pm / $25 – $59

McCoy Tyner Quartet featuring Ravi Coltrane, Esperanza Spalding and Francisco Mela / Stanley Clarke Band featuring Hiromi
City Parks Foundation’s Central Park SummerStage / 7pm / FREE

Sidney Bechet Society Presents An Evening in New Orleans
Evan Christopher, John Allred, Ari Roland and Eli Yamin
Leonard Nimoy Thalia @ Peter Norton Symphony Space / 8pm / $15

Chris Potter
Jazz Standard / 7:30pm & 9:30pm / $15

Aethereal Bace
(le) Poisson Rouge / 8pm / $22 in advance; $25 at the door

Charles Gayle Trio
Zebulon / 9pm & 10:30pm / FREE

Thursday, June 24

Herbie Hancock, Seven Decades: The Birthday Celebration
Herbie Hancock with special guests Terence Blanchard / Bill Cosby / Joe Lovano / Wayne Shorter
Stern Auditorium/Ronald O. Perelman Stage at Carnegie Hall / 8pm /
$35 – $100

From Bebop to Freebop
Sheila Jordan / Jay Clayton
Leonard Nimoy Thalia @ Peter Norton Symphony Space / 8pm / $15

Matana Roberts’ COIN COIN
The Jazz Gallery / 9pm & 10:30pm / $15 Public; $10 Members

Revive Da Live Big Band featuring Nicholas Payton & Talib Kweli
Nicholas Payton Sexxxtet
(le) Poisson Rouge / 7pm / $22 in advance; $25 at the door

Jason Moran with Mary Halvorson and Ron Miles
Jazz Standard / 7:30pm & 9:30pm / $15

Tribute to Herbie Hancock: Late Night Jam Session
City Winery / 11pm / $15

Friday, June 25

Harlem Stride:
Henry Butler
Osmany Paredes
Harlem Stage Gatehouse / 7:30pm / $15

Ambrose Akinmusire
Jazz Standard / 7:30pm, 9:30pm & 11:30pm / $15

Gretchen Parlato
Kat Edmonson
Leonard Nimoy Thalia @ Peter Norton Symphony Space / 8pm / $15

Jason Lindner and the Breeding Ground
The Jazz Gallery / 9pm & 10:30pm / $15 Public; $10 Members

Saturday, June 26

Anat Cohen
Jazz Standard / 7:30pm, 9:30pm &11:30pm / $25

Uptown Nights
Pedro Martinez Project
Harlem Stage Gatehouse / 7:30pm / $15

Gema y Pavel
The Jazz Gallery / 9pm &10:30pm / $15 Public; $10 Members

Down Beat Mag Digital Editions Available; List of My Recent CD Reviews

Ever want to look up a recent feature or review from Down Beat mag, but can’t get your hands on a hard copy?

DB subscribers now have access to an online archive of digital editions of the mag, stretching from the current issue back to September 2008.

Visit the March 2010 edition, and scroll over to page 76 for my review of the Terrell Stafford/Dick Oatts Quintet‘s Bridging the Gap, on the Planet Arts label. 

DB is also beginning to expand its archive of searchable articles and reviews, a project that if/when completed, could be an invaluable resource for jazz musicians, listeners, critics and scholars. One quirk:  Some items, when pulled up (even from recent years), include bylines. Some don’t.

My other recent CD reviews in DB:

  • Manhattan Transfer, The Chick Corea Songbook (Four Quarters Entertainment)  – January 2010, page 78
  • Vijay Iyer Trio, Historicity (Act) – December 2009, page 72
  • Lisa Hilton, Twilight and Blues (Ruby Slippers Productions) – December 2009, page 78
  • The Latin Giants of Jazz, Ven Baila Conmigo (Come Dance With Me) (Gigante Records) – December 2009, page 81
  • Mike Stern, Big Neighborhood (Heads Up) – November 2009, page 60
  • Gerald Clayton, Two-Shade (ArtistShare) – November 2009, page 75

Listening Post, Week of 2/23/10: Tab Benoit, Easy Star All Stars, Mark Egan, Rufus Reid, Preservation Hall

Five releases in rotation at home and in the car – a list without comment (in alphabetical order):

Tab Benoit, et al, VOW: Voice of the Wetlands (Rykodisc, 2005)

Easy Star All Stars, Dark Side of the Moon (Easy Star, 2003)

Mark Egan, Truth Be Told (Wavetone, 2010)

Rufus Reid, Out Front (Motema, 2010)

Various Artists, Preservation: An Album to Benefit Preservation Hall & the Preservation Hall Music Outreach Program (Preservation Hall Recordings, 2010)

Remembering Don Capone: Memories from Bandmates and Friends

Tampa jazz drummer Don Capone passed away on Feb. 12, and several people have responded to my earlier post with thoughts about our old musical compadre. I’ve also received shots of Don from Alex Spassoff and singer Denise Moore (with whom Don played), and I’m including those below, as well as two of Don’s instructional videos (several are available on YouTube).

T. and Ronda Paramoure: “Don was a wonderful person and musician. He was family. We loved him dearly. Each time we met it was like we had never parted. He loved to play while my wife Ronda Paramoure sang and played her flute.  We have great memories of music and believe it or not ministry with Don. He was passionate about his music and his love for the Lord.  He always talked to me about “the Big Guy” and how he new that he would go to heaven one day…. God Bless you Don… you will be well missed here.  Keep that rhythm strong as we know you can in heaven.  RIP”

David & Bill, All Pro Percussion: “We just learned yesterday of Don’s passing. Don was a great supporter of the local music scene. We always enjoyed his visits to the store and hearing about the latest projects he was working on. Through-out his battle with cancer Don never let up. He was very passionate about his music and gave it his all when ever he sat down behind a kit. Don you will be greatly missed by all of us!”

Jason Stander: “Don was a great friend and amazing drummer. His attack was ferocious and precise, and his heavy right leg earned him his nickname “The Foot”. I had a chance to learn the brush techniques of Charlie Perry from him, whom was one of his earliest mentors. Although we only knew each other for a little over a year, words cannot express the ways in which I’ll miss him.”

Al Downing Tampa Bay Jazz Association: “The Al Downing Tampa Bay Jazz Association is especially grateful to Don for the opportunities he gave youngsters to play at his jams and on CDs he recorded.  He donated to us copies of these CDs to sell to help support our scholarship fund.  This was a gesture of his great interest in young musicians and encouraging them to be involved in jazz.  Thank you, Don.”

Bob Seymour, jazz director, WUSF, 89.7 FM: “A fast and loyal friend is right, and Don’s enthusiasm about playing and all the people he made music with — whether talented youngsters or the area’s more seasoned performers — was really something. Marian (Seymour) knew Don for some time before I did; he was the school cop at Gary Adult HS in Ybor City, and along with stories of the Secret Service and other high-profile security jobs, would talk about his background in music and how much  he’d like to get back  to playing.  I heard those stories about Don for a long time before he did in fact emerge onto the scene, always with that pure joy of making music.  We’ll miss him.”

Sam Koppelman, vibraphonist, Trio Vibe: “His enthusiasm for the music lives in all of us.”

Mark Feinman, drummer: “Don was a great drummer and man. I enjoyed getting to see him play and always talking with him at length about music. He generated an energy that always made his musical experience young and fresh. His contributions to our community are unforgettable. He will be greatly missed.”

If you’d like to express any thoughts or remembrances about Don, please send them my way. I’ll post them here, with the newest thoughts at the top of this post. Write to me at

Abbey Road Studios Off the Chopping Block

Thanks in part to being declared a historic building, London’s famous Abbey Road Studios will no longer be sold by its owner, EMI Group Ltd., according to an AP story published Wednesday.

The studio, home to classic Beatles recordings and albums by Jeff Beck, Pink Floyd, Radiohead and several orchestras, will now be revitalized. The facility is adjacent to a “zebra” crosswalk that turned into a much-photographed tourist destination after appearing on the cover of the Beatles’ Abbey Road album, recorded and released in 1969.

Yep, I’ve been there (with my wife Callie, in 1995) and done that, too. We have the photo to prove it. And it’s awfully encouraging to know that this part of pop-music history won’t be consigned to the scrap heap.

“Former Beatle Paul McCartney said he hoped it could be preserved, while English Heritage — the body that oversees buildings of historic interest — appealed to the government to name it a historic building,” according to the story. “In a statement, English Heritage Chief Executive Simon Thurley said the Georgian building housing the studios “acts as a modern day monument to the history of recorded sound and music.” “