Mark Whitfield, “Live and Uncut” (CD review)

Guitarist Mark Whitfield remains a gifted improviser and bandleader, as demonstrated by “Live and Uncut” (Chesky), a set with bassist Ben Allison and drummer Billy Drummond, recorded live last year at Rockwood Music Hall  in Manhattan.

“Trio magic, more or less, ensues as the three, captured on a single binaural mic enabling heightened intimacy, turn in four tried-and-true standards and two Drummond originals,” I wrote, in my review for JazzTimes.

Check out the full review here.

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Vijay Iyer Tops 2017 NPR Jazz Critics Poll

Congrats to pianist-composer Vijay Iyer, who again tops the NPR Jazz Critics Poll, a carryover from the old Village Voice Jazz Critics Poll. The Vijay Iyer Sextet’s “Far From Over” is named best new album, followed in that category by releases from alto saxophonist Steve Coleman, drummer Tyshawn Sorey, pianist Craig Taborn and flutist Nicole Mitchell.

I was honored to again be among the 137 jazz writers around the globe asked to participate. Only one of my Top 10 picks, Taborn’s “Daylight Ghosts” (ECM) made it into the poll’s final 10, and another, the debut from supergroup Hudson (Jack DeJohnette/John Scofield/John Medeski/Larry Grenadier) made the final 20.

I agree with the consensus on Cecile McLorin Salvant‘s “Dreams and Daggers” (Mack Avenue) for best vocal album, and my 3 picks for reissues/ historical, by Jaco Pastorius, Wes Montgomery/Wynton Kelly Trio, and Monk, are in the final Top 5 in that category in the poll.

Also in the poll:

  • Jaimie Branch‘s “Fly or Die” (International Anthem) is named best debut album; my pick — Nate Smith, “Kinfolk: Postcards from Everywhere” (Ropeadope)
  • Miguel Zenon‘s “Tipico” (Miel) is named best Latin album; my pick — Antonio Adolfo‘s “Hybrido — From Rio to Wayne Shorter” (AAM Music)

“Musicians of an intellectual bent dominated this year’s Top 10, and connections among them abound,” poll organizer and esteemed jazz critic Francis Davis writes in his overview of the poll. Read that piece, and his accompanying article “The Jazz Albums of 2017 and the Power of Gatekeepers,” and make some new musical discoveries.

Want to see ALL the results from the poll, with complete ballots from all the critics, including mine? Click here

Later, I’ll post my full Top 10 list here, along with some thoughts on those releases.

 

Acme Jazz Garage — Ascending?

I seldom write about my own projects here, but thought I’d throw out a quick note about the CD recently released by my band, Acme Jazz Garage, on my Solar Grooves label.

relix review

Acme Jazz Garage is gaining momentum via national jazz-radio airplay, and good reviews in magazines and newspapers.

A few updates:

RADIO :

  • Our CD is in its fifth week of airplay on jazz stations across the US (check its progress on the JazzWeek chart).
  • It has aired on Tampa’s WUSF and WMNF; WFCF in St. Augustine, FL; KEWU in Cheney/Spokane, WA; WCLK in Atlanta, Ga.; WAER in Syracuse, NY; KSDS in San Diego, CA; Jazz From Gallery 41 in Berkeley, CA; WTJU in Charlottesville, Va.; WSHA in Raleigh, NC; WWSP in Stephens Point, WI; KRTU in San Antonio, TX; KCCK in Cedar Rapids, Iowa; and KRFC in Fort Collins, CO, among other stations.

PRESS:

  •   Relix magazine critic Wayan Zoey calls the CD “a solid collection of revivalist funk and swing … influences are rooted in ’70s fusion, and the various contemporary pop styles that surrounded it … a much more enjoyable experience than your average ‘trad jazz’ album … a capable excursion through one of the most playful eras of America’s cultural history.”
  • Creative Loafing/Tampa just gave us a four-star review: “The 10-track set is not only fun but a rather excellent demonstration of what four vet musicians can accomplish with some quality time in the studio and a little help from their friends.”
  • Howard Mandel, president of the Jazz Journalists Association and a contributor to NPR, says the CD “mixes the best bits of the Meters, Santana, Robben Ford, Grover Washington, Anita O’Day, Joe Sample, Roy Ayers and Marcus Miller into a refreshingly breezy sound.”
  • “Some funky R&B, and straight-ahead jazz, and it coule be one of the outstanding local releases of 2016,” says Randy Wind, program director at WMNF in Tampa.
  • ” ‘Resonance’ immediately made me think of Steely Dan,” says Louis Maistros, New Orleans singer/songwriter and acclaimed novelist. “And (I hear) hints of the Crusaders. The rest felt like its own thing. This is really a hot little combo. Mission accomplished. It’s a damn fine record. Bravo!”

Acme Jazz Garage, the band’s debut full-length set of original compositions, features an eclectic mix of original jazz compositions played by the core quartet (Matt Swenson, guitar; Bryan Lewis, keys; Tim Diehl, drums; me on bass) plus special guests.

We were joined by conga master Gumbi Ortiz; who tours with Al Di Meola; singer Whitney James; saxophonists Jeremy Powell (Arturo O’Farrell Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra), Rick Runion and Austin Vickrey; vibraphonist Sam Koppelman; and trumpeter Ron Wilder. The music was recorded and engineered by John Stephan at his Springs Theatre studio in Tampa, and mixed in L.A. by Ruairi O’Flaherty.

The tracks:

^  “Mongo Strut” (Booth) — Latin-edged funk spiked with congas

^ “Resonance” (Lewis) — multipart contemporary fusion (some folks hear Steely Dan)

^ “Sandprints” (Booth) — a 5/4 piece inspired by Wayne Shorter, featuring Powell on soprano sax

^  “Last Call” (Booth) — a retro vocal tune (Manhattan-romance theme) with vocals, trumpet and vibes

^  “Acmefied” (Booth) — straight-up jazz funk

^  “Zag” (Booth) — straightahead, swinging jazz with two tenor saxes (Vickrey and Runion) and vibraphone

^  “Mr. G.P.” (Booth) — New Orleans-style R&B named for Meters bassist George Porter, Jr., with a tpt-tenor-bari horn section

^  “Rubberman” (Booth) — jammy-leaning jazz with flute (Vickrey) and tenor (Runion)

^ A bluesy version of “America the Beautiful” (arr. by Lewis) — think Ray Charles; perfect for airplay on the July 4 weekend.

To get your very own copy of the CD, as a physical disc or download, click here

For more information on the band, visit us on Facebook; go to our web site; or stop by Solar Grooves. Twitter: @acmejazzgarage

 

 

Maria Schneider Grabs Lion’s Share of Top JJA Awards

41º VOLL-DAMM FESTIVAL INTERNACIONAL JAZZ BARCELONA

Big band leader Maria Schneider, fast-rising saxophonist Kamasi Washington and composer Henry Threadgill have picked up major honors in the 2016 JJA Jazz Awards for Musical Achievement.

Schneider won in the categories of musician, composer, and arranger, while her New York-based Maria Schneider Orchestra won album of the year for “The Thompson Fields,” and large ensemble of the year. L.A. tenor man Washington won for up and coming artist, and Chicago saxophonist/flutist Threadgill received the Lifetime Achievement in Jazz award, on the heels of winning a Pulitzer and being named a Doris Duke Performing Artist.

Also receiving JJA honors — to be awarded at artists’ respective performances around the United States this summer — are:

Midsize Ensemble — Myra Melford’s Snowy Egret

Trio or Duo — Vijay Iyer Trio

Trumpeter — Wadada Leo Smith

Trombonist — Wycliffe Gordon

Multi-reeds Player — Anat Cohen

Alto Saxophonist — Rudresh Mahanthappa

Tenor saxophonist — Charles Lloyd

Baritone saxophonist — Gary Smulyan

Soprano saxophonist — Jane Ira Bloom

Flutist — Nicole Mitchell

Clarinetist — Anat Cohen

Guitarist — Mary Halvorson

Pianist – Fred Hersch

Keyboardist — Craig Taborn

Bassist — Christian McBride

Violinist/Violist/Cellist – Regina Carter

Percussionist — Pedrito Martinez

Mallets instrumentalist — Joe Locke

Traps Drummer — Jack DeJohnette

Player of Instruments Rare in Jazz — Scott Robinson

Electronics Player — Jason Lindner

Male singer — Gregory Porter

Female singer — Cecile McLorin Salvant

The JJA also honors jazz journalists, of course. Winners of jazz awards for media will be announced in ceremonies at a public, ticketed gathering on June 15 at the Blue Note in New York City .

For more info on the JJA, visit http://news.jazzjournalists.org/ or contact president@jazzjournalists.org

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What the Critics Are Saying About Acme Jazz Garage

Acme Jazz Garage (Solar Grooves SG-001) is available here.

“Without a doubt, Acme Jazz Garage is the Tampa Bay area’s most adventurous jazz band. Its debut recording project finds the 5-year-old quartet in a jam-band groove, dipping its collective toes into straight-ahead jazz, Latin-tinged funk, R&B and a more modern jazz/fusion sound.

Bassist Philip Booth, drummer Tim Diehl, keyboard ace Bryan Lewis and guitarist Matt Swenson comprise the core band on this eponymous session, with a little help on various tracks from a variety of musical friends with whom the players have worked over the years. Lewis’s keyboard work, particularly on Hammond B-3, and Swenson’s melodic, often searing, guitar, dominate the group sound, layered over an infectious groove set by Booth and Diehl.

And who, you ask, stopped by to have a bit of fun on this session? Singer Whitney James is featured on Booth’s Manhattan romance- and-bebop-inspired “Last Call.” Veteran Al Di Meola percussionist Gumbi Ortiz spices up “Mongo Strut” and “Mongo Jam.” Jeremy Powell, now making his mark on the New York jazz scene in a variety of top-flight bands, is featured on soprano sax on “Sandprints,” a clever 5/4 piece inspired by Wayne Shorter’s best-known jazz classic “Footprints.”

Saxophonists Rick Runion and Austin Vickrey, vibes player Sam Koppelman and trumpeter Ron Wilder also bulk up the band on a variety of tracks, most notably “Zag,” “”Rubberman” and “Mr. G.P.,” the latter a N’awlins groove tribute to The Meters’ bassist George Porter Jr.

From start to finish, Acme Jazz Garage and friends make it clear that the Tampa area is blessed with great jazz talent.

–KEN FRANCKLING, author/photographer, “Jazz in the Key of Light”; Ken Franckling’s Jazz Notes; contributor, JazzTimes, Hot House, allaboutjazz.com

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“Have you ever had a CD get stuck in your player? Not physically, but because it is so darn good you need to hear it over and over again?

That’s what happened when I popped the new recording from Acme Jazz Garage into the player. I’ve seen these guys in different settings, from purely straight ahead to all-out funk, but I simply wasn’t prepared for a disc this superb, start to finish.

They come out swinging straight out of the starting gate with “Mongo Strut,” a reworking of a tune by bassist Philip Booth. This jazz/funk outing features guest percussionist Gumbo Ortiz, long a Tampa Bay area star and Al Di Meola bandmate. Bryan Lewis gives his clavinet a workout, and Ortiz and drummer Tim Diehl are in perfect sync, powered by Booth’s electric bass.

The next track, “Resonance,” still blows me away, and that’s after more than a dozen times through the disc. Composer Lewis opens with electric piano, and then Matt Swenson gets to work. His playing throughout is nothing short of spectacular. This tune goes through a variety of changes, and he nails every one. Booth and Diehl are a monster rhythm section. Lewis takes a great solo as well.

“Sandprints” is Booth’s homage to Wayne Shorter’s “Footprints,” magnificently rendered with Jeremy Powell on soprano saxophone. Powell is another Tampa Bay area jewel who moved to New York. (Jeremy and NYC trumpeter brother Jonathan played with Booth in Ghetto Love Sugar). Rick Runion, a fine tenor player from Lakeland, plays harmony with Jeremy here. The track begins with Booth’s beautiful double bass tones, then Jeremy and the band join in.

Booth adds a vocal tune to the mix with “Last Call,” his impressions of New York City during his time there and historically as well. Whitney James is the singer here, and her voice perfectly accents Booth’s lyrics. The tune also features vibraphonist Sam Koppelman, a truly impressive player whose contributions here and on “Zag” are first-rate. Ron Wilder plays trumpet… and he was Booth’s jazz instructor back in the day!

“Zag” is a gorgeous tune Booth used to play with Trio Vibe. Koppelman is perfect here, and Austin Vickrey and Runion join in on tenors, with a solo from Vickrey. This song swings so hard, driven by Booth on bass. Beautiful acoustic piano from Lewis adds to the sheer delight of this track.

Booth next honors George Porter, Jr., the king of New Orleans bass players and a member of the legendary Meters, with “Mr. G.P.” (a reference to Coltrane’s tune “Mr. P.C.”). If you’re going to do NOLA, you’re gonna need a horn section: Wilder, Runion, and Vickrey (this time on baritone sax). Swenson takes another blistering guitar turn while Booth and Diehl channel that second-line rhythm.

Badass bass launches “Rubberman,” the oldest tune in Acme Jazz Garage’s repertoire. Vickrey plays gorgeous flute here with Runion on tenor. Lewis stands out on Hammond B3 organ, funk dripping from every note. Diehl nails this one, and Swenson delivers a beautiful solo invoking so many great jazz guitarists. Booth gets an extended feature as well.

“Acmefied” opens with a nifty drum roll into the tune, another fine funky jazz piece. Swenson again channels the masters beautifully, and Diehl’s work on the kit is of special note. Lewis comps underneath with great electric piano.

Lewis arranged a very bluesy version of “America the Beautiful” which was released in time for Independence Day. His gospel-tinged Hammond B3 provides a very different reading of this, reminiscent perhaps of Ray Charles.

The disc closes with a percussion workout with Diehl and Ortiz, “Mongo Jam,” a logical extension of the opening tune.

This wonderful recording was enhanced by the remarkable production job done at the Springs Theatre, where local Tampa musicians have been producing music of the highest quality.

–SCOTT HOPKINS, “Colors of Jazz” announcer, WMNF, 88.5 FM; TieYourShoesReviews.com; editor-in-chief, musicfestnews.com

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“The influences felt scattered (which is good), but the song ‘Resonance’ immediately made me think of Steely Dan. That, too, is a good thing. Oh, and (I hear) hints of the Crusaders now and again. The rest felt like its own thing. This is really a hot little combo. Mission accomplished. It’s a damn fine record. Bravo!”

LOUIS MAISTROS, New Orleans singer/songwriter and writer, author of acclaimed novel “The Sound of Building Coffins,” and former jazz record store owner

Happy 80 Candles to the Village Vanguard!

village vanguard

Has it really been 30 years since I interviewed Max Gordon at the Village Vanguard for The Villager newspaper, for a story on the 50th anniversary celebration of the venerable Seventh Avenue South nightspot? Hard to believe. That summer, during my brief stint as a grad student in cinema studies at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, hardly seems so long ago. In addition to Gordon, I spoke with some of the many jazz greats who played the anniversary show, including trombonist Al Grey.

Gordon, the short, somewhat gruff, cigar-smoking, Lithuanian-born owner of the Vanguard, opened his place in 1935, and in its early years it became a home to poets, singing/acting revues, Caribbean artists (Harry Belafonte), folk and blues singers (Lead Belly, Woody Guthrie), and comedians (Lenny Bruce, Woody Allen).

Its most lasting legacy, though, is that rooted in its late-’50s rebirth as the city’s finest listening room for performances by great jazzers, of the bebop variety and beyond, many of whom are immortalized in the gorgeous photos still hanging in the basement club. John Coltrane and Miles Davis played there. So did Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus, Sonny Rollins, Bill Evans, Charles Mingus, Gerry Mulligan, Carmen McRae, The Modern Jazz Quartet, and the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra (which became the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, which still plays there Monday nights).

Christian McBride quintet

The Vanguard is practically a temple to the high art of jazz, and I’m happy to have seen bassist Christian McBride’s Inside Straight quintet (above; see my review of his December show), guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel, trumpeter Nicholas Payton, and the late guitarist Tal Farlow at the Vanguard over the years.

Sunday, the Vanguard turned 80. Tuesday, it kicks off a week of concerts presented by pianist Jason Moran. Pianists Moran, Fred Hersch, and Kenny Barron, and saxophonist Charles Lloyd‘s quartet (with Moran, bassist Reuben Rogers and drummer Eric Harland) are among the artists slated to play March 10-15.

While other NYC jazz institutions have come (Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola, Smoke) and gone (Bradley’s, the Village Gate), and others have routinely upgraded and renovated and even changed music policies, the Vanguard has kept folks coming in part because it has stayed the same — a generally low-dough admission charge, a focus on music listening (loud talkers get shushed), and a decision to not introduce food to the mix.

“One thing that’s great is that, through all the years, they’ve had the wisdom not to mess with it,” as Hersch told The New York Observer. “I like the Vanguard for its purity.”

Lorraine Gordon, Gordon’s wife, took over the club in 1989, when he died; at 92, she and her daughter, Deborah, run the place, with the Vanguard’s longtime manager, Jed Eisenman.

For more information on the Vanguard’s 80th anniversary celebration, click here.

Django Gold, Unchained: The Wannabe Humorist Strikes Back

shrug

So now “Django Gold,” the Onion writer responsible for that unfunny “satire” of the great Sonny Rollins published recently in The New Yorker, is back to defend himself. (Note: Gold is NOT the guy in the above pic).

I’m not going to take a deep dive into his guest column for JazzTimes online, headlined “Notes From the Backlash.” It’s just not that substantial. But the gist of it is this: “Hey, jazz people, it’s your fault if you didn’t get the joke. Lighten up.”

As one observer noted, that’s kind of like a stand-up comedian blaming the audience for not laughing.

And as I wrote in my initial response to Gold’s original (but not so original) piece, the most unfunny part of the whole affair is this: In a period when The New Yorker offers very little serious, in-depth coverage of jazz, why would the once revered magazine give space to Gold’s kind of nonsense?

To borrow Gold’s words: “Pretty square, if you ask me.”

Which brings us to another point: If a “satire” piece requires the author to explain it or defend it via another column, then could it be possible that the original piece wasn’t very effective, and its intent was unclear?