Drye & Drye, “Open Letter” (CD review)

drye(originally published in JazzTimes)

Drye & Drye, “Open Letter” (NCM Records)

Refreshing concept, smartly executed: Brooklyn-based trombonist Brian Drye and his father, baritone saxophonist Howard Drye (both hail from Rhode Island), team up for a double-album featuring original compositions honoring their various influences. The horns are the thing, with the two joined by trumpeter Jeff Hermanson and clarinetist, alto and soprano saxophonist Mike McGinnis, and the piano-less rhythm section of bassist Dan Fabricatore and drummer Vinnie Sperrazza.

Rich sonorities and engaging themes characterize these 10 tracks, with highlights of the first disc (Howard’s pieces) including the soprano-led soul-jazz groove tune “Precious Silver,” dedicated to Horace Silver; the slinky ballad “The Empty Chair,” for Johnny Hodges; and jaunty opener “Blues for Jimmy.”

On disc two (Brian’s tunes), “Elbows,” for Monk, is all sharp angles and quirky twists, and offers plenty of space for the trombonist’s rangy, invigorating solo. Also notable: Brian’s moody, color-shifting “April 1st, 1910,” dedicated to Harry Carney, and bouncy bop burner “Home Brew.”

Newport 1959: Listen Now!

The Newport Jazz Festival in 1959: The “New Testament” Count Basie Band. Thelonious Monk (in photo). Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, with Lee Morgan and Hank Mobley. Dizzy Gillespie. The Ahmad Jamal Trio. The Horace Silver Quintet. Dizzy Gillespie. The Jimmy Smith Trio. The Oscar Peterson Trio.

Now THAT was a real, artistically significant jazz festival, unlike too many of the overtly commercial events masquerading as jazz fests around my home state in recent years.

Thanks to NPR music,  I just came across fantastic audio from the fest – just listening to Atomic Basie playing “The Deacon,” spiked with a gritty, rambunctious solo by plunger-mute trombone wizard Al Grey. mediaPlayer.html?action=1&t=1&islist=false&id=122007665&m=122004714

A sampler of recordings from the fest is available here via NPR music, which offers five tracks — Basie, Blakey, Jamal,  Silver, Dakota Staton — discussed by New York Times critic Ben Ratliff and jazz announcer Josh Jackson on the latter’s Dec. 30 edition of “The Checkout” show on WBGO.

Amazingly enough, 27 sets from the festival can be heard online at Wolfgang’s Vault. The best part: There’s absolutely no admission charge.

The vault isn’t just about jazz. It also offers free-admission access to tons of great concerts by everyone from The Allman Brothers (Hollywood Bowl, Aug. 6, 1972) to Bob Marley (London, 1975) to Neil Young (Kezar Stadium, San Francisco, 1975).

How’d I not know about this great resource?

Tampa Jazz Notes 1.21.09: Jon Metzger, Ira Sullivan, Jazz at Lenny’s, Gumbi Ortiz

metzgerThe Monday Night Jazz Series at USF (Tampa) kicks off this Monday, Jan. 26, with a performance by vibraphonist, composer and educator Jon Metzger. Also coming soon:

  • The Mindy Simmons Trio’s tribute to Peggy Lee, Friday at the Palladium (Side Door Jazz)
  • The USF Magic Marimba Festival/Conference, this Friday and Saturday on the Tampa campus
  • Big Sam’s Funky Nation, from NOLA, Friday at the Crowbar
  • Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, Tuesday at the Van Wezel.

For more details on the above, check out my concert calendar.

The Wednesday night jazz jam session at Lenny’s Latin Cafe in Temple Terrace is alive and well, and continuing tonight. Drummer Don Capone and pianist Chuck Berlin preside. 7 to 10 p.m. Free admission.

Ira Sullivan turned in a typically artful, warmly engaging performance during his Tampa Jazz Club concert, Jan. 11 at the Springs Theater, a former movie theater converted into a recording studio/concert space.

The longtime South Florida jazz giant, 76, mixed and matched instruments — tenor and soprano saxophones, trumpet, cornet, flute — on two long sets, backed by a top-rank trio of Florida-based musicians: pianist Michael Royal, bassist Richard Drexler and drummer Danny Gottlieb.

The quartet turned in plenty of gems that could very well see the light of day, if a CD of the concert indeed is released, as Sullivan mentioned at several points during the show. Sullivan also made a point of instructing listeners in recording-session etiquette.

The first set included “The Way You Look Tonight,” Wayne Shorter’s “Infant Eyes,” Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Mojave,” chestnut “Yesterday’s Gardenias,” Horace Silver’s “Song For My Father,” and Royal’s “Julie’s Lament.”

Set two: “The Toy Trumpet” (preceded by a piped-in tape of Shirley Temple singing that tune), “The Summer Knows,” Thelonious Monk’s “Straight, No Chaser,” “Some Other Time,” “The Song is You,” and Sullivan’s traditional closing piece, “Amazing Grace.”

Sullivan, talkative and friendly, had lots to say on varied subjects, including:

  • His Christian faith: “I don’t know why Jesus led me to play jazz, but he certainly did.”
  • The meaning of jazz: “Jazz is America and freedom. That’s what it stands for.”
  • Why jazz is seemingly cherished more abroad than in its home nation: “A prophet is not without honor, even in his own country” (a New Testament quote)
  • The future for jazz: “Lo and behold, the world is going back to bebop.”
  • Hearing Charlie Parker play one of Norman Granz’s Jazz at the Philharmonic concerts.
  • Playing with the likes of regulars Tony Castellano (piano) and Steve Bagby (drummer) and many others, including Jaco Pastorius and Michel Legrand, during 14 years of performances at a Unitarian Universalist Church.

It’s great to see that my old friend Gumbi Ortiz, a superb conga player based in St. Petersburg, is on the road again with RTF guitarist Al Di Meola’s World Sinfonia. The group, touring in support of the just-released live album La Melodia, Live in Milano, recently played a New York show that was given a glowing review in Relix. The tour, with the sextet emphasizing the music of tango master Astor Piazzolla, continues in the U.S. through February, and then continues in Europe and Israel. Sadly, no Florida dates are on the itinerary.

The Blue Note 7: Mosaic

Blue Note Celebrates Its History … Again

A band organized by Blue Note, specializing in music from that label’s archives?

Déjà vu, anyone?

Blue Note’s New Directions Band, with the storied jazz label’s young stars — alto saxophonist Greg Osby, tenor saxophonist Mark Shim, pianist Jason Moran and vibraphonist Stefon Harris — joined by bassist Tarus Mateen and drummer Nasheet Waits, was just such a group.

New Directions, celebrating the 60th anniversary of the label, recorded a self-titled CD in 1999, and released it early the next year.

The band gave a significant boost to the careers of its members, several of whom obviously have notched considerable artistic and commercial success. I caught one performance on the group’s national tour, at a tiny, smoky, now-defunct club in Ybor City (Tampa).

Blue Note, too, has celebrated itself with countless concerts, films, sampler recordings, and other products.

The Blue Note 7 Launches

Now here comes The Blue Note 7, a band suggested by booking agent Jack Randall, and organized by Randall, pianist Bill Charlap, and talent manager Danny Melnick, as a way to celebrate the label’s 70th anniversary.

blue-note-71

“When plans for the extensive tour reached more than 50 American cities, the idea of a recording was inevitable,” according to jazz critic Ira Gitler’s liner notes for the group’s just-released CD, Mosaic: A Celebration of Blue Note Records.

 

The septet, this time not a group of upstarts, includes a stellar front line of horn players — celebrated New Orleans-bred trumpeter Nicholas Payton, underappreciated New York alto saxophonist and flutist Steve Wilson and tenor saxophonist Ravi Coltrane, still laboring to escape the shadow of his famous father.

Charlap, the musical director, is joined by rhythm-section mates Peter Bernstein on guitar, Peter Washington on bass, and Lewis Nash on drums – solid pros and creative players, all.

The material, variously arranged by band members and pianist Renee Rosnes (who happens to be married to Charlap), emphasizes compositions recorded for Blue Note from the mid-’50s through the mid-’60s.

Melnick, the CD’s executive producer, is head of the company producing the band’s tour. So is The Blue Note 7 an organically assembled outfit, or merely a sampler recording designed to promote a tour and boost sales of the label’s new and archival recordings?

Gitler writes, “It is more than a tribute band, a cadre with a cohesive compatibility, dealing with powerful music and reinterpreting it through new arrangements and individual solos.”

Mosaic

That assessment rings true, as the music on Mosaic is familiar (maybe overly so) but almost fresh — the band builds interesting new arrangements and consistently superb solo work on gems by major jazz composers. Thelonious Monk’s “Criss Cross,” arranged by Wilson, comes with new rhythmic twists, a spiky Coltrane solo and aptly rambunctious piano work.

Payton’s playing is particularly incisive and poignant on a floating-to-grooving version of Herbie Hancock’s “Dolphin Dance,” arranged by Rosnes, also responsible for a soaring arrangement of McCoy Tyner’s pretty, slow-moving “Search for Peace”; the horn players on the latter come off as a brass choir. Bernstein turns in warm melody work and a searching improvisation on his arrangement of Duke Pearson’s “Idle Moments,” originally recorded by Grant Green.

The title track, penned by Cedar Walton for the Jazz Messengers and arranged by Nash, lifts off with the drummer’s tricky rhythmic set-up. The tune later offers the kind of driving, chunky swing and extended trap-set wizardry sure to warm the heart of anyone who’s ever loved hard bop and lamented its passing (that includes me).

Also included in the eight-song set: Joe Henderson’s “Inner Urge,” arranged by Payton; Bobby Hutcherson’s “Little B’s Poem” (Wilson); and Horace Silver’s “The Outlaw” (Charlap).

Blue Note 7’s U.S. Concert Trek

The tour is off to an impressive start, according to jazz critic Doug Ramsey’s report on the band’s performance in Seattle. “…the little time they have spent as a unit is out of proportion to the ensemble’s spirit and unified sound,” Ramsey writes.

(Sadly, the tour itinerary doesn’t include any Florida dates).

Will this band continue working together after its weeklong engagement at New York’s Birdland, which concludes April 19?

Yes, as Charlap relates in the above video clip.

“We’ll be continuing later in the year, in the fall, in Europe,” he says. “Many of the players are already writing new arrangements. … Perhaps there will be a volume two and a volume three. I would not be surprised if that happens.”