Friday, December 29, 2006

Top 10 Of 2006

As 2006 draws to a close, here are ten jazz recordings that I've enjoyed this year, as well as a half-dozen non-jazz albums that spent a good deal of time playing on my iPod ...

1) JOHN ELLIS - By A Thread (Hyena)
While I enjoyed his previous two records immensely, saxophonist John Ellis has crafted a masterpiece (at least to my ears) with By A Thread. The band--guitarist Mike Moreno, pianist Aaron Goldberg, bassist Reuben Rogers and drummer Terreon Gully--interprets nine original compositions that span a variety of styles. The playing on the record is superb, but I believe what really hooked me was Ellis' clever writing. The saxophonist includes enough hooks to leave melodies lingering in your memory with plenty of room for soloists to stretch out.

2) BOB REYNOLDS - Can't Wait For Perfect (Fresh Sound New Talent)
Saxophonist Bob Reynolds augmented pianist Aaron Goldberg's working trio (featuring bassist Reuben Rogers and drummer Eric Harland) with Mike Moreno's guitar and his own tenor for a program of listener-friendly, original compositions with enough rhythmic and harmonic sophistication to keep things interesting. The addition of David Soler's pedal steel guitar on a pair of tracks gives the music a unique flavor reminiscent of Brian Blade's Fellowship records.

3) DAVE HOLLAND QUINTET - Critical Mass (Dare2)
There's something to be said about hearing an entire album's worth of new material being road tested just before it gets recorded. About a year ago Dave Holland brought his quintet to Schenectady and provided those of us in attendance with such an opportunity. Not that they needed the public rehearsal mind you - the band absolutely killed the material on stage - and did so once again a few days later in the studio. Critical Mass is easily my favorite Dave Holland Quintet record yet. Is it the mix of clever compositions from all the band members? The top notch soloing from everyone involved? The dynamic interplay between the rhythm section and the soloists? It's probably all of this plus the eight months of waiting to hear these songs once again and recapture the magic of that night last December ...

4) E.S.T. - Tuesday Wonderland (ACT)
The Esbjorn Svensson Trio continues its streak of highly crafted individualistic albums with a collection of songs said to be based on J.S. Bach's "Well Tempered Clavier." I don't believe this one has been released stateside just yet but the title track alone, with it's shifting odd-meter grooves and memorable melodies, makes this record worth seeking out overseas.

5) CHRIS POTTER - Underground (Sunnyside)
I had been blown away by a bootleg video of this group that I acquired about a year before this record came out. I waited anxiously to hear the 'official' documentation of Potter's fusion quartet to see how it would measure up to that live performance I had listened to so many times. I'm happy to report that the studio record was just as good as the live performance. The quartet - comprised of tenor sax, guitar, fender rhodes & drums - stretches out on Potter's original material as well as tunes by Radiohead, The Beatles and Billy Strayhorn.

I have never heard music that sounds quite like what pianist Nik Bartsh's group produces. Sure, the influences are apparent - classical minimalism, M-base, funk, electronica - but the way these five musicians combine these sounds in a live setting is unique and inspiring to my ears. To some it might be considered a stretch to put this music in a list of "jazz" recordings but there is certainly enough improvisation and group interaction to qualify.

7) FRANK LOCRASTO - When You're There (Maxjazz)
This is an incredible debut album for pianist Frank Locrasto. He's assembled an amazing band - including saxophonist Chris Cheek, guitarist Mike Moreno, bassist Ben Street & drummer Tommy Crane - to interpret nine of his original compositions. The core quintet is augmented with strings and woodwinds on several pieces adding a welcome layer of depth to the music. The writing is exquisite and the playing inspired.

Yet another example of hearing the music live before the recording ... I caught Joe Locke's band (minus Keezer) at the Kingston International Jazz Festival this summer where they played many of the selections on this recording. Drummer Terreon Gully and acoustic & electric bassist Mike Pope round out the quartet on this live recording with flawless execution and unbridled creativity.

9) BEN ALLISON - Cowboy Justice (Palmetto)
I've been a long time fan of bassist Ben Allison and his various ensembles. When I read that he was releasing his first record without a saxophonist I was initially a little disappointed (what can I say?) but I had faith that he would once again produce something out of the ordinary. When I actually heard the music I was blown away by the writing and the quartet he had assembled. Trumpeter Ron Horton, guitarist Steve Cardenas and drummer Jeff Ballard help Allison bring his songs of political dissidence to life while producing one of the fullest sounds I've heard from a piano-(and sax)-less quartet in some time.

10) MARCUS STRICKLAND - Twi-Life (disc 2) (Strick Music)
I first became acquainted with saxophonist Marcus Strickland through his work with bassist Lonnie Plaxico's group. Since then I've enjoyed his contributions to records by Dave Douglas, Roy Haynes, Jeff "Tain" Watts and others as well as his own recordings for the Fresh Sound New Talent label. To call Strickland's debut release on his own "Strick Music" label ambitious would be a vast understatement. It's difficult enough to release a recording on a brand new, independent label. Add to that the fact that it's a double album of (nearly) all original compositions performed by two bands and you're really challenging yourself as an artist. Strickland succeeds in presenting his vision with both an acoustic "Quartet" - featuring pianist Robert Glasper, acoustic bassist Vincente Archer and brother/drummer E.J. Strickland - and his electric "Twi-Life Quartet" - featuring guitarist Lage Lund, electric bassist Brad Jones and E.J. once again. While I enjoy both groups, the electric quartet gets my nod for the stellar guitar work by Lund.

KAMIKAZE HEARTS - Oneida Road (Collar Citty Records)
THE RACONTEURS - Broken Boy Soldiers (V2)
ZERO 7 - The Garden (Warner)
JOHN MAYER - Continuum (Columbia)
MUSE - Black Hole And Revolutions (A&E)
THE LAST KISS - Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (Lakeshore)

Friday, December 01, 2006

So far, so good

After a decent start and a shaky mid-season, the Cincinnati Bengals seem to be back on track with a three game winning streak.

The team started the season 3-0 but then lost the next 5 out of 6 games. At 4-5 it appeared the Bengals of old had returned - the offense was sputtering and the defense was atrocious. Then everything changed, at least in my mind, against San Diego in week 10. While the defense still struggled - the Chargers came back from a 21 point deficit and eventually scored 49 points - the Bengals offense finally connected. Even though they lost, Carson Palmer passed for a career high 440 yards, Chad Johnson racked up an unbelievable 260 yards receiving and the team wound up with 41 points.

After that shoot-out loss there has been no stopping the Palmer-Johnson connection nor the Bengals' winning ways. Division leaders New Orleans? Nope. The Cleveland Browns? Seriously? The Bengals defense, at one point ranked as one of the worst in football, held the Browns to zero points. Zip. Nada. Nothing. Last night the Bengals even defeated their division's leaders, the Baltimore Ravens. Once again a shut out until the final :60 seconds of the game when the Ravens finally put 7 points on the board.

At 7-5 with four more games to play it's conceivable that the Benglas could once again make their way into the play-offs and maybe, just maybe, win their division once again this year.

Saturday, July 08, 2006


If you know me you know I like my coffee. For many a year I have been a Dunkin Donuts coffee fanatic. I'm not proud of it. There was just something about that brand of bean that appealed to me. In the past year or so I've dabbled in Starbucks thanks to Andria and I enjoy some of their, ahem, fancier drinks - the white chocolate mocca is my current favorite. However, if given the choice of any coffee in the world I would inevitably choose Dunkin.

This has recently changed. In the past several months I've been acquiring my coffee beans from Albany's very own Daily Grind. I've enjoyed drinking coffee in their downstairs cafe for years but had never ventured upstairs to the store. I'm glad I did. Not only can one enjoy interesting musical discourses with Rick Miller but I've become addicted to their Vanilla Nut Bean blend of beans. You know you have some tasty coffee when even the used grounds smell good!

In any case, if you're a coffee lover I'd recommend checking out the Grind in either Albany or Troy, NY. I think you can also order beans from their website.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Lincoln Center

This past weekend I had the pleasure of performing at Lincoln Center in New York City with Alex Torres y Su Orquesta. Truth be told we actually performed outside in the venue's Josie Robertson Plaza, but hey, that's still Lincoln Center, right? The concert was part of the "Midsummer Night Swing" series where various dance bands perform in the plaza during the months of June and July.

The day began with a three hour drive from Albany to NYC. After we arrived I met up with my cousin Melissa, who happens to live a few blocks from the hotel we were staying at, as well as several other members of my family who traveled down to the city to catch our performance later that night. They were all on their way to the "Top Of The Rock" - a 70 story elevator ride up to the top of the Rockerfeller Building. The view was astounding.

After that it was time for sound check at Lincoln Center followed shortly thereafter by the actual performance. The show was very well attended and the band really rose to the occasion. I wish I had a better picture but this one will have to suffice:

The performance ended at 10pm which left us with a night free in the greatest city in the world. This of course meant I had to find some live jazz but not before filling my empty stomach. A few of us wondered around aimlessly looking for the perfect place to eat. We ended up at a small Irish pub for some burgers and brews and actually ran into a bunch of friends from Albany! What were the chances of that happening?! Anyway, later that evening, 1:00am actually, we wound up at Jazz At Lincoln Center's new "Dizzy's Club Coca Cola" for the late set by saxophonist Stacy Dillard's Quartet. It was the perfect way to cap off the evening.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Catching up in blogdom

It's been a while so I thought I'd post an update for the two to three people who actually read my blog.

Since my last post I have successfully emerged from the mouthpiece vortex, Morgan Excalibur in hand. Matter o' fact, I liked the tenor piece so much I went ahead and picked up the same piece for my alto. There was a brief retreat back to the vortex when I received my old Florida Link from Adam Niewood. This was the piece I had played on all through college before finding the Guardala. I had sent him the piece to correct some defects and when I got it back it played 100 times better than it ever did. After A-B-ing the two mouthpieces the Morgan still has the edge to me though I play the Link from time to time. Speaking of which I used the Otto Link on a recording session for pianist Azaam Hameed's upcoming CD. Oh and click on that link to Adam Niewood's website when you get a chance. Not only is he a great technician when it comes to mouthpiece work but he's a killer tenor player and composer as well. He's got a bunch of free mp3 downloads on his site that have been in constant rotation on my iPod for weeks.

Towards the end of February I had the pleasure of adjudicating my first high school jazz festival at Fonda-Fultonville High School. Guitarist Joe Finn and I listened and evaluated bands from all over New York state and also performed a brief set of standards for the students with some help from bassist Mike DelPrete and Danny Whelchel.

The next day I had the opportunity to play duo with two incredible pianists at a cafe Copake, NY - David Caldwell Mason and Armen Donelian. David ran into some killer traffic and ended up missing the first set but fortunately Armen just happened to be in attendance and joined me for a handful of tunes. Rather I should say I joined him. Prior to the performance I was familiar with his name but I didn't know much about Armen's playing. Let's just say that after our brief set I should have been paying him for the public lesson! He is a fantastic musician and I'd recommend going to hear him when he's in town at Justin's on April 8th. David eventually made it for the second set and we had fun, but not nearly as much fun as we had a few days later at Justin's. I had sent Dave charts and mp3s of my music a few weeks in advance of that performance and not only did he play the crap out of the tunes - he had them all memorized! I hope to do more playing with both David and Armen in the near future.

In the middle of March we had the second annual Burke Mountain Ski Trip. Though it began with six of us planning to drive north for a few days of skiing, in the end only three of us spent the weekend in Mike's family's trailside condo. I grew up skiing with my family but once I went to college and realized how expensive it was to strap on a couple boards to my feet and zoom down a mountain, ski trips became a thing of the past. Up until last year I don't think I had skied in ten years. Lucky for me it all came back on the first run. Heck, this year I even spent the end of the last day taking as much air as possible, reliving the glory days of my youth. I regretted this for days after we got home ...

There's a new instrument taking up space in my studio these days. I borrowed a friend's bass clarinet and I think I'm in love. While I'm not a fan the standard Bb clarinet, the bass clarinet is another beast entirely. Who knows, I may even practice it enough to bring it on a gig at some point. Stranger things have happened.

I've also been working on a few new tunes. I wrote a quirky 7/8 funk piece entitled "Gil Barney (Wins The Race)" in tribute to my dad. A little back story: Back in the day my father briefly attended a seminary while training to become a priest, which I hear was more common back in the day then it is in current times. In any case, one of his after hours hobbies was stock car racing which apparently wasn't looked on favorably by the seminary folks. Thus the stage name Gil Barney was born. I've always thought that was a quirky name and what better to name a quirky song. I've also been working on a as yet untitled ballad in tribute to the love of my life that will be unveiled this Sunday at Justin's. I hope she likes it!

Recent listening
DEXTER GORDON A Swingin' Affair
MICHAEL BLAKE Right Before Your Ears
POLAR BEAR Held on the Tips of Fingers
FIRE FLIES Baobabs in the Basement

Friday, February 10, 2006

An update on the mouthpiece vortex ...

For the past month or so I've been using the Morgan Excalibur 8EL mouthpiece on my tenor. It took a little while to adjust my airstream but I've been pretty pleased with the results. I've been experimenting with various reeds and have had the best luck with Vandoren Java 3.5 and 4's. Another adjustment to the new set up was the addition of a Francois Louis "Ultimate Ligature". While the name is a bit braggocious, it sure beat the crap out of the Rovner ligature I was originally using. Never was a big fan of those Rovners as any of my students will attest ...

So far the mouthpiece has fared well in the various music situations I've found myself in - jazz duos, trios & quartets and Alex Torres' salsa/merengue band. I get to try it out with a big band soon as the Empire Jazz Orchestra's spring concert is right around the corner. Speaking of which, this concert's guest artist is Rufus Reid (the good news). Just read through the music today and it looks like a great concert - except that I have to play a ton of clarinet (which is very, very bad news).

If all this mouthpiece talk sounds a bit neurotic - you're probably not a saxophonist. ;)

Recent listening:

CHARLIE HUNTER TRIO Copperopolis (Ropeadope)
CHRIS POTTER Underground (Sunnyside)
HAROLD DANKO QUARTET Stablemates (Steeplechase)
JACK DEJOHNETTE/BILL FRISELL The Elephant Sleeps But Still Remembers (Golden Beams)
MANU KATCHE Neighbourhood (ECM)

Thursday, February 02, 2006

New music

I've been enjoying a few records in the past week or two. Yesterday I picked up a copy of Chris Potter's new album Underground. Potter's quartet is comprised of Wayne Krantz on guitar, Craig Taborn on rhodes, and Nate Smith on drums. Though bass-less in instrumentation, Taborn's left hand and Krantz's guitar often provide a bottom end while at other times there is no bass line in the traditional sense, rather just overlapping textures of rhodes and guitar. The underlying groove provided by Smith is decidedly in a rock vein, though Potter isn't content to stick with simple meters. It's great to hear the four musicians stretch out on this material - most tracks clock in around ten minutes. Three shorter cover tunes - Radiohead's "Morning Bell", Billy Strayhorn's "Lotus Blossom" and a radically re-harmonized version of the Beatles' "Yesterday" - help break up the longer pieces to make the overall album an interesting listing. Take a listen for yourslef at iTunes or visit Potter's website at You can also stream the song "The Wheel" in it's entirety at

Another record that I picked up recently was Manu Katche's "Neighbourhood". I'd been reading baout this record for quite some time and though it isn't scheduled to be released in the U.S. until later this month I figured I'd spring the extra few bucks and buy the import. Of particular intrest to me was the involvment of pianist Marcin Wasilewski and bassist Slawomir Kurkiewicz as well as their occasional boss, trumpeter Tomasz Stanko. I was a big fan of Wasilewski's Trio record on ECM last year and when he and Kurkiewicz aren't playing as a trio they are part of Stanko's excellent quartet. Add Jan Garbarek's tenor and the leader's prog-rock influenced drumming to the mix and the end result is smooth jazz of the highest order. Don't get me wrong, you won't hear any of these tracks back to back with Kenny G and the like anytime soon, but the quintet create an easy to stomach, Euro-jazz sound that is right up my alley. I will say that Garbarek's tone tends to stick out from time to time but I've been able to cope with it since everything else sounds so good. No website for Katche himself but you can read a little more about the album at ECM's website

A third album that's received it's share of spins on my iPod is Paul Motian's Garden Of Eden. The drummer's second release on ECM in as many years finds him shorting the name of the long standing Paul Motian Electric Bebop Band to the Paul Motian Band. It also finds the usual instrumentation of drums, electric bass, two tenors and two guitars augmented by a third guitar! Having the the third guitar doesn't alter the sound of the group much to my ears but it is interesting to hear two soloists at once while a third guitar comps. In any case I love a third of this record (the tunes by Mingus, Monk & Bird) and am still up in the air about the rest of it. It seems that once the bebop tunes are out of the way, time is thrown out the window. I enjoy an occasional rubato piece as much as the next guy but when ten out of fourteen pieces have no discernible pulse whatsoever I tend to find myself loosing interest. What kills me the most is that the tunes with a pulse swing so hard! I'd love to hear more of that. Perhaps if Motian had sequenced the tunes in a different order ... I don't know. I think this one requires more listening. Listen for yourself at iTunes.

Friday, January 13, 2006

The Vortex

For the past several weeks I have been in saxophone purgatory. (For those reading who are not saxophonically inclined you may as well skip this entry) I've been happily playing a Guardala Brecker II mouthpiece on tenor for approximately ten years. I love that piece, it's free blowing, has a great tone and projects like crazy. I never thought I'd be looking for another mouthpiece - ever. But recently, within the past six months or so, I've been hearing a sound in my head that differed from the sound I was able to produce with the Guardala. Try as I may, I just wasn't getting the sound.

So, a few weeks ago, I entered "the mouthpiece vortex". I've heard stories of saxophonists who search their entire life for their holy grail mouthpiece, the one mouthpiece that just clicks. I thought I had my mouthpiece with the Guardala, so It wasn't until I began searching for a new piece that I realized that I too had entered the vortex - my every thought was centered on which mouthpiece I would try next, how did this one stack up to that one, would it work on a gig, etc. At one point I had collected ten different mouthpieces to try out:

Hard Rubber Otto Link W.T. facing
Hard Rubber Otto Link #6
Hard Rubber Otto Link #7
Metal Otto Link #5
Metal Otto Link #6
Metal Otto Link #7*
Metal Otto Link NY #7
Metal Otto Link Florida #8
Morgan Excalibur #8 EL
Morgan 8 L
Meyer #7

(Thanks to James, John, Jeremy, and Mike for contributing to the collection).

Well, much to my girlfriend's delight, I believe I may have settled on a mouthpiece ... for now. It's the hard rubber Morgan Excalibur 8 EL that I bought a while back. Saxophonist Myron Walden had tried some Excaliburs out and recommended the piece when I ran into him at Justin's about a year ago. At the time I ordered a couple and kept one but I didn't take to it initially and put it on the shelf. Recently I popped a 3.5 blue box Vandoren reed on the thing and it sang! Out of the pieces I've tried, I really feel the most comfortable on hard rubber but the Links lacked the projection I needed in a mic-less live situation. While I haven't used it on a gig yet, I did use the Excalibur at a rehearsal today and it worked great. I'll try it out this weekend at One Caroline and Justin's to make sure.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

2005 Cincinnati Bengals R.I.P.: 9.11.05 - 1.08.06

It was a heck of a season, but sadly all good things must come to an end - and what a sad end it was. In the second play of the Bengals first playoff game in 15 years, star quarterback and arguable team leader, Carson Palmer suffered a devastating injury that pretty much knocked the wind out of the rest of the team. Palmer had just thrown an incredible 66 yard completion to rookie receiver Chris Henry - who would also succumb to injury a little later in the game. (Palmer had also just signed a multi-year, multi-million dollar contract a few days earlier.) Enter veteran second string quarter back John Kitna who did his best to rally the team to a halftime lead.

While my hat is off to Kitna and the rest of the team for a resilient first half, the Bengals pretty much folded in the second half and handed the Steelers the victory. Watching those final two quarters made me think I was watching a traditional Bengals team, instead of this year's squad. And while I enjoyed this year's season immensely, I was pretty confident that the Bengals weren't going to go all the way. There were just too many games that the team didn't play well. That said, as long as Palmer is back next year, 2006 could be the year ...