Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Top 10 of 2007

It's that time of year again ...

1) SAM YAHEL TRIO - Truth And Beauty (Origin)
Previously known as Yaya3 and the Joshua Redman Elastic Band, the trio of organist Sam Yahel, saxophonist Joshua Redman and drummer Brian Blade eschews their usual electronics in favor of a stripped down organ combo sound on a collection of memorable compositions by the leader and covers of Ornette Coleman and Paul Simon.

2) KNEEBODY - Low Electrical Worker (Colortone Media)
Kneebody continues to create intriguing music that defies categorization. I had the pleasure of seeing the band perform at Bennington College this fall and was blown away, as expected. How this band can continue to stay just below the radar is beyond me.

3) KENDRICK SCOTT ORACLE - The Source (World Culture Music)
A varied collection of modern jazz compositions penned by the drummer featuring saxophonists Seamus Blake, Myron Walden & Walter Smith III, guitarists Mike Moreno, Lage Lund & Lionel Loueke, pianists Aaron Parks & Robert Glasper, bassist Derrick Hodge and vocalist Gretchen Parlato.

4) MIKE MORENO - Between The Lines (World Culture Music)
Having heard bootleg versions of several of these compositions, this studio collection of eight well crafted originals by the guitarist was well worth the wait. This one grew on me more and more with every listen.

5) E.S.T. - Live In Hamburg (ACT)
Released late in the year, this two disc set documents an evening with the Esbjorn Svennson Trio exactly as it went down from start to finish. These guys continue to be my hands-down favorite band in the world and the only thing that kept this from creeping up to number one was the fact that I love their studio recordings so much.

6) JEROME SABBAGH - Pogo (Sunnyside)
The French saxophonist's follow up to North (Fresh Sound New Talent) finds him surrounded with the same cast of characters - guitarist Ben Monder, bassist Joe Martin and drummer Ted Poor - interpreting eight of his intriguing original compositions.

7) MANU KATCHE - Playground (ECM)
On his second ECM release the drummer employs the same rhythm section as his debut - pianist Marcin Wasilewski and bassist Slawomir Kurkiewicz (on loan from trumpeter Tomasz Stanko's quartet) - together with with a young horn section comprised of saxophonist Trygve Seim and trumpeter Mathias Eick. The music is a great mixture of what one would expect from the ECM label with a touch of Katche's pop background seeping in. David Torn's subtle guitar on two tracks is an added bonus.

8) SEAMUS BLAKE - Way Out Willy (Criss Cross)
It's been a while since Seamus Blake put out a record under his own name. He's always been one of my favorite musicians and this collection of six originals was, to use the overused cliche once again, well worth the wait. The saxophonist is joined by a pair of his usual compatriots - pianist Dave Kikoski , and drummer Bill Stewart - and two younger musicians - guitarist Lage Lund and bassist Orlando LeFleming.

9) BRAD SHEPIK TRIO - Places You Go (Songlines)
This was a pleasant surprise for me this year. I was familiar with Brad Shepik but I had never checked out his work as a leader. I think I first discovered this recording through MySpace and it's another organ trio but with leader's guitar instead of sax. These ten tunes just stuck with me - I never get tired of listening to this record.

10) MANUEL VALERA - Vientos (Anzic)
I'm not usually a fan of chamber jazz recordings but pianist Manuel Valera came up with just the right combination of jazz quartet and woodwind quintet for my tastes. The tunes are great and Joel Frahm absolutely tears it up on tenor and soprano.

Honorable mention:

EBERHARD WEBER - Stages of a Long Journey (ECM)
I first heard this music on Jason Crane's "The Jazz Session" podcast and immediately downloaded it from iTunes. This is an incredible recording of a live concert with the bassist's all star combo - featuring vibraphonist Gary Burton and saxophonist Jan Garbarek among others - backed by a full orchestra. Beautiful, beautiful music.

I also listen to music that isn't jazz from time to time. Here are a few more records I enjoyed this year:

RADIOHEAD - In Rainbows
THE SHINS - Wincing The Night Away (Sub Pop)
IRON & WINE - The Shepherd's Dog (Sub Pop)
FIRE FLIES - Two New Sciences (Asteroid B-612 Records)

Sunday, November 18, 2007

It's funny the difference a few months make ...

It's funny the difference a few months make. Just past the halfway point of the season the Benglas have found themselves a measly 3-6. The 6 losses are certainly not from a lack of offense - Carson Palmer continues to put up the same type of numbers that got him to last year's Pro Bowl, running back Kelly Watson stepped up to fill in nicely for an injured Rudi Johnson for a few weeks and receiver TJ Houshmandzadeh is having the best year of his career so far, eclipsing usual star Chad Johnson who while playing well, is not living up to his own hype. Sadly the Bengals have one of, if not the, worst defenses in the National Football League. As it stands now the team is once again on track for their annual 8-8 final record under coach Marvin Lewis.

In the not-so-depressing sports category, the 2007 Boston Red Sox won the World Series! This made our trip to Fenway this summer even more memorable as we were actually watching the future world champs in action! I did my best to catch as many playoff games as possible this fall (including one I technically shouldn't have seen) but due to various performance/rehearsal commitments, I missed a lot of post season baseball. In the end, Game 4 of the World Series coincided with the BPQ's usual Sunday night gig at Justin's, but as the clock struck midnight I dropped the horn and ran (literally) across Lark Street to Legends Sports Bar to watch the final three outs. Not sure what was more entertaining, watching the games I was able to see or watching Manny, Papi and Papelbon show up on the late night TV circuit after their win. There certainly are some characters on that team ...

In the beginning of October I was fortunate to catch one of my favorite bands at Bennington College in Vermont. Kneebody is an instrumental quintet of LA & NY based musicians creating music that, to my ears, is totally contemporary and a logical extension of everything that has come before it. I suppose that can be said about many bands but there is something about this band's aesthetic that really appeals to me. Not to mention the fact that on a pure saxophonic level, Ben Wendel kicks some serious butt! Go check these guys out online and if you like what you hear support them by buying some music: www.kneebody.com.

Last weekend the Big Soul Ensemble closed out this year's "A Place For Jazz" concert series at the "Whisperdome" in Schenectady. The group is a year-old 17 piece big band led by saxophonist Keith Pray. We play a book of predominantly in-house compositions & arrangements though the occasional stock chart has found it's way into the book from time to time. The band played well and the night was recorded so there may be a CD on the way at some point. In the meantime you can check out some pictures on www.albanyjazz.com.

Later that same weekend the BPQ headed to NYC for a performance at Django Restaurant on Lexington and 36th. We were the musical entertainment for the Clockwork Theater's annual fundraising event. The performance itself went off without a hitch though getting to NYC on the other hand ... let's just say that the next road trip will include a rental van. After the gig we dropped off our gear at the hotel and headed down to the village for some great Thai food - a new favorite, thanks guys - and a set by the Spike Wilner Ensemble at Smalls featuring trumpeter Ryan Kisor. Big thanks to Clockwork for having us at their event and the guys in the band for dealing with all of the ups and downs of the road trip with style and class.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

1 - 0

The Cincinnati Benglas won their home opener last night in a close match-up with division rivals the Baltimore Ravens.

The Ravens defense is said to be one of the toughest in the league, but it was the Bengals usually sub-par D that stepped up last night to help win the game. The Ravens turned over the ball on their first three or four possessions to a Bengals defense that really looked impressive.

Their highly touted offense of Carson Palmer and the Johnsons (Chad and Rudi) got the job done even though their final numbers don't reflect it. Chad's early TD and sideline celebration were fun and he claims there's plenty more where that came from.

If last night was an indication of how the defense will play this year, I'd say 2007 could be the year of the Bengals!

Sunday, May 20, 2007

B is for Brian

Baseball has always been popular in my family, especially on my mother's side. Growing up in the Bronx my mom was a huge fan of the Yankees - which is why the story of my baseball loyalty is so bizarre.

Seems that when I was a young child my mom thought it would be cute to buy me a blue baseball cap with a red "B" on it. "B is for Brian" is what I was told growing up. Well, it didn't take me long to realize that I was wearing a hat that pitted me against the rest of my family and friends. I'm not sure if it had anything to do with youthful rebellion, but from that day forward I've been a fan of the Boston Red Sox.

As a kid I was a baseball fanatic, a die-hard little leaguer and an avid baseball card collector. Somewhere around the end of high school and the start of college my interest in the game waned. When the Sox won their first world series in ages a few years ago, I was happy, but I didn't get sucked back in.

Fast forward to last year. Somewhere along the line I was bitten by the bug once again. I think it might have been spending a few days in Rockport, MA among countless other Boston fans, opposed to the plethora of upstate New York Yankee fans. The fact that the team was doing fairly well didn't hurt either. In any case, I followed much of the 2006 season and was disappointed when the Bronx Bombers swept my team, effectively ending their season.

I wasn't sure if I'd be as interested in the game this year but I've been following the 2007 season even closer than last year. I've even gone as far as ordering the MLB package from Time Warner Cable so I can actually watch some games that are against teams other than the Yankees. Speaking of which, another sweep this week?

Monday, April 30, 2007

Catching up ...

It has been a busy few months, most of which was spent preparing for the release of my group's third CD. If you're reading this, chances are you know all about As We Know It (WEPA Records) - but just in case - you can read more about the CD and listen/purchase a copy here or listen/download tracks from iTunes here.

We had a release party on Friday, April 20th at the WAMC Performing Arts Studio's Linda Norris Auditorium aka "The Linda." There were lots of friends, family and other folks in attendance. The folks at the Linda were great to work with and recorded the concert for a future broadcast.

The next week I had the opportunity to perform at my alma mater - Schalmont High School. The last time I had been back to 1 Sabre Drive was in 1997 when I had a brief stint as director of the jazz ensemble. There's been a good deal of construction since then (including a complete overhaul of the auditorium) but the memories came flooding back nonetheless. Sean Lowery invited me to perform with my own group and also appear as a guest soloist with the Schalmont High School Jazz Ensemble. It was truly an honor to be given this opportunity and a lot of fun to work with the kids.

I've also come down with quite the case of baseball fever. More on that later.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

A Tribute To Michael Brecker

Bill McCann was kind enough to invite me on his "Saturday Morning Edition of Jazz" radio program on WCDB 90.9 FM this past Saturday to present a four hour tribute to the late Michael Brecker.

It was tough choosing a mere four hours of music to showcase considering the body of work Brecker recorded in his lifetime. I ultimately decided on a three part program focusing on his early work as a sideman, his solo recordings and his later work as a sideman. Listening to this music brought back a flood of memories ...


PART ONE – The Early Years (1972 – 1984)

Horace SilverIn Pursuit of the 27th Man (1972)
Track 3 – "Gregory Is Here" (6:18)
Horace Silver (piano), Randy Brecker (trumpet), Bob Cranshaw (electric bass), Mickey Roker (drums)

Hal GalperReach Out (1976)
Track 2 – "I’ll Never Stop Loving You" (7:14)
Hal Galper (piano)

Mel LewisMel Lewis & Friends (1977)
Track 3 – "Moose The Mooche" (8:10)
Freddie Hubbard (trumpet), Hank Jones (piano), Ron Carter (bass) Mel Lewis (drums)

Chet BakerYou Can’t Go Home Again (1977)
Track 1 – "Love For Sale" (13:03)
Chet Baker (trumpet), Richie Beirach (electric piano & clavinet), John Scofield (guitar), Ron Carter (acoustic bass), Alphonso Johnson (electric bass), Tony Williams (drums), Don Sebesky (string arrangement)

Brecker BrothersHeavy Metal Be-Bop (1978)
Track 3 – "Some Skunk Funk" (6:59)
Randy Brecker (trumpet), Barry Finnerty (guitar), Neil Jason (electric bass), Terry Bozio (drums)

Pat Metheny80/81 (1980)
Disc 2, Track 3 – 'Every Day (I Thank You)' (13:16)
Pat Metheny (guitar), Charlie Haden (bass), Jack DeJohnette (drums)

Chick CoreaThree Quartets (1981)
Track 8 – "Confirmation" (6:15)
Chick Corea (drums)

Steps AheadSteps Ahead (1983)
Track 1 – "Pools" (11:22)
Eliane Elias (piano), Mike Mainieri (vibes), Eddie Gomez (bass), Peter Erskine (drums)

John AbercrombieNight (1984)
Track 3 – "3 East" (4:27)
John Abercrombie (guitar), Jan Hammer (keyboards), Jack DeJohnette (drums)

PART TWO – Solo Recordings (1987 – 2003)

Michael BreckerMichael Brecker (1987)
Track 5 – "The Cost of Living" (7:49)
Pat Metheny (guitar), Kenny Kirkland (piano), Chalie Haden (bass), Jack DeJohnette (drums)

Michael BreckerDon’t Try This At Home (1988)
Track 4 – "Suspone" (4:58)
Mike Stern (guitar), Joey Calderazzo (piano), Jeff Andrews (electric bass), Adam Nussbaum (drums)

Michael BreckerNow You See It … Now You Don’t (1990)
Track 8 – "The Meaning of the Blues" (6:01)
Joey Calderazzo (piano), Jay Anderson (bass), Adam Nussbaum (drums)

Michael BreckerTales From The Hudson (1996)
Track 2 – "Midnight Voyage" (7:18)
Pat Metheny (guitar), Joey Calderazzo (piano), Dave Holland (bass), Jack DeJohnette (drums)

Michael BreckerTwo Blocks From The Edge (1998)
Track 2 – "El Nino" (7:42)
Joey Calderazzo (piano), James Genus (bass), Jeff “Tain” Watts (drums), Don Alias (percussion)

Michael BreckerTime Is Of The Essence (1999)
Track 3 – "Half Past Late" (7:54)
Pat Metheny (guitar), Larry Goldings (organ), Bill Stewart (drums)

Michael Brecker Nearness of You – The Ballad Book (2001)
Track 3 – "Nascente" (6:18)
Pat Metheny (guitar), Herbie Hancock (piano), Chalie Haden (bass), Jack DeJohnette (drums)

Michael Brecker QuindectetWide Angles (2003)
Track 6 – "Scylla" (10:40)
Alex Sipiagin (trumpet), Robin Eubanks (trombone), Peter Gordon (french horn), Steve Wilson (flute), Iain Dixon (clarinet & bass clarinet), Charles Pillow (oboe & English horn), Mark Feldman (violin), Joyce Hammann (violin), Lois Martin (viola), Erik Friedlander (cello), Adam Rogers (guitar), John Patitucci (bass), Antonio Sanchez (drums), Daniel Sadownick (percussion)

PART THREE – Late Career (1995 – 2002)

Gary BurtonTimes Like These (1988)
Track 1 – "Times Like These" (6:34)
John Scofield (guitar), Gary Buton (vibes), Marc Johnson (bass), Peter Erskine (drums)

Don GrolnickWeaver of Dreams (1989)
Track 5 – "I Want To Be Happy" (5:45)
Randy Brecker (trumpet), Barry Rogers (trombone), Bob Mintzer (bass clarinet), Don Grolnick (piano), Dave Holland (bass), Peter Erskine (drums)

Brecker BrothersReturn Of The Brecker Brothers (1992)
Track 4 – "Above & Below" (7:05)
Randy Brecker (trumpet), Mike Stern (guitar), George Whitty (keyboards), James Genus (electric bass), Dennis Chambers (drums), Bashiri Johnson (percussion)

Twin Tenors (1993)
Track 2 – "Giant Steps" (6:09)
Bob Minzter (tenor sax), Don Grolnick (piano), Michael Formanek (bass), Peter Erskine (drums)

McCoy TynerInfinity (1995)
Track 2 – "I Mean You" (7:16)
McCoy Tyner (piano), Avery Sharpe (bass), Aaron Scott (drums)

Herbie HancockThe New Standard (1996)
Track 7 – "Scarborough Fair" (8:24)
Herbie Hancock (piano), John Scofield (guitar), Dave Holland (bass), Jack DeJohnette (drums), Don Alias (percussion)

Mike SternGive and Take (1997)
Track 2 – "Hook Up" (7:01)
Mike Stern (guitar), John Patitucci (bass), Jack DeJohnette (drums)

Charlie HadenAmerican Dreams (2002)
Track 2 – "Travels" (6:44)
Charlie Haden (bass), Brad Mehldau (piano), Brian Blade (drums), Vince Mendoza (string arrangement, conductor)

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Michael Brecker (1949-2007)

I was down in NYC yesterday when I learned of Michael Brecker's passing. Needless to say, I'm devastated. If it weren't for him, I doubt I'd be doing what I'm doing with my life. His tone, his mastery of the horn, his unique vocabulary, his ability to fit into any musical situation with ease ... so many things made Brecker my main musical influence ever since I first heard him as a freshman in high school. Over the years I've accumulated a great deal of his music - all of which has served as continual inspiration. I even had the pleasure of meeting and talking to him on several occasions and he was the nicest human being you could imagine. Thanks for the inspiration Mike.


Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Addendum ...

Each year my "Top 10" list is a continual work in progress. From January to December I acquire a great deal of music but there are certain recordings that grab and hold my attention right from the get-go more than others.

I've long been a fan of trumpeter Dave Douglas and his many ensembles so when I heard that he was releasing another recording by his quintet in April I was elated. Although their last few recordings were fantastic, upon initial listening I wasn't moved by Meaning and Mystery (Greenleaf Music). So, the recording got filed away with so many others from the year that, while enjoyable, I didn't find myself coming back to on a regular basis.

Fast forward to December - Douglas and the Quintet documented a full week of live performances at NYC's Jazz Standard and made the recordings available to the public the very next day on his own Greenleaf Music website. I checked out some of this music and really liked what I heard. This made me go back and reexamine not only the new recording but all of the quintet's releases.

I'm not sure what I was thinking the first time around but Meaning and Mystery is a great album!!! Hearing these compositions in a live setting made me enjoy the studio documentation a little more and I'm really digging Donny McCaslin's sax work. Chris Potter's are some pretty big shoes to fill and McCaslin has done a great job stepping in and bringing his unique approach to improvisation to Douglas' music.

So, add another record to my Top 10, er, 11 of 2006.