Midnight Train- Errol Dixon

Midnight TrainTitle: Midnight Train

Artist: Errol Dixon

Label: Wolf

Formats: CD, Digital

Release date: June 8, 2018

 

Midnight Train is a live recording of blues and “piano boogie woogie” musician Errol Dixon’s performance at Vienna’s popular jazz club, Jazzland, in 1973. The album features a few of Dixon’s originals such as “Pretty Baby,” “Foot Stompin’ Boogie,” “I’ve Got the Blues,” and perhaps his most popular tune, “Midnight Train.” Dixon also plays a number of standards: Aaron Walker’s “Stormy Monday,” Leiber and Stoller’s “Kansas City,” B.B. King’s “Rock Me Baby,” Floyd Dixon’s “Hey Bartender,” and Ma Rainey’s “See, See Rider.” Continue reading

Erroll Garner – Nightconcert

Garner
Title: Nightconcert 

Artist: Erroll Garner

Label: Mack Avenue

Formats: CD, LP, Digital

Release Date: July 13, 2018

 

 

Although it has been just over 40 years since his death, legendary jazz pianist Erroll Garner’s music vibrantly lives on thanks to the record labels who have championed his work. First, Sony Legacy released The Complete Concert By The Sea in 2015 as well as Ready Take One the following year, both of which received major award consideration. Now the people behind Mack Avenue Records have continued efforts to keep Garner’s memory alive with their new release,

Nightconcert. The title is drawn from Garner’s midnight concert in November 1964 at The Royal Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, captured live with an audience of 2000 highly enthusiastic and enraptured people of all ages. This concert recording displays Garner at the height of his career, with eight unique arrangements of classic standards as well as a newly discovered original!

Erroll Garner, was born June 25th, 1923 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He may be best remembered for his composition, “Misty,” which has become a treasured classic for jazz lovers and standard repertoire for every jazz musician to this very day. Beginning his study of the piano at age three, Garner took lessons from a family friend but he was primarily self-taught and remained an “ear-player” his entire life, never learning to read music. By age 11 his career was well on its way as he played piano on Allegheny riverboats and at 14 he began playing with well-known saxophonist Leroy Brown. Garner went on to enjoy a successful career working with other greats like bassist Slam Stewart and bebop saxophonist Charlie Parker on the “Cool Blues” sessions. He also made regular appearances on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.

Nightconcert is an instant classic piano trio album as Garner displays his incomparable style and virtuosity. Opening with the Rogers and Hart classic “Where or When,” Garner chooses to begin this and many other songs with elaborate piano introductions, often with the intent of throwing off the audience so they don’t know what song is coming. He seems to have a tendency to play a hemiola in these intros by maintaining a triple meter in the left hand while playing in a duple meter in the right. He makes this especially prevalent later in the album with the song “Night and Day” as he carries this idea from the introduction throughout the rest of the tune. This is indicative of Garner’s overall style—his right hand typically lays back behind the beat as his left hand drives steadily along—often used as a powerful function to begin and end his slick phrases. As the concert continues, Garner jumps between his up-tempo tunes and lush ballads such as “My Funny Valentine” and “Over The Rainbow,” where he enraptures listeners with his thick and unique chord voicing.

Garner’s playing is unlike any others and simply hearing his live performance on Nightconcert is a truly unique experience—from his iconic groans that can be heard on every record, to his astounding skill and mastery over the piano. Great thanks must be extended to those at Mack Avenue Records for releasing yet another historical recording that keeps Garner’s body of work alive for a new generation.

Reviewed by Jared Griffin

Courtney Pine – Black Notes From the Deep

Courtney Pine
Title: Black Notes From the Deep

Artist: Courtney Pine

Label: Freestyle

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release date: October 27, 2017

 

 

From across the pond comes British jazz musician Courtney Pine’s latest offering, Black Notes From the Deep. Perhaps best known as a founding member of the Jazz Warriors as well as host of the radio show Jazz Crusade on BBC Radio 2, Pine has had a major impact on the U.K. jazz scene over the last thirty years. On his 19th album, the multi-instrumentalist focuses primarily on tenor sax while collaborating with another U.K. legend, neo-soul singer Omar Lye-Fook. Backing musicians include the dream team of Alec Dankworth (son of Cleo Laine) on bass, Robert Mitchell on piano, and Washington, DC native Rod Youngs on percussion.

As the needle drifts over the grooves of the opening track, there’s no doubt that pairing Omar with Pine was a brilliant idea. “Rules,” co-written by the two musicians, is a fitting intro the album and offers a glimpse of things to come (see video below for a live performance of the song). Next up is “You Know Who You Are.” This sultry, atmospheric instrumental brings to mind a smoky jazz club in a film noir while showcasing the piano stylings of Mitchell and some tasty tenor solos from Pine.

Several members of the group, including Pine, have Jamaican roots, which influenced the instrumental “Rivers of Blood.” The title references the 1968 anti-immigration speech by Enoch Powell, a British member of Parliament, directed primarily at the initial wave of Caribbean immigrants to the U.K. from 1948-1968. Pine’s tenor combines with chords on the lower octaves of the piano to speak the bitter truth of this era, but a ray of hope is offered as the instruments move into the upper registers, building to a forceful conclusion that defies all odds.

Ushered in on a bass riff quoting Curtis Mayfield, “Darker Than the Blue” is definitely an album highlight, with Omar imploring, “Please tell me why, why oh why, would you want to leave me this way?” while Pine wails on the tenor sax like a lover scorned. Omar returns for two more tracks, the organ layered “In Another Time” and a new interpretation of Herbie Hancock’s “Butterfly,” the latter featuring Charleen Hamilton on background vocals. On the upbeat instrumental “A Change Is Sure to Come,” Pine finesses the bass flute, proving his versatility while offering the other members of the ensemble an opportunity to solo. The album concludes on “A Word to the Wise,” with Pine plumbing the depths of the tenor to signal a warning call.

Black Notes From the Deep indeed plumbs the depth of jazz and soul, adeptly mixing message songs with passionate instrumentals performed with deft expertise by musicians who have spent decades honing their craft.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis – Handful of Keys

Handful of Keys
Title: Handful of Keys

Artist: Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis

Label: Blue Engine

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: September 15, 2017

 

The latest release from the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis, Handful of Keys, features pianists Joey Alexander, Dick Hyman, Myra Melford, Dan Nimmer, Helen Sung, and Isaiah J. Thompson. According to the liner notes by Myra Melford, “this concert was an ‘encapsulated history’ exploring the many rich traditions and styles that define jazz piano today.” By showcasing a multi-generational group (ranging from ages 13 to 89), this album does an outstanding job at presenting 100 years of jazz piano.

The words phenomenal and exhilarating come to mind when describing this project, with each featured pianist offering a different layer of excitement. Beginning with Dick Hyman’s arrangement of “Jingles” by James P. Johnson, the listener is shown a glimpse into the past while given a taste of Hyman’s personality. His flawless execution of intricate passages during this performance demonstrates his dexterity on the piano, and his brilliance in jazz. “Four By Five” captures the spirit of McCoy Tyner, while demonstrating Helen Sung’s creativity as a pianist and arranger. Fragments of Tyner’s vocabulary (pentatonic and quartal harmony) are heard in Sung’s solo, but what’s even more interesting is the way Tyner’s vocabulary is incorporated in the melodic phrases of the horn section.

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Joey Alexander’s heartfelt performance on Bill Evans’ “Very Early” provides excitement through his use of melodic and rhythmic motivic development (in the style of Evans), while Myra Melford’s use of Afro-Cuban montuno patterns and rhythm blended with free improvisational concepts on “The Strawberry” inspires us to dance. Isaiah J. Thompson’s magnificent tribute to pianist Oscar Peterson, “Hymn To Freedom,” takes us on a musical journey displaying virtuosic melodic lines and block chords reminiscent of Peterson. Lastly, but certainly not least, pianist Dan Nimmer of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra performs a fabulous rendition of Wynton Kelly’s “Temperance,” displaying his technical abilities and finesse for jazz piano while capturing the light and expressive style of Kelly.

While this album features jazz pianists, we cannot neglect the role of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. The ensemble does not miss a beat moving from one style to another. The precision of notes, the time-feel, and the overall sound of the collective ensemble displays a high level of musicianship and professionalism, while providing support for the featured pianists.

Handful of Keys is an album that honors the jazz tradition and legacy of past pianists, while contributing new interpretations and arrangements to ensure the continuing longevity of the genre.

Reviewed by Jamaal Baptiste

McGill/McHale Trio – Portraits: Works for Flute, Clarinet & Piano

McGill McHale trio
Title: Portraits: Works for Flute, Clarinet & Piano

Artist: McGill/McHale Trio

Label: Cedille / dist. Naxos

Formats: CD, MP3, FLAC

Release date: August 11, 2017

 

Chicagoans who followed the classical music scene in the 1990s were likely first introduced to the amazingly talented McGill brothers when they performed with the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra. Raised on the South Side of Chicago, they began studying classical music at an early age, and by their high school years were receiving national attention.

Now, as musicians who hold principal positions in major orchestras, the brothers have not only reached the pinnacle of their chosen professions, but are among the few African Americans to do so. Demarre McGill recently returned to the Seattle Symphony as principal flute, and younger brother Anthony McGill is principal clarinet of the New York Philharmonic. Together with Irish pianist Michael McHale, they formed the McGill/McHale Trio in 2014. Portraits is the trio’s debut recording, released on the prominent Chicago-based Cedille label.

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For this project, the McGill/McHale Trio selected works by living composers; three of those works are recorded for the first time on Portraits. The album takes its title from the longest work on the disc (26:03), Portraits of Langston by Kentucky native Valerie Coleman, flutist/composer of the Chicago-based quintet Imani Winds. Composed in 2007, her six movement suite is based on selected poems by Langston Hughes, which are recited before their corresponding movements by Oscar-winning actor Mahershala Ali. Hughes’ love of jazz is conveyed in Coleman’s musical palette, along with other styles reflective of the Harlem Renaissance era.

The suite begins with the short, melodic “Prelude: Helen Keller,” then delves into the polyrhythmic “Danse Africaine.” After an extended clarinet solo, the movement becomes increasingly frenetic, offering an opportunity for each instrument to shine. The poem “Le Grand Duc Mambo,” describing an altercation between the dancers and patrons of a Parisian cabaret, is masterfully mimicked by flute and clarinet as they enter into a brief and occasionally strident squabble.  “In Time of Silver Rain” speaks of a period “when spring and life are new.” Here Coleman eschews jazz, writing instead a short, atmospheric piece with hints of Debussy in the piano intro and undulating winds, which also carries over into the flute solo.

Returning once again to Hughes’ brief sojourn in Paris in the 1920s, “Jazz Band in a Parisian Cabaret” is “that tune that laughs and cries at the same time.” As the programmatic movement progresses, jazz inflections intensify, with the climax brilliantly pairing stride piano against clarinet riffs. Though one might expect “Harlem’s Summer Night” to be more boisterous, Coleman instead concludes the suite in a more tranquil manner, with blue notes only occasionally jarring the calm of the evening.

French composer Guillaume Connesson reveals his pop music influences in Techno-Parade (2002). This virtuosic work features “a continuous pulsation from start to finish,” emulating the repetitive nature of the Kraftwerk-influenced electronic dance music that emerged from Detroit’s African American clubs in the 1980s and became hugely popular in Europe.  The ensemble performs brilliantly, maintaining precision throughout the complex counterpoint and rhythms, and increasing the intensity right up to the explosive finish.

Other works featured on the recording include an orchestrated version of Chris Rogerson’s A Fish Will Rise (2014/2016), based on Norman Maclean’s best-selling book A River Runs Through It;  Paul Schoenfield’s Sonatina for Flute, Clarinet and Piano; Philip Hammond’s The Lamentation of Owen O’Neil; and McHale’s arrangements of both Sergei Rachmaninov’s Vocalise and the Irish traditional song The Lark in the Clear Air.

Portraits showcases the formidable talents of Demarre and Anthony McGill, who have found their match in the outstanding pianist Michael McHale. Performing with emotional intensity, extraordinary precision, and superb blending of timbres, the McGill/McHale Trio presents a dazzling debut album that’s equally significant for its three world premiere recordings of contemporary works. Highly recommended!

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

Aruán Ortiz – Cub(an)ism

Aruán Ortiz
Title: Cub(an)ism

Artist: Aruán Ortiz

Label: Intakt

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: June 18, 2017

 

 

Cuban-born pianist Aruán Ortiz blends Cuban traditional rhythms with Cubist concepts and elements of free jazz improvisation in his astounding new release Cub(an)ism. This solo piano album is filled with fragments taken from both sides of the Cuban-Cubist spectrum, using the fundamental Afro-Cuban rhythmic structures as vehicles for Ortiz’s Cubist expressions. On “L’ouverture” he uses the Afro-Haitian gagá rhythm as a motif, which is developed further as the piece progresses. “Cuban Cubism,” however, begins with free improvisation, later combining Afro-Cuban 6/8 rhythmic patterns in the left hand with jazz melodic phrases in the right hand.

Cub(an)ism is a model for any aspiring musician interested in blending folkloric musics and classical structures.

Editors note: This fall Ortiz will be touring the U.S. and performing at jazz festivals in Chicago, Seattle and San Francisco.

Reviewed by Jamaal Baptiste

Revolutionary Rhythm


Title:  Revolutionary Rhythm

Artist:   Jade Simmons

Label:  E1 (formerly Koch International)

Catalog No.: KIC-CD-7760

Format: CD

Release Date:  March 24, 2009

Jade Simmons wears her contrasting identities like a coat of arms, challenging the assumptions of what each identity should be or do.  Young black women aren’t supposed to like classical music; beauty pageant queens (Simmons was Miss Illinois and first runner-up for Miss America in 2000) aren’t supposed to be persons of real substance or significant talent; classical musicians aren’t supposed to intersect with popular music, or have time for such non-musical pursuits as teen suicide prevention (Simmons’s pageant charity platform) or high fashion (she designs her own concert gowns.)

Rather than shrug off such externally-imposed expectations, Simmons confronts them directly in her public persona, web presence, and recordings, crafting a vision of a youthful future for classical music.  Technology plays no small role in this endeavor.  Like many popular artists (but perhaps not so many classical ones), she’s on Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace, building a grassroots network of fans among classical buffs and youth alike; and lest you question her rank in the classical realm, it’s worth noting that she was asked to host the first online broadcast of this year’s Van Cliburn International Piano Competition.

This constellation (or revolution, as Simmons would have it) of identity, genre, and technology is evident throughout her new release, Revolutionary Rhythm. The album as a whole is the first installment of what Simmons calls The Rhythm Project, dedicated to exploring the rhythmic and percussive qualities of the piano.  It comprises four contemporary piano pieces: Russell Pinkston’s TaleSpin (2000) for piano and pre-recorded electronics; Samuel Barber’s Piano Sonata, Op. 26 (1949); John Corigliano’s Etude Fantasy for Piano (1976); and three of Daniel Bernard Roumain‘s Hip-Hop Studies & Etudes (2006). 

TaleSpin combines the repetitive gestures of post-minimalism with electronic sound and dancelike rhythmic motives; as an album-opener, it has enough energy to catch a listener’s ear without sounding alienating.  The Barber sonata represents Barber’s foray into modernist techniques such as serialism, while still infused with Barber’s typical lush harmonies, and Simmons interprets its formidable fugue movement as a series of jazzy syncopations.  Corigliano’s Etude Fantasy, a lesser-known work, stands as a breath of stillness in the midst of the other pieces’ busier rhythms, as Simmons gives its stark left-hand-only opening plenty of space and deliberation.  Finally, DBR’s amalgam of hip hop beats and classical virtuosity in the Hip-Hop Studies & Etudes seems to herald one future for classical music:  it doesn’t sound like classical music trying to ape hip-hop, or vice versa, but suggests a more elegant fusion of the two, crafted by artists who understand both.  Although the piece was originally scored for solo instrument or ensemble, Simmons’s solo piano rendition includes pre-recorded hip hop beats laid under her piano lines (when she performs it live, she uses a loop pedal to self-accompany.)

Simmons’s technical skill and interpretive abilities shine throughout this album, making Revolutionary Rhythm not only a cohesive and interesting group of contemporary pieces, but a promising first step for an artist with a vision of where she wants to go.

Following is a YouTube clip of Jade Simmons talking about the pieces on the album:

Posted by Ann Shaffer

Messin’ Around Blues

blythe.jpgTitle: Messin’ Around Blues
Artist: Jimmy Blythe
Label: Delmark
Catalog No.: DE 792
Date: 2007

Delmark has just released a CD of “enhanced pianola rolls” recorded in Chicago in the late 1920s by Jimmy Blythe (one of the first boogie woogie pianists) for the Capitol Music Roll Company’s Nickelodeon series. Around 1970, Paul Affeldt, publisher of Jazz Report magazine, decided to release this material for the first time on LP as part of his Euphonic Sound label (named after his favorite Scott Joplin rag). Working with collector Bill Burkhardt of Grand Rapids, Michigan (who loaned the four rare Nickelodeon rolls) and using a restored player piano, Affeldt and fellow piano roll enthusiast Ed Sprankle meticulously recorded the rolls and released them as part of a two LP set also featuring Clarence Johnson. Delmark acquired the Euphonic master tapes from Affeldt (who passed away in 2003), and has been reissuing the digitally remastered material on CDs (though several of these reissues are clearly labeled “Euphonic series” in the Delmark catalog, Messin’ Around Blues is not labeled as such- at least not on the CD).

Jimmy Blythe was born in Kentucky in 1901 and moved to Chicago as a teenager (sometime between 1915-1918), where he studied with Clarence Jones. By the early 1920s he was well established in the South Side clubs as a ragtime and boogie woogie pianist. Library of Congress copyright records show that he also composed at least 40 compositions between 1922 and 1930, including five works featured on this CD: “Steppin’ On the Gas” (1925), “Forty Blues” (1926), “My Baby” (1927), “I Won’t Give You None” (1929), and “The Folks Down-Stairs” (1930). In addition, Blythe was also extremely active as a recording artist for the Paramount, Vocalion, and Gennett labels, performing both solos and duets, and backing up musicians ranging from Ma Rainey and Blind Blake to Louis Armstrong and Johnny Dodds. His song, “Chicago Stomp,” recorded for Paramount in 1924, is generally considered to be the first recorded example of boogie woogie (according to the liner notes, though earlier examples have been cited elsewhere; see John Tennison’s excellent website on the history of boogie woogie piano). Apparently Blythe made even more piano rolls than 78s- at least 200 for Capitol and its subsidiary labels alone- and these include some of his hottest solo performances.

For those not familiar with piano rolls, there are two types: those which were arranged (i.e., punched by hand by a talented arranger), and those which were played by a pianist sitting at a special recording piano, which faithfully transferred the notes, in tempo, onto a roll. The latter technique, developed around 1915, was employed for all of the Blythe piano rolls, essentially capturing a “live” performance (though some note correcting and doctoring could still be done after the fact). These piano rolls complement Blythe’s solo recordings released on 78s (most were reissued by RST on Chronological Order Piano Solos, 1924-1931), and allow for a much broader study of the artist.

Delmark has done a superb job of remastering the tapes; in fact, its hard to believe that these are not modern recordings (hats off to Frank Himpsl, the restoration engineer). Notable tracks include “Sugar Dew Blues” (a12-bar blues solo with a walking bass), “Function Blues” (a piano duet, though the second artist was never identified), and “Black Gal Make it Thunder,” a great South Side boogie woogie number. I must point out that much of this information comes from the original LP liner notes by Ed Sprankle (sent to me by Delmark along with the CD), which are a treasure trove of information about piano rolls and early Chicago jazz. Its regrettable that Delmark didn’t reprint the notes in their entirety; the extremely brief notes by Bob Koester only paraphrase portions of Sprankle’s original text. Regardless, Messin’ Around Blues is essential for anyone interested in early ragtime and boogie woogie piano. If you purchase the CD, just try to get your hands on a copy of the original notes!

Posted by Brenda Nelson-Strauss