Written on May 10, 2017
in Mainstream Jazz
It might not seem all that difficult to get together with friends in your own neighborhood, but sometimes it’s more tricky than you’d think. Glenn Zaleski has made his previous two records as a leader in the span of two years, both with the same trio-mates who are also based in New York City with him, and yet they almost never seem to make it onstage at the same time. When settling in for the first of three sets at Chris’ Jazz Café in Philadelphia, he estimated that it was only the gang’s seventh performance together in all that time.
If the scattered nature of the job keeps them from making it a regular thing, it still allows them to sometimes play together in pairs in other contexts, so their chemistry and familiarity were still there in spades. Craig Weinrib kept the rhythm at a briskly busy clatter, all the while listening to the others’ contributions like a hawk and never missing a chance to respond. Plucking, grinning and at one point impressively sight-reading an intricate all-new piece for the first time, Dezron Douglas made it perfectly clear just why he can be so hard to get ahold of. It’s only natural that his fleet string-slinging and warm resonant double-bass tone keep him in high demand wherever he goes.
Zaleski may not have the natural banter of a born showman at the mike, but brings out that proper level of fun expressiveness when turning to the keys. He’s clearly absorbed his Evans and Monk, often with a high dose of McCoy Tyner‘s knack for “Giant Steps”-like chording that makes tricky sequences flow seemingly effortlessly. The John Coltrane element was also there in a dreamy take on “Central Park West,” but the night belonged more to his original pieces. The show was themed around celebrating the mostly self-penned (and aptly-titled) Fellowship (Sunnyside, 2017), and its selections easily outshone the familiar standards.
Travel made a recurring theme, as in the easy-loping “Homestead” or the Latin-tinged “Westinghouse.” Maybe the road was on everyone’s mind since they had to clear out at midnight and drive back to New York. Still, even though the cozy room was mostly emptied out by the third set, the players took the chance to stretch out on some new pieces with just as much relish as they’d brought to the others. “Another Life” and the thoughtful ballad “If I Loved You” should make solid additions to the catalogue down the line whenever the next recording may get completed. A romping take on Joe Henderson with “Tetragon” would have made a fine sendoff, but the trio couldn’t resist jumping in after the applause and jamming out off the cuff just a little bit more. Nevermind the too-late hour on a quiet weekday night; if getting together is still such a rare occasion, that’s all the more reason to wring every bit of fun out of it while it lasts.
in Smooth Jazz
April in southern Finland is a time of rapidly lengthening daylight and often crystalline blue skies heralding spring. This year though relentless gray skies and bitter winds made the appeal of a long weekend of top class jazz an even stronger motivation to ignore the lingering patches of snow and get on with life, and art.
The program for the 31st year celebrating jazz in this rather prosperous western suburb of Helsinki has been broad as ever, though lacking the temporary marquee this year it looked less of a concentrated festival and more of a local event. However once inside any of its five local and one downtown Helsinki venues, the depth of international artistry was obvious with headliners including French singer Cyrille Aimee, Dianne Reeves, and the redoubtable NYC Project of Joel Frahm and Eric Niceberg.
Every year the program has included a mix of international artists, alongside a dose of locally resident musicians. Indeed it was the wealth as well as the breadth of local musicianship that was most prominent in the opening evening’s show, and is nowadays a remarkable feature of the event. None more so than the first half of this program, where 60 children of the local Tapiola Youth Choir sang pieces composed primarily by two of its own former singers, guitarist Jarmo Saari and composer and singer Anna-Mari Kähärä. These nine pieces incorporated all the innovations of modern choral performance from stomping, clapping and vocalizing, alongside masterly control as well as youthful exuberance -and executed by some singers as young as 9 years old.
The second part of the program was mainly filled by another premier (in addition to two of the songs in the first part), this time by former local music student Marzi Nyman. As a guitarist his accomplishments go back to the 1990s backing for the high-powered Finnish pop duo Nylon Beat and have continued in this millennium alongside pianist Iiro Rantala in his own Trio and many more line-ups. However one aspect of Nyman’s skill is in bringing a broad palette of musical culture to the general public, from live performance on summertime children’s TV to celebrity talk show appearances. His Trumpet Concerto, performed by the highly respected Jukka Eskola, was something of a pastiche of classical styles played by the local Tapiola Sinfonietta, but combined with traditional and contemporary jazz musicianship. Along with Nyman’s bright yellow shoes, as well as his sudden performance alongside the soloist on the traditional Finnish piano accordion, his style was maybe shocking but absolutely refreshing.
The opening concert finished with the choir squeezing in front of the orchestra for two songs, one composed by Saari and the other arranged by Kähärä. All this in the elegant 600 seated modern hall, while underneath in the club venue Louhi, three cutting edge Scandinavian acts entertained a more marginal audience: the Danish Old Man’s Kitchen added edge to classic jazz tunes, saxophonist Mikko Innanen and pianist Aki Rissanen rewrote their own rules of iconoclassicism, and new arrivals Helsinki-based OK:KO showed how subtle composition can ensure that less is more. A very good start to the Finnish festival season.
Written on November 8, 2016
in Crossover Jazz
There are just so many cultural events going on in Ireland over the May Bank Holiday weekend that it can be a bit of a head-spin deciding what to opt for. Roots music gatherings, literature festivals, classical recitals, a chamber music festival, traditional Irish folk festivals, lighthouse visits, theatre festivals and gigs galore, all vie for the punters’ hard-earned coin. Happily, The Irish Times always weighs in each year in with a comprehensive guide to the best of the cultural action. Its Pick of the Weekend for 2017 was the Bray Jazz Festival, with the paper’s Cormac Larkin citing BJF’s “consistently high quality, artistically credible line-ups.”
The recognition is a real feather in the cap of BJF’s George and Dorothy Jacob—who have been running BJF since 2000 through good times and challenging times—and will hopefully serve to shore up funding/sponsors for the foreseeable future, as well as act as a magnet to attract even more top class acts to this excellent festival.
Quality and artistic credibility were, as ever, hallmarks of eighteenth edition of the festival, which saw memorable headlining concerts from Lionel Loueke, Beats & Pieces Big Band and The Necks. The strong supporting cast included The Firebirds, Pilgrim and Malin Wättring Quartet.
Folk and roots music was well represented by the Carnatic music of the Shantala Subramanyam Trio, the Baltic folk colors of Estonian fiddler/singer Maarja Nuut and the irrepressible Norwegian accordionist Stian Carstensen.
Free gigs abounded too, with the best of Ireland’s jazz, funk R&B bands packing out the bars along the Wicklow Wolf Jazz Trail, and contributing to a vibrant, fun-packed weekend of great music.
Bringing The Fire: Jazz Workshop
Stefan Pasborg is the driving force behind The Firebirds, a unique trio whose eponymous debut album took the music of Igor Stravinsky and Aram Khachaturian and injected voltage and serious grooves. To a small but engaged audience in The Well, keyboardist Anders Filipsen, saxophonist/clarinetist Anders Banke and Pasborg talked about their formative musical influences, the nuts and bolts of The Firebirds’ chemistry and their approach to arranging such iconic classical music and weaving in improvisations.
The chat was punctuated by the trio’s arrangement of Danish composer Carl Nielsen’s “Oriental Festive March,” a recorded excerpt from Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring—you could imagine John Williams listening to this as he composed the ominous music to Jaws—and The Firebirds’ own, highly personal arrangement of the same. “When you want to work with arranging other people’s music,” said Filipsen, “you have to find this really fragile balance between putting yourself in the music and respecting the original music.”
The three musicians gave fascinating insight into the forces behind Stravinsky’s ground-breaking music—the violence of the arrival of spring in Russia—and the primitive rhythmic functions that connect Stravinsky and The Firebirds. Explanations of Bach’s harmonics—and the challenge of escaping his influence—playing with time, and the trio’s approaches to improvisation would have appealed to musicians but were pitched at a level that was easily accessible to general music fans. The workshop also whetted the appetite for The Firebird’s evening concert.
These workshops have been part of Bray Jazz for a number of years now and are an important part of the festival’s fabric. More workshops on the other days, or Q&A sessions with some of the musicians, would be a welcome addition to future programs.
Button accordionist Stian Carstensen was making a welcome return to Bray, three years after a memorable concert at The Mermaid Arts Centre with Iain Ballamy in the occasional duo The Little Radio. That Music Network-promoted concert was outside the Bray Jazz Festival, but wherever Carstensen pitches up, and in whatever guise, a festive air, bristling with virtuosity and left-field humour, permeates his performances; this solo show at Bray’s Town Hall was no exception.
Carstensen opened with a church-inspired arrangement of 16th century piece by Henry VIII’s composer of songs for pheasant hunting -“a narrow field,” Carstensen observed. The accordionist’s repertoire, by comparison, spanned the centuries and made no distinction between so-called art music and more popular themes. A swaggering version of Felix Arndt’s 1915 novelty ragtime number “Nola,” a breathless “Tea for Two” and heady Gypsy wedding music from Bulgaria and Romania were all grist to Carstensen mill.