“Eternal Monomyth,” the May of 2015 release from Gene Ess is a continuation of his previous album “Fractal Attrraction.” On both albums, Ess explores the interplay of instruments and the female voice. Also on both albums, the female voice is that of Thana Alexa who provides the powerful and lovely vocals for Ess’ now delicate, now aggressive guitar.
Ess has been a fixture in the Jazz world since he was 14 years of age and has played with giants such as Ali Rashied, Ravi Coltrane and Clark Terry. He is joined on “Eternal Monomyth” by John Escreet (piano), Thomson Kneeland (bass) and Clarence Penn (drums) along with Thana Alexa.
It has been two years since the release of “Fractal Attraction” and his own hero’s quest has continued into what Ess calls “the peaks and valleys… of performance.”
Born in Tokyo and raised in Okinawa, there are inescapable themes and motifs that are evident from both of those cultural environments. Joined with Japanese and with Okinawan musical aesthetics (and they are not the same) is his reading of Joseph Campbell and Arthur Schopenhauer. It is, in fact, Ess’ understanding of Campbell that provides the context of the present album.
“Forsaken Island” is the introductory track on the album. Thana Alexa’s intonations open the piece. Gene Ess continues where he left off on “Fractal Attraction” and his artistry is sterling. John Escreet’s piano work is crystal. Alexa is marvelous.
Alexa has stated, “This divide between vocalists and instrumentalists was very much a problem for me. Whether it was through the curriculum or just through the psychology of the musicians, vocalists were oftentimes separated and classed as something different.”
It is clear on this album, however, that Gene Ess has focused on the instrumental aspect of Alexa’s voice and in pays tremendous dividends. The two of them have managed this arrangement very well in their two recordings together.
“The Trials,” like all of the compositions on “Eternal Monomyth” is by Gene Ess. Clarence Penn turns in some straight-up Jazz drumming and Escreet is on fire. The paired vocals and guitar is exciting stuff.
Penn gets to introduce “Entrance/Exit” with his imaginative percussion. Alexa trades with Ess and Escreet, then follows her own vocal improvisations that are picked up by Ess’ brilliant guitar work. Kneeland’s bass is so steady and subdued that he can get overlooked. He bears close and appreciative attention. The song is superbly crafter and is extremely enjoyable.
“Summer Cantabile” is again written by Ess but with lyrics by Alexa. The lyrics are, most assuredly, well sung but the words themselves are developed remarkably well. Ess accompanies on acoustic guitar and together they create a splendid interlude to the energy that surrounds the track before and after.
Percussion and progression follow with “Drakaina.” It is a lovely piece with tight cohesion between piano, bass and drums. The swing is counter-balanced by the vocals and guitar duo. Penn may have been at his best on this track but, then, the same might be said for Escreet and Kneeland, as well. This could be the tightest track of all.
“Blues for Ryo” follows “Drakaina.” The name Ryo may be a male or a female name in Japanese—one of the few such names. The track starts off with Ess’ solo guitar. Alexa’s improve is vivid and fun and Escreet’s accompaniment is finely subdued. The bluesy shift is handled so well by Ess who weaves a gorgeous blues with Kneeland and Penn spot on.
“Mono No Aware” (Transience of Things) is a rae moment of enlightenment. Like George Harrison’s “All Things Must Pass,” it is the profound understanding that “things fall apart,” to quote Achebe. It is Ess’ philosophical assessment of the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics—entropy increases. In his liner notes, Ess mentions the principle of wabi-sabi. It is the concept of beauty that acknowledges its nature of imperfection and incompleteness. It is always an unfinished work. Ess sums it up as his approach to music.
That sense of beauty is profoundly apparent on this piece with lyrics, once more, by Thana Alexa. Music and lyrics alike are deeply moving. Imperfect? By Ess’ own description, surely. But certainly not by much.
“Into the New World” is the final piece on the album. Kneeland lights it up alongside Penn with everyone expending what energy they have in reserve, so it seems. It is both smooth (I don’t mean that in a bad way) and it is explosive. A fantastic finale.
Gene Ess has crafted a work of wonder with “Eternal Monomyth.” Like the hero’s quest it envisions, it is a transcendent journey of the musical self—a tonal quest for beauty. It is the harmonic pilgrimage to transformation and we are indeed changed by it. In such a sojourn, those who accompany Ess—even as simple listeners—the travelers reach the destination where we understanding beauty just a little more than we did before.
Visit Gene Ess' web site at: http://www.jazzgenemusic.com/
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Andy Sheppard’s “Surrounded by Sea”—his third with ECM (ECM2432) is a Jazz tone poem. Think of Smetana’s “Moldau” and you get the idea. Being English, as he states, has always made him mindful of “being surrounded by the sea.” The entire album creates that same awareness in the listened with its seascapes, folk songs and meditations.
The album begins with “Tipping Point.” Bassist Michel Benita introduces a nautical sensation with his steady line. Andy Sheppard wafts in with the tenor saxophone and a picture begins to emerge. The piece was written by Sheppard and Benita. With Sebastian Rochford’s drum interpretations, the colors even out in brilliance.
Sheppard, Benita and Rochford were the three members of Sheppard’s Trio Libero, also an ECM record (ECM 2252). The quartet now adds Eivind Aarset, the Norwegian guitarist of fame.
An astoundingly lovely “I Want to Vanish” shows the shining lyricism of Sheppard on soprano sax. Aarset’s ambient watercolor guitar and Rochford’s brushes turn this Elvis Costello piece into a work of Jazz wonder. Always a fan of Costello, I never imagined a transition like this.
The traditional Gaelic song “Aoidh, Ne Dean Cada Idir (Aoidh, Don’t Sleep At All), Part One” is arranged by the quartet. Sheppard had learned the song from folk singer Julie Fowlis and had initially planned a recording project with her, so each member of the quartet had worked their parts around her a capella version of it. Then, according to Sheppard, it became clear that this was a good quartet and became interesting in “forming a band with this line-up.”
When the quartet recorded it, producer Manfred Eicher urged them on, creating an extended piece. The whole recording of the song was then broken into three parts and was woven in and out of the other tracks.
In the arrangement of the folk song, the feel of drowsiness is palpable. Rochford’s drumming is low-key and subtle. Aarset’s guitar is awash with mood and dream. Sheppard’s soprano sax stabs at wakefulness in the most imaginative of ways.
Andy Sheppard’s “Origin of Species” follows with warmth and hope. There is an optimism in Sheppard’s changes and tones. Benita’s double bass is a procession of ascent. An exquisite piece
Sebastian Rochford composed “They Aren’t Perfect and Neither Am I.” The listener is easily taken with the rhythm section in Rochford’s altered beats and Benita’s bowed bass. Aarset’s guitar adds cleaner tones along with the odd pickings and slight distortion. Sheppard’s intonations are thought-provoking and fascinating.
Aarset and Benita briefly introduce “Meditation” (Sheppard, composer). Sheppard then joins in harmony with Aarset, who then holds the melodic lines and allows Sheppard to explore the ever-widening expanse created.
The piece begins mantra-like and then opens into wider examination and exploration for Sheppard, as Aarset and Benita hold the groove. The breathy tones of Sheppard begin to fade, leaving Aarset’s mantra in place. Beautifully done.
The second part of “Aoidh, Na Dean Cadal Idhir” follows in harmony for only the briefest of moments before giving way to Sheppard’s piece “The Impossibility of Silence.” The track has a long, quiet fade-in before the tenor sax proves the truth of the song’s title. There is a nocturnal element that is doubled by Benita’s elegant bass. Sheppard is masterful and Benita has episodes of running in lock-step harmony with the sax.
Aarset’s guitar is almost like cosmic background radiation to the works of Jazz creation by Sheppard and Benita. The track fades as slowly as it began.
Another Andy Sheppard work, “I See Your Eyes Before Me” is the ninth track and sees all four artists following separate musical pathways until all attention begin to focus into a single vision. It is an interesting and fulfilling stroll.
“A Letter” (Michel Benita, composer) has Sheppard back on soprano sax in a melancholy recitation that witnesses some of Benita’s most open and thoughtful bass work. Rochford keeps the rhythm understated with the brushes as Sheppard takes off on brief moments of fancy and wistfulness. Beautifully melodic.
Part Three of “Aoidh, Na Dean Cadal Idhir” closes the inter-weaving of the folk song. I confess to playing the three tracks (3,7,11) consecutively to hear the complete song. A thing of enchantment, to be sure, but the weaving effect is an imaginative and rewarding choice. Kudos to Manfred Eicher, producer.
“Looking for Ornette” by Andy Sheppard is probably a description of every sax player’s quest in some way or other. In Sheppard’s words, “When I composed and whenever I play ‘Looking for Ornette’ it’s exactly what I am trying to do.” Love him or hate him, every Jazz lover must come to confront Ornette Coleman. Sheppard shows why this is true.
In an album speaking of England, Andy Sheppard has brought together artists from Norway to Britain to Algeria. They have accepted and answered his vision to create the extraordinary.
The compositions and arrangements are fluid expressions of Sheppard’s main theme. The artists are well-disciplined in knowing exactly what to play and—more importantly, perhaps—when not to play. The space they create is never void but is, rather, filled with vivid expectancy. The=is quartet is the logical, even inevitable, next evolutionary step for Andy Sheppard’s musical vision and leaves a deep anticipation of what is to come.
"Surrounded by Sea" will be released on June 2, 2015.
I was all in from the start of this album—or maybe before—seeing that Jeff Richman is backed up by George Whitty on keys and the one-two punch of Jimmy Haislip (bass) and Vinnie Colaiuta (drums). That alone made me want to break into a chorus of “Hallelujah” (Handel, not Cohen). Of course, Richman's resume is long and storied and "Hotwire" (Nefer Music Records) only pads that brilliant career.
Colaiuta’s kick and high hat opened the album on “Hit Spot.” Fold in Whitty, Haislip and Richman and you’ve got the makin’s! Not only does Haislip handle to bass but produces the album, as well.
George Whitty contributes extraordinary keyboards to make any fusion aficionado stand up in salute. Jeff Beal on trumpet is a sweet addition to the track which, at 7:24, is the longest track of the album. It gives a broad vision of the shape of things to come.
“Seven Up” drops the fusion approach and becomes more melodic while that rhythm section keeps things lively. Joining Beal’s trumpet is Brandon Fields on sax and these two combine with Whitty and Richman for a little bit of a Jazz-Funk exercise.
Like all the tracks but one, Jeff Richman wrote “Chloe” and is more of a ballad which is taken up by the quartet alone. The pace is leisurely and sweet without losing itself in sentimentality. It is playful and energetic and thoughtful and, obviously, dedicated to his daughter.
Jan Hammer’s great composition “Oh, Yeah?” follows next with Jeff Lorber sitting in for Whitty. Jimmy Branly sits at the congas and the result must be exactly what Hammer had long ago envisioned. Richman is at a harmonic high and creates a fascinating version of the song with Richman taking over Hammer’s keyboard parts. A great swag track.
A complete reshuffling of the line-up occurs for “North Shore.” Anthony Jackson takes on the bass with Gary Novak on drums and Mike Stern doubling Richman on guitar. Gary Fukashima accompanies on acoustic piano and performs beautifully atop the driving rhythm section in support of Richman’s sweeping color. Josefine Löfgren provides lovely backing vocals that remind of the great vocalisations from Nana Vasconcelos. Richman and Fukashima are splendid together and equally reminiscent of Pat Metheny and Lyle Myles together.
Colaiuta and Whitty return for “One Last Kiss” with Dean Taba on acoustic bass and Mitchel Forman on acoustic piano. It is a more straight-up Jazz ballad with Richman alternating between the clean and the fuzzy so very compellingly. The support group is more subdued here as Richman takes true center-stage. There is a melancholy sweetness that is highlighted by Forman’s acoustic piano and Whitty’s swells and shimmers. So well done.
The original quartet returns with the addition of Scott Kinsey on piano for “Little Waves.” Whitty introduces a cool, churchy approach against Richman’s advancing and ascending lead guitar. Scott Kinsey’s piano gets a good solo turn backed by the staggered rhythms of Colaiuta. Jazz goes to church here.
“Solar Waves” keeps Haislip on bass but the drums are handled by George Borlai. Kinsey remains on the keyboards. The chord changes grab the listener’s attention throughout the piece. Haislip offers what sounds like a tip of the hat to John Wetton in a couple of spots. Kinsey gets some spotlight time and holds the door open for Richman’s coolest moments. The coda is smoking hot.
One of the most well-crafted pieces on the album is “Golden Arrow.” The core musicians are back with Beal on flugelhorn. The pearl-stringed doublets create a nice groove and Beal lights it up with that flugelhorn. Enter Jeff Richman who takes complete command. Haislip rejects the doublets and maintains a steady stride behind the theme, in step with Colaiuta.
It is a piece that seems predictable but the switched up drum patterns and bass runs stagger against the melodic line and creates something unexpected. Beal is fascinating in his pacing with Whitty and Richman. It is perhaps his standout moment on the album. It is also one of Richman’s greatest moments in an album full of great moments. The composition itself is a monument.
The album concludes with “Miles Per Hour.” The line-up for the finale is the same as on “North Shore” with the sole omission of Josefine Löfgren’s vocals. The title is probably in reference to Richman’s son named Miles.
It is a fun and raucous romp with exciting rhythms and Richman himself cutting swaths of merriment throughout the piece. The rhythms are more straight-forward here which allows greater emphasis on the melody and harmonies. A nice closer.
“Hotwire” is Jeff Richman’s seventeenth album as a leader and is as exciting as anything that has gone before in his 35+ year career. It is another grand meeting of compositions and performances. The supporting artists are absolutely top-flight and they are spot-on for Richman’s compositional mastery. Richman assumes whatever role the piece requires—lead or support—and the music is allowed to truly shine through. Fortunately, he has the virtuosity to meet or even exceed his writing brilliance.
Perhaps best known for his astounding work with Indonesian monster-group simakDialog, Tohpati Bertiga has also kept a vibrant solo and side-project career going. "Tribal Dance" is Tohpati's third release on MoonJune Records (MJR064), his second in a trio setting.
"Rahwana" kicks off the album and is -- like all the songs on the recording -- composed, arranged and produced by Tohpati himself. The track opens appropriately with a tribal chant (more like a tribal scat) but shifts to a blistering guitar as the tandem of Jimmy Haslip (Yellowjackets, Allan Holdsworth) on bass and Chad Wackerman (Frank Zappa, Allan Holdsworth) on drums kick in at high gear in complete harmony and compliment with Tohpati.
It is fast and furious, grinding and gritty then lusciously transitions to a flowing, harmonic stream of beauty before refreshing the grind. Marvelous distortion heralds the arrival of some exquisite guitar atop one of the best rhythm sections anywhere in the world. It's been said that only Wackerman and Terry Bozzio could successfully impress Frank Zappa on some of his most demanding writings. And Haslip can hang with anybody.
"Spirit of Java" follows with Wackerman's slow-paced introduction before Tohpati and Haslip jump in with what must described as Fripp meets Bartok. A hot Funk-Jazz section follows with some of the swetest syncopated drum and bass passages you ever want to hear.
"Tribal Dance" opens with that very thing--a tribal dance. Tohpati, Haslip and Wackerman join in with their wrecking-ball fusion while making room for moments of utter melodic fascination. The virtuosity of the trio never supersedes the melody or the groove. Haslip's solo near the end of the track is a fretless stunner.
The fourth track is "Red Mask" and receives the fade from the previous track nicely with its own melodic points of fascination. Part of the fun here and on the whole album is the generous distribution of space and time between each member of the trio. In an environment where all three are deserving of the spotlight, the light truly shines on (and from) all three. The nuanced treatment of the melody is delightful.
"Savana" is, at 1:56, the shortest track on the whole album. The delicacy of the sound is like the beautiful work associated with Hristo Vitchev and Pat Metheny. A sweet interlude.
"Run", on the other hand, is just hot. Tohpati's strum-pattern smokes up against Haslip's Funk-riddled swing. Wackerman simply takes your breath away. Tohpati scratches the R&B as Haslip rolls the bass solo. This must have been a blast to record because it is such a blast to hear.
That same fun continues into the opening of "Supernatural" with it's Jackie Gleason-like groan of a chant. Then comes the Zappa-esque precise punch that lands the listener flat on their back. It is a disciplined and well-organized riot of a piece. Listen to it 3-4 times to really hear what the group, and then each of the three musicians, submit for your approval. Yeah, it's a Twilight Zone.
The album closes with "Midnight Rain." It is a moving piece of blues guitar over an ambient background. It is a long farewell until next time. Almost mournful, it is certainly emotional.
"Tribal Dance" is a work of compositional craftsmanship, performance virtuosity, melodic integrity and rhtyhmic intensity. Tohpati has ascended the platform for a seat at the high table of Progressive Jazz. His conspiracy with Haslip and Wackerman has created a triumvirate to threaten the established order of the music world.
Visit Tohpati's web site at:http://www.tohpati-music.com/
"Like" Tohpati on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Tohpati/15514963622
Purchase "Tribal Dance" here.
Setting aside the sax and keyboards from the Xavi Reija Quintet, Xavi Reija has reiterated and reinforced what was hinted at in the 2009 recording of the Electric Trio "Live at Casa Murada." The streamlined mechanism is spare without being sparse. It is not minimalist; it is deliberate and to the point.
Barcelona drummer Xavi Reija is jined by Bernat Hernandez on bass and the sizzling Dusan Jevtovic on guitar. The lean line-up is dynamic and daring. The compositions are by Reija himself or by the trio and the trio arranged all the songs. It was recorded in Tarragona, Spain in June of 2013 and produced by Reija for MoonJune Records, one of the undisputed leaders in all things progressive.
Even with three such startling innovators, it is the ensemble that is the fgrabs the attention. The whole is more in focus than are the individual parts.
"Flying to Nowhere" introduces the album with stark moments of distorted guitar but with full rhythms from Reija and rich textures from Hernandez' bass. It is a jazzy piece with surprising elements reminiscent of Robert Fripp's solo work.
"Macroscope" is more fusion-techno-ambient in its approach. Reija's rhtyhms are matched by the understated thunder of Hernandez to create a fantastic grrove as Jevtovic creates the lush, rich backdrop.
"Shadowdance" is another fine in-the-pocket piece, as is "Dreamer" that follows it. The distorted frequencies screen the bass and drums on "Dreams" in a way both aggressive and relentless.
"Abyss" is another foray into ambient rhythm and avant-Jazz and serves as a great set-up for "The Land of the Sirenians" with its fine harmonic guitar and straight-up Jazz drumming.
"Unfinished Love," on the other hand, is nearly Afro-Cuban-Baroque. It is intricate and disciplined and completely enjoyable. It is another memorable groove with excellent guitar coverage that segues nicely into the grittier "John's Song." More menacing than most of the other tracks, "John's Song" is a heavier approach and attack which propels the listener forward.
"Resolution," the title track, is the cool-down groove that slides into "Gravity" with its leisurely stroll. That quickens into a trot and then into a sprint. Rich rhythms and sharp effects mark the piece.
The albums wraps up with "Welcome to the End." Reija and Hernandez anchor the piece as Jevtovic extrapolates on the theme.
"Resolution" is a furious and imaginative display of the disciplined and pulse-pounding rhythms (or polyrhythms) of Xavi Reija and Bernat Henrnandez in counter-play to the exploratory guitar work of Dusan Jevtovic. The creation of space is exhilarating. The sound is not a reduction of notes played but an expansion of what lies between. It is an expanding universe where the number of stars remains the same but that space...
Visit Xavi Reija at: http://xavireija.es
Like Reija at Facebook here.
Purchase "Resolution" here.
Thomas Marriott has released his ninth album as a leader with the October 21, 2014 Origin Records release of "Urban Folklore." He has joined with one of the most expressive and talented trios around in the persons of Orrin Evans on piano, Eric Revis on bass and Donald Edwards on drums. They are deliberate and delicate and thoroughly brilliant. In fact, they have appeared separately and together on many of the finest recordings of the last two years.
Marriott weaves tales of life with the trio serving as the Greek Chorus to Marriott's own narrative in this expansive and enlightening drama. As Marriott states in the liner notes, the center of the music is the listener who shares in the stories common to all of humanity.
The album opens with "Apophis," a piece written about danger and inaction (and the danger of inaction). It has sizzling moments, with some snatches reminiscent of Bill Chase. The trio knocks in some fine work as they continue to do throughout the album, supporting and setting up Marriott's own fine work.
Orrin Evans is an intuitive supporter and propeller of the music. Evans is the anchor and he plays the part well. Eric Revis is incredibly subtle and nuanced in his bass approach. Donald Edwards has become one of my very favorite drummers. He can play straight-up Jazz or he can fabricate modern drumming textures that are eye-popping. He never disappoints.
From "Moe-Joe" and its portrayal of mentors to "What Emptiness Can Do," there is a universal appeal to our shared experiences of lessons learned and lost. Marriott is lyrical and exquisite in his approach.
"Locked Up" and "Living on the Minimum" are coolly-paced songs with melancholic sentiments of jail and poverty and their crush on creativity. Again, Marriott cooks the pieces to perfection and his Greek Chorus flavors and expounds on the story.
"Living on the Minimum" is one of Edwards' finest tracks on the album which carries well into "I'm Vibing You" wherein the group turns mildly malicious in their confrontational playing.
"Washington Generals" focuses on the talented but hopeless team who has to play the Harlem Globetrotters night after night. It is a flowing piece that revels in the freedom of having nothing to lose and nothing to prove. It is a soliloquy on the false dichotomy of winning or losing. It is hopeful and sincere and ends with a chuckle.
"Urban Folklore" is itself hopeful and sincere. In humanity's shared tales, there is also shared hope. Thomas Marriott becomes a preacher of the possible--affirming life and the narrative we ourselves share. He does it with his own voice and humor and with a fine cast of characters.
Visit Thomas Marriott's web site at: www.thomasmarriott.net
Purchase "Urban Folklore" at: http://originarts.com/recordings/recording.php?TitleID=82672
Marbin's "The Third Set" is a live recording that captures moments from their back-breaking tours that, according to MoonJune Records, amounts to almost 1,000 gigs in the last three and a half years. They have covered the United States and have enjoyed the drinks and the fans, according to founding member Dani Rabin.
Marbin originated as a duo of Danny Markovitch (The Mar in Marbin) on saxophones and Dani Rabin on guitars. Their self-titled debut album was only the two of them and was a bit of a Jazz venture while their second album "Breaking the Cycle" brought together three more musicians. That album ,according to Rabin, represented "the transition of Marbin into a full band."
This album, "The Third Set," is the full band in full swing as a quartet, following after the third album entitled :Last Chapter of Dreaming." Joining the founders Markovitch and Rabin are Justyn Lawrence on drums and Jae Gentile on bass.
The album is introduced by "Special Olympics" and was recorded at Murph's in Dubuque, Iowa. It is fascinating and it is spell-binding and terrifically sets the stage for all that follows. Rabin attacks almost as fiercely as Jan Akkerman's most vicious. Markovitch applies the alternating saxophone which is just as furious. One is forced to remember the guitar and sax interplay in the early King Crimson albums.
Marbin shows that they indeed can still swing on "The Depot." Lawrence and Gentile carve out a great groove with Rabin scratching cool support. This one is a sax-lover's gem, for sure.
"Culture" is one of the most melodic pieces on the album with great bass-work from Gentile. The same is true of "Northern Odyssey"-- a beauty of a track.
The blues are well-represented in such pieces as "Splaw" but can be felt in the undercurrents of many of the tracks.
"Volta" may be the one of the best closing tracks ever. It is furious.
In fact, Marbin can rightly be described as being furious without the chaos. The franetic musicianship never sacrifices the exactitude and precision. They are tight. They are loose. They are a firefight in a small room. They are fascinating.
Visit Marbin at http://marbinmusic.com/
Purchase "The Third Set" here: http://moonjunerecords.bandcamp.com/album/the-third-set
When Chick Corea praises with such words as "Wonderful. Beautiful. Really great. Wow, Mike! Great writing, man!" then you can rest assured that you must be onto something hot. Such was the acclamation received from Chick by Mike Progodich and there is not doubt that his compositions and musicianship are worthy of such esteem. His writing is second to none.
After a successful debut album entitled "A Stitch in Time," Prigodich has now released a fascinating live album called "Life Upstaged." He has brought along the best of those musicians from that debut album, including the versatile John Nastos on sax, the riveting Damian Erskine on bass, the mesmerizing Rafael Trujillo on congas and the incomparable Reinhardt Melz on drums. It is a truly stellar band performing flawless compositions.
More impressive is that these unbelievably tight performances are recorded live at Portland's famed Jazz venue Jimmy Mak's. The concert was recorded on August 26, 2013 and was released in April of 2014.
The album is launched by "A Charmed Life." As with all of the tracks on the album, Prigodich wrote this one and you will want to hear it over and over just to focus each time on each of the different musicians. The corps progressions of piano-bass-sax are fantastic. Prigodich and Nastos get hot solos.
"Armando's Birthday" is a percussion-lover's dream.It was written in honor of Chick Corea's 70th birthday. The Afro-Cuban phrasing is a delight. More than just a birthday celebration, "Armando's Birthday" is a tribute to the very life and legacy of Chick Corea.
"At Sixes and Sevens" is a brilliant adventure in time and space and Trujillo and Melz are just the percussionists to own the piece. Prigodich has said that e loves writing the odd-meter pieces "to keep Reinhardt Melz interested." Get Damian Erskine in the mix and the rhythm section lights it up.
The winner of "Best Live Performance" on my Jazz Journalists Association 2013Poll was "Lucy Goose." This recording is the very same that won that mention. The guys are tight in the pocket and it is stunningly rendered.
"Al Di Hemiola" is another fine tribute. Following on the heels of "Nigel's Theme," it is also highly melodic while still maintaining the tight pace and cohesion. The uniformity of the musicians is impressive. It is evidence of their intense familiarity which creates a feeling of telepathy between them all, most notably Erskine and Melz.
The album concludes with "Alter Your Motifs." Erskine and Melz work the rhythm from the outset with Prigodich and Trujillo melding with them. Prigodich and Nastos break off into their own groove and carve out solos that are rich and lively.
The show at Jimmy Mak's was furious and full on energy that Prigodich compositions demand. He is a composer of the top tier and a fine pianist. The band, I must confess, is in my top three list.
Listen for the precision of the compositions, for the cohesion of the band and for the sheer enjoyment of smoking Jazz. It is impossible to get enough of these guys.
Like Mike Prigodich on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/mikeprigodich.music
Purchase "Life Upstaged" here: http://mikeprigodich.bandcamp.com/album/life-upstaged
“Monday Songs” was composed over the course of four years. Andy Liotta, every Monday, would upload a completed track to his website mondaysongs.com. Liotta relentlessly held to this schedule of composing, arranging, recording and editing new pieces every week. This album from Lazy Bones Recordings is the result of those years of painstaking musicianship.
The album begins simply with an acoustic guitar. Different percussion instruments joined in with a steady bass at the bottom. Liotta performed on all the instruments as well as composing and arranging all the music. Liotta also produced the album along with the gifted Scott Schorr.
With all of his performance skills on full display, it is the vocals and the lyrics he sings that stand out in such emotional clarity and distinction. There is an unmistakable brilliance to Andy Liotta and it is impossible, I think, to remain unmoved by what he offers.
“Being with You” is the title of the opening track. There is a touch of Harry Nilsson in his intonation and warmth. The lyrics on this piece, however, are not as charming as his delivery. Despite the light-hearted vocalization, there is a darkness and an obsession that culminates in the droning conclusion “Being with you, being with you, being with you, being with you…”
“Nadine” follows and is an aching work of self-examination. It is beautifully crafted both musically and lyrically. The delivery is astonishing and agonizing.
Liotta made videos of each song on “Monday Songs” and can be found on You Tube, uploaded by Liotta himself. It is a fascinating exercise to see Liotta’s personal vision of each track. Here the album first, then watch the collected videos.
“Fading to Grey” begins with a bit of Country-Gospel with smooth organ and piano but, at the 2:14 mark, an amazing transformation takes place in the bridge. It is moving and uplifting, even after the song returns to the original Country-Gospel groove. This was a piece that made the listener hear the music over the lyrics for, perhaps, the only time on the album.
Liotta is a splendid lyricist. His imagery and turn of a phrase is simply sterling and his diction is crystal clear. “The Weather” and “Gravity” are great examples of this. While poles apart in their messages and structure, that same lyrical brilliance makes them both heavy with the truth.
Then comes “Up, Up and Away” with its melancholy introduction and darkly humorous lyrics. Yet, with all of that, Andy Liotta continues to speak the truth. The melancholy and humor are by no means frivolous. There is a depth that is often disturbing. Reading Liotta’s biography at www.andyliotta.com reveals that in 1999 he spent time (a week) in a psych ward. His ability to lay bare those emotions is remarkable.
“Still Life” is a reflective piece that sounds like a return to the scene of a crime. Not a violent sort of thing, but it rather sounds like returning to a place of emotional catastrophe. Whether it is a return to the parents’ home or a return to his own home, there is a jarring impact of coming back to the place of real trauma. Even if only the remembrance of the death of Thurman Munson or the recollection of a bloody-knuckles incident, it is the reminiscence of things that hurt and haunt.
“Behind the Blue” and “Ghost Story” are also that reflective. It becomes sadly clear just how autobiographical this album may really be.
For all the sadness, however, there remains a whiff of hope, if only in the lightness of the music itself. There is also a certain self-deprecating whimsy that belies the melancholy of the lyrics, especially in “Cry.” “Lost and Found,” on the other hand, is nearly reaching the bottom of fruitless self-examination in all its pain.
The album concludes with an extraordinary surrender in “(Pump Up the) Valium.” It is an incredible piece of music and lyrics. It is a capitulation to numbness. It is powerful and it is profound and it is relentless in its hold on the listener.
Andy Liotta is an imaginative vocalist. As a musician, he is an aggressive minimalist. As a composer and poet he is merciless in his laying bare of memory and emotion. In other words, Andy Liotta is the gentlest of jailers.
Visit Andy Liotta's website at: www.andyliotta.com
Purchase "Monday Songs" here.