The Jones Boys

March 15, 2017

Are jazz musicians born or are they made? This topic was touched upon in a post here when writing about the Caceres family from the 1930s through to the early 2000s. There, the leaning is toward the belief that environment does the trick rather than blood. Until, that is, the names of the true giants are mentioned. Did Louis Armstrong’s genius spring from his blood or his childhood environment? It appears not to have been either (the Waif’s Home notwithstanding). Or how about Charlie Parker? Or Billie Holiday? Neither the blood nor the early childhood environment of those three artists was particularly conducive to the creation of a musical life. On contrast, the effect of blood and environment inevitably come to mind when considering the lives and careers of the Jones brothers: Hank, Thad and Elvin.

Their father, Henry Jones, worked in the construction industry (he was a lumber inspector) and was also a Baptist deacon. Their mother, Olivia, sang but not professionally and Hank (Henry Jr.) and two older sisters, were encouraged to study piano. In his case, he progressed rapidly and as he entered his teens he began performing semi-professionally close to the family home in Pontiac, Michigan (he was born in Vicksburg, Mississippi, on 31 July 1918). He also led his own band, in one of which a younger brother, Thad, played trumpet. Hank played piano in various territory bands and was heard by Lucky Thompson who urged him go to New York where he worked with Hot Lips Page. This was in 1944 and while in the city he not only played with musicians such as John Kirby, Coleman Hawkins, and Andy Kirk, he also began drawing into his style aspects of bop through men like Howard McGhee and the future stars of bop who worked in Billy Eckstine’s band. He also worked with Benny Goodman and Milt Jackson and toured extensively with Jazz At The Philharmonic. He then spent several years as a staff musician at CBS Records. This job, which he held into the mid-1970s, meant that he was often working in non-jazz areas but subsequently he returned to jazz.aaahankjonestrioaaahankjonesarigatou He played most often as a soloist, sometimes accompanied singers, and he also played in piano duos with artists including Tommy Flanagan and George Shearing. Hank’s performances, live and on record, were always elegant, reserved almost, his playing always hinting that beneath the urbane surface lay a massive, smoldering talent.

Relevant to the blood -vs- environment theme, Thad Jones (born Thaddeus Joseph on 28 March 1923 in Pontiac) was a self-taught trumpet player. He played a little with brother Hank but his technique and knowledge were advanced during military service. Early in the 1950s he worked in Billy Mitchell’s band in which the youngest of the Jones boys, Elvin, played drums. After a short spell with Charles Mingus, from the mid-1950s to the mid-1960s he became widely recognized through spending several years with Count Basie. In the mid-1960s, Thad teamed up with Mel Lewis to form and co-lead The Jazz Orchestra Mel Lewis.aaathadjonesmelaaathadmagnif In many respects this was a turning point in Thad’s career because it was here that his playing began to take second place alongside the development of his work as composer and arranger. At the end of the 1970s, Thad emigrated to Denmark, where he continued his writing, now for the Danish Radio Big Band and his own band, Eclipse. In 1985 he was briefly leader of the Count Basie Orchestra, a role that ended a few months before his death. Like his brother Hank, Thad was influenced by bop and was a gifted and harmonically advanced soloist, his sound being especially attractive when he played flügelhorn. (Late in life, a lip injury prompted him to occasionally play trombone.) This said, Thad’s legacy is the large library of big band compositions and arrangements that vividly demonstrate his skill that extended over many aspects of jazz and popular music.

Four years younger than Thad and nine younger than Hank, Elvin (born Elvin Ray in Pontiac on 9 September 1927) played drums with local bands and also in the army before joining Billy Mitchell. From the mid-1950s he was one of the foremost drummers in bop, working with musicians such as Donald Byrd, J.J. Johnson and Sonny Rollins, before joining John Coltrane’s quartet. The five years he spent with Coltrane secured his place among the most notable and influential of jazz drummers. Thereafter and for the rest of his life he was mostly leader of small groups, toured internationally, playing concerts and festival dates. Musicians who fronted the groups Elvin drove included George Coleman, Joe Farrell, and Wilbur Little, and he also recorded with Art Pepper. Elvin’s career as small group leader continued with the Elvin Jones’ Jazz Machine and he worked to within a few months of his death.aaaelvinvvangaaaelvinrd The last two decades of his career showed Elvin to be a hugely accomplished drummer, his style ranging from bop to free, his technique being exceptional. This last-named quality allowing him to become far more than an accompanist or a mere setter of the beat. A powerful and dominating presence on the bandstand, Elvin Jones created cascading yet intricately formed sheets of sound far beyond the grasp of most of his fellow drummers in jazz.

So, in the case of the Jones boys was blood or environment the factor that drove them to become exceptional and significant figures in jazz? A simple answer is not easy. Clearly, the same blood ran in the veins of them all and their early childhood years were spent in the same environment. This said, and perhaps clouding rather than illuminating the picture, a strong argument can be made that sibling inspiration was one of the keys to their success. Whatever the answer, there can be no doubt that Hank, Thad and Elvin Jones were important, valuable, admired and much-missed musicians

Hank Jones: 31 July 1918 – 16 May 2010

Thad Jones: 28 March 1923 – 20 August 1986

Elvin Jones: 9 September 1927 – 18 May 2004

The album covers illustrated above are just a few of the dozens of albums made by each of the Jones brothers, all of which can be found at walk-in and on-line stores, including Amazon.

Jazz CD Reviews – early July 2016

July 10, 2016

Mike Jones Roaring (Capri 74142-2)

Comfortable in many styles of jazz and other popular music genres, pianist Mike Jones presents a romp through a selection of pre-swing era songs that includes many standards. Among these are Yes Sir, That’s My Baby, What’ll I Do, Mean To Me and Me And My Shadow. For several years, Mike has been a fixture in Las Vegas serving as musical director of the Penn and Teller magic show and more recently was with the Broadway production of the show.mikejonestrio_roaring_db.jpg It was during this engagement that this recording date was conceived and for it Mike teamed up with bassist Katie Theroux and drummer Matt Witek. Although they had not worked together as a trio before, they are all such highly accomplished musicians that the result is a highly entertaining master class in mainstream jazz. Oh and by the way, if stars were awarded here, the cover art is worth an extra one.

Michika Fukumori Quality Time (Summit DCD 679)

Musically trained from very early childhood, including studying classical composition, Michika Fukumori moved to New York to pursue her studies and quickly established herself on the city’s club circuit as a notable jazz pianist. Michika’s repertoire on this release includes music that is familiar but presented in an engagingly fresh manner – Duke Ellington’s Solitude, Antonio Carlos Jobim’s Someone To Light Up My Life,michika Leonard Bernstein’s Lucky To Be Me and Somewhere, Jule Styne’s Make Someone Happy – as well as four originals by Michika and one of producer Steve Kuhn’s compositions, Looking Back. Michika is joined here by bassist Aidan O’Donnell, a Scotsman now also resident in New York, and drummer Billy Drummond, a mainstay of the jazz and studio scene since the 1980s. Excellent jazz piano playing that is warmly rhythmic and wholly engaging.

Joe Policastro Pops! (JeruJazz )

Well established in Chicago, the members of the Joe Policastro Trio are all experienced as leaders as well as sidemen. Instrumentally, the line up is uncommon: Joe plays bass, Dave Miller plays guitar and Mikel Avery plays drums. Also stepping up are two other guitarists, both of whom appear on two tracks each;policastro Andy Brown on More Than A Woman and Me And Mrs Jones, and Andy Pratt on Wave Of Mutilation and Drive. As those titles will have already indicated, Joe and his collaborators choose much of their repertoire from post-1960s pop music. The four tracks mentioned reflect the Bee Gees, Billy Paul, The Pixies and The Cars, while other pop artists covered include Stevie Wonder and Tom Waits. Aside from his obvious liking for pop (the trio has a regular gig at Chicago’s noted nightclub Pops For Champagne) Joe works extensively in jazz, in particular leading three bands that keep alive the legacy of Gerry Mulligan. Relaxed playing by skilled instrumentalists who blend with seemingly effortless ease.

Ben Adkins Salmagundi (Ben Adkins Music 190394498177)

Although based in New Orleans, drummer Ben Adkins is musically inspired by numerous musical genres. There is jazz funk, hard bop, swing, balladry, all more and everything is performed with skill and understanding. Heard here are some established jazz works (Blue Mitchell’s Fungii Mama, Charlie Parker’s Cheryl, Billy Strayhorn’s Chelsea Bridge), a standard (Arthur Schwartz’s You And The Night And The Music), as well as six originals, one by Chris Adkins and five by Ben himself.ben adkins Joining drummer Ben are Alphonso Horne, trumpet and flugelhorn, Joshua Bowlus, piano and keyboards, Paul Miller, guitar, and Stan Piper, bass. Also appearing on one track each are saxophonist Michael Emmert, guitarist Chris Adkins and vocalist Linda Cole. The word used as this album’s title means a mixture (or potpourri), and in this case it is a very tasteful blend of music old and new and all of it is played with skill and flair.

For more on Mike Jones contact Braithwaite & Katz ([email protected]); for Michika Fukumori and Joe Policastro contact Holly Cooper at Mouthpiece Music; and for Ben Adkins go to Jim Eigo’s Jazz Promo Services site.

Albums by these artists are available at the usual outlets, including Amazon.

Jazz CD Reviews – early May 2016

May 10, 2016

Lauren White Out Of The Past: Jazz & Noir (Café Pacific CPCD 45130)

Even before hearing this excellent album, I was intrigued by its premise and title. In choosing her material, Lauren White has drawn upon songs performed on and off screen in films noir, those now classic movies that first appeared in the 1940s. Among the songs are He’s Funny That Way (from 1946’s The Postman Always Rings Twice), Again (1948’s Road House), You Kill Me (1952’s Macao) and the title song from 1944’s Laura. Other songs not heard in noir movies, but which fit the mood are Matt Dennis and Tom Adair’s The Night We Called It A Day and When All The Lights In The Sign Worked, an original by Joe Pasquale and Mark Winkler (the latter producer of this album). Lauren is accompanied by the trio of pianist Mitchel Forman, bassist Trey Henry and drummer Abe Lagrimas, Jr, with guest brass, reeds and strings on some tracks, while the arrangements are by Kathryn Bostic, herself a singer and composer, who is sole accompanist at the piano on Haunted Heart, which comes from the 1948 Broadway musical revue Inside U.S.A. The arrangements skilfully transport the music from that long ago era to the present day while still retaining reflections of the original source. As for the personal appeal of the title, although not musically represented here, Out Of The Past is one of the classics of the genre. My own interest in the source material inspired one of my books, Film Noir: Reflections In A Dark Mirror, (available as an e-book) and I have also written on the subject elsewhere on this site (December 2013).Lauren Lauren’s voice ably suits the material, moodily introspective where needed, bringing to mind the imagery of film noir, those shadowed, neon-lit, rain-streaked streets brought vividly to Hollywood by those filmmakers who had hurriedly left Germany during the late 1930s and early 1940s where they had worked with such distinction in the Expressionist period of European cinema. The singer’s clarity of diction allows the listener to consider the words, perhaps in some cases overlooked when they were heard on and off screen as nuanced shading rather than as spotlit features. This last point is underlined by Lauren’s interesting choice of Amado Mio from 1946’s Gilda, rather than the decidedly un-nuanced Put The Blame On Mame (explosively performed on screen by Rita Hayworth and dubbed by Anita Ellis). Based in Los Angeles, Lauren sings in jazz venues (as she does also occasionally in New York), and also works in the theater and television as actor and producer. With this, her fourth album, should she choose to do so she will surely substantially extend her audience.

Louis Heriveaux Triadic Episode (Hot Shoe HSR 110)

Although well known in and around Atlanta, Georgia, as a sideman, Louis Heriveaux is now attracting wider attention as a soloist and fronting a fine trio. The repertoire chosen here includes standards, Everything I Love, Body And Soul and All The Things You Are, jazz pieces, Kenny Dorham’s Blue Bossa and Mulgrew Miller’s From Day To Day, as well as originals by the trio.LouisH These are Swing’n Things, by drummer Terreon Gully, Lundy’s Blues, by bassist Curtis Lundy,Theme For DosLyn and One For Simus, by Louis, and Triadic Episode, by Louis and Curtis. Throughout, Louis plays with a gentle touch, bringing out all the inherent subtleties of the compositions and also improvising intelligently upon the themes. There is also a swinging rhythmic undertow brought to the occasion by the pianist and his companions. The piano-bass-drums trio is perhaps the most ubiquitous format among jazz groups but there is no sense of sameness here. Instead, the music is fresh and thoroughly entertaining and this, his debut album, is sure to broaden his appeal to include a much wider audience than hitherto.

Daria Strawberry Fields Forever (OA2 Records 22129)

With this album, Daria takes up a demanding challenge, because in common with many latterday composers of pop songs, John Lennon and Paul McCartney did not customarily follow the 32-bar AABA pattern for popular songs that has supplied so much material to the jazz repertoire. One result of this is that with only scattered exceptions the songs of the Beatles, for the most part composed by Lennon and McCartney, have not been widely used by jazz singers. Among those exceptions is Connie Evingson, who sings some of their songs on her albums Let It Be and All The Cats Join In (about which there is more in an earlier post). One result of a jazz artist drawing her repertoire from this source is the pleasing quality that many of the songs are familiar but not overdone in jazz circles. Among the most familiar are The Fool On The Hill and Can’t Buy Me Love, by McCartney, and Strawberry Fields Forever by Lennon. Other songs heard here are Come Together, written by Lennon, after having failed to find the right material for a gubernatorial campaign song wanted by Timothy Leary, and his deeply introspective Julia, written in memory of his mother. There are also a few non-Beatles songs, including Daria’s original, She’s Going Home, inspired by Lennon and McCartney’s She’s Leaving Home. Some of the songs have undercurrents of sadness, others are light-hearted; Daria shows her respect for the mood of the originals, but throughout offers her own concepts, which display her affection for Latin music.daria Daria’s vocal sound, creamily-rich and flowing, allied as it is to her ability to delve deeply in her interpretations, bring fresh life to songs that are, however hard it is to believe it, around half a century old. For this album, Daria has surrounded herself with leading Bay-area musicians, including, as her core rhythm team, Jonathan Alford, keyboards, Sam Bevan, bass, and Deszon Claiborne, drums. In addition to the trio there are brass, reed, percussion and string instruments that richly extend the tonal palette in a very agreeable manner.

For more information on Lauren White, Louis Heriveaux and Daria, including booking arrangements, see Mouthpiece Music.

Other informative and entertaining sites you might enjoy:-

Jazz Journal – ۝

Vintage Bandstand – ۝

Jazz Flashes – ۝

Jazz Wax – ۝

Frank Griffith – ۝

John Robert Brown – ۝

Jazz and Other CD Reviews – April 2016

April 5, 2016

Darren English Imagine Nation (Hot Shoe HSW 109)

Making his debut as leader here is the exciting young South African trumpet player, Darren English who is now resident in Atlanta, Georgia. Here, Darren and his collaborators perform an interesting mix of standards, including a deeply introspective Body And Soul, classics from the jazz repertoire, a sparkling version of Dizzy Gillespie’s Bebop, as well as four of Darren’s originals. Labels are misleading, but if pressed I would say that it is post-bop mainstream – most importantly it is exhilarating.DarrenEnglish Three of the originals are part of a suite dedicated to Nelson Mandela, although they are presented separately here. Darren’s trumpet lines are graceful, he states the original melodies with engaging simplicity before moving into thoughtful and often driving improvisations. He is ably supported throughout by the trio of Kenny Banks, Jr., piano, Billy Thornton, bass, and Chris Burroughs, drums. Tenor saxophonist Greg Tardy joins him on three titles; these are two parts of the Mandela suite and Bullet In The Gunn, one of Darren’s originals. Vocalist Carmen Bradford is heard with a very attractive take on Skylark and on a fast What A Little Moonlight Can Do (To You), which also has good solos from bass and drums. Fellow trumpeters Russell Gunn and Joe Grandsen are also on hand, particularly excitingly so on Ray Noble’s Cherokee, which ends the album in fine style. An exceptionally talented and commanding young musician who will undoubtedly have a great future.

Kat Parra Songbook Of The Américas (JazzMa JMR 1005)

Always adventurous yet simultaneously wholly accessible, Kat Parra is a highly talented and very gifted musician. As the album title states, here she sings a selection of songs that draws upon the music of many parts of the continent. Among the songs are jazz pieces, Eddie ‛Cleanhead’ Vinson’s Four and Charlie Parker’s Au Privave, to both of which Kat has supplied lyrics (thus becoming Ever More and Wouldn’t It Be Sweet) and Betty Carter’s Please Do Something; some familiar songs from the popular repertoire, Meredith Willson’s Till There Was You and Bob Merrill’s Mambo Italiano; and songs from Peru, María Landó, Cuba, Viente Años, Argentina, Como La Cigarro and Mexico, Bésame Mucho.kat parra In addition to writing lyrics to the music of others, Kat also arranges, along with Aaron Germaine, Murray Low, David Pinto and others. The lyric for Dame La Mano is a poem by Gabriela Mistral, for which Kat has composed the music. All of these songs, familiar and lesser known, are sung with flair and ingenuity, always presenting a personal take but remaining true to the music’s origins. Singing with clarity and subtle drive, Kat turns all of these songs into vibrant demonstrations of her artistic skill. She is joined here by several musicians from the Bay Area, where she is based, among them being pianist Murray Low, trumpeter John Worley, trombonist Wayne Wallace, and bassist Marc van Wageningen. Adding to the atmosphere are Latin percussionists as well as players of flute and bandoneón. Also heard are fellow singers Patti Cathcart (along with guitarist Tuck Andress), María Márquez and Nate Pruitt. Altogether this is a delightful journey, seeing old favorites with new eyes and finding new sights to visit again.

Ehud Asherie Shuffle Along (Blue Heron)

Very much a musician of today, pianist Ehud Asherie has taken an unusual step for his twelfth album in drawing all the music from a barely remembered Broadway musical from the early 1920s. Although the show, Shuffle Along, might be beyond the recall of many, it is in fact important, chiefly because it was the first all-black musical to play on Broadway. All-black because not only was the cast African American, so too were the songwriters.shuffle They were lyricist Noble Sissle and composer Eubie Blake. What is especially interesting about the songs is that because they were written as the 1910s rolled into the 20s they are not written in a style that is heavily influenced by jazz although the ‛new’ music is noticeably hovering in the wings. At the time, Blake was only 24 years old, and perhaps because of his youth neither was he overly influenced by those earlier forms of popular music that were being edged aside, although here and there can be heard hints of then contemporary ragtime, a piano style he had mastered. As the lyrics are not heard their true melodic value can be more fully appreciated and it is striking how fresh they sound, especially when played with great sympathy by Ehud. Most famous of all Eubie’s songs is I’m Just Wild About Harry, heard twice, the second occasion being in waltz-time, which allows Ehud to reveal its considerable melodic charm. This is a remarkably durable song, turning up in the early 1950s as the theme song for Harry S Truman’s presidential campaign. Among the other songs, much less often heard, are Everything Reminds Me Of You, Bandana Days and Gypsy Blues. A particularly attractive song is the melodic and reflective Love Will Find A Way, with which Ehud closes the set. Very well played, with technical expertise allied with understanding and warmth and a jazz improvisor’s intelligence, this should appeal to all who love piano music.

Beside the point, I know, but I can’t resist quoting Eubie Blake when interviewed in 1983 on the occasion of what was said to be his 100th birthday (actually his 96th): “If I’d known I was going to live this long, I would’ve taken better care of myself.”

Please note that the cover of the copy reviewed differs slightly from that shown above.

Phyllis Blanford Edgewalker (independent)

Having lived for some years in Europe, Phyllis Blanford returned to America around 2000 and since then has established a reputation for heartfelt and soulful performances. Her chosen repertoire draws upon many aspects of popular music. phyllis bSome of the songs are standards, Night And Day, You Don’t Know What Love Is, Come Rain Or Come Shine, and some from fellow singers, Carmen Lundy’s Blue Woman and Good Morning Kiss, and Abbey Lincoln’s Throw It Away. Phyllis singing style is relaxed, her appreciation and interpretation of the lyrics intense. On this release, the singer is accompanied by a fine selection of jazz instrumentalists, the core trio of Ted Brancato, keyboards, Kenny Davis, bass, Winard Harper, drums, and saxophonist Don Braden, trumpeter James Gibbs, guitarist Vic Juris, trombonists Vincent Gardner and Jason Jackson, percussionist Mayra Casales, and vibraphonist Stefon Harris. An interesting and enjoyable singer who will surely and deservedly be heard much more widely over the coming years.

Danny Green Altered Narratives (OA2 22128)

Although all the music heard here is composed by pianist Danny Green, everything is redolent of the rich history of jazz piano. Danny’s musical career has ranged widely, including grunge rock, ska, Cuban son and especially the music of Brazil.dan green He has brought all of these elements into jazz with seemingly effortless ease, in the process substantially broadening his audience appeal. Danny leads his trio (Justin Grinnell, bass, Julien Cantelm, drums) on a musical journey that draws upon the blues (Chatter From All Sides, I Used To Hate The Blues), as well as classical form (Second Chance, Katabasis, Porcupine Dreams), with other elements from Danny’s eclectic musical background. On those last three named tunes the trio is joined by a string quartet, Antoine Silverman, Max Moston, violins, Chris Cardona, viola, Anja Wood, cello). This very attractive album will appeal to all lovers of jazz piano.

Cristina Braga Whisper (ENJA ENJ 9617-2)

Brazilian harpist/singer Cristina Braga has built an audience far outside her homeland for her notable performances of the music of Brazil. Here, she plays and sings a selection works by composers such as Dorival Caymmi (É Doce Morrer No Mar), João Donato (A Rã) and Baden Powell Samba Triste (with Billy Blanco) and Whisper On A Prelude (Cristina Braga and Alberto Rosenblit).braga Here she is accompanied by The Modern Samba Quartet (Jesse Sadoc, trumpet, Arthur Dutra, vibraphone, Ricardo Medeiros, bass, Claudio Wilner, percussion, Mauro Martins, drums) and the Brandenburger Symphoniker. There is also a guest appearance by guitarist/singer Dado Villa-Lobos, Antonio Carlos Jobim and Newton Mendonça’s (Meditation), sung here in the French and English versions (Eddy Marney and Norman Gimbel respectively). Although her vocal range is not wide, Cristina’s sound is gently soothing and suits the material well. Instrumentally, she is a gifted player displaying her talent on Mot D’Amour and especially Canto Triste. This concert was recorded live at the Great Hall of the Brandenburger Theater in Brandenburg.

For more on these artists go to their sites, highlighted above, and to Jazz Promo Services (for Phyllis Blanford, Cristina Braga), Braithwaite & Katz (for Ehud Asherie, Danny Green), and Mouthpiece Music (for Darren English, Kat Parra).

Other informative and entertaining sites to visit:-

Jazz JournalVintage BandstandJazz FlashesJazz WaxFrank GriffithJohn Robert Brown

And the place to go for albums is Amazon.

Jazz CD Reviews – late November 2015

November 25, 2015

Perhaps it has become a cliché, but over the years many of the masters of jazz have maintained that their music should tell a story. This is especially relevant with the first two albums here, those by Ernie Krivda and Aaron Irwin, because they are tied closely to storytelling and make strong connections with historic events and tales of fiction.

Ernie Krivda Requiem For A Jazz Lady (Capri 74140-2)

Hailing from Cleveland, tenor saxophonist Ernie Krivda has an international reputation yet has never lost a very strong connection with his hometown. This connection is manifested in this new album, which is inspired by places and people and events there in the past. The result is an engaging and always interesting selection of compositions Ernie has written, all of which are presented in a warm and powerful manner. Among these pieces of music is an engagingly funky blues entitled Great Lakes Gumbo, which combines elements of the many jazz styles of the mid-west cities that have Cleveland at their core. The Remarkable Mr Black is for Ernie’s late accompanist Claude Black. Taken at a brisk tempo, Ernie opens with a long improvisation and is followed by pianist Lafayette Carthon before a closing section where Ernie and drummer Renell Gonsalves trade ideas. A personal tribute is Little Face, a charming ballad on which Lafayette shines, that is for Ernie’s wife, Faye. A warm picture portraying Ernie’s present home in nearby Lakewood is Emerald, the key soloists here being Ernie and Lafayette and bassist Marion Hayden. Aside from the music, the liner notes for this release includes a fascinating account Ernie Krivda has written of Cleveland’s jazz world in that era and which itself paints vivid pictures that add immeasurably to the musical portraits.

Aaron Irwin A Room Forever (independent)

On this album, clarinetist Aaron Irwin’s inspiration for his compositions comes from the short stories of Breece Dexter John Pancake, a West Virginian writer whose death in 1979 at the age of 26 brought to an abrupt halt a career that would surely have been at the very least interesting and perhaps exceptional. He writes with a sharp eye for the sometimes grim hardscrabble lives of his fellow West Virginians and his spare style is admirably suited to the settings and the people. While bleak tales of difficult lives might appear to be unpromising as a source for musical inspiration, Aaron Irwin has found in them much that is rewarding. There is in the music an intriguing mix of pastoral openness and tight introspection as he draws upon varied musical genres to create themes over which he and his collaborators can lay their improvisations.irwin_a_room_forever_cover Aaron is accompanied here by trombonist Matthew McDonald, guitarist Pete McCann, and bassist Thomas Kneeland, the unusual instrumental make-up of the quartet providing interesting and unusual voicings. Titled as are Pancake’s stories, the tracks include A Room Forever, a melody that Aaron develops over Pete McCann’s plaintive guitar and which mirrors a tale of hopeless lives; Hollow, which traces a dourly-told tale of hard work below ground and forgotten love above; and Trilobites, a piece that reflects the story of a young man’s disintegrating life in which he finds a measure of purpose only in the perpetuity of the distant past. At first glance, the doom and despair that fill Pancake’s stories might seem an unlikely source for music but such is Aaron Irwin’s skill as a composer that everything here is by no means mired in gloom.

Mike Holober Balancing Act (Palmetto PALM 22058)

In many ways, pianist Mike Holober’s compositions heard here also draw upon the American landscape but this is through the composer’s non-musical activities. Although deeply involved for many years as composer and performer and conductor, including spells with big bands in Germany, Mike is at heart an outdoorsman and this is displayed in his writing.holober On this album five of the eight tracks are his own compositions and include Grace At Sea, a gentle ballad with Mike’s piano setting the scene and cushioning Kate McGarry’s voice, Marvin Stamm’s flugelhorn and Mark Patterson’s trombone. Brian Blade’s subtle drums allied to Mike’s piano and John Hébert’s bass sets the mood for Canyon, a spare, open ballad that features Kate as well as Marvin’s trumpet and Dick Oatts on alto saxophone. Dick also plays soprano saxophone in this band and is heard on flute on When There Were Trains, which also features Kate with the the reflective lyric. On Book Of Sighs Mike’s piano and Kate’s voice open the pages and later Dick and Mark are heard in extended solos. Brian is featured on Idris, a crisp and fitting tribute to Idris Muhammed composed by Jason Rigby. Mike is a regular member of a quartet led by Jason who also plays clarinet, bass clarinet and tenor saxophone on this album, soloing well on Billy Joel’s Lullabye (Goodnight, My Angel). An album of stories then, musical this time, but careful listeners will hear and understand what they are being told.

All these albums (and Breece D’J Pancake’s short stories) are available at Amazon.

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