Saturday, August 24, 2013

2013 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Saxophone Competition

It's that time again!  The Thelonious Monk Jazz Saxophone Competition semi-finals and finals are happening on September 15th and September 16th.  I found this out thanks to an informative story on the Jazz Police website.  I won't reproduce the whole story here, but I will list the semi-finalists, as their future recordings will be good candidates for being reviewed on AJS.  One recording by Melissa Aldana was already reviewed here, and a brief video clip of Tivon Pennicott was posted.  After the semifinals and finals, AJS will post the competition results.  For more information, check out the full story on the Jazz Police website. 

Competition Semifinalists:

  • Melissa Aldana was born in Santiago, Chile, and began playing saxophone at age 6. She attended the Berklee College of Music as a Berklee Presidential Scholar. While at Berklee, Aldana studied with Joe Lovano, George Garzone, Frank Tiberi, Greg Osby, Hal Crook, Dave Santoro, Bill Pierce, Dino Govoni and Ralph Peterson. She has appeared at venues such as the Blue Note Jazz Club, the Iridium, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, the Village Vanguard, the Jazz Standard and Smalls Jazz Club.
  • Braxton Cook was born in Boston, Massachusetts, and grew up in Silver Spring, Maryland. He began playing saxophone at age 10 and later studied at Georgetown University before transferring to the Juilliard School. Cook has studied under Steve Wilson, Ron Blake and Paul Carr, and received the Irene Diamond Scholarship to attend Juilliard. He has performed with Wynton Marsalis, Branford Marsalis, Gerald Albright, Cassandra Wilson, Joe Lovano, Terell Stafford and Terence Blanchard, and recently toured Europe as part of the Christian Scott Sextet.
  • Sam Dillon was born in Great Neck, New York, and began playing saxophone at age 10. He received his master's degree in music from Purchase College, State University of New York. In addition to hosting many jazz workshops, Dillon has taught music lessons locally for the past 8 years. He has recently performed with the Artie Shaw Jazz Orchestra, Cecilia Coleman Big Band and Joe Chambers' "Moving Pictures" Jazz Orchestra, and has appeared at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, Symphony Space, the Iridium and Yoshi's Jazz Club.
  • Lukas Gabric was born in Villach,Austria, and began playing saxophone at age 11. He attended the City College of New York and New School University, where he received the Thomas D. Michael Scholarship. A woodwind ensemble coach at the Frank Sinatra High School for the Performing Arts, Gabric has performed at the Apollo Theatre, Smalls Jazz Club, at international jazz festivals across Europe. He was recently accepted into the Juilliard School, where he is pursuing a jazz studies diploma.
  • Andrew Gould was born in Long Island, New York, and began playing saxophone at age 10. He graduated magna cum laude from Purchase College, State University of New York, receiving the James Moody Scholarship Award before attaining his master of music degree at the Manhattan School of Music. Gould has studied under George Garzone, Jimmy Greene, Steve Wilson, Jon Gordon and Dave Pietro, and has toured internationally. He has performed with Jon Faddis, Bill Mobley and David Weiss, and is a member of the Wallace Roney Orchestra.
  • Michael Griffin was born in Sydney, Australia, and began playing saxophone at age 11. He graduated from Newtown High School of the Performing Arts and later attended the Sydney Conservatorium. Griffin participated in the 2012 Melbourne International Jazz Festival, and has performed at the Sydney Town Hall, Sydney Opera House, Sydney Entertainment Center and Novotel Hotel. A James Morrison Scholarship finalist for four consecutive years, Griffin has shared the stage with Joe Lovano, Kirk Lightsey, James Morrison, James Muller, Jacki Cooper, Judy Bailey, Dale Barlow and Dave Panichi.
  • Danny Janklow was born in Los Angeles, California, and began playing saxophone at age 11. He studied at Temple University and graduated with honors. Janklow has studied with Terell Stafford, Dick Oatts and Walt Weiskopf, and has performed alongside Wynton Marsalis, Branford Marsalis, Benny Golson, James Moody, Jimmy Heath, Wycliffe Gordon, Savion Glover, Karrin Alyson, James Torme, Danilo Pérez, Stanley Clarke, Nicholas Payton, Steve Wilson and Bruce Barth. He participates in jazz workshops at Stanford University and teaches privately in Southern California.
  • Grace Kelly was born in Wellesley, Massachusetts, and began playing saxophone at age 6. After graduating from the New England Conservatory Preparatory School, she received a bachelor's degree from the Berklee College of Music. Kelly has performed with Harry Connick, Jr. and Wynton Marsalis, and appeared at the Kennedy Center as part of President Obama's Inauguration festivities. She has performed at venues around the world, including the Montreal Jazz Festival, Newport Jazz Festival, Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall.
  • Mike Lebrun was born in Framingham, Massachusetts, and began playing saxophone at age 12. He attended the Dreyfoos School of the Arts before graduating from Northwestern University with a double major in jazz studies and economics. Lebrun won the 2008 International Jazz Composer's Symposium and has studied with John Wojciechowski and Tom Garling. He has performed with Maria Schneider, Dee Dee Bridgewater, The Temptations, Bob Mintzer, Conrad Herwig, Ron Blake, Jim McNeely and Dave Liebman.
  • Godwin Louis was born in Harlem, New York, and began playing saxophone at age 9. He studied at the Berklee College of Music before moving to New Orleans to complete his master's degree in music from the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Performance at Loyola University. Louis has studied with Terence Blanchard, JB Dyas and Jimmy Heath, and performed with Herbie Hancock, Danilo Pérez, Ron Carter, Gloria Estefan, Billy Preston and Benny Golson. He recently toured Italy, China, France, Venezuela and Mexico, and is a member of the Haitian Youth Music Relief organization.
  • Tivon Pennicott was born in Marietta, Georgia and began playing saxophone at age 14. He studied at the University of Miami's Frost School of Music under the tutelage of Maria Schneider, Randy Brecker and Dave Liebman. Since 2007, Pennicott has been a member of the Kenny Burrell Quintet and performed at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola, Catalina Jazz Club and Yoshi's. He has recorded with Esperanza Spalding and Gregory Porter, and has performed with Stevie Wonder, Jimmy Heath, Wynton Marsalis, Joshua Redman, Roy Hargrove, Aaron Goldberg and Benny Green.
  • Clay Pritchard was born in Grapevine, Texas, and began playing saxophone at age 12. In high school, he was selected to participate in the National GRAMMY band for two consecutive years. Prichard graduated from the University of North Texas, where he studied with Randy Lee, Jim Riggs and Marchel Ivery. Prichard has performed onstage with Phil Woods, Benny Golson, Jimmy Heath, Maria Schneider and Dick Oatts. He currently performs with the bands Emerald City and Snarky Puppy.
  • Dean Tsur was born in Timrat, Israel, and began playing saxophone at age 10. He attended the Israeli Conservatory before studying at the Berklee College of Music on a full scholarship. He went on to attend the Juilliard School of Music as a recipient of the Ruth Katzman Scholarship. Tsur has studied with Steve Wilson, George Garzone, Dino Govoni, Gan Lev, Mark Turner, Grant Stewart and Mike Tucker. He has performed at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola, Lincoln Center, and the Blue Note.
  • Ben Van Gelder was born in Groningen, The Netherlands, and began playing saxophone at age 11. He studied at New School University before enrolling in the University of Amsterdam and the Conservatory of Amsterdam, receiving lessons from Lee Konitz and Mark Turner. Van Gelder has played with David Binney, Ambrose Akinmusire, Nasheet Waits, Aaron Parks, Ben Street, Thomas Morgan and Rodney Green. He was recently selected as the winner of the Deloitte Jazz Award, one of the most prestigious jazz awards given in the Netherlands.
Thelonious Monk International Jazz Saxophone Competition Semifinals

  • Sunday, September 15, 2013 at 1:00 p.m.
  • Baird Auditorium at the National Museum of Natural History, 10th St. & Constitution Ave., NW, Washington, DC
Thelonious Monk International Jazz Saxophone Competition Finals and All-Star Gala Concert

  • Monday, September 16, 2013 at 7:30 p.m.
  • Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater, 2700 F St. NW, Washington, DC 

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Review: The Vigil - Chick Corea


Personnel: Chick Corea: keyboards; Charles Altura: guitar; Tim Garland: tenor and soprano saxophones, bass clarinet; Hadrien Feraud: bass; Marcus Gilmore: drums; Perneil Saturnino: percussion; Gayle Moran Corea: vocals; Stanley Clarke: bass; Ravi Coltrane: tenor saxophone.

The recording begins with “Galaxy 32 Star 4” (8:20), with a slick fusion theme, electric piano and soprano sax in unison, upper mid-tempo, and a driving drum beat.  Chick starts off the improvising with a well-modulated electric piano solo, including a good share of bent notes.  Then Feraud plays a fleet-fingered electric bass solo composed mostly of eighth-note lines and closing with a flurry of sixteenth notes.  Then Garland plays a solo on soprano sax, with long, slick lines, skillfully building up and releasing tension.  Altura contributes an impressive electric guitar solo, with superb support from the other rhythm players.  Then there’s some nice ensemble work interspersed with high-energy drumming from Gilmore, and a fairly dramatic close.

“Planet Chia” (11:06) has Chick on acoustic piano by himself to start, then bass and drums join in on a mid-tempo tune with a Latin beat and an intricate theme with Garland on soprano sax, Altura on classical guitar, and Corea in unison.  Some improvising is interspersed with the theme, and the tune includes a clever, whimsical bridge.  Chick plays an acoustic piano solo, pretty but still forceful.  Garland then contributes a soprano solo that is thoughtful and soaring, employing a strong, clear sound.  Altura then plays a lyrical solo on classical guitar, not allowing his considerable technique to overwhelm his romanticism, interacting will with Corea.  Feraud then plays a solo on electric bass with smart phrases, again a marriage of considerable technique with musicality.  This is a very well-conceived cut, a fine showcase for the players’ abilities.

“Portals to Forever,” at 16:00, is like a mini-concert in itself.  The cut begins with an electric piano ostinato, and then a simple, earthy, mid-tempo theme played by Garland on tenor and Altura on electric guitar.  Chick then contributes a solid solo in classic Fender Rhodes mode.  Then there is a second theme, after which Garland (on tenor) and Altura (on electric guitar) trade fours.  Garland employs a thick, soft-edged tone on tenor, and he shows an impressive command of the altissimo range here.  Garland and Altura have a good exchange, but it’s hard to get a sense of what the can do when they keep breaking off for their partner’s turn.  There’s a repeat of the second theme, this time with Chick on acoustic piano, then he moves to synthesizer and trades fours with Feraud.  Chick then switches back to electric piano, and there is a third simple theme, this time including Garland on bass clarinet.  Gilmore then plays a sparkling, spicy solo with the third theme being played in the background.  There’s a brief interlude with a pretty line played by tenor sax and synthesizer in unison.  The cut then moves right into a swinging mid-tempo 4/4, a refreshing turn of events, and Chick plays an acoustic piano solo with his characteristic attractive, clean lines.  The group transitions to a new, more dramatic theme which is repeated throughout this closing section, with a driving Gilmore background. Garland then plays a skillful bass clarinet solo, throwing in a fast runs and high register screams.  The cut comes to a quiet close with a Garland bass clarinet cry in the background.  Though tightly choreographed through its different sections, this cut still manages to have a loose feel thanks to the effortless mastery of the players.

“Royalty” (9:18) begins with Chick on acoustic piano by himself but develops into a minor-key, mid-tempo waltz with the rest of the group, and then Garland plays the pretty theme on tenor sax.  Chick then plays one of his typically fine piano solos, the music here sounding similar to his excellent Friends recording.  Garland, affecting a somewhat airy tone, then plays a solo composed of a series of slippery phrases that add up to an interesting musical statement.  Altura’s electric guitar solo is mainly laid-back and circumspect, though he fits in a few high-flying runs.  Feraud finishes the solos with a fleet-fingered one on electric bass.  Throughout the cut, Gilmore is very subtle, guiding the music along firmly but unobtrusively.

“Outside of Space” (4:59) has Gayle Moran singing a haunting melody with a heavy and dramatic voice, Corea again creating a composition that’s intriguing harmonically and melodically.  I think a lighter voice could have done the melody more justice, but Moran certainly makes an impact.  Chick plays a brief acoustic piano solo.  Garland plays a nice bass clarinet solo with a sound in the upper register that echoes Moran’s voice.  The cut ends with Moran repeating the song and holding an ethereal note. 

“Pledge for Peace” (17:35) has as guest artists Ravi Coltrane on tenor sax and Stanley Clarke on acoustic bass; it’s also a live performance, which helps to explain its rambling length.  It begins with some acoustic piano flourishes, and then the other musicians join in for some meterless, loose improvising that lasts for close to 3 ½ minutes, with just the suggestion of a theme.  This gives way to a solid, mid-tempo, swinging groove with a walking bass, piano, and drums.  (The feel and harmonic structure here are similar to Chick’s Coltrane tribute on Three Quartets, “Quartet No.2 Part 2.”)  Chick then plays a nice acoustic piano solo that slowly grows in intensity (with Gilmore’s and Clarke’s assistance) until he cools things off.  Clarke then plays a dramatic and folksy a cappella bass solo.  Ravi contributes a soulful and rollicking extended tenor solo with a slightly raw tone.  The group goes meterless again to the close of the performance.

“Legacy” (10:00) has Chick back on electric piano and begins with some loose improvising in an upper mid-tempo groove, with Garland contributing on tenor sax.  (This loose intro goes on for about 2 ½ minutes.)  Then a nice fusion-y theme arises (and goes by too quickly), after which Chick first plays a synthesizer solo and then an electric piano solo, with simmering support from Gilmore.  The fusion-y theme is played again, and Altura plays a well-controlled electric guitar solo with fluid, cascading lines.  Guitar and sax repeat the theme, and Garland then plays a driving tenor solo, sounding very Brecker-ish.  The cut ends with more casual group interplay. 

This recording includes a bonus track: a live performance of Tadd Dameron’s “Hot House” (8:28).  I believe this is from the same live performance at which “Pledge for Peace” was recorded, so Clarke and Coltrane are on this cut as well.  The tune, slightly updated, is taken at a lively upper mid tempo and given a Latin beat.  After the theme, Chick plays a tasty acoustic piano solo, Gilmore percolating behind him.  Ravi plays a solid tenor sax solo with a few against-the-grain phrases thrown in.  Altura plays a straight-ahead electric guitar solo that closes with some flashy, fast lines, and Clarke plays a melodic bass solo with his big, rubbery sound.  Then the band trades fours with Gilmore, who has no trouble with straight-ahead bop drumming.  Chick gives his arrangement a fairly elaborate ending. 

Chick Corea is well-known for embracing many styles of music, including acoustic/electric Latin-tinged jazz (e.g. the first Return to Forever), straight acoustic jazz trio, fusion, post bop (e.g. Three Quartets), bebop (e.g. the Bud Powell recording), and forays into quasi-classical music.  (The variety is partly on display in the 10 DVD set Rendezvous in New York.)  Presumably he chose his Vigil band-mates to give him the flexibility to dip into many of his musical bags, and he really takes them out for a spin on this recording, which includes fusion (“Galaxy 32 Star 4” and “Legacy”), acoustic Latin-tinged (“Planet Chia”), post-bop (“Royalty,” “Portals to Forever,”  “Pledge for Peace”), and even some bebop (“Hot House”).  The music has the unique clarity and elegance that has been characteristic of Corea’s music throughout his career.  One never knows where Corea will go next musically, but based on the quality of The Vigil, he couldn’t do much better than to continue using this group to explore his multitude of musical interests. 

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Review: Circular Dreaming - Quest



Personnel: Dave Liebman: tenor and soprano saxophones; Richie Beirach: piano; Ron McClure: bass; Billy Hart: drums.

Circular Dreaming is a tribute to the Miles Davis group of the 60’s (you know, Wayne, Herbie, Ron, and Tony); except for Tony Williams’s “Hand Jive” and one original each from Liebman and Beirach, all the tunes are Wayne Shorter’s.  I thought I would follow the same procedure I used for Jonas Holgersson’s recording 4003 and revisit the original Miles performances to compare them with the new versions.  This makes for a longer review, but it’s an instructive exercise (for me, at least).

The recording starts with “Pinocchio,” originally from Nefertiti.  Miles’s version is a cool, mid-tempo swinger, with Miles and Shorter playing the infectious melody in unison.  The solos are tantalizingly brief, Miles starting them off with his clipped, no-nonsense phrases.  Shorter’s phrases are also somewhat clipped, which Williams picks up on and starts filling in the spaces, amounting to a duet between the drums and sax.  Hancock’s solo is more straightforward, with swinging, elegant lines.  On Quest’s version, Liebman, on soprano sax, plays the theme in unison with Beirach.  Happily, the solos here are more expansive, Beirach starting them with one that is lyrical, technically dazzling, and outstanding.  Liebman plays a careening but well-controlled solo.  In the background, Hart sounds great, dancing around the drum kit.  Liebman and Hart finish the cut with an improvised duet.  If you’re going to take on a classic jazz performance like Miles’s “Pinocchio,” this is the way to do it.

“Prince of Darkness” is up next, originally on the Sorcerer recording, an upper mid-tempo tune with a slightly Latin feel.  Miles’s playing is fairly hot here, with longer lines and high note stabs, and Shorter puts together an intriguing solo, full of twists and turns; Hancock lays out for both of the horn solos.  Hancock takes a thoughtful approach in his solo, with Carter and Williams following his every move beautifully, as natural as breathing.  Quest’s version is slower and softer-edged, with Liebman (again on soprano) gently reading the melody.  Beirach then plays a thoughtful, delicate solo, the notes reluctant to leave his fingers.  Then McClure plays a muscular and melodic bass solo.  Liebman’s solo has a lot of variety and ranges all over the horn, but it is very measured, like he’s trying to get every note just right.  (He’s pretty successful.)

Miles and Wayne give a quiet reading in harmony of the elegant, bittersweet melody of “Footprints,” from Miles Smiles.  Miles’s expansive solo begins tentatively, with shorter phrases, eventually moving into a double-time feel.  Shorter’s solo is filled with thorny, thoughtful phrases.  Hancock’s solo is chord-heavy.  Throughout the solos, the rhythm players show off amazing elasticity, changing direction on a dime and making it all seem effortless, more like wizards than timekeepers.  Quest’s version is faster and has a more driving feel.  Liebman is on tenor for this cut, and his excellent solo is high-energy and free-wheeling, with frequent use of altissimo screams.  Beirach appears to be having a blast twisting the structure of the tune in a variety of ways, Hart staying right with him.  Hart then contributes a melodic, engaging solo. 

“MD”, an original by Liebman, begins abstractly and slowly with Beirach by himself, musing at the keyboard, focusing on dissonant chords and phrases.  At about two minutes in, a sad, slow melody floats out of Liebman’s tenor sax.  After a brief Beirach interlude, Liebman begins improvising against an earthy background from the rhythm players, eventually increasing his intensity and forays in the upper register, keeping the tone of the performance dark and somber.  The piece ends with a brief restatement of the theme.

“Hand Jive” is a straightforward, upper mid-tempo tune by Tony Williams from the Nefertiti recording.  After a brief reading of the theme in unison with Shorter, Miles plays a fluid, thoughtful solo, with Williams closely following and feeding off of Miles’s lines.  Shorter’s solo is looser but also thoughtful and exploratory.  Hancock lays out for both of these solos.  The rhythm section is hard-driving throughout.  Hancock finally enters and plays a solo composed of single-note lines.  Quest’s version has a similar tempo, with Liebman back on soprano.  Liebman is in very good form here, alternating clean, logical lines with interval jumps, upper-register screams, and quicksilver runs.  Then Beirach plays a beautifully constructed solo.

On “Vonetta,” from Sorcerer, Miles and Shorter play the slow melody with understated background playing from the rhythm section.  When Miles solos, Williams locks into a series of march-like snare-drum rolls, branching out a bit when Shorter takes over.  Shorter’s velvety tone is particularly noticeable here, and his solo is exceptional.  On Quest’s version, unlike the somewhat detached reading of the theme by Miles and Wayne, Liebman (on tenor) treats the tune more like a ballad, employing more embellishment and emphasizing the tune’s prettiness.  Liebman’s improvisation bears a lot of resemblance to Shorter’s. 

“Nefertiti” famously has Miles and Wayne repeating the hypnotic theme periodically throughout the performance, both choosing not to improvise, except for the different ways they approach the repeated theme (e.g. variations in note bending, dynamics, articulation).  The rhythm section generally moves along with the horns, occasionally setting off some subtle fireworks around the melody (especially Williams).  The cut builds to a climax in the rhythm section’s playing and then comes to a quiet close.  On the Quest version, Liebman starts improvising (on soprano) even before he states the melody, with light accompaniment from Beirach.  The tune doesn’t start in earnest with the rest of the group until almost two minutes in.  After stating the theme, Liebman and Beirach trade the spotlight loosely, with the group in a nice swinging groove, the saxophonist and pianist just having a casual good time.

“Circular Dreaming” is an original composition by Beirach and begins with Liebman playing the languorous theme on soprano.  Beirach improvises a formal-sounding, well-grounded solo.  Liebman then plays a contemplative, carefully-constructed solo, with lush accompaniment from Beirach.  Liebman and Beirach put a lot of emotion in their final reading of the theme.  The performance is a good change of pace, slow and straightforward, with a pleasant, floating quality throughout. 

“Paraphernalia,” from Miles in the Sky, has a furtive feel, with an upper mid-tempo melody somewhat like the theme from a 60’s detective TV show and George Benson’s electric guitar providing a jumpy background pulse.  Miles’s solo is fluid and all business; Shorter’s is more oblique and contains more spaces.  Benson, like Shorter, is contemplative in his solo, with Miles and Wayne providing some background.  Hancock is assertive, punching out strong phrases and ringing chords.  As usual, the rhythm players are amazingly flexible.  Liebman (on tenor) and his crew take the tune at a faster tempo, stretching out the theme a bit, with the rhythm section providing a dense, somewhat frantic background.  Beirach plays a fluid, mainly linear solo; Liebman’s solo is loose and all over the horn, occasionally having a wild, hair-on-fire quality.  Hart’s solo, by contrast, is varied but well-controlled.  Overall, this version provides a nice high-energy close to the recording.

The original performances of the compositions on Circular Dreaming by the Davis group are more than groundbreaking episodes in the history of the jazz idiom--they have a timeless quality.  The peerless improvisations and the brilliance and elasticity of the rhythm section still sound fresh.  The performances on Circular Dreaming can’t, of course, match that standard, but they are interesting and engaging and fully stand on their own; there’s no let-down in listening first to the original and then to the Circular Dreaming version of these tunes.  The members of Quest are all masters of their craft and they’re playing as well as they’ve ever played; in particular, Liebman’s tenor playing is very strong, and his soprano playing is second to none.  The success of Circular Dreaming is significant but not surprising.  Take four great jazz musicians at the top of their game fully engaged in playing some of the best jazz compositions ever written…well, you do the math.  

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Video: A cut from Eli Degibri's upcoming "Twelve"

A new review is coming in a couple of days or so.  In the meantime: Astute viewers of AJS may have seen in the upcoming release area that our old friend Eli Degibri is coming out with a new recording in a few weeks, titled Twelve.  Here is a video with the music of one of the tunes, “The Spider,” which includes some clips from the recording session.  Is it just me, or do the drummer and the pianist look crazy young?  Well, everybody sounds great, including Degibri, who plays a rollicking solo with his big, cushy sound.  If the rest of the album is of comparable quality, it should be a winner.