The long awaited project REROOTING by composer/leader, percussion, balaphone and kalimba MARILYN MAZUR

Marilyn Mazur’s collaboration with Miles Davis, Gil Evans, and Wayne Shorter established her worldwide reputation in the mid-to-late ‘80s, as did her career with Jan Garbarek later on. But even before that, percussionist and composer Marilyn Mazur had already realized significant projects of her own. Her Primi Band, an experimental music theatre group that existed from 1978 to 1986, left such a lasting impression that the Copenhagen Jazz Festival wanted to reboot the group four decades later. This was unfortunately not possible, but the evocative spirit of that band has been let out of the bottle through a new project.

Shamania is the name of the band that Marilyn founded in 2015. Its shamanic spirit is based on the idea of a modern tribal gathering of female musical forces that focuses entirely on rhythm, body, and voice in an experimental context and the challenge of finding a common ground.

The ten women of Shamania are among the most independent musicians on the Scandinavian scene and live in Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. When they meet, they bring – through their formidable energies – a primal power and fascinating rhythms to the stage and enchant the listener with atmospheric moods and moments of pure amazement. The very same qualities have now been captured on their second album:

REROOTING combines 16 songs, a combination of both Marilyn’s brand new and older compositions, which have all been, with one exception, previously unreleased.

Each of these songs has its own story, such as an original song composed for Marilyn’s son when he was a baby, the sunset canon, the world situation, Nordic nights, April 1 – as well as the title track that was created at the first gathering of the Shamania musicians after pandemic-related self-isolation and many concert cancellations.

From the water phone, which combines the principles of the Tibetan water drum, the African lamellophone, and the nail violin from the 18th century, to udu clay pot drums, various bongos, congas, the kalimba, drums, and tuned gongs from all over the world, to the Norwegian goat horn: the extraordinary wealth of timbres, together with the other instruments, primes the songs, shining out of them, glowing and radiating, results in the unmistakable Shamania sound and, with the brilliant rhythms, form Marilyn Mazur’s trademark: often ritual-type music with an unmistakable instinct for outstanding dialogues, solos, and improvisations – as well as an energetic primal force, and the very personal musical language of the great musician that extends into a world that lies far beyond jazz.

JOSEFINE CRONHOLM vocals
SISSEL VERA PETTERSEN vocals and alto sax
HILDEGUNN ØISETH trumpet and goat horn
LOTTE ANKER tenor and soprano saxophone
LIS WESSBERG trombone
MAKIKO HIRABAYASHI piano and keyboards
IDA GORMSEN electric bass
LISBETH DIERS congas and percussion
ANNA LUND drums
MARILYN MAZUR composer/leader, percussion,
balaphone and kalimba

All compositions and lyrics by Marilyn Mazur,
except for the lyrics of Largo of Voices by Josefine Cronholm

Expected Release Date: 9/16/2022

Jazz Fusion Trumpeter & Composer Takuya Kuroda Returns With “Midnight Crisp” Via First Word Records

dense and cosmic” – Pitchfork

Kuroda stitches genres into a colorful patchwork while inventing a new composition process.” – Bandcamp, Best of 2020

He has a forward-thinking mentality that drives him to twist these old sounds into something futuristic” – Brooklyn Vegan

First Word Records is very proud to bring you a brand new mini-album from Takuya Kuroda!Takuya Kuroda is a highly respected trumpeter and arranger born in Kobe, Japan, and based in New York City. ’Midnight Crisp’ is Takuya’s seventh studio album, entirely self-produced and following the 2020s highly acclaimed ’Fly Moon Die Soon’, also released on UK label First Word (winner of the Worldwide Award’s Label of the Year in 2019). Consisting of six new tracks, this once again sees Takuya displaying his unique hybrid sound, blending soulful jazz, funk, post-bop, fusion, and hip hop.After following the footsteps of his trombonist brother playing in big bands, he relocated to New York to study jazz & contemporary music at The New School in Union Square; a course he graduated from in the mid-noughties. It was here that Takuya met vocalist José James, with whom he worked on the ‘Blackmagic‘ and ‘No Beginning No End‘ projects. Following graduation, Takuya established himself further in the NYC jazz scene, performing with the likes of Akoya Afrobeat and in recent years with DJ Premier’s BADDER band. Premier said “The BADDER Band project was put together by my manager, and an agent I’ve known since the beginning of my Gang Starr career. He said, ‘What if you put a band together that revolved around a trumpet player from Japan named Takuya Kuroda? He’s got a hip-hop perspective and respect in the jazz field…” Takuya Kuroda is already incredibly prolific, releasing six albums in the past decade and fortifying a solid reputation in the global jazz scene. 2011 saw the release of Takuya’s independently-produced debut album, ‘Edge‘, followed by ‘Bitter and High‘ the following year and ‘Six Aces‘ on P-Vine in 2013. Takuya was signed to the legendary Blue Note Records in 2014 for his album Rising Son‘, as well as appearing on their 2019 cover versions project, ‘Blue Note Voyage‘. He released his 5th album ‘Zigzagger‘ on Concord in 2016, which also featured Antibalas on a reimagining of the Donald Byrd classic ‘Think Twice.’His last album was the afore-mentioned ‘Fly Moon Die Soon’ on First Word, which received plays and support from the likes of Pitchfork, Earmilk, Bandcamp Weekly, Worldwide FM, All About Jazz, Apple Music, Tidal, Stereogum, Treble, Brooklyn Vegan, FIP (France), Tony Minvielle, Jazz FM, Huey Morgan (BBC 6 Music), BBC Radio 3, Novena Carmel, KCRW and tons more DJs, tastemakers, selectors, radio stations, bloggers & magazines.The new project ’Midnight Crisp’ will be released on October 21st, 2022 on vinyl, CD, and digital, worldwide via First Word Records.

Bobby Broom Celebrates the Jazz Piano Greats With “Keyed Up,” Set for September 23 Release By Steele Records

Album Features Nine Compositions
By or For Iconic Pianists,
With Piano Player Justin Dillard Augmenting Broom’s Longtime Trio with
Bassist Dennis Carroll & Drummer Kobie Watkins
CD Release Show: Studio5 Performing Arts Center, Evanston, IL
Saturday, October 22

Master jazz guitarist Bobby Broom casts his ear on the masters of another instrument—the piano—with the September 23 release of Keyed Up (Steele Records). An exploration of compositions by (or associated with) great jazz pianists, the album is also Broom’s first in almost 30 years to itself feature an acoustic piano player. Justin Dillard, a youngish, fast-rising keyboardist from Broom’s home base of Chicago, joins his working trio with bassist Dennis Carroll and drummer Kobie Watkins.

 

In fact, it was an encounter with Dillard at a Chicago jam session that inspired Broom to realize the project (an idea he had long been nurturing). “I heard something intriguing in Justin that made me want to work with him,” he says. “It was a bit risky because I hadn’t played with him in such an intimate and crucial setting before we made this record. But it didn’t take long for me to know I had made the right choice.”

 

It doesn’t take the listener long, either. Dillard’s incandescent playing is a highlight of the very first track, Bud Powell’s “Hallucinations (Budo),” and maintains that high level throughout the album. From the blues-laden lines of James Williams’s “Soulful Bill” and McCoy Tyner’s “Blues on the Corner” to the exquisite tenderness of Erroll Garner’s “Misty,” Dillard earns his place in the spotlight. He also switches to his “laptop Swurlitzer,” an electronic keyboard, in a nod to fusioneers Chick Corea (“Humpty Dumpty”) and Herbie Hancock (“Driftin’”).

 

He’s not alone, of course. Carroll and Watkins are superlative as always, offering both sensitive support and lightning in a bottle that culminates in a spirited exchange of twelves, eights, and fours on “Blues on the Corner.” As for Broom, his excellence is understood—but he outdoes himself with his brilliant work on “Driftin’,” “Hallucinations (Budo),” and Horace Silver’s “Quicksilver.”

 

It’s the joining of these forces, however, that lets magic happen on Keyed Up. “When we make music, we’re never exactly sure how it’s going to turn out. It’s never a matter of ‘we’re just gonna play these tunes,’” Broom says. “In addition to the arrangements and preparation, there’s a great degree of intrigue and mystery in what we do. But we have developed such trust in each other, there’s never any doubt that the end result is going to be good.”

 

Bobby Broom was born on January 18, 1961, in New York City. When he was ten years old, he heard one of his father’s records—by organist Charles Earland—touching off his lifelong love affair with jazz. By the time he was sixteen, Broom was attending New York’s prestigious High School of Music and Art and gigging with pianist Al Haig; by the age of twenty-one, equipped with a freshman year of study at Berklee College of Music, and some already extraordinary pedigree, he began touring with Sonny Rollins.

 

By that time, Broom had also signed with GRP Records and recorded 1981’s Clean Sweep, which was a crossover jazz success. But rather than settle into a comfortable career in the emerging genre of “smooth jazz,” Broom took the road less traveled: He left the New York scene behind and established himself in Chicago.

 

In the 1990s Broom formed the first edition of his bass and drums trio, while also beginning to work with the members of what would eventually become the Deep Blue Organ Trio. During that decade he recorded a couple of quartet records before deciding to make a guitar-bass-drums trio his primary outlet. In 2000, a breakthrough year, he released the statement-making Modern Man (with organist Dr. Lonnie Smith, drummer Idris Muhammad, and Ronnie Cuber on bari sax), as well as the first of what would be many guitar-trio recordings, Stand!. He solidified a trio lineup with bassist Dennis Carroll and drummer Kobie Watkins with 2006’s Song and Dance (although Makaya McCraven filled in for the latter on 2014’s My Shining Hour). After establishing a new organ ensemble (the Organ-isation) with 2018’s Soul Fingers, Broom has returned to his longtime trio, but with the notion of supplementing it with pianist Justin Dillard for Keyed Up.

 

The use of a guitar-and-piano frontline remains somewhat novel in the jazz world, but Broom says overcoming that novelty is just a matter of seasoning. “When I first met Justin, he expressed some misgivings about operating with guitar,” he recalls. “I said to him, just listen and play. And he got better and better playing with me.” Lucky for us that we get to hear the results.

 

Bobby Broom and his quartet will perform a CD release show on Sat. 10/22 at Studio5 Performing Arts Center, 1938 Dempster Street, Evanston, IL. Broom is also appearing at the first annual Fretboard Summit (hosted by Fretboard Journal magazine), taking place at the Old Towne School of Folk Music’s Myron R. Szold Music Hall, Chicago, on Sat. 8/27; and at Western Michigan University’s “Jazz at The Crawlspace 2022” series at the Crawlspace Theater, Kalamazoo, MI, on Thurs. 9/8.

 

Photography: Todd Winters
 

 

“Remembering Tomasz Stańko” – a Free All-Star Memorial Concert for the Late, Great Polish Trumpeter, Composer & Bandleader – Will Be Held at Brooklyn’s Roulette on September 18, 2022

In what would have been his 80th birthday year, Stańko’s life and art will be celebrated in New York City – his spiritual home away from home – by 14 key peers and associates: Ambrose Akinmusire & Wadada Leo Smith (trumpet); Ravi Coltrane, Joe Lovano & Chris Potter (saxophone); Jakob Bro (guitar); Craig Taborn, David Virelles & Marcin Wasilewski (piano); Dezron Douglas, Sławomir Kurkiewicz & Reuben Rogers (bass); and Gerald Cleaver & Michał Miśkiewicz (drums)

“Nobody holds a single, long-blown trumpet note like the Polish pioneer Tomasz Stańko – a wearily exhaled, soberly ironic, yet oddly awestruck sound that is unique in jazz.”

— The Guardian, reviewing Stańko’s final album, December Avenue

Tomasz Stańko – one of Europe’s most original and beloved jazz musicians – was born on July 11, 1942, in Rzeszów, Poland, and he passed away in Warsaw on July 29, 2018. In many ways, his life traced the course of modern jazz in Europe, beginning with his tenure – when barely into his twenties – in the band of the great Polish composer-pianist Krzysztof Komeda. Those formative years included recording on Komeda’s timeless album Astigmatic, released in 1965 and soon recognized as representing a sea change for European jazz. Starting in 1975, Stańko began his association as a leader with the iconic German art-house label ECM Records which would produce a dozen masterful albums up to his final release, December Avenue, in 2017. That recording featured his New York Quartet, a band that reflected the trumpeter’s deep affection for its namesake town and the inspiration he found in New York City’s living history of jazz. To mark what would have been his 80th birthday year, an all-star memorial concert – “Remembering Tomasz Stańko” – will be held at Brooklyn’s Roulette at 8:00pm on September 18, 2022, with tickets free of charge. The event will include musicians who worked closest with Stańko in his last, highly productive decades and others who collaborated with him on special latter-day projects.

Remembering Tomasz Stańko” will include two illustrious soloists on trumpet: Wadada Leo Smith and Ambrose Akinmusire. The night’s revolving cast of musicians will be anchored by the rhythm sections from both Stańko’s New York and Polish quartets: pianist David Virelles, bassist Reuben Rogers and drummer Gerald Cleaver, from the former; and, from the latter, pianist Marcin Wasilewski, bassist Sławomir Kurkiewicz and drummer Michał Miśkiewicz. Stańko discovered the Poles when they were just teenagers; in addition to working as an established trio, they now play with saxophonist Joe Lovano – who will also join them for this event. Guitarist Jakob Bro, who played on Stańko’s Dark Eyes album, will be on hand, as will saxophonist Chris Potter and pianist Craig Taborn – who were part of a special band that Stańko put together for a concert at New York’s Jazz Standard in 2011. Saxophonist Ravi Coltrane and bassist Dezron Douglas will also perform; they, along with Virelles, featured in a quintet that recorded POLIN, a suite that Stańko composed for an exhibition at the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews.

Stańko’s intensely lyrical sound and sensibility were easily identifiable, with his tone of Slavic melancholy, his expressive peals and smears, and the noir-ish atmospheres that he liked to conjure in his music. Although he was, above all, a darkly melodic improviser, the trumpeter was as at home playing in Cecil Taylor’s Big Band as he was performing with the likes of Dave Holland, John Surman, Lee Konitz, Gary Peacock, Edward Vesala or Bobo Stenson. “Tomasz Stańko is not the first jazz musician to negotiate a rapprochement between gorgeous melodies and free improvisation,” noted the San Francisco Chronicle. “But he is one of the most eloquent proponents of extemporaneous lyricism working today.” And JazzTimes declared: “Stańko writes melodies that pierce the heart like needles… His pieces are open forms, a few strokes or gestures that introduce a mood and set Stańko into motion. He needs musicians around him who can respond with independent creativity to his unique stimuli.”

Having grown up behind the Iron Curtain, Stańko relied on the Voice of America radio network to connect him to the American jazz scene – and the sounds he heard fostered his dream to someday make it to New York City and experience that scene for himself. It was almost exactly 20 years ago that Stańko finally made it to the U.S. for his first stateside tour, with New York everything he expected it would be. He was so inspired that he kept an apartment in the city for the last decade of his life, so that he could split his time between the Big Apple and Warsaw. Although an innovator in modern European improvisation, Stańko always maintained a strong sense of jazz history. “With Krzysztof Komeda, we would mostly listen to modal music, like Miles Davies and John Coltrane,” he recalled. “This was my inspiration. Ornette Coleman was important, too, of course, as an example of a certain attitude toward art – that of searching and rebellion.” Living part-time in New York also kept Stańko in touch with the ongoing vitality of jazz. “Originally, I just wanted to enjoy New York, the city where so much great jazz history has been made,” he said, but it wasn’t long before the trumpeter was interacting with local players and finding “the fantastic cats” he would work with so fruitfully in his New York Quartet, among other ventures.

New York Times critic Ben Ratliff wrote perceptively about Stańko embarking on the last chapter of his career: “It’s good to see an elder artist chase after a new idea. Until quite recently, Tomasz Stańko specialized in beautiful dirges, and rubato soul-ache ballads with rumblings of free jazz. They came out via a string of fine records for the ECM label over a dozen years or so… But the work has an overall unity of mood and purpose… Both as a soloist and as a bandleader, he can pull off the dark emotions in his music. His trumpet tone is steady and stark, crumbled around the edges, and he makes his strong, short themes anchor the arrangements… Without radically changing the character of his music – he still loves ballads, and still foregrounds a lonely melody – Mr. Stańko is allowing its balances to shift. The music can be hard to define but in an excellent way. It uses steady rhythms and vamps as well as free improvisation… Some extraordinary passages unfold without any of the players making them seem formal, almost as if natural forces were moving the musicians’ hands.”

Among the highlights of Stańko’s capacious discography is his deeply felt and beautifully arranged 1997 tribute Litania: The Music of Krzysztof Komeda, which featured a septet including an old Komeda associate, saxophonist Bernt Rosengren, along with Stenson and guitarist Terje Rypdal. In 2011, the Smithsonian Institution published the six-disc, century-spanning Jazz: The Smithsonian Anthology – which, after beginning with the likes of Jelly Roll Morton and Louis Armstrong, concludes remarkably with “Suspended Night Variation VIII,” a track from Stańko’s 2004 album Suspended Night. The trumpeter was honored with multiple awards across his career, including the inaugural European Jazz Prize in 2002; the jury stated: “Stańko has developed a unique sound and personal music that is instantly recognizable and unmistakably his own… A world-class player, a stylist, a charismatic performer, and an original composer, his music now assumes simplicity of form and mellowness that comes with years of work, exploration, and experience. Tomasz Stańko – a true master and leader of European jazz.”

Anna Stańko, Tomasz’s daughter and latter-day manager, recalls her father describing New York City as “a modern Rome – a place where all roads lead, especially musically. For him, it’s the place where new trails are blazed in jazz, the place where he wanted to be – and was. He just adored being in New York, walking the streets, experiencing the city, feeling the music in the air. Now, we’ll have the chance to remember him here, one of his favorite places on Earth.” She adds: “Music was the essence of my father’s life, the spice. He felt it so deeply that the language of his art communicated beyond any borders. That’s why we present this free concert here, with these amazing musicians who were like family for my dad.”

“Remembering Tomasz Stańko” is organized by the Tomasz Stańko Foundation thanks to funding from Adam Mickiewicz Institute (culture.pl) and the Kosciuszko Foundation, as well as the support of the Polish Cultural Institute in New York.

Rising star pianist/composer Connie Han brings the ancient Sumerian culture to the present day by channelling Inanna — the ancient Sumerian goddess of love, beauty and war — on her third release for Mack Avenue Records.

Rising star pianist/composer Connie Han brings the ancient Sumerian culture to the present day by channeling Inanna — the ancient Sumerian goddess of love, beauty, and war — on her third release for Mack Avenue Records.

Featuring Katisse Buckingham (alto flute and piccolo), John Patitucci (bass), Rich Perry (tenor saxophonist), and drummer Bill WysaskeSecrets of Inanna creates a new world open to interpretation, harkening back to the ethereal soundscapes’ of 1970s spiritual jazz with the modern composition Han has received praise for since her 2018 debut Crime Zone, creating a truly unique soundscape of great depth. ~MackAvenueRecords

At your leisure, stream her new single “PRIMA MATERIA” from her upcoming album

 

Yellowjackets Enter Fifth Decade Sounding as Fresh as Tomorrow on Upcoming Album: Parallel Motion

Parallel Motion is out on CD / Digital on August 26, 2022

Maintaining a distinct group identity for 40 years is an exceedingly rare achievement, but what sets Yellowjackets apart isn’t their longevity so much as the consistently inspired quality of their music. Born in the age of fusion, the band has thrived through the decades by steadily seeking out new sounds and approaches, combining elliptical lyricism with a sophisticated and evolving harmonic palette all their own. Slated for release on August 26, Parallel Motion is Yellowjackets’ sixth album for Mack Avenue Records and it captures a vibrant creative communion that shows no signs of an impending midlife crisis.
Since Yellowjackets’ eponymous 1981 debut album, the group has hewed its own creative path, influencing colleagues with enviable compositional craftsmanship and an ever-shifting blend of influences. In many ways Yellowjackets embody both continuity and renewal, with founding­ pianist/keyboardist Russell Ferrante providing the four-decade thread first joined by Will Kennedy­, who took over the drum chair from 1987-99 and returned to the fold in 2010. Bob Mintzer, a Jacket since 1990, contributes on tenor and soprano saxophones and EWI. By the band’s standards Australian-born electric bass virtuoso Dane Alderson is still the new kid, though he’s already anchored the quartet for seven years. Parallel Motion is a Technicolor portrait of a working band that’s still stretching its wings.
“The last two projects were collaborations,” Ferrante said, referring to 2018’s luminous Raising Our Voice with extraordinary Brazilian vocalist Luciana Souza, and 2020’s orchestral Jackets XL with the WDR Big Band of Cologne, Germany. “We wanted to do a project focusing on the quartet. In terms of the material, we wanted to broaden the contributions from everyone. Dane is represented by several tunes. Will is in the mix. Everybody’s involved in every aspect.”
While Yellowjackets recorded the album in the midst of the pandemic, the music looks forward rather than exploring the angst and isolation that accompanied the advent of COVID-19. Of course, resilience and optimism in the face of tragedy is in itself a profound statement. For Mintzer, the new work “represents the commitment to stay together and keep moving forward. It’s really about this four-cornered square that functions no matter what. With each record, all four of us are on the hunt for new ways to put the notes together. The music keeps growing. The focus is this band. A clear, identifiable sound. Four equal parts.”
Indeed, every Jacket is well represented on Parallel Motion. The album opens with Mintzer’s “Intrigue,” a lithe but stutter-stepping tune that offers a little surprise around every shifting groove. Lyrical and street smart, the piece showcases all four players at their most responsive. “There’s a singable component, but these little splashes of dissonance,” Mintzer said. “It doesn’t fit into any categories, which is one of the M.O.s of this band.”
Ferrante’s passionate “Il Mio Amico” is a heartfelt ode written in response to his recently acquired Fazioli piano. It’s a spectacular instrument “and the resonance and overtones and response you get is really inspiring,” he said. “We brought it to the studio and used it on the recording, the first workout it got, and as the title says, it’s really my new friend.”
Alderson’s slyly grooving “Early” grew out of a sketch that had been languishing on his laptop for more than a decade. “I brought it to the band and the guys brought it to life,” he said. “It’s a jammy party tune with an R&B flavor that really evolved in the studio.”
Kennedy transformed a tune originally written with vocals into the ravishing “Samaritan,” a piece that expands on Yellowjackets’ long history of singable lines. “The goal was to have a melody that was simple and warm and I think we achieved that,” Kennedy said. “It’s a really calm and relaxing sort of song. As Dane was saying, it’s always an interesting adventure to present a tune to the band and have it take on a life of its own.”
If Parallel Motion offers a snapshot of a band in mid-flight, it’s also a family portrait that includes Ferrante’s “If You Believe,” a track featuring the supremely soulful vocalist Jean Baylor. No stranger to Jackets fans, she’s recorded with the group several times, and of course her husband, drummer Marcus Baylor, was a member of Yellowjackets from 2000-2010. Her gospel-steeped performance adds another incandescent track to Yellowjackets’ deep roster of vocal collaborations, a list that includes Bobby McFerrin, Kurt Elling, Bobby Caldwell, Randy Crawford, Brenda Russell, Michael Franks, Gino Vannelli, Jonathan Butler and Luciana Souza.
Recorded after a brief European tour, the album documents the process of discovery. “We rehearsed the tunes on the album maybe three times,” Alderson said. “I believe we’re only now on this tour performing these songs live, so what you’re hearing are about as fresh as they can be. Everything really came to life in the studio in those three days.”

Parallel Motion — the new album from jazz fusion legends Yellowjackets — is a true testament to the longevity and resilience of a band that debuted over 40 years ago. Consistently reinventing themselves through elevated instrumentation in their signature electro-acoustic soundscape, the current lineup consists of Bob Mintzer (tenor & soprano saxophone/EWI), Russell Ferrante (piano/keyboards), Will Kennedy (drums, keyboards), and Dane Alderson (electric bass, MIDI Sequencing) showcases a collective at their prime. This album features 9 new original compositions and guest vocalist Jean Baylor (4x GRAMMY® Award Nominee of the Baylor Project and R&B duo Zhané) on “If You Believe.” ~Mack Avenue Music Group

At your leisure, check the single “INTRIGUE” by the Yellowjackets.

 

[Just in case, you missed it]… Charles Owens Trio will release 10 Years, a set of passionate, hard-grooving recordings that showcase the group’s signature jazz-funk sound

On June 11, 2021, the Charles Owens Trio will release 10 Years, a set of passionate, hard-grooving recordings that showcase the group’s signature jazz-funk sound. Traversing a constellation of styles — from afrobeat to jazz ballads, to psychedelic rock — the Trio brings the unbridled energy and fierce musicality that have made them a mainstay of clubs in New York, Charlottesville, and their beloved hometown Richmond, VA.

At the heart of 10 Years is a decidedly celebratory spirit. The Trio went into the studio to toast a decade of existence together, and to document the powerful chemistry they’ve cultivated through countless hours on the bandstand. They built their tracklist as a loving ode to some of their favorite songs, drawn from all across their lives. “The music you learn when you’re really impressionable — like when you’re a child — it sticks with you forever,” says bandleader and saxophonist Charles Owens. “It’s in your soul. When I choose all these songs now for the record, I choose them because they mean a lot to me.”

From the opening note, Owens, bassist Andrew Randazzo, and drummer Devonne Harris pack a gut punch. They kick off with Cameron the Wise, an afrobeat original and live-show favorite captured for the first time in studio. Track after track, they flex their unique ability to be both supremely melodic and deeply groove-oriented. Owens can go tender and mystical on John Coltrane’s classic Central Park West, then turn around and throw haymakers on Jimi Hendrix’s psychedelic trip If 6 Was 9. Randazzo can anchor tunes like Caught Up in the Rapture, then bust out a gorgeous, extended electric bass solo such as he does on Continuum. And Harris moves seamlessly between funk, swing, thundering solos, and more — sometimes within one track like he does on Angelica.

Recorded in a single, blistering six-hour session, 10 Years is a legitimate musical journey and a testament to the powerful connection that exists between members of the Trio. “What was going on in the studio that day was me being really vulnerable and okay with it because I have a band that I’ve been together with for ten years, and man, they were so right there for me the whole time,” recounts Owens. Rarely can a group take on such a diverse slate of material and sound so utterly themselves at every turn? This is an album not simply for lovers of a certain genre or time period, but for people who enjoy music played with skill and the realest of passion. ~BandCamp

Original Release Date: June 11, 2021

Sarah Bernstein Convenes All-Star VEER QUARTET To Play Her Adventurous Compositions, Out Sept 03 via New Focus      

Perhaps it’s due to what she’s referred to as her punk rock-inspired “kill-your-idols mentality,” but it seemingly never occurred to Bernstein to explore the setting most common to the violin, the string quartet. That changed when she presented an evening of her chamber music compositions at Brooklyn’s Firehouse Space, using a nine-piece ensemble that she divided into several configurations.

One of the groupings was a string quartet,” she recalls, “and I was really struck by how my music came to life with that instrumentation. The sound just popped – it was so rich.”

Inspired by that experience, Bernstein returned to the string quartet format in 2018 when she called on Nagano, Falcon, and Jozwiak to form VEER Quartet, aptly named for the ability of the individual musicians and the collective ensemble to swerve from one style or concept to the next. What makes the group unique is their shared experience, spanning chamber music, jazz, free improv, and other genres. That gave Bernstein free rein in following her compositional imagination wherever it led.

I wrote the music for the quartet with a range of approaches,” she describes. “Because I’m an improviser, my compositional imagination naturally includes improvisational sounds. Some of these pieces are almost like expressive and artistic games that the soloists play. And some of my pieces are very through-composed with just a small improvisational element.”

Frames No. 1,” for instance, presents a series of brief sketches meant to spark solo and group improvisations, whereas “News Cycle / Progression” pairs two pieces – a harmonic progression with improvisational rules of engagement and a wholly through-composed section built on that progression. Inspiration can come from the visual arts (“Clay Myth,” which puns on the name of painter Paul Klee) or dreams (“Nightmorning”). “World Warrior” instructs the players to be as chaotic as possible, while “Hidden” submerges a solo melody under dense layers of group harmony.

Ultimately Sarah Bernstein offers an expansive, daring vision of what a modern string quartet can be, unbeholden to tradition or genre but fully aware of and engaged with both. VEER Quartet is a vibrant, challenging, and exploratory album that introduces a thrilling new ensemble to several scenes at once.

RELEASE DATE: September 2, 2022

[Just in case, you missed it]… During the pandemic pianist-composer, Armen Donelian’s approach to Fresh Start sharpened his ears in the context of a supremely sensitive new trio with bassist Jay Anderson and drummer Dennis Mackrel

When the history of Jazz during the COVID-19 pandemic gets written, Armen Donelian warrants a detailed chapter. Though he composed more than a dozen new pieces through the spring of 2021, the veteran pianist and educator didn’t use the downtime to reinvent his repertoire as much as he deepened his pianistic approach and sharpened his ears in the context of a supremely sensitive new trio with bassist Jay Anderson and drummer Dennis Mackrel. The group’s unabashedly beautiful debut, Fresh Start, is Donelian’s 14th album and his 11th for Sunnyside, the label that has documented the bulk of his work as a leader since the mid-1980s.

Like many musicians facing canceled tours and gigs, Donelian sought to push back against the initial depression by redoubling his efforts on his instrument. Before long he’d suffered a practice-induced shoulder injury, which led him to concentrate on composing while he healed. When he started playing again after three months, Donelian continued honing his new pieces, but with a new mindset “that had nothing to do with technique and content,” he says. “Instead of focusing on what I was playing, I was focusing more on how I was playing, on touch, expression, and storytelling, allowing the sound to happen in its own way. That was the main focus of this album.”

Transforming one’s sound is a major undertaking for any musician, but for an acclaimed improviser stepping into his eighth decade, it’s downright audacious. While his name might not be as widely known as some of his contemporaries, Donelian possesses all of the attributes, gifts, and paid dues of a heavyweight improviser, from formative stints with Sonny Rollins, Billy Harper, Chet Baker, and Mongo Santamaria to a discography marked by sublime and unmistakably personal projects documenting enduring relationships and ever-evolving compositional investigations.

Taking a year-long sabbatical from teaching responsibilities at the New School during the pandemic, Donelian solidified the Fresh Start trio, a group that renewed an old friendship and established a new one. Donelian and Anderson, one of the New York scene’s most sought-after bassists, got to know each other in the early ’80s when they worked occasionally as a duo. Though their career paths diverged, they reconnected about a decade ago via saxophonist Marc Mommaas, “which reminded me how much l liked Jay’s playing and planted an idea in the back of my mind,” Donelian says.

Fellow piano master Jim McNeely had recommended Mackrel, whom Donelian knew by reputation as a first-call bandmate. But their paths didn’t cross until about four years ago when the drummer came to hear Donelian’s trio at a Hudson Valley performance. “One of Dennis’s children was a student in the program that was sponsoring that concert and afterwards he said, ‘Armen, I really enjoyed your playing. Anytime you want to play, let me know.’ I saw a door opening. So I got together with Jay and Dennis to see if there was any chemistry between us. I loved what I heard, playing without ego or an agenda other than beauty and sound.”

With Mackrel and Anderson bringing a good deal of bandstand and studio history to Fresh Start, the trio’s foundation couldn’t be stronger. Since first making a mark together on Maria Schneider’s 1994 debut album Evanescence, they’ve played hundreds of gigs as a rhythm section tandem, including dates with pianist/arranger Russ Kassoff, pianist Ted Rosenthal, saxophonist Steve Wilson, and many other leading players. Their deep connection and conversational rapport are evident on every Fresh Start track produced, arranged, and led by Donelian.

In responding to the calamity of the pandemic, the trio offers a balm in troubled times. Healing and stimulating, it’s music that both soothes the soul and sparks the imagination, starting with the bittersweet bossa nova “Noviembre,” a moody piece that culminates in a taut exchange between Donelian and Anderson. The title track is a post-bop workout with a serpentine melody that keeps snaking back on itself. Anderson and Donelian take masterly solos while Mackrel keeps the narrative thread spinning.

Donelian has devoted himself to teaching from the earliest stages of his career. A proud champion of his former students, he includes two alluring pieces by rising musicians that serve the trio well. Vatan Rajan Singh’s winsome 5/4 ballad “Ferry Maiden” features a joyful solo by Anderson that displays his expansive lyricism. And Sophia Bondi contributes “In the Western Night,” a vehicle for the trio to ascend, awestruck, into a blues-drenched skyscape (an excerpt from another take of the piece, capturing some particularly lovely blues passages by Anderson and Donelian, serves as the album’s striking closing track).

No tune better captures the trio’s venturesome spirit than “Madagascar,” which uses Donelian’s two-chord vamp as a magic carpet carrying them deep into modal realms. The tension builds to a sumptuous climax, with a Mackrel passage that’s a marvel of textural calibration. No stranger to small group recordings, Mackrel is best known as one of the era’s finest big band drummers. Long before he directed the Count Basie Orchestra (2010-2013), he’d distinguished himself via his work with the American Jazz Orchestra, the Carla Bley Big Band, the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, Buck Clayton’s Swing Band, the Dizzy Gillespie All-Star Big Band, and most notably the McCoy Tyner Big Band (whose Grammy Award-winning CDs The Turning Point and Journey feature four Mackrel arrangements).

Donelian takes the opportunity to offer a tribute to his former teacher, pianist Richie Beirach, with a gorgeous rendition of “Gale,” a tender melody that belies its fierce, gusty title. It’s been recorded by several other musicians, but not with such exquisite interplay. Harry Warren’s beseeching ballad “Never Let Me Go” offers another master class in melodic invention. And late saxophonist Makanda Ken McIntyre’s “Day Break,” which he recorded as a boiling up-tempo swinger on the 1976 album Open Horizon, gets reimagined as a luminous, spiritually charged ballad.

Donelian got to know McIntyre, a brilliant multi-instrumentalist when they were on faculty together at the New School, and he’s one of several departed masters whose spirit inhabits Fresh Start. The samba-powered “Tirado” is dedicated to the late Brazilian Jazz masters, Cidinho Teixeira and Claudio Roditi. And Donelian dedicated the buoyantly celebratory “Janet Left the Planet” to the memory of two other exceptional musicians, vocalist Janet Lawson, and bassoonist Janet Grice. The album’s biggest surprise is Donelian’s debut as a singer on Herb Magidson and Allie Wrubel’s “I’m Stepping Out with a Memory Tonight,” an overlooked American Songbook gem that was recorded by Ray Eberle and the Glenn Miller Orchestra in 1939 before quickly being forgotten. His pleasing vocals along with his formidable pianistic skills should put the delightfully wistful tune back in circulation.

Born to Armenian parents living in New York City’s Jackson Heights neighborhood on December 1, 1950, Armen Hrant Donelian grew up in a household full of intellectual ferment. His Ottoman Empire-born father Khatchik Ohannes Donelian, who lost dozens of family members during the Armenian genocide, was a Columbia University-trained physicist who worked on the Manhattan Project. Growing up, Armen was surrounded by Classical and Armenian music, and from seven to 19 years old he studied piano at the Westchester Conservatory of Music in White Plains, NY.

Jazz entered the picture for Donelian at 12, through his older brother’s clarinet work in a Dixieland band directed by the great guitarist Arthur Ryerson Sr., a studio ace who recorded with everyone from Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald to Charlie Parker and Fats Waller. Ryerson’s daughter Ali, now an eminent Jazz flutist, played in the band along with her three brothers. Entranced by the music’s energy, Donelian eventually joined the combo, where he learned numerous standards and more significantly how to swing.

Following his father’s path to Columbia University in 1968, Donelian immersed himself in music history, theory, composition, choral arrangement, and conducting, while supporting himself with a regular gig as a lounge pianist (and as a Blues and Folk guitarist). But his Jazz studies didn’t really commence until after graduation when he fell under the sway of Beirach, a brilliantly probing improviser with a rarefied harmonic vocabulary who opened up a vast new musical universe for Donelian.

“But there came a point when I had to break away,” he says. “That’s a very natural process that I often see as a teacher myself. After Richie, I focused on developing my own sound. It was a long process of experimentation from 1980 until the mid-’90s when I feel I really came into my own voice after investigating contemporary Classical music more deeply, and my own Armenian roots.”

While studying with Beirach, Donelian absorbed a series of bandstand master classes with Jazz giants, starting in 1975 with Afro-Cuban percussion legend Mongo Santamaria. Touring internationally with the conguero’s Latin Jazz octet, he recorded four albums on the Fania label, including the Grammy Award-nominated Sofrito, which features three Donelian compositions.

After leaving Santamaria, Donelian immersed himself in Brazilian music, collaborating with artists such as pianist Dom Salvador, trumpeter Claudio Roditi, saxophonist Justo Almario, guitarist Amaury Tristão, and drummer Portinho. Freelancing around New York, he worked with established stars like Chet Baker, Lionel Hampton, Ted Curson, and Ray Barretto, and rising players such as Tom Harrell, Bob Berg, Rory Stuart, Keith Copeland, Ratzo Harris, Dennis Irwin, Jeff Williams, and Harvie S.

He reached his widest audience yet upon joining tenor titan Sonny Rollins’s band in 1977, a thrilling yet daunting experience for the young pianist. Some years later, tenor sax master Billy Harper hired him for a four-year run that brought Donelian to the attention of audiences in Europe and Japan and resulted in four acclaimed albums. “With Billy I felt that I was able to really bring in my own voice,” he says. “He’d take these 20-minute solos and I had to come in afterward. Billy’s music is very powerful and very soulful. That was a really great time in my life.”

In the midst of his tenure in Harper’s band he made his recording debut as a leader with 1981’s Stargazer on the Japanese label Atlas, a trio session with drummer Billy Hart and bassist Eddie Gomez focusing on Donelian’s original compositions. He’s kept the format in play over the years, recording the highly regarded Trio ’87 with Norwegians Carl Morten Iversen (bass) and Audun Kleive (drums), and 2007’s Oasis and 2014’s Sayat-Nova: Songs of My Ancestors with bassist David Clark and drummer George Schuller. The latter project, featuring Donelian’s arrangements of songs by the legendary 18th-century Armenian poet and musician Sayat-Nova, was his last recording, and expanded on his longtime engagement with the music of his ancestral homeland where he resided as a 2002 Fulbright Scholar. After the decade-long endeavor, he took his time before starting his next album.

“I let the feeling develop organically,” he says. “I had all these thoughts about what I might want to do next, lists and lists of ideas like a Leonard Bernstein project or an album of Richard Rodgers tunes. There’s only so much you can do. Then the pandemic came and it was an opportunity for me to reexamine my approach to the piano and composing. But more than that I was looking to deepen how we listen and interact with each other in a responsive way, taking every particle of time as an opportunity to connect with and support each other, contributing in some way to a more beautiful sound.” • ~BandCamp

Released: April 1, 2022

Armen Donelian – piano
Jay Anderson – bass
Dennis Mackrel – drums

[What are you listening to?] … the debut album The Seed encompasses eight aesthetically fresh cross-genre melodies pen and arranged by guitarist Thomas Mitrousis

All eight pieces of this album fluidly shift between moods, textures, and tempos, revealing high levels of musicianship and chemistry.

THE SEED” consists of eight compositions with obvious modern jazz references, as well as influences from classical and post-rock. The cinematic introduction of the opening track “Crossing Lines”, immediately engulfs the audience into the atmosphere of the album.

The compositions create continuous exchanges of emotions and images, retaining undiminished anticipation from the first note to the last. Each piece has a tendency to refer to a different musical genre. “Fax From Fux” contains baroque elements, and “Poisonous Little Flower” moves with an impressionistic mood but all compositions maintain an amalgamated character, due to the common jazz background of the four musicians.

The quartet explores the amazingly broad varieties of timbres and dynamics of the instruments and manages to maintain a sonic diversity with an aesthetically contemporary approach, through the whimsical arrangements.

The pleasure is simple, direct, and completely jazz; it is very well played, and it swings just enough to keep the balance between body and mind. […] ‘The Seed’ is a gratifying surprise.”BESTOFJAZZ

He tends to combine notated context with improvisation, and with his outstanding technical skill, the guitar not only solos but also conducts a creative dialogue with partners.[…]Mitrousis is a new and promising name in the European jazz scene.”-JAZZQUAD

The chemistry of the group is evident. The guitar dialogues with the rest of the instruments and vice versa, enriching the final result, colorful and very, very pleasant.”-La Habitacion del Jazz

The debut offering from Athens, Greece’s Thomas Mitrousis Quartet gives a whirlwind, feet-off-the-ground experience. Leader and guitarist Mitrousis has all the fingerwork to keep the vibe easy even when the drums and brushes are briskly whisking us along. In nine fresh tracks, this CD is a simultaneous exploration into musicians that gel beautifully together while giving the listener the ability to clearly appreciate each one’s specific talent.“-Debbie Burke ~Bandcamp

 

Released: March 21, 2022

Thomas Mitrousis: guitar
Kostas Yaxoglou: piano
Paraskevas Kitsos: double bass
Dimitris Klonis: drums

Recorded in May 2021 at Antart Studios by Nikos Kollias and Yannis Damianos