Legendary Saxman Frank Catalano releases Birdland Jazz Club

In 2022, Legendary Saxman Frank Catalano will be touring the USA, Europe, and Asia extensively as well as releasing a collection of recordings from his many performances at New York’s legendary Birdland Jazz Club. These recordings feature Herbie Hancock Headhunters alum Mike Clark and will be Frank’s 5th album on the Ropeadope label.

Frank regularly teams up with his long-time friend and Smashing Pumpkins drummer, Jimmy Chamberlin. Forbes Magazine profiled Frank for his performances with The Violent Femmes including Riot Fest and Brooklyn Steel.

A documentary was made about Frank by Belgian director Colin Donner. The film is titled “Sugar Jazz” and will premiere at the Tokyo Lift off Film Festival.

“Tokyo #9” debuted at #1 on the Billboard Traditional Jazz Charts, has garnered millions of streams and topped the Spotify and Apple Music playlists. “Love Supreme Collective” debuted at #1 on the iTunes Jazz Charts and honors John Coltrane. Frank recorded “Bye, Bye, Blackbird” with David Sanborn and teamed up with Jimmy Chamberlin of The Smashing Pumpkins to release “God’s Gonna Cut You Down”. Frank’s Savoy/Columbia recording “Bang!” debuted at #12 on the Billboard Jazz Charts, while his recording, “Mighty Burner” was on the Billboard Charts for 20 straight weeks.

When Frank was 18, he signed to Delmark Records and did a string of critically acclaimed recordings with Randy Brecker, Von Freeman, Ira Sullivan, Willie Pickens and Paul Wertico amongst others. Frank’s co-led album with Von Freeman, “You Talking To Me,” has become a cult classic. Catalano is the only known saxman to have performed with Miles Davis, Charles Earland, Elvin Jones, Junior Wells, Randy Brecker, Stan Getz, Betty Carter, Tito Puente, Tony Bennett, Les Claypool, and Louis Bellson while still in high school!

Frank has been profiled by countless media including: The New York Times, Forbes, Downbeat, CMJ, JazzIz, Jazz Times, NPR, PBS, Chicago Tribune, Huffington Post, etc. As a sideman, Catalano has been heard by millions of people thanks to his collaborations with Jennifer Lopez, Beyoncé, Maurice Joshua, Destiny’s Child, John Legend, Tony Bennett, Seal, and others.

Frank has received his fair share of accolades, recently winning an IMA award at Lincoln Center and being inducted into the Fox Valley Arts Hall of Fame. He has appeared on 3 Grammy‐winning and 11 Grammy‐nominated recordings, plus in 2007 he received a Tech Grammy Award as part of the Yamaha Corporation for his numerous patents and developments. He was also the youngest saxophonist to be voted into the Downbeat Critics Poll at age 19.

No stranger to adversity, Frank cut off his right middle finger in an automobile accident. After several surgeries and much effort, Catalano relearned his signature technique, making him one of the most in‐demand musicians today. He regularly donates his musical services to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, Peoples Music School, and Off The Street Club.

Frank has written a book series for publisher Hal Leonard, called “Modern Saxophone Techniques” and his song “Mighty Burner” is featured in “The Real Book Volume 6”. He also endorses Yamaha Saxophones, JodyJazz mouthpieces, D’Addario Reeds, and Rovner Ligatures.

Catalano loves composing music and holds a BA in Classical Composition from De Paul University. Frank is the spokesperson for Drambuie Scotch and has a signature cocktail named after him, “The Catalano Sidecar”, which has been trademarked and is featured at hundreds of clubs and music venues. Frank owns hundreds of vintage saxophones and is on the Board of Directors for the National Saxophone Museum in St Louis. Frank and his wife Sona split their time between their homes in Chicago and New York. For more information: visit www.catalanomusic.com – Bandcamp 

Released July 1, 2022

Producers: Frank Catalano and Sona Tazian
Manager: Ryan Paternite
Engineer: Lance McVickar
Mixing and Mastering: Dan Steinman
Cover Art: Tony Fitzpatrick
Layout and Design: Karmann Sloane
Saxophone: Frank Catalano
Piano: Randy Ingram
Bass: Julian Smith
Drums: Mike Clark
Birdland photos by Adrien Tillmann
Frank Catalano uses Yamaha Saxophones, D’Addario Reeds, JodyJazz
Mouthpieces and Rovner Ligatures

 

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

 

Renowned Saxophonist and Composer Miguel Zenón Releases Música de Las Américas, Inspired by the History of the American Continent

Out August 26, 2022, on Miel Music, Música de Las Américas features all-new music from Zenón for his long-time working quartet plus master percussionists from his native Puerto Rico Album release celebration August 23 – 28 at The Village Vanguard, NYC

This music is inspired by the history of the American continent: not only before European colonization but also by what’s happened since—cause and effect,” says Miguel Zenón of his latest album of all original works, Música de Las Américas. The music grew out of Zenón’s passion for the history of the American continent, and the resulting album pays tribute to its diverse cultures while also challenging modern assumptions about who and what “America” is.

 

Featuring his longstanding quartet of pianist Luis Perdomo, bassist Hans Glawischnig, and drummer Henry ColeMúsica de Las Américas represents a broadening of scope and ambition for Zenón, who is best known for combining cutting-edge modernism with the folkloric and traditional music of Puerto Rico. In realizing such a wide-ranging project, Zenón engaged the illustrious Puerto Rican ensemble Los Pleneros de La Cresta to contribute their unmistakable plena sound to the album, with additional contributions by master musicians Paoli Mejías on percussion, Daniel Díaz on congas, and Victor Emmanuelli on barril de bomba.

 

Zenón’s compositions on Música de Las Américas reflect the dynamism and complexity of America’s indigenous cultures, their encounters with European colonists, and the resulting historical implications. Zenón immersed himself in these topics during the pandemic, reading classics like Eduardo Galeano’s Venas Abiertas de América Latina (Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent), which details Western exploitation of South America’s resources and became the inspiration for Zenón’s “Venas Abiertas.”

 

Other sources of inspiration include Sebastián Robiou Lamarche’s Taínos y Caribes”, referring to the two major societies who inhabited the Caribbean prior to European colonization and who are the subject of the album’s opener. “They were the two predominant societies but were very different: the Taínos were a more passive agricultural society while the Caribes were warriors who lived for conquest,” says Zenón, who captures the clashing of the societies in the interlocking rhythms of the piece.

 

Following the thread of indigenous Caribbean societies, “Navegando (Las Estrellas Nos Guían)” pays homage to the seafaring culture that existed across the region. “One thing that blew my mind was how they could travel the sea at long distances just using canoes while being guided by the stars,” says Zenón. “That opens conversations about what’s ‘archaic’ versus what’s ‘advanced’ in terms of scientific achievement between the ‘New World’ and ‘Old World.’”

 

Zenón referred to the star formations used for navigation by those societies as the musical foundation of the song, which prominently features the percussion and vocals of Los Pleneros de la Cresta, who sing and accompany the titular chorus: “Navegando vengo, sigo a las estrellas.”

 

Possibly the most challenging piece on the album in its harmonic dissonance and complexity, “Opresión y Revolución” evokes the tension and release of revolutions on the American continent, notably the Haitian Revolution among others. Featuring the percussion of Paoli Mejías matched with the percussive piano work of Perdomo, the piece also reflects the influence of Haitian vodou music, which Zenón was heavily exposed to while working with drummer Ches Smith and his ensemble “We All Break.”

 

Although for many the term “empire” brings to mind the contemporary Western world, Zenón composed “Imperios” with the various indigenous empires of America in mind, including the Incas, Mayans, and Aztecs. “They were some of the most advanced societies at their time; as a matter of fact, they were in some ways more advanced than what was happening in Europe in terms of contemporary mathematics and astronomy, society and politics,” says Zenón. “There was something there already that was really advanced, and it makes me think about what could have been: what would have come out of that?” The melody derives from Zenón’s transcription of music from a ceremony of Aztec descendants, which is the counterpart to the rhythmic structure of the song.

 

“Bambula” features percussion virtuoso Victor Emmanuelli, whom Zenón lauds for pushing the musical envelope as a bandleader in his own right. The term “bambula” refers to a dance that was brought over by African slaves to the Americas. Over time, bambula became the rhythm commonly referred to as “habanera,” which is found in much of Latin American music today. Here, Zenón captures the feeling of connection across time and space that is carried by this single rhythmic cell:

 

“It’s a thread from New Orleans to Brazil to Central America back to Africa, across all these eras from the past to contemporary pop,” says Zenón. “For me, I wanted it to feel like you’re out at the dance, but at the same time hearing this more modern harmony and melody.”

 

In highlighting these connections across geographical regions, Zenón also returns to a major theme throughout the album: the conception of America not as a country—that is, only referring to the modern United States—but as a continent. “América, el Continente” makes that point clear while reminding listeners of the political implications of the United States assuming ownership of the term “America,” with its subtle erasure of the remaining Western hemisphere.

 

“Antillano,” named for the residents of the Antilles, showcases what Zenón is best known for: bringing together past and present in a forward-thinking, musically satisfying way. Ending the album on an optimistic note, the piece emulates aspects of contemporary dance music while serving as a feature for Daniel Díaz on congas. Some odd-meter surprises may fly past the ear of a casual listener, but they do so without any interruption to the musical flow so naturally conveyed by Zenón’s quartet.

 

In confronting often challenging historical topics on Música de Las Américas, Zenón has created a masterwork, whose musical delights will inspire and uplift while spurring a conversation about the problematic power dynamics across the American continent. The premise that modern jazz cannot be both grooving and emotionally resonant to the casual listener while formally and intellectually compelling is patently false, which Zenón proves here as he has time and again throughout his career.

 

© Adrien Tillmann
~Copyright © 2022 Braithwaite & Katz

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

[Just in case, you missed it…] Accra, Ghana jazz trumpeter Peter Somuah’s debut album Outer Space gives music lovers a satisfying gumbo of jazz, funk, electronic, and traditional Ghanaian rhythms

Peter Somuah is a gifted jazz trumpeter hailing from Accra, Ghana, and currently based in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. Somuah, who learned to play by listening endlessly to his trumpet heroes Roy Hargrove and Miles Davis, stands out with his warm and melancholic sound, as well as the rhythmic prowess reflecting his upbringing surrounded by the music styles native to West Africa. He touches his audience and makes them groove.

At 25, Somuah has already shared the stage with many local and international acts and toured in Africa, Asia, and Europe. Among others, he has performed and recorded with Akwasi, Bridget Kearney, and Yung Nnelg. Somuah will be releasing his debut album ‘Outer Space‘ this Spring. On the record, he explores the boundaries between jazz, funk, electronic music, and traditional Ghanaian rhythms with his band. ~Bandcamp

Peter Somuah – trumpet
Anton de Bruin – keys
Danny Rombout – percussion
Jesse Schilderink – saxophone
Marijn van de Ven – bass
Jens Meijer – drums

Originally released: April 29, 2022

[NOTEWORTHY]… With “Dedications” pianist, Alan Pasqua accomplishes the challenging task of leaving his unique and masterful imprint on this homage to the giants of the tradition.

Thoroughly satisfying and enjoyable. . . .From bop to swing, Alan Pasqua & Co. (in trio, quartet, and quintet settings) joyously explore many facets of the jazz tradition, adding zest and their own voices to every one of Alan’s excellent compositions. — The Music Advocate, May 1996

Pianist Alan Pasqua has dedicated his second Postcards CD to the incredibly rich tradition of jazz. On Dedications, his compositions cover the whole stylistic spectrum from swing and bebop through today’s polytonality and modality and are heard in the trio, quartet, and quintet settings. Building from a core trio featuring Dave Holland and Paul Motian (who have rarely recorded together) on four tunes, Pasqua adds Michael Brecker (on seldom-heard soprano saxophone) on one tune, and then creates two different quintets, one with both Michael and Randy Brecker, and one with Randy Brecker and Gary Bartz. From the lush, ducal “Ellingtonia” through the ethereal modality of “San Michele,” Alan Pasqua accomplishes the challenging task of leaving his unique and masterful imprint on this homage to the giants of the tradition. “Dedications,” says Pasqua, turning to his 1996 CD, “is my way of paying tribute to the positive influences on my life. Art, music, spirituality, family . . . I draw upon all of these whenever I’m playing or composing.

I wanted to take tradition and put my own stamp on it,” he continues, describing how he approached the compositions. “I found myself going back to my roots in jazz, back to an earlier perspective on jazz, to the styles I grew up with musically, and then reshaping the traditions, embellishing them — finding my own voice, making a more modern statement. It was like taking one step backward to take two steps forward.” ~Editorial Review | Amazon

Original Release Date:  October 21, 2006

At your leisure, spin “DEDICATIONS” by Alan Pasqua

[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

[Just in case, you missed it]… “Insight”, featuring pianist Giulio Gentilereleased by Auand Records, will be available on CD and on Bandcamp on January 28, 2022

Now an established name in and outside his country, multi-awarded Italian pianist Giulio Gentile has recently focused on exploring the possibilities offered by the trio, along with longtime collaborators Pietro Pancella on bass and double bass, and Michele Santoleri on drums.

They have been essential – Gentile says –, both musically and as human beings, to complete this work. They have always believed in my music, adding the right energy to the project. We’re good friends. At first, we simply met to play something together, and then we developed a repertoire focused on my compositions and arrangements, which led to this trio. Playing with them makes me feel like the trio as one person. There’s a lot of interplay and listening, which I love!»

Insight”, released by Auand Records, will be available on CD and on Bandcamp on January 28, 2022. Singles will be released on all streaming platforms starting on January 14.

Trying to avoid specific shapes, this album works on identity: «The key to this project – Giulio Gentile adds – is about us finding our musical identity. I didn’t limit myself too much when writing these tunes because I believe in composition as freedom. I didn’t wonder if it was “jazz enough” or anything, I simply put down things on paper: ideas that could mirror something about me, trying to find an original sound and leveraging everyone’s strengths.»

Although difficult structures and polyrhythms abound, “Insight” is centered on melody, both in themes and improvisation. And it gets personal. «After writing some of these tunes I realized I put a lot of myself in them: ideas, thoughts, wishes, fears. This is why I picked this title: it’s me trying to communicate my vision through my music. I imagined “Mankind to Earth” as a dialogue between humanity and Planet Earth. Mankind begs for mercy, trying to be forgiven for everything that has been (and is being) done to Earth. And there is a response, in “Earth to Mankind”, which I made more chaotic and rough, insisting on one melody that repeats from beginning to end. This sense of chaos and mess made me think of the inner, stronger, and destructive face of nature, which I tried to convey using a 9/8 clave rhythm.~BandCamp

Released: January 28, 2022

Giulio Gentile – piano
Pietro Pancella – double bass, electric bass
Michele Santoleri – drums