Real music lovers can find the melody in everything. From the park to the concert hall, our friend Nelson Brill is always on the hunt for great sound. In this blog, Nelson gets into the swing of spring with reviews of amazing, live, local concerts and a few special recordings, featuring prolific trumpeters that bring the atmosphere of a live performance into your own home.
BOLD TRUMPETERS TAKE CENTER STAGE: NEW JAZZ CONCERTS AND RECORDINGS TO SAVOR
By Nelson Brill | May 11, 2022
As Spring erupts here in the Northeastern US, the sounds of jazz are once again bursting forth, like a sweet lilac flower. New adventurous recordings are on tap. There’s a whirlwind of new live shows including the resumption of great summer music festivals such as the legendary Montreal Jazz Festival [www.montrealjazzfest.com] and the Newport Jazz Festival [www.newportjazz.org]. Here’s a first report on recent jazz concerts in Boston – with a garland of audiophile quality recordings to share – to get the jazz joy flowing:
Got trumpet love? A number of swashbuckling trumpeters strode onto Boston’s stages to ignite their shining horns in recent concerts. First up, esteemed trumpeter, keyboardist and composer Nicholas Payton sashayed into Scullers Jazz Club (“Scullers”) on March 11th and delivered his bracing funk, R&B and bluesy sway with the help of vibrant partners Russell Hall on bass and Bill Stewart on drums. It was great to be back at Scullers, (see www.scullersjazz.com for their calendar of upcoming shows) with its welcoming staff and buzzing atmosphere. In retrospect, the only sad news was that Payton’s show was one of the last shows engineered and produced by Scullers’ talented audio engineer, Matt Hayes, who tragically passed away in early April. Hayes will be sorely missed by his colleagues, the many musicians he worked with andthe audiences who were lucky to hear his audio artistry each night at Scullers.
At their Scullers show, Payton and his dapper partners played with an easy-going camaraderie, digging deep into tunes from Payton’s newest recording, Smoke Sessions [Smoke Sessions Records]. Reflecting Payton’s evolution as an artist, his Smoke Sessions recording highlights Payton’s artistry at his keyboard more than on his legendary horn. This was the case at his Scullers performance. Payton spent most of his time at his alighting electronic keyboard and his piano, plying his trumpet as an accenting partner with short bursting solos. For instance, on the band’s swinging version of Benny Golston’s “Stable Mates”, Payton mixed a cluster of bluesy chords on his electric keyboard, swinging with twinkle and verve, adding the spice of a short trumpet solo bristling with crisp bursts and breathy descents. The bluesy swing concluded with a joyful Payton-Stewart conversation with Stewart burbling low on his drums and crackling rim hits and Payton caressing his shining horn in a rising and falling stutter-stepping dance – ending on a clarion, soulful call.
A special treat at this Scullers performance was getting the opportunity to explore the propulsive engine of Stewart on his sly and expressive drums. His creative pitter-patter of light snare, cymbal shine and rim hits was the perfect inventive companion to Payton’s musical territory allowing everyone to stretch out and groove. On another highlight, the band’s pulsating tune, “Jazz Is A Four Letter Word,” Stewart delivered a crackling rock beat with his concise snare and cymbal hits that strode forth to allow Payton and Hall to swing with rocking glee on Stewart’s slip-stream of sunshine, with the capacity audience chanting along to the song’s irresistible sway. On the band’s ardent encore, “Let Me Live Forever In The Place We Call New Orleans!” Payton strutted his trumpet with piercing joy- fast, slippery and slurry- to the top of his crisp register. His trumpet’s bursts of swing and sear (sweet and radiant), lead naturally into a pungent Hall bass solo plucking furiously at his rubbery strings (thwacking them against his instrument’s wooden body in percussive thunder) to dig deep into the band’s joyful “Second Line” groove.
Among his many adventurous projects over the years, Payton participated as an early member of the venturing SFJAZZCollective, (“SFJAZZ”), a band that has held true, since its inaugural season in 2004, to its mandate of being a “democratic composers’ workshop”. For a fine example of Payton’s early work in SFJAZZ, take a listen to SFJAZZ’s 2005 live recording [on the Nonesuch Records Label]. Of the many highlights on this stellar live recording, check out Payton sparring with his remarkable partners – saxophonists Miguel Zenon and Joshua Reedman- on a dazzling version of Ornette Coleman’s “Una Muy Bonita”. This jam session positively erupts with creative soloing and dashing dialogue, with Payton’s trumpet careening with playful sear and soar. These masterful players are joined by the great Bobby Hutcherson on vibes, Brian Blade on drums and Robert Hurst on his locomotive bass. This is one thunderous joyful ride, especially if your home audio system is up to the task of capturing the recording’s great dynamic flow, tactile heat and natural imagery of the players on their layered and airy stage.
SFJAZZ continues to be a vital and brimming musical force as demonstrated in its recent concert held at the Berklee Performance Center in Boston on April 8th, presented by Celebrity Series of Boston. (See www.celebrityseries.org for a calendar of all upcoming concerts presented this cherished non-profit arts organization). The current members of SFJAZZ– saxophonists Chris Potter and David Sanchez, trumpeter Etienne Charles, vibraphonist Warren Wolf, pianist Edward Simon, bassist Matt Brewer, drummer Kendrick A.D. Scott and vocalists Gretchen Parlato and Martin Luther McCoy –unfurled a dazzling display of collective brio and brilliant musicianship at their magnetic Celebrity Series concert.
The playful camaraderie shared by these talented musicianswas clearly palpable – as was their collective glee in diving into original compositions from each member of the ensemble.Edward Simon’s contribution, his composition in tribute to George Floyd, was a soulful piece caressed by Charles’ soft uplifting trumpet curls and McCoy’s gentle vocals. Simon’s piano solo teemed with soft chordal clusters and velvety runs, tender in their understated strength. In contrast to this cathartic piece, other compositions this eveningflowed with glittering grooves and defiant funk. McCoy’s vocals, (with their malleability and burnished soulfulness), took dynamic charge of SFJAZZ’s romping cover of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On?”, transformed into a funky fest led by Sanchez’s boisterous tenor sax and Charles’ shining trumpet calls. On Potter’s venturing original, “Mutuality”, the dancing optimism continued with a sunny riff riding upon the slipstream of Gretchen Parlato’s wordless vocals. Parlato’s warm-as-a-breeze vocals (with her silvery changes in lithe perfect pitch) nestled beautifully in Potter’s alto sax caresses- his instrument a golden vehicle of expression with Potter belting out lowest honks, frenetic runs and soaring powerful chants. Scott’s fluid drums and Brewer’s pungent bass propelled this drama forward with their burbling, hunkered-down flow. Another highlight of this glittering concert was Parlato’s original, “All That’s Inside You” – another optimistic foray- in which Parlato and McCoy’s vocals roamed in carefree companionship, swirling around Wolf’s effervescent vibe solo. The concert concluded with a rollicking version of Sly Stone’s “I Want To Take You Higher!” with the capacity audience standing and singing as the band strode forth in gleeful action lit up by Charles’ trumpet (roaming crisply in the stratosphere) and Potter and Sanchez’s saxophones hurling bluesy, stutter-step calls to glitter the dance.
With the sound of Etienne Charles’ shining trumpet still in my ears, I came home from this energizing concert to explore recordings from jazz trumpeters. First up was the discovery of a fresh voice on the horn – trumpeter Bruce Harris- whose new recording, Soundview [Cellar Music; www.cellarlive.com] is a shape-shifting delight. Harris surrounds himself with a stellar cast: pianist Sullivan Fortner, bassist David Wong, drummer Aaron Kimmel and vocalist Samara McClendon. Although the sound is a bit closed-in on this recording (with images placed a little too wide and compartmentalized in a space offering little air), the music is always fresh and compelling. Harris’ trumpet is a clarion vehicle of expression. His playing whimsically ranges from soft meditative calls (accompanying, for instance, the soulful vocals of McClendon on their stirring ballad “Bird of Red and Gold”) to crisp and swinging banter, as on the group’s swanking version of Randy Weston’s “Saucer Eyes” and on the playful exuberance of Hank Mobley’s “Hank’s Prank.”
The band contributes their own tasty nuggets of swing and groove. Fortner, (one of my favorite young explorers at the keyboard) is a delectable force: his piano teems with bluesy swank and bounce at every creative caress and flourish. (Check out, for instance, his sprite carefree action on the group’s delectable “Ellington Suite”). Wong is a young master on his bass delivering several riveting solos of deep purple passion while Kimmel proves himself to be a fresh voice on his drums with his whiplash snare and cymbal combinations sharp and radiant.
A master of the trumpet who left us too early, (and who most likely is an inspiration for the young Harris), was the legendary trumpeter Roy Hargrove. We are now gifted with a fantastic new recording of Hargrove performing with his impeccable musical partner, pianist Mulgrew Miller, from their concerts held at Merkin Hall in New York City in January, 2006 and from Lafayette College in Pennsylvania in November, 2007.
This new recording, entitled In Harmony, is presented by the talented team at Resonance Records (www.resonancerecords.org), a favorite audiophile label that re-discovers masterful recordings by jazz artists (some recordings unearthed for the first time!) and presents these radiant sessions in the best possible re-mastered sound from their original master tapes. In Harmony is a brilliant addition to the Hargrove/Miller legacy and to the Resonance Records oeuvre. The Merkin Hall selections capture both players in true-to-life crackling presence and natural imagery, plying their magic in a layered and spacious acoustic. The selections from the Lafayette College concert are of a bit different in sonic quality (due surely to the recording techniques utilized at the original event): Miller’s piano is more recessed, there is a bit less body and bloom to both his piano and Hargrove’s trumpet and the recording has a less spacious soundstage.
Regardless of these small sonic differences between the sessions, the glorious music generated by Hargrove and Miller on their In Harmony is open-eared, ever-adventurous and immersive. Highlights include the metallic fire of Hargrove’s trumpet (lighting up to the rear of Merkin Hall) on such golden beauties as “Just In Time” or the bluesy swank of “Blues For Mr. Hill”. His deft trumpet navigates effortlessly from tropical romps and slurring slides (on such great tunes as Blue Mitchell’s “Fungii Mama”) to the softest dignified rustle, as on the gracious “I Remember Clifford”. Miller’s piano undulates and sparkles in frisky dialogue with Hargrove’s trumpet at every turn. His piano has this beautiful swinging and singing quality, delivering the boogie stomp of the rocking encore, “OW” with glitter or using his expert colorist phrasing (and a soft athletic drive) to caress the unpredictable and angular strokes of “Monk’s Dream”. In Harmony captures this tête-à-tête between these two maestros with ease and joy, their dialogue sweeping us along into an immersive world of spiky-sweet swing, meditation and toe-tapping fun.
I can’t let this trumpet glory from a master like Hargrove pass-by without also mentioning another recording gem from three other legendary trumpeters – Clark Terry, Freddie Hubbard and Dizzy Gillespie- who gathered in a small studio in 1980 to create The Alternate Blues, captured in all its splendor on vinyl by the impeccable team at Analogue Productions [APR 3010; www.acousticsounds.com]. Find this LP and you will never tire of exploring the beauty and groove of this session where each of these trumpet maestros take their glorious time in exploring these informal takes. The individual and collective charisma is only made sweeter by the incomparable rhythm section here: Oscar Peterson on piano, Ray Brown on bass, Joe Pass on guitar and Bobby Durham on drums. This LP is a cherished keeper in any vinyl lover’s collection.
This year we are also celebrating the centennial of the birth of dazzling bassist and composer, Charles Mingus, and what a treat it was to hear another stellar young trumpeter, Jason Palmer, soar his piercing trumpet into New England Conservatory’s (“NEC”) airy Jordan Hall in celebration of Mingus’ music. At this NEC celebration concert held on April 19th, Palmer joined the NEC Jazz Orchestra, conducted by their peerless director, Ken Schaphorst, in a fiery version of Mingus’ “Meditations on Integration”. Palmer’s trumpet was in great kinetic form: his solos crackling in frenetic runs, sharp dancing bursts and blossoming in golden hues.
This same effusive spirit infused the NEC “House Band” and the NEC “Joe Morris Ensemble” in bold performances of Mingus’ “Orange Was The Color of Her Dress” and Mingus’ legendary “Fables of Faubus”- highlighted by NEC student trumpeters Zoe Murphy and Isaac Dubow blowing their horns in gutsy and fiery bursts. There were also some very special solo piano performances at this NEC Mingus celebration. Eminent NEC faculty member and legendary pianist Ran Blake performed his own composition, “Mingus Noir”, with incomparable soulful expression. Another brilliant and intrepid pianist, Jason Moran, explored the rollicking spirit and swirl of “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat” with barrelhouse and grooving energy while young NEC student pianist Jonathan Paik held the audience in Jordan Hall spellbound with his meditative deep dive into Mingus’ ballad, “Myself When I Am Real.” (See www.necmusic.edu for more fabulous free concerts coming this Fall).
Mingus’ genius – as a bass player and composer- is heard in all its seismic beauty on a new recording that gifts us with a beautiful re-mastering of the complete legendary concert by Mingus and his band presented at Carnegie Hall in 1974 [Atlantic Recording Group label]. The new recording delivers all the layered air and soundstage of Carnegie Hall and has a “you-are-there” tactile energy and presence. Mingus and his band are bold and fiery – their energy is irresistible and their musicianship ardent and volcanic. They exchange audacious musical conversations swirling with vital and reveling sounds – from the deep blasts of Hamiet Bluiett’s careening baritone to the snap and spunk of Dannie Richmond’s alighting drums. Unfurling above all the delicious action is the young trumpeter Jon Faddis, pushing the stratospheric limits of his instrument with searing force, layered deep in the soundstage. In the second set’s “battle of the saxes”, legendary saxophonists George Adams, Charles McPherson, John Handy and Rahsaan Roland Kirk join with Bluiett, Faddis and the rest of Mingus’ brilliant band to fire-up every intrepid thrill in Mingus’ music. A bravura spirit to heal the world!
You can read more of Nelson’s concert reviews at www.bostonconcertreviews.com.