Earl MacDonald; Mirror of the Mind

Earl MacDonald is a music educator (Jazz Studies; University of Connecticut), composer/arranger and musician (piano). Mirror of The Mind is his fifth album as leader, in which he continues his exploration of combining a diversity of outside influences and inspiration while still feeding off of jazz’s rich history.

The ensemble is a quartet comprised of piano, multi reedist Kris Allen, Christopher Hoffman on cello and Rogerio Boccato on percussion. It is a little bit of a different line up for a quartet but not overly so. The sonorities achieved by the group as a whole always remain interesting but never at the risk of alienating the more casual listeners.

“A Thousand Memories” begins with Earl’s piano in a see-saw pattern and brushed drums whose stuttered beat is perhaps someone’s pulse caught up in a reverie of memory. Opting to go for a cello instead of the standard upright bass is a great idea. Here, it enters the song initially emulating the piano pattern in a rich singing tone. For his solo statement Earl’s piano offers up a cascading run of percussive, clear ringing notes whose pattern is then taken up by the tenor saxophone. The horn’s solo is a long flurry of notes bereft of any discordance and so logically connected to both the piece and the piano solo which had preceded it that it serves to organically move the piece forward. Throughout the piece are two motifs, the see-saw pattern and occurring under that by cello and horn one that is a sort of diagonally upward thrusting pulse point pattern. Towards the end of the song the cello reiterates both themes. The finish is an exhale of the horns breath, softly and the final plink of the piano; the dream over but not forgotten and only for now.

The album is comprised of mostly original compositions with the exception of two covers (“Blackbird” and “I Never told you”). “Blackbird” is refreshingly executed as a fairly straight ahead read. In modern jazz a cover tune or musical quote initially would have some sort of humorous, intellectual or political raison d’etre. As jazz expanded past being music just for the outsiders (artists, intellectuals et al) a cover or musical quote became the starting point for each artist to build their own thing off of. For the past decade or so covers are often deconstructed or reimagined, sometimes distractingly so. The listener metamorphosed into an audience member at a magic show, waiting for the source material to be revealed. The “I” of the artist more often than not taking precedence over the material, what it means to them and not what makes the piece in itself great. In lieu of vocals the soprano saxophone declaims the main melody. It is a relaxed affair without ever lapsing into sounding like a jam band. The ensemble shows great interplay which is harder to organically do on material that is not comprised primarily of virtuosic turns. There is a beautifully buoyant plucked cello solo midway through the piece. The sonics for the entire album are pristine and immediate, lacking that digital coldness which can threaten to remove the humanity from a work.

“Miles Apart” is my favorite piece on the album. It has a laconic, bluesy feel. It is a nicely layered piece. There is a great opening line which has the soprano taking the lead under which a bowed cello can be heard, it being bolstered in turn by the subtle poly rhythmic murmurings of the percussion. The cello has some compelling moments, conjuring up the feel of someone with a stately mien admitting to having the blues without losing their composure as they do so. The long lines of the soprano which end the piece underscoring the point. In some bar or club, the protagonist dressed to the nines, happy to be going home not on account of having had a bad time but because that is the natural order of things. As is to lament what we lost or do not yet possess.

Maxwell Chandler  -Midtown-

More information on Earl:  http://www.earlmacdonald.com/

 

Not for use without permission. maxwellachandler@aol.com

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Jason Mile’s Global Noize: A Prayer for The Planet

I decide to take a walk in the opposite direction from all that I have learned geographically of my newly adopted city. I walk under a freeway ramp whose concrete columns are cracked and for some reason make me think of an old time taxi dancer now bereft of music. There are some barbeque places and alike, several tiny dive bars dark which seem to be siblings. All being kept propped up by the regulars who in turn are held erect by the cheap vinyl of their stools, stiffened with age and the work week need to eventually get back to it. The side of one of the places had chain link fence whose bottom did not quite reach the ground or perhaps the earth had retreated from its touch. There are the skeletons of several cars with concrete block feet, a graveyard of stilled motion. Objects and their myths. I decide to go in and let myself briefly be anesthetized by whisky hopes and carnival dreams.

The juke box is no good, contrary silence which is what the regulars want as they have heard it all before and are intent upon studying the diminishing returns of their perpetual last rounds. It is all right, I truly am only here for one. I leave without having been offered a word by anyone but I trust they knew I was, as always simpatico.

Walking back I hum to myself, the music lulling me into contemplation. Lately I have been reading the Russians, not just the immortals but the newer greats too (Babel, Solzhenitsyn, Olesha). It has made me contemplate a stoicism which tries to see a little good even in a bad situation without lapsing into any sort of Panglossian blind optimism.

Music no longer has the steadfast genre classifications and while this in itself may not be viewed as a bad thing, there have been some definite negative side effects. Although proper usages for genre terms are more often than not now made vague and irrelevant, a common point of reference is needed for any kind of interaction. Speaking in the broadest sense, for there will always be exceptions to every rule; this has quelled the casual listener’s ability to see and hear things which fall under the mainstream’s radar. With the bottom line almost always winning out, to find anything different one must now make an effort to search, which means it stays largely unknown to people who like music but do not live for it.

As I now strive to see the positive, the good thing to come from this is that those artists following their muse outside of the mainstream are now freed up to draw upon diverse influences differing from what their work may end up as. The freedom caries over too into their ability to incorporate myriad stylistic turns within their own work.

Jason Miles is a Grammy winning producer/composer/musician. From the very start of his career his pedigree shows diversity in the spirit of which he continues to create with today. Within his large and varied palette can be found some pop elements. Pop, not in the pejorative term as used to describe the vapid state of the genre now but harkening back to producers and arrangers like Van Dyke Parks, Quincy Jones and George Martin. He has also introduced components of world music and electronica into the realm of pop and fusion.

A Prayer for the Planet is Global Noize’s second album. As with some of his other projects, here Jason brings in some guest stars: world vocalist Falu and turnbulists/efx maestro DJ Logic among others.

The sound throughout the entire album is pristine. “Tokyo Sunrise” starts with softly ascending electro-washes over which a soprano saxophone played not in the nasal mid-eastern cadence as is so often utilized but with more legato gentle breathy notes, slowly unfurls. There is the percussion of drums intermittently peppered with finger snaps. The piece has the ambience of when one is initially arriving back from the land of slumber. Those first golden ambassadors of the early morning sun waking one as projected fingertips gently caress still closed lids, the soft growing heat signaling an end to the night. There is a churning of bass and vintage sounding synthesizer washes which add richness to the piece from its halfway point. The piece finishes with the sax trailing off, the sun moving down the street to wake the rest of the city, heralding the start of the new day.

“Charisma Love” has world music vocalese by Falu. Although I do not know what she is singing I greatly enjoy the song, which emphasizes the universal aspect of all music and underscores the general philosophy of Jason’s project. There is a compelling mélange of world music meets funk, led by a transistor toned guitar which serves as contrast to the plucked string section swells and soprano saxophone runs. The whole song in general seems to exist within a series of pulses as could be created by seeing a beautiful woman or something as equally enjoyable and perhaps nocturnal.

“Viva La Femme” is my favorite track on the album. It starts off with voice coming as if from a long ways away via a radio. There are layers of percussion and electro flourishes as signal flares that something is about to happen. The melody created by a chant is mirrored by harmonica; some local in a café in Marseilles who plays for change and cannot but help have the ambient surroundings enter into his own music. Bolstered by a dark oscillating ambient churning a rhythmic panting can be heard before a more song-like and melodic vocalese enters. There are some Gitane like scales upon which the melody is built. I can taste Pastis in my mouth as my feet feel the cobblestones of the street. The song successfully creates a layered mélange of electro and acoustic elements. It is a joy derived from music with the music generating an organic near on eroticism. It is all beauty which sets the mind to wandering and toes to tapping.

“Walking On Air” has a great relaxed vibe combining a down-tempo feel with elements of jazz in the soft flute lead voice. Over the entire album, even with guests coming and going, there is cohesiveness to the playing. It never feels like anyone is merely playing a part which will be jig sawed into the rest of the song. Even though there are electronic elements to the songs it is never at the cost of emotion.

With his Global Noize project Jason has set out to create works with various collaborators which ignores any kind of stylistic restrictions in execution or from where they pull in their influences. Subtler and left unsaid is the shown example within this album of how music can be fun, groove and still be art.

Maxwell Chandler

Midtown

Not for use without express permission maxwellachandler@aol.com

 

More Information on Jason

http://www.jasonmilesmusic.com/

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The Inquiring Mind album by Chico Hamilton – Out Now

I had the great honor of writing the liner notes for the latest, final album by the legendary Chico Hamilton The Inquiring Mind which is available now at Joyous Shout.

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EUPHORIA Celebrates the Music of Composer/Drummer Chico Hamilton in a Monthly Concert Series at DROM

The New York City-based quintet EUPHORIA celebrates the music of the legendary composer/drummer and NEA Jazz Master Foreststorn “Chico” Hamilton (1921-2013). EUPHORIA has been capturing the essence of Chico’s spirit since its formation in 1989. It maintains its monthly concert series at NYC’s DROM and has appeared on 15+ recordings with Chico. EUPHORIA is comprised of Paul Ramsey (bass), Evan Schwam (flute + reeds), Jeremy Carlstedt (drums + percussion), Mayu Saeki (flute) and Nick Demopolous (guitar).

WHEN: Wednesday, February 12 @ 7:15PM **CD Release Concert**

Sunday, March 16 @ 7:15PM

Sunday, April 13 @ 7:15PM

Sunday, May 18 @ 7:15PM

Sunday, June 22 @ 7:15PM

WHERE:  DROM, 85 Avenue A (b/w 5th & 6th St), New York City; Train F to 2nd Ave)

HOW: $15/Advance $20 (includes copy of new CD).  To reserve, call DROM at 212.777.1157 or visit www.dromNYC.com.

The killer quintet EUPHORIA returns to DROM in a monthly concert series devoted to the work of NEA Jazz Master Foreststorn “Chico” Hamilton (1921-2013).  Described as “one of the city’s most buoyant combos (Time Out New York),” EUPHORIA digs into the repertoire of Chico Hamilton, playing old and new arrangements that capture the best of Chico’s legacy. 

 “As his long-time ensemble, we’ve had the unique privilege to work intimately with Chico for several years,” explains Evan Schwam. “We strive to maintain Chico’s remarkable high standard of musicianship, groove and consistency. We’re thrilled to be sharing the essence of Chico’s spirit and we will keep it alive and swinging!”

Hamilton, who died November 25, 2013, at the age of 92, was busy composing, rehearsing and recording till his final days. His latest album “The Inquiring Mind” (www.joyousshout.com) to be released 02/18/14 was recorded with EUPHORIA this past Fall 2013. Saluted by the Kennedy Center as a “Living Jazz Legend”, and appointed to the President’s Council on the Arts, Chico is considered one of the most important jazz artists and composers of our time. According to the New York Times, he’s “one of jazz’s great colorists and chamber-minded bandleaders.”

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EUPHORIA Presents Celebrating the Life & Music of Foreststorn “Chico” Hamilton

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WHAT:    EUPHORIA Presents Celebrating the Life & Music of Foreststorn “Chico”
Hamilton, featuring Chico’s longstanding Euphoria ensemble with Paul Ramsey (bass), Evan Schwam (flute + reeds), Jeremy Carlstedt (drums + percussion), Mayu Saeki (flute) & Nick Demopolous (guitar).
 NEA Jazz Master Chico Hamilton passed away of natural causes on 11/25/13. Saluted by the Kennedy Center as a “Living Jazz Legend”, and appointed to the President’s Council on the Arts, this Chico was considered one of the most important living jazz artists and composers.
In an effort to honor and celebrate his life and his music, his long-time working group Euphoria continues his legacy with a special, joyous concert at DROM this Sunday night.
Known for fashioning finely textured sounds with small ensembles, the program includes some new original material off of Chico’s forthcoming album (Release Date 2014) as well as works off of Chico’s latest vivacious albums: Revelation and Euphoric (Joyous Shout!).
WHEN:    Sunday, December 15 @ 7:15PM
WHERE:  DROM, 85 Avenue A (b/w 5th & 6th St), New York City; Train F to 2nd Avenue
HOW:      $15/Advance $12.  To reserve, call DROM at 212.777.1157 or visit www.dromNYC.com.
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Blues for Chico: Chico Hamilton Nov 26, 2013

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With artists who operate at a certain level, it is somewhat of a misnomer to say upon their death that they have left us; as the work remains. And with the work, an aspect at least, of the artist continues to reside within. The best works regardless of medium offer up new things upon repeated revisits. It is akin to the familiar voice a longtime friend telling us of new ideas or the seemingly magical occurrence of inspiration being seen in a place of one’s usual everyday environs. Chico’s work is always like that.

I first became aware of his work when given the opportunity to interview him for All About Jazz in November of 2007. He was one of the first big interviews that I had done. I have always tried to not just use stock questions but come up with questions specific to each artist with whom I interacted. In doing my research for the Chico interview I found myself becoming even more of a fan.

I was calling him at home on the East Coast from California. I was punctual calling him at the exact time but he had a schedule change and had just gotten back from some traveling. I offered to reschedule and call him at some more convenient time. He asked my name again and then told me that it was all right, to go ahead. My nerves were not helped by the fact that for the first two questions I could hear him unpacking. By my third question he warmed up to me though. While discussing his work he was very serious but as the conversation went on it became punctuated with funny off the record asides. I had initially asked for twenty minutes of his time. As a general practice I always make sure to have more questions than I know I will need. We very quickly hit the twenty minute mark and I let him know. He asked me if I had more questions;

“A lot.”

I was told that I could continue; with the stipulation that at any time if he needed to go all he had to do was let me know. Chico was very generous with his time, we covered my entire lengthy list. He was entertaining and gracious. While expounding upon his artistic philosophy and for the entire interview, he kept the tone conversational never merely pontificating. The interview would remain among the favorites that I have done.

For many years Chico’s work has found a home at Jeffrey Caddick’s Joyous Shout Records. There is within his Joyous Shout catalog an inherent freedom. Never is there the feeling that he had pressure to replicate new copies of past artistic triumphs. Connected with this freedom were interesting album programs. To mark the anniversary of his first date as a leader in the 50’s which happened to be a trio session, he once again cut a trio album. At this time my articles were often syndicated and his publicist sent me a copy. Of course it was a marvelous session.

I had no interaction at this point with either Chico or Jeffrey, nor did I expect to. The next Joyous Shout Record came to me in the mail with no liner notes or packaging. Momentarily I thought it odd but immediately began listening and enjoying it. I was asked if I would be interested in supplying liner notes for what would be the Twelve Tones of Love album. It was a great honor and pleasure for me. I would go on from there to supply the next three of Chico’s albums with liner notes. Chico never had any radical stylistic departures in his artistic evolution. It was a continuous and organic process, not forsaking his past but also not being trapped by it. It made for a subtlety which sometimes caused his newer work to be overlooked despite receiving many accolades including being a Kennedy Center award recipient and a NEA Jazz Master.

He had recently just completed his latest album Inquiring Minds which is out at the first of the New Year, for which I once again had the honor of supplying the liner notes. In listening, upon getting the sad news, to what would be his final album there is no elegiac sense of Chico closing accounts. It comes across as just the latest Chico album, which is saying a lot. There will be no more releases after this one but Chico remains, locked into the groove ready to once again engage us just by pressing the play button. I like, I am sure, many others thank him for all the great work.

Chico Hamilton: The Master on All About Jazz

Chico Hamilton page at Joyous Shout Records T_Front_JPG

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Reading “Mr. B: The Music & Life of Billy Eckstine” by Cary Ginell

Laying on my side I watched the clock ticking down, the end of yesterday. Initially I had managed to go to sleep but not in any meaningful way, ten-fifteen minute shifts at best. Not being able to fly through dreams, my continued waking presence made the air grow heavier. My pulse raced. The jangled ozone nerves reminding me; sitting on that porch in Athens during the storm, the sky was a series of violent paintings. Each using the same palette of silvered blues and behind closed eyelid stone fruit purples.

It was a temporary show without curator, the crowd roaring both its approval and displeasure in equal measure so that the whole house shook. At first the novelty of it interested me but soon the siege of the sky with its non-stop booming began to put me on edge. The storm had to be close by as everything went at a quick tempo which my pulse too became caught up in.

To try to regain an inner calm I told myself that all the noise and violence was no different than looking at the ocean or her lips as she moved in for a kiss. It did not work, as all I had managed to do was remind myself of other dangers out there; some always more present than others.

I grabbed one of the books from my “to read” pile to make constructive use of my non-sleep time until coffee at dawn. I will read several books on a subject that interests me as I find it gives a fuller picture. Then to cleanse the palate I will go to something completely different. So sorry Dombrovsky, you must wait a while longer.

The negative aspects of our modern digital age are that we make stars of people who do not actually do anything except broadcast their bad behavior via twenty four hour nonstop streams on social media. This and the fact that so much information is accepted off of websites whose only criteria is that they look professional are the bane of anyone with a modicum of intelligence or soul. Inaccuracies abound from people perpetuating what they read off of a site without further fact checking let alone checking the site’s accuracies. There is however a good side to all of this. With all this bad behavior ever present in the zeitgeist biographies/autobiographies on artists, politicians, historical and public figures can be written without excising aspects of the subject’s life or action without the risk of the readers feeling scandalized. This allows for a more fully realized portrait of the person and their time to emerge.

Duke Ellington’s (1899-1974) legacy is remembered in more than name only as many of his songs remain active standards. Count Basie (1904-1984), if not performed as much by later generations, is still historically remembered. A lot of their direct peers are forgotten or negated to names, dates and the better known recording sessions listed but no longer heard nor explored. The facts are parroted much in the way of someone learning a foreign language by memorizing phrases. Billy Eckstine’s (1914-1993) career now shares much the same fate. The hits he had are listed but more often than not he has been reduced down to a footnote for his role in being an early employer of the chief architects of Bop, his bandstand along with Minton’s Playhouse (NYC) serving as the burgeoning art form’s incubator.

Cary Ginell’s new biography is a good and breezy read. By his own admission in the introduction he makes it clear that this book is not a definitive study of Mr. B’s life. It does fill a surprising void and one can hope will help garner more interest once again in a great now neglected singer’s work.

The book was done with the blessing of the family, some of Mr. B’s children: Ed, Guy and his daughters C.C and Gina providing their reminiscence. The foreword was written by son Ed who himself has had a long career in the industry.

One of the book’s main strengths is that it presents an even handed account of the artist. There is no puffing up his achievements but neither is there any kind of taking down via overly emphasizing his acknowledged short comings. The book comes to us bereft of any agenda outside of telling us of his life. In tracing the family tree from before he was born Cary avoids the near biblical “begat who begat….” Which can sort of suck the life out of a biography as the need for some type of a flow chart materializes.

We are told of Mr. B’s early years, working with Earl “Fatha” Hines. The parade of names is kept short although scant information is given on the key players, making the names meaningless to those who are not already familiar with their pedigree. On the other hand to have provided the other player’s histories too very likely would have proved a distracting digression from the flow of the narrative.

Of course I had known that not every hot jazz musician successfully made the transition into the big band era and that aside from some of the more prominent big bands, once modern jazz rose to the fore, many of them disbanded or ended up on the nostalgia circuit in Europe which did not discern between the musical generations in the same inhibitive way as America. It was interesting to read though of the strata of singers within the genre and how one would supplant the other in a long line of succession until all were rendered irrelevant as a soundtrack to youth by the encroaching (early) rock and roll phenomena. A similar thing would happen a generation later to (modern) jazz players in the mid to late sixties.

Mr.B is shown in social context of his place in the country where racism was still prevalent and also as a singer of very genre specific music. There are times in the book where the writing feels style wise like raw reportage. However given the choice between that and the type of biography where the author feels the need to fill the pages with their own purple prose, over gilding the lily and inserting their own persona, I much prefer the reportage. The description of his voice over the years immediately allows one to envision what made him so appealing. However, little of his inner workings are ever delved into. The silence though, in lieu of suppositions towards his mental makeup is a safer way to go.

We are shown how he had a true understanding and affection for Bop and it was not just happenstance who sat in his bandstand during its brief bop incarnation. Hopefully this will help raise him out of his footnote position in regards to his place at the nascence of modern jazz.

Another strength of the book is when dealing with recording sessions or shows, calling bad material for what it is. Even the greats recorded some clunkers some more than others.The story itself is rather fascinating and in many ways bitter sweet. It is not a story of squandered talent but of stifled and missed opportunities. Frequently over the course of his career he would make seemingly safe or bad choices in regards to material; old familiar songs and novelty tunes or schmaltz. Ostensibly he cited the need to provide for his family. Of their importance in his life there is no doubt but there is a subtle subtext too that he was shocked, then sort of worn out from the racism habitually encountered throughout the country. He, especially in later years had some misfire albums where he tried to be au courant- commercial but the same can definitely be said of the singers that initially sprang from the same scene and whose records are still well known (i.e Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennet, Ella Fitzgerald et al).

He was personal friends with Martin Luther King, attending some marches with him but it was his refusal to kowtow to allowing himself as an African American to play specific innocuous or buffoonish roles that made him dangerous to those who wanted to maintain a sort of status quo. His deportment and sense of dignity would inspire other artist in their quest to be viewed as equals off stage but directly or indirectly through how he handled his choice of projects, at the expense of his

This book is well worth seeking out being neither too technical nor mere fluff. The artistic accomplishments or Mr. B are lauded but discussed too are the misfires and faults. What more could any artist want in the portrayal of their life?

Finally dawn came. The morning was cold so I let my coffee brew longer as to make it extra hot. Or maybe the morning, as I sat at table in my bathrobe merely felt that way on account of the coffee’s heat. Either way, the dichotomy of the two allowed both to momentarily be underlined in my mind. I open my notebook. Once again the ink will flow and while it does I am where I should be, at table; holy  sunrise officiated by the song of a bird now preserved between the pages of a journal.

Maxwell Chandler (Midtown)

For more information go to :

http://halleonardbooks.com/product/viewproduct.do?itemid=333475&subsiteid=169

This article is not to be used or reprinted without the expressed permission of Maxwell A. Chandler (maxwellachandler@aol.com)

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