Posts Tagged trio

John Schott – Actual Trio

Coming in from lunch as always, unless it is nighttime and I have finished working, I am alone. In my solitude I remain silent, not feeling the need to make a show of how tired I am after my long walk back on a full stomach.

A plump fly sits on the edge of the bed, perhaps confusing the brown duvet for soil. Like me, he wants only to take an hour or two to sleep in the warm sun. When I stir, no matter how fast he flies away, later on I will still manage to capture him with my prose.

I must be careful though, to not metamorphose him into a type of insect which could bite and make me sick.

Not too long with my head down and I wake up having left my food stupor behind. I work for a few hours, the words mount up in pleasant cascades which make me giddy until everything seems to be covered in ink and one would have to lie on their belly to write on what remained of the whiteness of the wall.

Now I can go out and work up an appetite, accompanied depending upon what pattern of people the city is wearing, by the heat of desire.

I grab my book bag from its place by the door. Locking up I take the stairs and pat my pocket three times for luck. Once I own a home I will keep the keys on an oval brass keychain as would have been handed to any gumshoe in an old film.

I will still travel the world and even though I would not need it again until I was once more home, no matter where I was, I would keep it in my pocket letting it weigh my coat down on the left side. After becoming used to the weight and learning to keep my pen in my right pocket as to prevent any knocking together with the brass, I would not even need to go home. I would carry it with me, embodied by the brass in my pocket.

Amy did not understand why I did not merely buy the so often described keyring instead of the ordeal of working towards becoming a home owner of which she suspected contributed to my moodiness. No, no. It was a phony faith which I feared. An act, such as just totting around the keychain, was a pantomime of satiated ambition.

The poet in me once said during a party by way of dramatically filling in a dull silence that we carry our homes in our hearts, particularly with the food we cook and the songs we sing.

A correlation between cooking and music, specifically jazz is that one can have a recipe but then depending upon location, available ingredients and even mood there are changes or improvisations made from the established conception. Just as a musician may improvise off of “Melancholy Baby” so too can it occur with a pot of gumbo or Coq Au Vin.

Stylistically, whether it is food or music sometimes there is a sea change within the creator which is not about rejecting the familiar ancestry but building off of it to create something new but still containing recognizable components.

The debut of John Schott’s new album and trio Actual Trio travels along such lines. The trio’s set up is that of a classic guitar trio, this familiar ground serves as a sort of jumping off point. The material on the album is all original compositions. While not a radical stylistic departure from its trio forefathers neither is there any museum glass stagnation.

“Frequently asked Questions” has a laconic strolling quality to its structure. There is an almost programmatic feel to the piece. Me, someone, flapping madly the lapels of my raincoat as I hit the street. Daydreams and inspirations as befitting a flaneur. Within the DNA of the piece are elements of Grant Green and Wes Montgomery combined within a generation also equally exposed to rock, blues and modernist composers such as Babbitt, Berio and Schoenberg.

John’s tone is a clean sound akin to the cadence of those from vintage Fender Guitars. Throughout the album he eschews use of effects to alter or gild his instruments voice. The interplay among the musicians is immediately apparent and made more impressive by the fact that the entire album was recorded live in the studio in one session, without overdubbing. All the playing is top notch yet there is never the distraction of overly fussy to mire things down.

“Hold On Sheldon” is a sort of samba as if done by James Brown late at night when a good portion of the band has gone home. The varying components within the piece show what big ears the trio has. The bright punch of John’s guitar declaiming single note runs, a Morse code to get funky morphs into bent string chiming; the mission bell in the land of the blues calling people in for catharsis or to dance. John Hanes drums do not merely keep time nor add density to the piece but provide a sort of forward thrust feeling. Especially starting at the midway point to the song. He incorporates intricate polyrhythms and touches of louder rock leaning heaviness, underscoring that is not merely a lead voice being backed by two others.

“Egyptians” starts off with the guitar peppering Dan Seaman’s rich bass pattern. The initial tempo suggests an air of slinky contemplation. A descending guitar pattern followed by a brief series of volcanic rumblings and the tempo and general feel of the song drastically changes. The funk of a Saturday night circa the late seventies. The trio lock into a deep groove. If we are not fighting or crying then we should be dancing said a neo-Greek chorus from atop their barstools. The trio show an inherent taste regardless of the tempo or tempo changes in a song. Absent is any kind of stylistic Achilles’ heel in regards to performance ability.

The entire CD finds great interplay among the musicians. With the manner in which the CD was recorded, it has a great organic, warm sound. Who these musicians are may change down the line with time or travel. This CD offers a compelling snapshot of their here and now, well worthwhile.

Maxwell Chandler




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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-

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Blue Valentines: Retta Christie with David Evans and Dave Frishberg Volume 2

Jim Goodwin’s (1944-2009) life would make a great movie. While it would not feature any defining moment apparent to the viewer and required in bio-films, it would be episodic; full of ups and downs but always interesting.
The usual blessing and curse conferred upon interesting characters when describing them, Jim was a “Musician’s musician”. He was known primarily for his coronet playing, inspired by Wild Bill Davison (1906-1989) and Bix Beiderbecke (1903-1931) but he could also play piano, drums and vibraphone.
Jim was a self taught virtuoso, never wanting to formally study for fear of losing some of the power which came from the freedom and spontaneity of his creative process. Freedom was a reoccurring motif echoing throughout all aspects of Jim’s life.
Initially he studied to be a stock broker in New York after a youth of being a “board boy” for his father’s brokerage firm. Rapidly he lost interest in the financial world, often saying he was the nation’s “Youngest broker and youngest retired stockbroker.”
He served in the National Guard where he was able to play both horns and drums in the band. Jim would find himself stationed at Fort Ord (Monterey, CA) which allowed him to take in the San Francisco jazz scene, then a still fertile scene with the streets bristling with legendary jazz clubs. In his time in the Bay Area he managed to probably play every club and venue including the Fairmont Hotel where decades earlier Paul Whiteman (1890-1967) band leader of Jim’s hero Bix had a long residency. Perhaps one of the more unique accomplishments for a jazz artist also occurred while Jim was living in the Bay Area, going to the world series three times with the Oakland A’s as a member of their pep-band. Athletic and a baseball player himself in high school, being connected to the World Series had meaning to him on several levels.
Jim would spend a lot of time in Europe where, like a lot of earlier jazz greats, he was better known and appreciated. Lack of big name fame never seemed to bother him as it allowed him to create and live the way he wanted; with no pressures to conform or compromise.
Eventually after a stint living in Brownsmead, Or Jim would come to roost in Portland which still has a small but vibrant music scene. With some friends he would start a micro brewing company (Portland Brewing Company) right as the trend of micro brew beers was taking off. He would sell back his controlling shares in the company as to not be tied down but still regularly played the company’s Flanders Street pub, often in duets with David Frishberg
Jim was a great mentor and friend to many musicians. Retta Chrisite’s new album, volume two of collaboration with David Evans and Frishberg, is a sort of valentine to him. Most of the program is made up of songs she was taught by him or played with him. Although somewhat of a memorial, this album offers up a sort of blue tinged wistfulness in lieu of any black cloth draped melancholy.
The album is comprised of all covers which, like the ensembles last outing, mix components of country swing, early jazz and blues in varying degrees. “I Get the Blues When It rains” begins with a few seconds of Retta’s vocals unaccompanied. This emphasizes the intimacy to be found on every track which helps the music better resonate for the listener and allows for repeated listenings without loss of artistic tension. David Evan’s sax here has the Lester Young (1909-1959) Kansas City era cadence. One of David’s strengths has been that his talent does not lie in mere mimicracy; he can go beyond quoting, saying only what Prez said. He can uncannily sound just like him but the verbiage is always his own. In bell like tones, Dave Frishberg’s piano bubbles up, happy to be sad.
“Foolin Myself” as done by this trio is taken at a brisker pace than has become the norm. Retta plays brush (drums) which once again serve as an adept dance partner adding a further sonic layer to the piece. The piano has a full sound which results in a sort of stateliness. Once again the whole ensemble shows how some of their power is derived from an overall organicness in how they respond to each other and the songs.
“My Mother’s Eyes” which is a standard now largely fallen by the wayside, has potential to be given an overly maudlin read. Here is it used as a launching point for the ensemble to reiterate how much fun they are having and the resulting interplay. The song features David offering a brief but great woody toned clarinet break sounding like a cheery Mourning Dove singing its song.
“Old Folks” has some strideish piano which has a sprite like aspect due to the bluesy suppleness of execution. On this piece as in a lot of material Retta covers, the lyrics are clever without being overly precocious. The lyrics often make me lament the loss of Tin Pan Alley, which is most likely all condos now. There is a delicate sax solo, an ethereal presence floating through the piece and offering the beauty of fragility.
“ ‘Neath the Purple on the Hills” is country swing draped in a night of the blues. If only we could all feel sad in this way. When Retta sings a piece which leans more towards the country swing side of things one realizes she has perfect diction, a clarion tone and technique; yet always restraint enough to never over gild the lily.
The album clocks in at a little under forty minutes with pristine sound and liner notes by Doug Ramsey.
Although no nostalgia trip, this album offers a glimpse of when populist elements in music could be both entertainment and art. One component of art in all mediums for the audience is the totem of what we make of it while experiencing it, after upon reflecting back too. The album is small but in an intimate way not in scope of power. The artists as heard here make one reflect on fame; wishing it were not so directly tied in with how well an artist is known but in how well they serve their muse. Like the music itself, perhaps these reflections serve as a fitting tribute to a departed artist.

Retta Christie: vocals/brushes
David Evans: clarinet/saxophone
Dave Frishberg: Piano

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