Category Archives: Uncategorized

Charlie Haden & Brad Melhdau Long Ago and Far Away (Impulse!)

It starts with a few irreverent tickles. Just three minutes into Bird’s “Au Privave,” Brad Mehldau gives his muse the green light, messes around with a spray of notes, and we’re off into a chatty conversation where blithe trills are grounded by buoyant thumps – meaning informality has just as much bearing on this entertaining exchange as decorum does. Perhaps that’s somewhat predictable. Impulse!’s previous Haden duet discs (with Jim Hall and Gonzalo Rubalcaba, respectively) make hay with a parallel dynamic. One of the bassist’s strengths was splitting the diff between the formidable and the folksy, and as these six performances from a 2007 German show illustrate, Mehldau has little problem turning to his colloquial side when the mood strikes.

The cozy context gives the pianist’s whimsy more wiggle room than usual. Though the book is ballad-heavy and the tempos measured, both participants skip through a handful of passages with a mischievous air. Mehldau’s right hand dodges opaque excursions and lets lighthearted flurries carry the day on “What’ll I Do.” Because the musicians decide on a bouncy gait for “Long Ago and Far Away,” it too is a romp that trusts mercurial solos to control its temperament.

Both artists love a moody digression, however, and “My Love and I” turns bluesy and brooding while still dropping a string of surprises. The pianist’s urbane essence is no longer on the back burner, and the duo’s pulsing interplay renders yet another bit of sage advice: caprice is an ally, dismiss it at your peril.


JazzTimes Reviews


Superette Review – JazzTimes

Chipping away at musty genres and sculpting the scraps to suit a recombinant vision has been a jazz strategy for decades now, but occasionally, a record comes along that nails the art of the blend with enough inspiration to sound truly novel. Should’ve figured that Chris Lightcap would be one guy who could pull it off. The bassist is an ace sideman, bringing smarts to every band he works with; he’s also the deft leader of Bigmouth, a two-reeds-’n’-rhythm outfit that spent the last 15 years exposing how attractive a blend of counterpoint and consonance can be. Superette (the name of the band as well as the album) is a two-guitar-and-rhythm affair, and like its predecessor, its inclusive purview syncs past and present with pop and jazz. The resultant mélange is wildly entertaining.

With Superette, Lightcap uses surf rock as a very pliable base, but adds dollops of prog, funk, math rock, and other intricate string lingos, including the glistening swirl of African outfits. The detailed interplay between guitarists Curtis Hasselbring and Jonathan Goldberger is simultaneously tight and loose; drummer Dan Rieser works closely with the bassist/leader, bringing a lilt to even the densest passages. Echoes and references fly by without belaboring their individual import—fleeting images from the window of a fast-moving train.

The Surfaris’ “Wipe Out” provides the DNA for “Ace of Spades,” and guest Nels Cline rides its gallop into the stratosphere. John Medeski’s insightful organ antics decorate a handful of tracks as well. But the core group rocks this stuff with a bar band’s informal aplomb. Whether it’s a nod to John McLaughlin’s raunchy strums from Miles’ “Right Off” on “Frozen Bread” or the wistful dreamscape of an overlooked Skip Spence nugget, the program comes off as both foreign and familiar. Call it vivid twangadelica with a grin on its face.

JazzTimes album reviews


Rudy Royston Flatbed Buggy (Greenleaf)

Fierce drummers who lift the bandstand with a blend of poise and push are some of jazz’s most exciting improvisers. Catch Brian Blade when he’s in full expressionistic mode and the thrilling moments are innumerable. For the last several years, Rudy Royston has been one of these percussionists, an esteemed traps maestro whose sense of swing is marked by a catholic slant; he has a million ways to accent the action, and his playing – as repped by sideman work with JD Allen, Bill Frisell and Dave Douglas among others – arrives with a joyous oomph that often supercharges the music at hand. But again like Blade, his compositional interests are broad, and when leading his own ensembles, the stormy attack of a hard-hit snare and splashy ride cymbal isn’t the only story he has to tell.

Flatbed Buggy illustrates just how expansive Royston’s scope is these days. By stressing variety and dodging routine jazz tacks, the middle-aged whirlwind signals listeners that he’s a risk-taker who’s ready to follow his muse down uncommon roads. This is his third album as a leader, as well as the third distinct ensemble he’s presented to us. When you design a front line of bass clarinet (John Ellis) and accordion (Gary Versace) and build your string section with both bass (Joe Martin) and cello (Hank Roberts), you’re banking on relatively unique blends to carry the day. In Team Royston’s case, this set-up, which the Greenleaf promo materials deem “chamber-like,” is utterly refreshing.

Though the drummer grew up in Denver, he enjoyed visits with his father back in his native Texas. This new music harks to the childhood days he’d spend enjoying the pleasures of rural escapades. Mildly sentimental, often cinematic, the program boasts a willful sense of grace that sustains itself even when the momentum starts to truly percolate. After a series of serene reflections, “The Roadside” and “The Runner” arrive all hopped up on pulse, but they too have an inner calm that adds dimension to their emotional scope.

Royston has said that addressing parts of the classical repertoire in school goosed his imagination when it comes to crafting unusual hues in his own work. A handful of pieces bookend this thought. “boy…MAN” stresses melodic morphing over trad improvisation (the title references time passing), and its dark mix of strings and reeds offers an orchestral flair. Likewise, the eerie drama that wafts through the start of “girl…WOMAN” is one of album’s most fetching moods. The band’s cozy approach to interplay is spot-on, harking to the pastoral beauty of natural settings with the kind of poetry Frisell brought to his Big Sur project. For Royston, Flatbed Buggy is a trip to the country that opens up several new vistas.


Royston Review

Greenleaf Music

So Long Henry Butler – (Le) Poisson Rouge Monday Night

Some say it’s blues, others deem it jazz, but when you’re discussing the piano music of N’awlins, you’d best just call it the piano music of N’awlins – its rich recipe is too idiosyncratic to be generalized. I guess always knew that, but catching the last string of Henry Butler gigs at Bar LunAtico in Bed-Stuy a couple years ago drove it home anew. Small club, vibrant improviser, broad palette, grand vision, steady goosebumps – HB was one of those dudes who takes a basic lingo and bends it whichever way he chooses, making it a little more expressive in the process. Long story short, his virtuosity could be thrilling. An definite all-in-performer, especially when playing alone. His death this past July created a massive void, and a sizable squad of associates and admirers take the Le Poisson Rouge stage Monday night to celebrate his work and revel in his spirit. Steven Bernstein, Davell Crawford, Amy Helm, Richard Julian, Arturo O’Farrill, Raul Midon, Tom McDermott, John Medeski, Paul Shaffer, and members of his Hot 9 and Jambalaya outfits are prepped to knock the place around a bit, just like Butler would do if he was taking the stage. Watch out for the whomp! in the air when Bernstein gets rolling with the 9’ers. His farewell to his old partner is sure to be slapping the swing around a bit. You know how these things go: unannounced specials guests are likely to  slip onto the bill at the last minute. Gonna be a party.
Monday, October 29
158 Bleeker Street

Fay Victor’s SoundNoiseFUNK Wet Robots

It’s nice to review a record when you’ve caught the band in action a time or two. Last January in New York, vocalist Fay Victor’s latest group fried some minds at the Winter Jazzfest stage with its memorable blend of abstraction, delicacy and impulse. While streaming Wet Robots these last few weeks, it was hard not to envision the quartet at work. Their music, which is built on the fanciful judiciousness of free improv and secured by the expertise of experience, can be both frantic and nuanced, and the way it milks the advantages of both on their debut is vivid, vivid, vivid.

Victor’s band-building skills helped the ensemble attain this achievement. SoundNoiseFUNK is wise balance of personalities, comprised of guitarist Joe Morris, saxophonist Sam Newsome and drummer Reggie Nicholson; along with the leader, each is insightful when it comes to addressing the rigors of free music. The result is a level of coherence that might turn the heads of those who’ve previously been doubtful of freedom’s attractions. Packing a wallop, Wet Robots is a program of thoughtful  particulars. Morris’ lines brocade the action, occasionally fulfilling a bassist’s role. Newsome’s intrepid nature is equaled by his savvy, generating a stream of bonding ploys. Nicholson’s use of chatter and pummel is shrewd – a forever buoyant spectrum of sound.

But it’s Victor’s acrobatics that mesmerize. Unabashed when it comes to sound creation, you can hear the passion in every syllable she utters, whether manic or modest. With echoes of Lauren Newton and Meredith Monk in the air, the singer builds a web of personalized pieces that boasts exuberance, with each warble, shriek and roar crafting a ferocious identity. Informed by blues and politics, their cagey deployment is downright entrancing, especially when bolstered by this kind of collective clout.

Buy It at BandCamp


DownBeat Digital

10 Great Steve Earle Quotes For the Rhythm & Roots Fest Show

I like to hear Steve Earle sing just fine, but I really like to hear him talk. The man behind “Guitar Town,” “Copperhead Road” and “Galway Girl” is headlining the three-day-long Rhythm & Roots Festival at Charlestown, RI’s Ninnigret Park on Friday night, and for the last few mornings I’ve been scrolling Earle interviews while riding the bus to work in Brooklyn. Pithy, witty, earnest, occasionally wise – the 63-year-old singer is a thoughtful gent whose on-stage exposition can be just as entertaining as his interview responses. Below you’ll find 10 quick bites that stuck with me this week.

Earle’s band the Dukes doesn’t pull any punches when they kick their country-rock into action; they knock you around a bit. Last year’s So You Wannabe an Outlaw has just as much snarl as his best work, and the Waylon and Willie covers mix well with the Earle originals. So save some energy for the Friday closer at Ninigret; it’s the 30th anniversary of Copperhead Road album and the Dukes have been roaring through its program. The Rhythm & Roots curators saved the best for last.


I’m a firm believer that rock & roll only becomes an art form because of the lyrics. If it hadn’t been for Bob Dylan wanting to be John Lennon and John Lennon wanting to be Bob Dylan, it wouldn’t have been cranked up to the level of literature that makes it OK for rock & roll to be taken seriously.  – Rolling Stone

I know one way [Willie Nelson] heard about me was his, like, grandniece heard him playing the version of ‘The Devil’s Right Hand’ by the Highwaymen when she about five or something. And he played the whole record for relatives some place and she said, ‘I don’t know. I like it better by the real guy.’ So, around then, Willie would occasionally refer to me as ‘the fucking real guy.’ – PopMatters

I like sitting where I want to in the movies, and when you go to the theater at the last minute you can get a really good seat if you’re looking for a single. If I go to a baseball game I can stay for the whole thing. Being single in New York City doesn’t suck. I’m lonely sometimes, but I’m on the road half the time and that’s pretty lonely anyway. – The Guardian

I couldn’t have made this record [‘So You Wannabe an Outlaw’] if I hadn’t have made all the records I made between ‘Guitar Town’ (Earle’s 1987 debut album) and this one. I joked when somebody earlier asked me what this record was before I actually made it and I said it might have been the record I might have made if (label executive) Jimmy Bowen hadn’t pissed me off after ‘Guitar Town.’ It was funny, but the deal is that all the stuff that I’ve done, I don’t have a single record that I’m not proud of or any musical wave that I’ve ever made that I regret. –

I have the complete works of William Shakespeare on my phone but I also have all of the Harry Potter books. I think J.K. Rowling will be remembered. She is the (Charles) Dickens of our era. –

I’m OK with “folk singer.” Rock ‘n’ roll is folk music, and so is hip-hop. When a couple of kids get a piece of digital gear they don’t really understand, and throw the fucking manual away and just start pushing buttons, that’s the same thing as an NYU student with a banjo in 1957. It’s just doing it yourself, making music for yourself. – Billboard

To tell you the truth, for my own output, what I’m interested in are old-fashioned musicals, where the play holds up and each and every one of the songs holds up on their own, when you take them out of their environment. It’s starting to happen again. “Dear Evan Hansen” is really good and that’s pretty inspiring. I loved “Hamilton,” which I saw three times, (it’s) everything that it’s cracked up to be. But it’s still an opera and not a book musical. I’m just fascinated with book musicals because it’s an American art form. We kind of invented it. – theplanetweekly

I’m still writing the political record, but I’m going to hold it and keep writing it because I want it to be exactly right, and not come out until late 2019/2020 so it bumps up right against the election cycle. – City Pages

I think “Blowing in the Wind,” is way up there [as far as political songs go]. It’s an overt anti-war statement right as we were getting into the Vietnam War. When we were just getting into it, some people were just figuring it out what Vietnam was.. The Peter, Paul and Mary version, which I thought was the coolest things because I love Peter, Paul and Mary records. They’re not watered down or anything, they’re just their versions of those songs and they prove that he was important, that he was important as a songwriter. His manager knew that and his manager knew that you have a copyright that’s why he was able to make a living even though he wasn’t selling that many records. – The Nation

The best stuff coming out of Nashville is all by women except for Chris Stapleton. He’s great. The guys just wanna sing about getting fucked up. They’re just doing hip-hop for people who are afraid of black people. I like the new Kendrick Lamar record, so I’ll just listen to that. – The Guardian

Full Rhythm & Roots Line-Up

Check Earle’s track on Marc Ribot’s upcoming Songs of Resistance 1942-2018


Shamie Royston Beautiful Liar (Sunnyside)

On the front cover of 2012’s ‘Portraits,’ Shamie Royston peers through a sheer curtain, as if watching an event from afar. Kinda makes sense. The skilled pianist is recognized as an educator as much as she is a bandleader. A Colorado native who enjoyed regional acclaim on the Denver scene before moving East as her opportunities (as well as those of her husband Rudy Royston) broadened, her name recognition isn’t commensurate with her broad range of skills. That might change. ‘Beautiful Liar”s liner photo finds her front and center, ready for her close-up, and the music itself parallels that stance. Mainstream post-bop with thoughtful interaction and a deep sense of poise, it swings hard and breathes easy.

An indication of her quintet’s confidence marks the aptly titled “Push.” The group’s volition is front and center, with the rhythm section igniting audacious solos from trumpeter Josh Evans, saxophonist Jaleel Shaw, and the pianist herself. Like the best moments by Wynton Marsalis’s early fivesome, it’s a parade of pithy broadcasts with a devotion to standard structural templates and consummate legibility – a fierce mix when done right. Similar aggression marks “Dissimulate,” except the groove on the latter boasts a more jovial vibe, with hints of horn polyphony frothing above a wisely punctuated bottom.

A yin/yang POV boosts the program’s breadth. Turns out Royston waxes soothing as convincingly as she throws punches.  There’s a spirited calm to the design of “Precious Lullaby,” a pastoral vibe to the cascading horn lines of ‘Uplifted Heart” and a balm to the band’s update of Bill Withers’ “Lovely Day.” There’s a bit of church in her soul stance as well, and those bluesy intimations, along with a dash of simmering fervor, boosts her ballad game. Whether waxing gentle or stormy, bassist Yasushi Nakamura and drummer Royston shift gears with a supple coordination that gives the leader’s pieces the oomph they deserve to have a shot at becoming memorable.


Whitehead on Beautiful Liar