soundtracks for our times

The last few weeks have been difficult because of the problems still created by COVID 19 around the globe and of course the ongoing discussion and demonstration against racism. The restrictions because of the pandemic are easing off in most of Asia and Europe already, but in some cases it seems that economic reasons are stronger than being careful and patient … in the Americas the situation is terrible with over 3 million infected just between the US and Brazil! This will only be under control once there is a working vaccine – so, please be careful and stay safe!

It was good to see that the global reactions to racism in the US, and most other countries around the world, has been strong with millions of people demonstrating peacefully (violence and looting have nothing to do with protest against racism and peaceful marches send a much stronger message to the ones who always know how to deal with violence, but are more afraid of silent and peaceful protests), but this can only be one step and the next ones need to happen as well during elections, with pressure on governments about policing the police and overall gun control. There is no place in modern society for any kind of injustice and oppression, be it by race, gender, religion, sexual orientation or whatever else!

Each time, each period in our lives has its soundtrack … here I want to suggest one album each for above mentioned events we are encountering right now, plus a few other new releases:

Heroes Are Gang Leaders / Artificial Happiness Button – Winners of the 2018 American Book Award for Oral Literature, Heroes Are Gang Leaders was co-founded by saxophonist James Brandon Lewis and Poet Thomas Sayers Ellis. Their goal is to combine valid and socially relevant poetry with music and so integrate the two forms of expression into one original form. As the press text correctly states: “Artificial Happiness Button is unflinching in its ability to take on such topics as the built-in earthly ceiling of human joy, the truth tug of war that occurs in personal relationships, the addictive effects of bottled racism in literature and the American South, mechanised widespread programmed hurt and the deadly electronic net of one-hive info sharing. This new offering from Heroes Are Gang Leaders is a timely and prophetic tour de force aimed at giving back all the false aspects of the globe (and local globalism) while rescuing the real ones.” Beside James Brandon Lewis and Thomas Sayers Ellis the album features Devin Brahja Waldman, Alto Sax / Brandon Moses, Guitar  / Heru Shabaka-ra, Trumpet / Jamie Branch, Trumpet / Melanie Dyer, Viola / Devin Brahja Waldman, Synthesizer / Luke Stewart, Bass, Vocals, Wood Blocks / William Parker, Upright Bass / Janice Lowe, Keyboards, Flute, Vocals  / Warren “Trae” Crudup, Drums, Cocoapods / Savannah Grace Harris, Drums / Margaret Morris, Vocals / Randall Horton, Vocals / Nettie Chickering, Vocals / No Land, Vocals / Cecilia Vicuna, Voice / Crystal Good,  Jenna Camille, Samantha Riott, Vocals and features poems by Thomas Ellis Sayers, Crystal Good, Randall Horton and No Land. Essential listening, not only for now … a timeless album that reminds me a bit of the Watts Prophets and their work with trumpeter Don Cherry (just check out the track ‘It’s The End Of The Babysitting Of Traumatized Grown Ass Men’). Impressive!

Brad Mehldau / Suite April 2020 – This simply outstanding solo piano recording features 15 tracks, 12 are featured in the ‘Suite April 2020’ and the last three are covers of Neil Young’s ‘Don’t Let It Bring You Down’, Billy Joel’s ‘New York State Of Mind’ and Jerome Kern’s ‘Look for a Silver Lining’. As Mehldau says, “Suite: April 2020 is a musical snapshot of life the last month in the world in which we’ve all found ourselves. In ‘keeping distance,’ for example, I traced the experience of two people social distancing, represented by the left and right hand—how they are unnaturally drawn apart, yet remain linked in some unexplainable, and perhaps illuminating way. I’ve pointed to some of the strong feelings that have arisen the past month or more: ‘remembering before all this’ expresses a bittersweet gut-pain that has hit me several times out of the blue, when I think back on how things were even just a few months ago, and how long ago and far away that seems now”. The emotions are perfectly reflected in the music, giving the listener moments of recognition and by that true emotional connection with the various pieces. I am sure that this is an album that will stand the test of time and will be one of the great solo piano recordings of our time. Sublime!! A 180-gram deluxe vinyl edition, out now and available for $100 exclusively from the Nonesuch Store, Bandcamp, and Discogs, is limited to 1,000 numbered units, signed by Mehldau; a minimum of $90 from each sale will be donated to the Jazz Foundation of America’s COVID-19 Musician’s Emergency Fund (after distribution fees). A portion of the proceeds from the digital album, out now, and the standard albums, due September 18, also goes to the fund.

Esperanza Spalding & Fred Hersch / Live At The Village Vanguard, Rough Mix EP – a thankfully recorded wonderful meeting of two of the masters of our times – Spalding on vocals and Hersch on piano are making these 5 songs to an intimate music affair. Spalding is not often heard interpreting standards, but her take on ‘But Not for Me’ is deeply musical and witty when commenting in the song on the lyrics … and she gets philosophical when getting into the meaning of the lyrics of ‘Girl Talk’ … like personal chatting with friends … always with Hersch’s piano supporting her perfectly. Hersch’s “Dream of Monk” has been in the program of the duo’s sets since the beginning. ‘Some Other Time’ is a beautiful Sammy Cahn/Jule Styne song, touchingly performed. Egberto Gismonti’s ‘Loro’ closes the set with a sparkle. “Playing with Fred feels like we’re in a sandbox,” Spalding says. “He takes his devotion to the music as serious as life and death, but once we start playing, it’s just fun. “I don’t think anybody’s heard Esperanza sing like this,” Hersch says, returning the compliments. “She’s fearless and is one of the smartest people I know.”  The EP will be offered exclusively for download through Bandcamp, with all proceeds benefitting the Jazz Foundation of America’s Covid 19 Musicians’ Emergency Fund. Released May 29th, the scintillating performance will be available only through the month of June for a minimum of $17, with additional donations encouraged on a pay-what-you-wish basis.  Go for it … it’s for a good cause and worth more than the asked price ….

Ferdinando Romano / Totem – the new album by Italian bass player and composer Romano is a beautiful exercise in music and sound. Perfectly performing the compositions of their leader are Tommaso Iacoviello on flugelhorn, Simone Alessandrini on alto & soprano sax, Nazareno Caputo on vibraphone & marimba, Manuel Magrini on piano, Giovanni Paolo Liguori on drums and special guest Ralph Alessi on trumpet, giving 6 of the 8 tracks his trademark sound. Says writer Federico Fini, who saw the band perform live: “Totem is a narration in music of the monolith made of memories, convictions and roots around which we dance all our life”. Outstanding the two-part suite ‘Sea crossing’, in which interesting compositional techniques and improvisation change and keep the track going at the same time. A strong statement from a musician we will hear hopefully more from in the future. Worth checking out!

Kathleen Grace with Larry Goldings / Tie Me To You – Vocalist and song writer Grace’s fifth album is her most intimate and personal recording yet, coming after a period of reflection and re-discovery. Touching originals, standards and covers of songs by Georges Moustaki, Son House and the Beatles make up an album of deep felt emotions shared via music. Larry Goldings put his magic touch on the songs and by deciding to leave out drums on the record, created a relaxed atmosphere and maintained the focus overall on the voice. Outstanding between a selection of jewels for me are: her  slow version of ‘The Thrill Is Gone’, Moustaki’s ‘Berceuse’, the Grace / Goldings original ‘Tie Me To You’, the standards ‘Where Or When’ and ‘Love For Sale’ and her very own ‘Everywhere’. This is a great album of amazing tunes, carried by the personality and voice of Grace and Goldings vision for her music – jazz at the base and whatever a song needed added to that. Stunning!!!!

Dave Bryant / Night Visitors – the former keyboarder, pianist of Ornette Coleman’s Prime Time group delivers with ‘Night Visitors’ an album in the tradition of Coleman’s compositional and improvisational methodology, Harmolodics. Bassist Charnett Moffett, who as well performed with Coleman, and multi-percussionist Gregg Bendian join forces with Bryant on this powerful and energetic recording. With the exception of the Ornette Coleman track ‘Dee Dee’, written for jazz photographer Dee Kalea, all music on the album was composed by Bryant and the three musicians improvise amazingly, adding influences from other music styles as rock, blues and beyond into the performances. The very effective use of electronics enhances the compositions and creates diverse colours, like on “Three Night Visitors”, a three-part suite that combines improvisation with composed parts. Very original and a great tribute to the music of Coleman, taking his concepts forward. Adventurous and a pleasure to listen to!

Convergence / Convergence – Swiss drummer Florian Arbenz (of VEIN fame) introduces with ‘Convergence’ a new band project featuring Jorge Vistel on trumpet, Maikel Vistel on sax, Nelson Veras on guitar, Jim Hart on vibes and Rafael Jerjen on bass. This multi-cultural group of musicians, coming from Cuba, Brazil, Australia, the UK, and Switzerland, perform on their debut album the music of Arbenz and the Vistel brothers – modern, grooving jazz with exemplary soloing and some sophisticated writing. Complex rhythms and beautiful little melodies make this album a joy to listen to. Great ensemble play and outstanding communication between the musicians are making this a record that I can highly recommend.  Top Tracks – ‘Little Idea’, ‘Fast Lane’ and ‘Strong Steps’.

Dekel Bor / Let Love Rule – This is Bor’s first new music since the 2007 album ‘(The Long Way) Home’, as he had to recover from a motorcycle accident that nearly took his life. Hard work and a love for life brought him back into the studio to record ‘Let Love Rule’, produced by Robert Sadin and so telling his story. Dekel Bor has a wonderful and clear sound on his instruments, and chooses between acoustic and electric guitar depending on what each song needs and plays on the highest level. His band for the recording consisted of Daniel Ashkenazy on bass, Nitzan Birnbaum on drums and Aviv Peck on vocals. Bor’s modern compositions transport the message of love and positive thinking perfectly, the musicians giving these statements sound, colour, and emotions in a touching way. A return that should be welcomed by media and listeners around the world. Love it!!!

Songs Of Tales / Life Is A Gong Show – Songs of Tales is a group of 4 Canadian musicians and ‘Life Is A Gong Show’ is their debut recording. Jesse Zubot on violin, bass, synths, congas, Petr Cancura on saxophones and keyboards, Jean Martin on drums, electronics, vibraphone and Gordon Grdina on oud, guitars, bass have created a melange of various inspirations, ranging from Mingus to Ornette Coleman and some free elements and the end result is exciting and fresh and for sure worth checking out, From the eleven compositions on the album 10 are by members of the group leaving as the only standard ‘Moanin’ by Mingus – and a very cool take of this composition this is!!! ‘Life Is A Gong Show’ is all about variety and surprises, but it is as well a captivating and remarkable debut.

Sojoy + Stu Dias / Ambistellar – Drummer Jonny Peiffer’s modern jazz septet Sojoy joins forces with singer and songwriter Stu Dias on this new album and they as well are responsible for all music and lyrics on the album. There are so much musical influences and references here, but without losing track of the essence of the stunning compositions – sounding sometimes like a straight jazz ensemble, then like a funk band or a small ensemble supporting the vocalist. Stunning arrangements, the overall playing and the vocal performances (and lyrics) are outstanding. The cast on the recording was Eric Klaxton, Nick Mainella, Matt Langley on saxes and clarinet, Zach Lange o trumpet, Josh Gagnon on trombone and Scott Kiefner on bass. If you are looking for something a bit different but engaging and worth listening to – then go for ‘Ambistellar’!!


Ben Sidran / The Ballad of Tommy LiPuma – Pianist, keyboarder, writer, and producer Ben Sidran tells the story of Tommy Lipuma, one of the most successful music producers of the last 50 years. From Tommy’s childhood to the Grammy awards he received; this book is a lovingly told story of a man who made it in music. Sidran gives all the facts but tells them from the perspective of a friend and therefore gives them emotions and a human touch. As someone who had the pleasure to work with Tommy LiPuma when he was running Verve Records and beyond, I can say that the portrait of the man I know turned out exactly as I would have wished and recounted. Not wanting to give anything away, this is a book of stories with artists and managers etc. included and it has a great human being at its centre. Sidran found the essence of LiPuma in his recordings because Tommy was always all about the music. A must!

Al Schmitt with Maureen Droney/ Al Schmitt on the Record: The Magic Behind the Music – Sound engineer and producer Schmitt interestingly worked a lot with Tommy LiPuma and had been on his side when many of LiPuma’s greatest successes were recorded. Schmitt’s book tells some of these stories and others about his work in the studio with known and unknown acts, but first of all it is a study of how he works, how he sets up the studio for a recording. A more technical approach in terms of how to set up the right microphones, get the best sound out of a studio … but nevertheless interesting and captivating. A must read for every upcoming sound engineer, but as well for the general music interested reader.

2 responses to “soundtracks for our times

  1. Pingback: REVIEW: Dave Bryant "Night Visitors" Reviewed on Wulf's Music + Blog - LYDIALIEBMAN.COM

  2. Pingback: ARTICLES, REVIEWS, AUDIO – Heroes Are Gang Leaders Music

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