Sunday, November 26, 2017

2 Sem 2017 - Part Eleven

Colin Vallon

By Karl Ackermann

Pianist Colin Vallon seems on the verge of a creative breakthrough with his new trio album Danse. With his third ECM trio release Vallon has cemented a personal approach to his music; it is one that has taken time to unfold much like many of his compositions. In his writing, as well as group interplay, the pianist has made a science of exploring open spaces and filling them with nuanced textures or opting for minimalism.
Vallon's influences include not only the familiar names of Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis and Gyögy Ligeti but pop artists like Thom Yorke (Radiohead) and Björk. Here the pianist reunites with bassist Patrice Moret and drummer Julian Sartorius, both from his all-Swiss group on Le Vent (2015). Moret has been a working colleague for more than a decade and Sartorius had replaced Samuel Roher following Rruga (2014) and other pre-ECM albums.
The eleven compositions on Danse do not so much move the needle forward for Vallon and company as they do further refine the composer's excellent compositions. Having written nine of the eleven tracks on the album he clearly keeps the strengths of Moret and Sartorius in mind. The opening "Sisyphe" is an exquisite piece that demonstrates the perfect synergy between Vallon and Moret. Classical influences are apparent in "Tsunami" even as Sartorius' propulsion creates a tautness and—eventually—alters the motif. The title track offers a more intentionally disjointed relationship between piano and bass surprisingly held together by Sartorius while "L'onde" is more upbeat and pleasantly off-kilter. The drummer's light and musical touch can be best be appreciated on the beautiful "Kid" and that atmosphere bleeds into the brief "Reste." The album closes out with the hypnotic "Morn" and a second variation of "Reste."
Vallon has yet to find a broader and well-deserved audience in the US but that is logically a matter of time with three attention-demanding ECM releases. Much of his music exemplifies tranquility, even in the quirkier numbers, but there is always a restive quality, a tension that holds one's consideration and makes this more than a minimal experience. Danse has moments of unsurpassed beauty, offset by inventive, searching passages that portend the unexpected paths Vallon journeys down.
Track Listing:
Sisyphe; Tsunami; Smile; Danse; L’onde; Oort; Kid; Reste; Tinguely; Morn; Reste (var.).
Colin Vallon: piano; Patrice Moret: double bass; Julian Sartorius: drums.

Yamandu Costa & Alessandro Penezzi

By Jo at Choromusic
Two well known and acclaimed Brazilian guitarists, Yamandú Costa and Alessandro Penezzi have joined forces in recording the shown CD Quebranto that was released by the Biscoito Fino label last month (more info here). The CD has thirteen tracks of amazing guitar duets featuring music composed and/or arranged by the two guitarists. The music reflects different aspects of the Brazilian guitar tradition which are celebrated in the disc. What keeps the project together and generates a successfull disc is the mutual conception of the music and exceptional technical skills applied by both musicians.
According to a published interview with Alessandro Penezzi (- available in Portuguese only, here) the CD has been a long time underway, quote (my English translation): " It was born of a mutual desire that we had to make a record together. About ten years ago, we met at his [Yamandú's] house and began to compose. We recorded some songs in a homemade way. However, only later did we decide to finish the album, putting the idea on paper. I've known Yamandu for a long time, since when I went to live in São Paulo, around 2002. In fact, we became friends, as if we already knew each other.(-) If we add up all the time we have taken to the design and composition of this record, it's years. We started writing it for about three or four years ago, but the idea came before as I said". The collaboration was complicated because of geographical distance between the two guitarists, however, "We solved this a few times with contacts via Skype, WhatsApp, email, and it was like this. When we had a reasonable number of compositions and we needed to rehearse the arrangements, we decided to go to Yamandu's house".
The CD celebrates the Brazilian guitar, its tradition and players - Penezzi puts it this way in the interview, quote "The Brazilian guitar is a character of many faces - from Latin, from Latin blood, from the energy and strength that comes from the Spanish influence, the black guitar, the Creole, the Gaucho ... In fact, there is not an interpreter specifically there [in the music at the disc] , but the soul of the guitar. We seek, by means of sonorous brushstrokes, to give our vision". When asked what are some of the main peculiarities of the Brazilian guitar/violão, Penezzi says there are several "... but I would say the right hand, which is vigorous and has enough of (-) that percussive thing that comes from the Afro root. At the same time, it works hard on polyphony and praises for virtuosity, because of the flameco and Spanish influence. It is a guitar of many peculiarities". The front cover illustration of the CD, which is copied from a graphic work by Stephan Doitschinoff, reflects some of the peculiarities of the right hand technique used by Brazilian guitarists according to Penezzi, quote "There's a gypsy thing about it, which, incidentally, is one of our influences. When we speak of Spanish flamenco music, it includes the gypsy vein, which carries a whole mystical, exoteric baggage." The title of the CD, Quebranto, which also is the title of one of the compositions by Penezzi at the CD, further reflects the gypsy aspect - the word 'quebranto' in gypsy exoteric knowledge points to a spell that casts itself through the gaze to bewitch someone. In a way, this is exactly what happens between musicians when interacting directed by the spirit of the music - it's a spellbinding experience which unites the musician with his or her instrument and at the same time directs the performance and interplay as a unity.
As mentioned, there are thirteen tracks at the CD, five of them contain collaborated compositions by the two guitarists (Capitão do Mato, Chico balanceado, Amigo Bonilha, Valsa Morena and Chaparral), three tracks have pieces composed by Penezzi (É chorando que se aprende, Dayanna and Quebranto), Yamandú also has three self penned pieces (Samba pro Rafa, Bolero negro and Saracoteco) while the two remaining tracks are devoted to a Valsa seresta no. 1 by Sergio Belluco (Penezzi's teacher of the violão) and a collaborate work by Yamandú and his teacher Lucio Yanel entitled Meus gurizinhos. - Yamandú takes a leading role in most of the recorded tunes playing the themes while Penezzi contributes accompaniement but also gets solo spots besides showing off exceptional technical skills like Yamandú. The interplay between the two guitarists is amazing and reveals a mutual responsiveness and shared understanding of the music, which keep the spontaneity and energy of the performance in a direct way that is rare in produced studio recordings. The result is a magnificent production and I highly recommend the CD to anyone with interest in great Brazialian guitar music.

Antonio Meneses & André Mehmari
60 40

By João Marcos Coelho, Especial para o Estado
O escritor cubano Alejo Carpentier, frequentador assíduo das feijoadas semanais no apartamento parisiense de Villa-Lobos na Place St. Michel nos anos 1920, definiu com precisão a natureza da música de seu amigo brasileiro: “Villa-Lobos pensa como palmeira, sem sonhar com pinheiros nórdicos”. E adverte: “Repetimo-nos il pleut dans mon coeur, como o suave poeta, para enganar o incêndio tropical que temos dentro de nós”.
O mágico encontro entre o pianista, compositor e arranjador niteroiense criado em Ribeirão Preto André Mehmari, 40 anos, e o violoncelista pernambucano Antonio Meneses, 60 anos, criado no Rio e hoje um dos grandes músicos clássicos do mundo, assume esse “incêndio tropical” que está no nosso DNA.
São dois músicos extraordinários que comemoram dois aniversários redondos em 2017 - André seus 40 anos, Antonio seus 60 - oferecendo-nos esse CD AM60 AM40, que será lançado pelo Selo Sesc em agosto em apresentações em Ribeirão Preto (dia 17, no Teatro Municipal) e São Paulo (de 18 a 20 no Sesc Vila Mariana).
André assina duas transcrições de Bach e durante as 15 faixas jura que segue a partitura, mas com direito “a ornamentações dentro do estilo!”, esclarece. Suas trajetórias se cruzam em momentos distintos: Antonio, depois de consolidar-se como grande violoncelista clássico na Europa, tem-se voltado para as raízes brasileiras na última década; André vive seu momento mais notável: consolida-se como compositor sinfônico e está cada vez mais fulgurante como pianista improvisador. Grava muito em seu estúdio Monteverdi, na serra da Cantareira, em São Paulo (só este ano já lançou Dorival, em que toca Caymmi em quarteto com Proveta; este AM60 AM40; e Suíte Policarpo, que lança em recital na Flip).
O CD começa e termina com Bach e duas de suas mais conhecidas melodias: o Arioso da cantata BWV 156 e a ária da quarta corda, da suíte para orquestra n.º 3 BWV 1068. Entre um e outra, passeiam por Tom Jobim (antológica performance de Sem Você) e peças mais encorpadas de dois argentinos: a Pampeana n.º 2 de Ginastera; e o Gran Tango, de Piazzolla, dedicado a Rostropovich.
Mehmari é camerístico por natureza. Cresce assustadoramente nesses encontros - como se fosse possível determinar onde é mais superlativo, já que também no piano solo sua arte é hoje magistral. A pimenta do improviso faz a magia do duo, diz ao Estado: “Talvez eu tenha trazido elementos bastante novos para ele, principalmente o fato de eu nunca tocar a mesma peça duas vezes do mesmo jeito. Isso tem a ver com minha natureza de improvisador, algo quase extinto há muito tempo no território da música de concerto”. De seu lado, Antonio diz: “Cantar para mim é a forma máxima da música. Eu sempre tive o sonho de cantar com o violoncelo esse tipo de música”.
O momento mágico desse encontro de gigantes é a Suíte Brasileira, que Antonio encomendou a André. Em 5 movimentos e 15 minutos, leva-nos a uma viagem pelo “incêndio tropical” que temos todos dentro de nós.
O Prelúdio tem centelha e pegada dos célebres prelúdios das suítes para violoncelo de Bach. Ao mesmo tempo, as harmonias virtuais soam monumentais no violoncelo de Antonio, construído pelo lutiê italiano Filippo Fasser, em 2013. André capta, em arpejos e melodias em notas duplas, todas as possibilidades expressivas desse instrumento tão excepcional quanto o músico que o pilota.
O choro-canção é uma das mais belas melodias que André já criou. Mais que villa-lobiana, tem cheiro das rodas de choro dos anos 1910 no Rio de Janeiro. Brasileiríssimo.
O frevo frenético remete às raízes de Antonio e a valsa ao maravilhoso universo dos pianeiros que, desde o final do século 19 e ao longo da primeira metade do século 20 transportaram e reinventaram esse gênero tão vienense às nossas esquinas (impossível não lembrar as valsas de esquina de Mignone, anfíbio genial conhecido nas rodas populares como Chico Bororó). Um sacudido baião encerra em clima de arrasta-pé essa linda Suíte Brasileira, buquê que André Mehmari oferece a Antonio Meneses em seus 60 anos.

Paolo Fresu & Omar Sosa

By Andrew Cartmel
The striking immediacy of the trumpet and flugelhorn playing of Sardinian master Paolo Fresu shows the profound influence of Miles Davis combined with Mediterranean lyricism. His list of associates include Carla Bley, Piero Umiliani, Ralph Towner, and Sheila Jordan. His latest project is a collaboration with pianist Omar Sosa. Cuban-born Sosa relocated to San Francisco and then Barcelona, and has played with the likes of Paquito D’Rivera, John Santos and Trilok Gurtu. Also on board for this CD are the Brazilian cellist Jaques Morelenbaum and Egyptian-Belgian singer Natacha Atlas.
The album opens with a cover version of Massive Attack’s anthem Teardrop. It is slowed down, blissed-out and reconceived as a piece of minimalist and dismantled electronica, with Sosa using electric keyboards, samplers and effects. And Natacha Atlas sings the lyrics in Arabic. The effect is even more hypnotic than the original, and it has the keen advantage of Fresu’s clean, piercing trumpet to guide and emphasise the piece. Sensuousness features a credible replica of Tuvan throat singing and a melancholy exploration of its theme by Fresu.
Zeus’ Desires has a bouncing beat, with blossoming, rolling Fender Rhodes, set against the more angular gradient of the violins — Anton Berovski and Sonia Peana of the Quartetto Alborada. The string quartet continue to enthral on Brezza del Verano, also featuring Nico Ciricugno on viola and Piero Savatori on cello. Omar Sosa scatters notes across the piece but it’s Fresu who keeps moving it forward with his plangent, reverberant, pre-electric Miles style playing. My Soul, My Spirit features Atlas again and is like a secular call to worship, her voice being gently lowered on a cushion created by the string section. La Llamada (‘The Call’) is a slow-paced, pulsing piece shaped by Sosa’s keyboards and effects, with Fresu playing a dreamlike horn, and succinct, otherworldly interjections in the form of sighing, slanting phrases from the strings. What Is Inside / Himeros begins in the same dreamy, delicate vein, but Sosa builds a fierce, echoing pulse, with fleeting telegraph-key Morse-code taps on the keyboards, building up the feeling of electric-era Miles, not least in Fresu’s performance. In the measured, ambient landscape of Who Wu, with Sosa keeping a tic-tac suggestion of a military drum, Fresu comes and goes in a manner reminiscent of summer lightning before the thunder hits, while the sudden jagged violin is like a can opener lifting the lid on your mind. Why is notable for jovial, lyrical sawing strains on the cello by Jaques Morelenbaum.
Forsaking a conventional rhythm section, this is an unusual and curiously effective group, with a distinctive 21st Century sound that creates a uniform mood without repeating itself or losing the interest of the listener. It has a silky surface which makes for “easy” listening, but also a complexity and depth which repays attention. And, incidentally, when the CD appears to be isn’t. After a minute or two of silence there is an extended “ghost track” which features some great playing.
Track Listing: 
Teardrop - Ya Habibi; Sensuousness; Zeus' Desires; Brezza Del Verano; My Soul, My Spirit; La Llamada; What Is Inside; Himeros; Who Wu; Eros Mediterraneo; Fradelo; What Lies Ahead; Why.
Paolo Fresu: trumpet, flugelhorn, multi-effects, percussion; Omar Sosa: acoustic piano, Fender Rhodes, MicroKORG, samplers, multi-effects, percussion, vocals, programming; Natacha Atlas: vocals; Jaques Morelenbaum: cello; Quartetto Alborado - Anton Berovski: violin; Sonia Peana: violin; Nico Ciricugno: viola; Piero Salvatori: cello.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Jon Hendricks (1921-2017)

Jon Hendricks, a jazz singer and songwriter who became famous in the 1950s with the vocal trio Lambert, Hendricks & Ross by putting lyrics to well-known jazz instrumentals and turning them into vocal tours de force, died on Wednesday in Manhattan. He was 96.
His death, in a hospital, was confirmed by his daughter Aria Hendricks.
Although he was a gifted vocal improviser in his own right, Mr. Hendricks was best known for adding words to the improvisations of others.
He took pieces recorded by jazz ensembles like the Count Basie Orchestra and the Horace Silver Quintet and, using their titles as points of departure, created intricate narratives and tongue-in-cheek philosophical treatises that matched both the melody lines and the serpentine contours of the instrumental solos, note for note and inflection for inflection.
Mr. Hendricks did not invent this practice, known as vocalese — most jazz historians credit the singer Eddie Jefferson with that achievement — but he became its best-known and most prolific exponent, and he turned it into a group art.
Lambert, Hendricks & Ross, with Mr. Hendricks as principal lyricist and ebullient onstage between-songs spokesman, introduced the concept of vocalese to a vast audience. Thanks not just to his clever lyrics but also to the group’s tight harmonies, skillful scat singing and polished showmanship, it became one of the biggest jazz success stories of the late 1950s and early ’60s.Jon Hendricks.
The trio’s success extended beyond the jazz world. They appeared in upscale nightclubs and on national television in addition to the traditional round of jazz clubs and festivals. Their 1961 album “High Flying” won a Grammy Award for best performance by a vocal group. At a time when rock ’n’ roll was taking over the airwaves, the group’s good-natured humor and show-business panache helped persuade listeners that jazz could be an entertaining experience rather than a daunting one.
Not everyone was impressed. The critic Martin Williams wrote that Mr. Hendricks’s “trivial” lyrics tended to make jazz seem like “pretty light stuff.” In contrast, his fellow critic Leonard Feather christened Mr. Hendricks “the poet laureate of modern jazz” and said his writing showed “a talent bordering on genius.”
Mr. Hendricks himself shied away from describing himself as a poet, and not all his lyrics hold up well on their own, divorced from the music. But at his best he could put words to improvised solos that captured the musicality of their source material while adding a verbal vitality of their own.
For example, he turned Horace Silver’s piano solo on the medium-tempo blues “Doodlin’ ” into a meditation on the hidden meaning of doodles, with lines like these:
Those weird designs
They only show what’s going on
In weirder minds
’Cause when you doodle, then your noodle’s flyin’ blind.
Every single thing that you write
Just conceivably might
Be a thought that you captured while coppin’ a wink.
Takes you beyond what you see,
Makes you write what you think.
John Carl Hendricks (he dropped the “h” from his first name when he went into show business) was born on Sept. 16, 1921, in Newark, Ohio, near Columbus. His father, Alexander Hendricks, was an A.M.E. Zion minister, and his mother, the former Willie Mae Carrington, led the choir at the church where Mr. Hendricks first sang in public, at age 7.
He began singing professionally seven years later, after moving to Toledo with his parents and his 14 brothers and sisters. He sang on the radio and at a local nightclub, where for two years his accompanist was Art Tatum, then little known outside Ohio but soon to become celebrated as the foremost piano virtuoso in jazz.
Mr. Hendricks became a full-time singer in Detroit after high school and then served overseas in the Army during World War II. He later studied English literature at the University of Toledo and harbored thoughts of attending law school. At night he sang and played drums in a jazz band, and when his G.I. Bill scholarship money ran out, he decided to forget about the law and make music his career.
After moving to New York City in 1952, Mr. Hendricks worked as a clerk-typist and achieved a modicum of success on the side as a songwriter, but found little work as a performer. He was inspired to put lyrics to jazz recordings after he heard King Pleasure’s record of “Moody’s Mood for Love,” based on a James Moody saxophone solo on “I’m in the Mood for Love,” for which Eddie Jefferson had written new words.
“I was mesmerized,” Mr. Hendricks told The New York Times in 1982. “I’d been writing rhythm-and-blues songs, mostly for Louis Jordan. But I thought ‘Moody’s Mood for Love’ was so hip. You didn’t have to stop at 32 bars. You could keep going.”
He began collaborating with his fellow jazz singer Dave Lambert in 1953, and four years later their efforts paid off. “Dave Lambert said, ‘You know, before we starve, we ought to leave something to let people know we were here,’ ” he recalled in a 1996 NPR interview. “I said, ‘O.K., what do you think?’ He said, ‘Well, write some words to some Basie things, and I’ll arrange them, and we’ll sing them. And then if we starve to death, at least they’ll know, “Boy, great artists were here.” ’
Mr. Hendricks proceeded to write words for 10 songs from the Count Basie band’s repertoire, based on the original recordings. Mr. Lambert wrote vocal arrangements. ABC-Paramount Records agreed to turn the concept into an album.
Mr. Hendricks and Mr. Lambert hired a rhythm section to accompany their vocals and a 12-piece choir to simulate the sound of the Basie band’s reed and brass sections. When the choir had trouble mastering the rhythmic nuances of the Basie style, Annie Ross, a British-born jazz singer who had made some vocalese recordings of her own, was brought in to coach it.
Ms. Ross’s efforts to imbue the studio vocalists with the proper jazz feeling proved futile, and they were let go. She ended up singing on the session with Mr. Lambert and Mr. Hendricks; their voices were multitracked, a rarity in those days.
The resulting album, “Sing a Song of Basie” (1958), was a hit. In the wake of its success, the three vocalists decided to make their partnership permanent.
Lambert, Hendricks & Ross went on to record several more albums, including one with the Basie band itself for Roulette and one devoted to the music of Duke Ellington for Columbia. Although vocalese remained the group’s emphasis, its repertoire also included a number of songs for which Mr. Hendricks wrote the music as well as the lyrics, and many of their songs were used as springboards for their own flights of wordless improvisation.
Annie Ross left the group in 1962 and was replaced briefly by Anne Marie Moss and then by Yolande Bavan, with whom Mr. Hendricks and Mr. Lambert recorded three albums for RCA Victor. The trio disbanded in 1964. Dave Lambert died in a highway accident in Connecticut two years later.
Mr. Hendricks moved to London with his family in 1968 but returned to the United States in 1973. For the next two years he wrote jazz reviews for The San Francisco Chronicle and taught classes in jazz history at the University of California, Berkeley, and California State University at Sonoma.
Mr. Hendricks’s stage show “Evolution of the Blues,” in which he traced the history of African-American music in song and verse, opened at the Broadway Theater in San Francisco in 1974 and ran for five years. His focus later shifted to Jon Hendricks and Company, a vocal quartet that carried on the tradition of Lambert, Hendricks & Ross.
His wife, the former Judith Dickstein, who had first sung with him during their years in England, was a member of the group from its inception in the late ’70s and also served as his manager. (His first marriage, to Colleen Moore, ended in divorce.) Over the years its ranks also included Mr. Hendricks’s daughters Michele and Aria and his son Eric, as well as the singer Bobby McFerrin and the actor Avery Brooks.
Mr. Hendricks and Mr. McFerrin shared a Grammy in 1986 for “Another Night in Tunisia,” a track from the Manhattan Transfer album “Vocalese,” for which Mr. Hendricks wrote all the lyrics.
Judith Hendricks died in 2015. In addition to his daughter Aria, Mr. Hendricks is survived by another daughter, Michele Hendricks; a son, Jon Hendricks Jr.; three grandchildren; and a niece, Bonnie Hopkins.
Mr. Hendricks remained active into the 21st century. He taught for many years at his alma mater, the University of Toledo. He was one of the three featured vocalists in the touring ensemble that performed Wynton Marsalis’s jazz oratorio “Blood on the Fields,” which received a Pulitzer Prize in 1997.
He continued to perform occasionally with Jon Hendricks and Company and periodically reunited with Ms. Ross. In 2015 the two of them were among the veteran jazz singers who recorded alongside a vocal group called the Royal Bopsters and performed with the group at Birdland in New York.
In his role as a teacher and a critic, Mr. Hendricks proved that he was adept at dealing with jazz in an analytical way. But he always maintained that words could go only so far in explaining the music’s importance and endurance.
“I wrote the shortest jazz poem ever heard,” he once wrote by way of explaining his philosophy. “Nothin’ about huggin’ or kissin’. One word: ‘Listen.’ ”
Daniel E. Slotnik contributed reporting.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Ben Riley (1933-2017)

By Michael J. West • NOV 18, 2017

Ben Riley, a subtle and versatile jazz drummer best known for his affiliation with Thelonious Monk in the 1960s and Kenny Barron, one of Monk’s pianistic heirs, in all the years since, died on Saturday at Good Samaritan Hospital in West Islip, New York. He was 84.
His death was confirmed by his daughter Kim, who said the cause of death is not yet known.
Riley enjoyed a six-decade career in jazz, playing on more than 300 albums. Along with Monk and Barron, he backed the pianists Andrew Hill and Abdullah Ibrahim, the tenor saxophonists Johnny Griffin and Stan Getz, and many others.
His drumming was noted for understatement, and for a slightly skewed rhythmic conception that could keep the listener off balance. If these seem contradictory, it was perhaps Riley’s greatest gift that he reconciled them.
“I came up in an era of accompaniment,” he told Modern Drummer magazine in 2005. “I enjoy that more than soloing, because each person I’ve worked with has had different attitudes, songs, and styles of playing.” He added: “I never come on a job thinking, ‘I’m going to play this or play that.’ I wait to see what they’re going to do and then fit into that picture.”
In fact, Riley’s love of accompaniment was so pronounced that he recorded only three times as a bandleader, making his name-above-the title debut at age 60, with called Weaver of Dreams, featuring bassist Buster Williams and saxophonist Ralph Moore.
Prior to joining Monk’s band, Riley’s most widely acclaimed work was with tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins, on his 1962 album The Bridge. Riley’s playing on this landmark — Rollins’ first artistic statement since returning from a sabbatical, which he spent practicing almost daily on the Williamsburg Bridge — affirms that sensitivity need not mean the loss of rhythmic oomph.
During Rollins’ solo on “John S.,” he swings hard on his ride cymbal while playing snare-drum accents so softly that they almost sound like brushwork, right up until his solo breaks.
Some of Riley’s more eccentric choices as a drummer were surfacing by the time of his 1960 recordings with Johnny Griffin, but they didn’t come fully to the fore until he joined Monk, a rhythmic eccentric in his own right, in 1964. He made his first appearance on It’s Monk’s Time, having been hired without previously playing or even rehearsing with the band.
But he works with relish and understanding, even on new tunes like “Brake’s Sake.” Riley seems to know instinctively where the accents need to be, hitting them on the head with Monk and saxophonist Charlie Rouse, while slipping in some of his own devices, especially during Rouse’s solo.
Benjamin Alexander Riley, Jr. was born on July 17, 1933 in Savannah, Georgia, and grew up in New York City. Interested in the drums from toddlerhood, he learned from the many musicians who lived or worked near his neighborhood, in the Sugar Hill section of Harlem. His most important early teacher was a little-known drummer named Phil Wright.
But he locked in on a prominent bebop player as his primary influence. “The first time I heard Kenny Clarke… ‘Uh-oh,’ I said, ‘I think that’s it,’” Riley told Ted Panken in 1994. “I love the way he accompanied, and I loved the subtleties that he brought to the table.”
Riley’s early career, after his discharge from the Army in the mid-1950s, found him accompanying Getz, pianist Randy Weston and saxophonist Sonny Stitt. He recorded with Griffin and another rough-edged saxophonist, Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis.
Riley’s association with Barron began in the 1970s and continued for decades, including lengthy collaborations first in bassist Ron Carter’s quartet, and then in the Monk tribute band Sphere. Their musical relationship was deeply empathic: on this 1978 recording with Buster Williams, hear how Riley anticipates almost every space and shift in tempo or dynamics in Barron’s solo.
In addition to his daughter Kim, Riley is survived by his wife, Inez Riley; another daughter, Gina; two sons, Corey and Jason Riley; nine grandchildren; 17 great-grandchildren; and one great-great-grandchild.
Riley’s final years were spent in a nursing home. According to his daughter, he was still making music. “There was another musician in there with him, and every week my father would play with him,” Kim said. “He didn’t have drums, but he would beat on the table, or chairs, or whatever. Playing all the way to the end.”

Sunday, November 12, 2017

2 Sem 2017 - Part Ten

Antonio Adolfo

By Raul da Gama
A marvelous disc this is. Absolutely marvelous. Antonio Adolfo and his music have been congenial bedfellows and the Brazilian’s pianism and his music are compelling on many different levels. There is a sense of sharing the sheer sensuous thrill of Mr. Adolfo’s keyboard writing. This is particularly evident in the more virile movements such as the fierce and brilliant “SamboJazz” that nestles in the centre of this disc. But that is not to say that brilliance does not exemplify the other material on Tema, an enigmatic name for this disc. Common to all is a sense of being fleet, but never breathless, with time enough for textures to tell.
At every turn you get a sense of Antonio Adolfo flexing his compositional muscles in this music that goes back almost fifty-five years. There is a sense of Mr. Adolfo demonstrating just how much variety could be built around a tema of melodies. In Antonio Adolfo’s hands the music occupies its own world of mood and rhythmic delight. This music is also fashioned in Mr. Adolfo’s unique way with counterpoint that is at once strong-jawed and supple. We are always aware of the music’s subject , for instance, as it peeks through the texture in different registers or reappears stood on its head, yet is never exaggerated as is sometimes the tendency with less imaginative musicians.
And how Mr. Adolfo can dance at least at his keyboard – in “SamboJazz”, as it is urged into life through subtle dynamics, voicings, articulation and judicious ornamentation. A very different kind of dance reveals itself in “Sao Paulo Express” a Paulista musical vignette in which he takes a more impish view than many, the sonorous drone effect contrasting delightfully with the tripping upper lines. The way he (and his guitarists Leo Amuedo and Claudio Spiewak) has considered the touch and dynamic of every phrase means that these readings constantly impress with fresh details each time you hear them. This is a classic illustration of the exceptional genius of Antonio Adolfo, as a pianist, composer, arranger and guide of the musicians who have given everything of themselves to follow him.
Even the most unassuming numbers such as “Todo Dia” gain a sense of intrigue as he invites the musicians of the ensemble to re-examine this from every angle, again bringing multifarious shadings to the music. And it all flows effortlessly though a journey might have been anything but that. Highlights abound: in the murmuring “Trem da Serra” the pianist’s reactivity leaves other Brasilians – including some guitarists – sounding a touch unsubtle, which is really saying something. This is followed by one of the most extraordinary of pieces on the disc, “Melos”. While many musicians would revel in echoing harmonies expressed in a piece such as this, Mr. Adolfo draws you daringly into his own world. This whispered intimacy extends into his insertion of an ornamented version of “Variations on a Tema Triste” which proves to be a masterclass in ornamentation, yet never overburdening the melodic lines. Fittingly there are long meditative silences as the piece fades.
You can be in no doubt of the thought that has gone into this enterprise from Mr. Adolfo’s ordering of tema which he explains in his brief liner notes to their devolution into the songs themselves. At every turn he harnesses the possibilities of the piano in the service of his music. The result is a clear labour of love , and one in which he shines new light on older music to mesmerising effect, all of which is captured by a warmly sympathetic recording.
Track List: 
Alegria For All; Natureza; Phrygia Brasileira; SamboJazz; Alem Mares; Sao Paulo Express; Todo Dia; Trem da Serra; Melos; Variations on a Tema Triste.
Antonio Adolfo: piano and electric piano (4); Marcelo Martins: flute, alto flute (2) and soprano saxophone; Leo Amuedo: electric guitar; Claudio Spiewak: acoustic guitar and electric bass; Jorge Helder: double bass; Rafael Barata: drums and percussion; Armando Marçal: percussion; Hugo Sandim: additional Samba percussion.

Laszlo Gardony
Serious Play

By Dan Bilawsky
The beauty of personal expression may be the greatest and most effective balm to soothe our hearts in troubled times. That's the message that pianist Laszlo Gardony gifts us with Serious Play.
Following the approach used on Clarity (Sunnyside, 2013), Gardony delves deep into his own subconscious in real time to create a statement that's both comforting and weighty in tone. The bulk of the material presented herein was spontaneously composed, giving Gardony a chance to allow the moment to guide him, and it all resonates with a deep and profound sense of understanding.
Rather than simply come in with a set of tunes, Gardony sat at the piano, asked renowned recording engineer Paul Wickliffe to keep the tape rolling, and let his perceptive mind and hands do the rest. The album starts and ends on familiar notes, with a soulful and hopeful "Georgia On My Mind" ushering us in and an incredibly moving "Over The Rainbow seeing us out. In between, save for a lengthy excursion through John Coltrane's "Naima" that takes flight off of a "Giant Steps" runway, Gardony offers us his own expository creations. There's the title track, merging his harmonic language with the posture and energy of McCoy Tyner; a starry-eyed glance in miniature, taking its post as "Watchful Through The Night"; a gathering call dubbed "Folk At Heart," speaking to resilience and strength in community; and a dynamic dance in the form of "Truth To Power," simultaneously speaking to salvation and doomsday.
In less than forty minutes, Gardony manages to cycle through a series of thoughts and emotional truths that catalog what we're all experiencing in different ways. It's a statement that's both sobering and heartening in its unfolding.
Track Listing: 
Georgie On My Mind; Naima; Serious Play; Night Light; Forward Motion; Watchful Through The Night; Folk At Heart; Truth To Power; Reverberations; Over The Rainbow.
Personnel: Laszlo Gardony: piano.

Christian McBride Big Band
Bringin' It 

By Matt Collar
Christian McBride's second big-band album, 2017's Bringin' It, is a robust, swaggeringly performed set of originals and standards showcasing his deft arranging skills and his ensemble's exuberant virtuosity. The album comes six years after his previous big-band outing, The Good Feeling, and once again finds the bassist conscripting a slew of his talented cohorts (some new, others returning), including saxophonists Steve Wilson and Ron Blake, trumpeters Freddie Hendrix and Brandon Lee, trombonist Steve Davis, pianist Xavier Davis, drummer Quincy Phillips, and others. Together, they make a swinging, dynamic sound that brings to mind the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra of the 1960s and bassist Charles Mingus' various big-band recordings. It should be noted that both of those ensembles continue to live on as the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra and Mingus Big Band, and McBride's group matches their high artistic legacies. This is partly due to his own virtuosic skill and anchoring presence throughout all of Bringin' It, and is true whether he is laying down a thick, groove-based funk pattern, as on the opening "Gettin' to It," or providing the steady footing for saxophonist Wilson's guttural, bluesy introduction on "Used 'Ta Could." That said, while he certainly takes his share of solos on Bringin' It, McBride's focus as an arranger is clearly trained on providing his bandmates with a solid framework for their own improvisational talents. Fat-toned trumpeter Freddie Hendrix is particularly showcased, launching skyward out of blast of brassy fire on "Gettin' to It" and skillfully surfing the band's angular harmonic waves on Freddie Hubbard's "Thermo." Similarly, pianist Davis emerges from the band's theatrical skronks and ersatz animal noises on McCoy Tyner's "Sahara" with a titanic roil of thickly chorded notes like a ship on a boiling sea. Elsewhere, McBride reveals his more urbane inclinations, showcasing vocalist Melissa Walker on the sparkling bossa nova number "Upside Down" and his sprightly take on Jerry Jeff Walker's "Mr. Bojangles," while "I Thought About You" and "In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning" are both sweeping, gorgeously arranged ballads. With Bringin' It, McBride has ultimately crafted a big-band album that retains all of his own formidable, exuberant characteristics.
Track Listing: 
Getin' To It; Thermo; Youthful Bliss; I Thought About You; Sahara; Upside Down; Full House; Mr. Bojangles; Used ' Ta; Could; In The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning.
Christian McBride: bass; Steve Wilson: alto saxophone, soprano saxophone, flute; Todd Bashore: alto saxophone, flute, piccolo; Ron Blake: tenor saxophone, flute; Dan Pratt: tenor saxophone, flute; Carl Maraghi: baritone saxophone, bass clarinet; Frank Greene: trumpet; Freddie Hendrix: trumpet; Brandon Lee: trumpet; Nabate Isles: trumpet; Steve Davis: trombone (11); Michael Dease: trombone; Joe McDonough: trombone (1-10); James Burton: trombone; Douglas Purviance: bass trombone; Xavier Davis: piano; Quincy Phillips: drums; Rodney Jones: guitar; Melissa Walker: vocals (6, 8); Brandee Younger: harp (10).

John Beasley
Monk'estra Vol.2

By MackAvenue
The Grammy nominated volume one won plaudits for its inventive and successful attempt to redefine Monk’s compositions for the twenty-first century in a big band setting, and incorporating a variety of styles not normally associated with Monk. Volume two carries on the pioneering work and does a fine job of re-reading the Monkbook so to speak. Thelonius Monk recorded sparingly in a larger ensemble format and his best known album in this milieu is the 1959 Town Hall album, while a live performance from 1963 was captured at a New York Philharmonic Hall concert.
What impressed this writer was how well researched Beasley has been in listening to previous attempts to interpret Monk and taking from these disparate sources. There is for example a nod to a late 1950’s Steve Lacy tribute to Monk on ‘Played Twice’, with soprano saxophone soloing from Bob Sheppard.
Contemporary funk and rap feature on the opener, ‘Brake’s Sake’, with trumpeter Dontae Winslow then reverting to a rap commentary on Monk, and this clearly indicates that Monk is relevant to a younger audience. An Ellington-inspired big band reading of Monk is illustrated on various pieces, but no better than on ‘Light Blue’, which has a strong 1950’s feel with Beasley this time operating on organ and a fine tenor saxophone solo that is not indicated on the otherwise fine discographical notes.
Guest musicians contribute to the bigger picture with violinist Regina Carter excellent on ‘Crepuscule with Nellie’, which is a a gentle mid-tempo take on the original with contemporary flavours. For some welcome vocal input, singer Dianne Reeves contributes, ‘Dear Ruby’, with a lengthy intro that includes leader Beasley on piano. This writer would like to hear more of John Beasley the soloist on a separate project, but on other pieces he does stretch out on occasion.
One minor disappointment is the muted contribution of Kamasi Washington whose fast-paced soloing on ‘Evidence’ backed by unison reeds, has precious little to distinguish itself and sounds muffled. In contrast, percussionist and bata soloist drummer Pedrito Martinez graces a Latin jazz take on ‘Criss Cross’, and this is, perhaps, a nod on Beasley’s part to the wonderful Jerry Gonzalez and the Fort Apaché Band album ‘Rumba Para Monk’, that is richly deserving of a second follow up album project. Inner sleeve notes by jazz journalist Neil Tesser place the project in a wider context.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

2 Sem 2017 - Part Nine

Diana Krall
Turn Up The Quiet

By Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Diana Krall spent the better part of the 2010s exploring byways of American song -- her 2012 set Glad Rag Doll drew heavily on obscure jazz from the 1920s and '30s, its 2015 sequel Wallflower concentrated on pop and rock tunes -- but 2017's Turn Up the Quiet finds the pianist/singer returning to well-known standards from the Great American Songbook. Reuniting with producer Tommy LiPuma for the first time since 2009's bossa nova-inspired Quiet Nights, Krall works with a trio of lineups on Turn Up the Quiet, alternating between a trio, quartet, and quintet. The album isn't divided into triads but rather gently shifts between these bands, a move that's sometimes imperceptible because the focus is firmly on Krall, the pianist. Her voice often operates at a hushed whisper -- a decision that suits this collection of romantic, dreamy material; it also underscores the importance of the record's title -- and that emphasizes her lithe piano along with the solo spotlights from her featured musicians. Krall gives her three bands plenty of space to shine -- fiddler Stuart Duncan, in particular, stuns with his solo on "I'll See You in My Dreams," but there are nice turns from guitarists Russell Malone, Anthony Wilson, and Marc Ribot, along with supple playing by bassists Christian McBride, Tony Garnier, and Anthony Wilson -- but what impresses is how these ensembles are all united in spirit and attitude, all thanks to their leader. Krall has a definite vision for Turn Up the Quiet -- she wants to keep things smoky and subdued, a record for the wee hours -- and the end result is so elegant, it seems effortless.

Bill Charlap Trio
Uptown Downtown

By George W. Harris
It’s a photo finish as to whether the title of The Most Tasteful Jazz Trio belongs to Kenny Barron or Bill Charlap. This latest album by Charlap’s team of Kenny Washington/dr and Peter Washington/b sure make a good argument for the trophy.
Charlap is in gorgeously lyrical form, and the Washington’s supply deft support whether the jump right in for the fun “Bon Ami” or wait until the last moment before gliding down the staircase for a reflective “Sophisticated Lady.” The mix of soft brushes, patient bass pulse and warm catcher’s mitt hands make for deft handling of pieces like “Spring Can Hang You Up the Most” and “There’s A Small Hotel.” Like all great cooks, Charlap trusts the basic ingredients of the materials, never feeling a need to add too much spice to kill the basic taste. Excellent!

Joshua Redman & Brad Mehldau

By Doug Collette 
Brilliant musicians don't always make brilliant music when they collaborate and while that's sometimes been the case with pianist Brad Mehldau and saxophonist Joshua Redman, on the duo concert recordings that make up the appropriately-titled Nearness, they live up to their elevated pedigree. And that's individual as well as shared cachet: Mehldau spent a fair amount of time, some eighteen months to be exact, as a member of Redman's groups in the early Nineties and they formally collaborated on Highway Rider (Nonesuch, 2009).
In fact, the two musicians' time together in the same performing unit acts as a catalyst to their well-grounded musical education and their prodigious technical expertise on Charlie Parker's "Ornithology" and the Mehldau original "Old West (one of the three he and his partner contribute to the six here)." The intricacy of their instrumental involvement(s), in particular each man's ability to anticipate the other as they improvise, remains as fluid and authoritative as when they are actually rendering the changes of "The Nearness of Yo u:" in its near seventeen minutes,this tune of Hoagy Carmichael's receives the deepest exploration of (both implied and stated) rhythmic and melodic nuance on the album.
Within these poised yet freewheeling interactions, there is never a sense other musicians are missing as might otherwise appear in a larger ensemble i,e., a rhythm section or perhaps a guitarist. Both Redman and Mehldau have that experience to draw upon, the former in his groove-oriented projects Elastic (Warner Bros., 2002) and Momentum(Nonesuch, 2005) and the latter in his studio and live collaborations with guitarist/composer extraordinaire Pat Metheny, so they're fully acquainted with how to play in larger lineups, but this also preps them for smaller more intimate setting such as the one captured on Nearness.
Such knowledge of the dichotomy also guides the pianist and saxophonist in knowing what to leave out when they play, whether it's embroidering upon the structure of "Always August" or in the call and response they judiciously partake in during these recordings. Weaving around each other and spiraling up, down and around within Thelonious Monk's "In Walked Bud" only makes the denouement of in their resolution together all that much sweeter when it arrives.
All of which speaks to the expertise of the musicianship on display during Nearness, but overlooks a comparable expertise on the production front exhibited by Joshua Redman and Brad Mehldau. Working with performances from July and November of 2011, the discerning ears of recordist and mixer Paul Boothe as well as mastering engineer Greg Calbi insure the maintenance of a sonic quality as sharp as the chemistry of the two artists whose names appear in top billing on the CD package, the black and white design of which belies the multi-colored dynamics of the music enclosed.
Track Listing: 
Ornithology; Always August; In Walked Bud; Melancholy Mode; The Nearness of You; Old West.
Joshua Redman: tenor and soprano saxophones; Brad Mehldau: piano.

Antonio Adolfo
Tropical Infinito

By Raul da Gama

That Antonio Adolfo should be paying homage to the Jazz side of his music should come as no surprise. Like that great Cuban piano master Frank Emilio Flynn, Adolfo’s pianism shows a strong Jazz influence. But more than the fact that he has imbibed the cadence of Jazz it is these arrangements that are so special on Tropical Infinito. They tell of the uniqueness of Adolfo’s genius, which is his ability to tell stories as if he has written them. Few pianists could pounce on these pieces with such joyful momentum. Try Benny Golson’s ‘Killer Joe’ for size. No less intensity marks both meditative lyricism and the agitated outbursts of Horace Silver’s ‘Song for My Father’. Adolfo’s one-beat-to-the-bar treatment of All The Things You Are’ take wing, abetted by clear dynamic and well-shaped imitative writing.
Antonio Adolfo is a prodigiously talented pianist and one of Brasil’s great pedagogues. These are important factors in his life as a musician. It has kept his music fresh and energetic; yet at the same time there is erudition to his pianism that enables him to imbue his music with a profundity that often escapes musicians younger than him. His superb articulation (in Oliver Nelson’s ‘Stolen Moments’ of the central ‘andante’s detached chords and cross-rhythmic accentuation underlines his version of the chart to some of the finest ever played. In fact, throughout the CD he delights with a feast of fine playing excellently recorded (by Roger Freret) and his focus on the music never wavers.
I’ve long had a soft spot for Antonio Adolfo’s playing. Every record he makes sets a new benchmark on the last recording. It is not just the nobility and imperiousness of his playing, or of these works, or the different narrative tones he is able to bring to each of the songs in question. But he has the phrasing of a great singer captured in moments of incredible emotion. Listen to ‘Whisper Not’ and you’ll see what I mean. It is a rare intégrale in which every work is as technically successful and musically convincing as all its companions. But this is certainly the record when Antonio Adolfo proves that to be true. Moreover all of these tunes evoke a glorious world of Jazz at its most compelling. For that we must praise Antonio Adolfo and his terrific ensemble for an extraordinary performance.
Track List: 
Killer Joe; Whisper Not; Cascavel; Yolanda, Yolanda; Stolen Moments; Song for My Father; Partido Leve; All The Things You Are; Luar Da Bahia.
Antonio Adolfo: piano and arrangements; Jessé Sadoc: trumpet and flugelhorn (4, 7, 8, 9); Marcelo Martins: tenor saxophone and soprano saxophone (4, 9); Serginho Trombone: trombone; Leo Amuedo: electric guitar; Jorge Helder: double bass; Rafael Barata: drums, percussion; André Siqueira: percussion. Special Guest: Claudio Spiewak: acoustic guitar (1, 3, 8).

Sunday, November 05, 2017

Bill Evans - Another Time: The Hilversum Concert

By Fred Kaplan
Resonance Records is emerging as the most vital jazz reissue house around—or, rather, not "reissue," for the music they put out has never been issued before: the producer Zev Feldman (or someone who contacts him) has found it in an unexamined vault, back room, or collectors' cove. The material is top-flight, the sound very good to excellent, and he often releases the albums on CD and LP. So far he has delivered some of the best albums ever by Larry Young, Sarah Vaughan, Shirley Horn, and the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra, but Feldman holds a special regard for Bill Evans.
The final few years of Evans, who died in 1980 at age 51 of complications from drug addiction and other ailments, have been preserved entirely by posthumous discoveries: The Paris Concert (Elektra Musician), The Last Waltz and (Milestone), Turn Out the Stars (Nonesuch)—without these sunset gems, all live sessions, we'd think that Evans faded out with a string of dreary studio albums, some of them with electric piano. (For a sad but fascinating documentary of Evans' life and music, including many rare films clips, see Bruce Siegel's Time Remembered.)
Resonance is now filling in some blanks from Evans' middle years, the late 1960s, for which there's also a paucity of albums, or at least of very good ones. The best of the new stack is the latest, Another Time, recorded before a live audience in the studio of Netherlands Radio Union in Hilversum, outside Amsterdam, on June 22, 1968. Until this release, no one ever knew the tapes of this performance existed.
It is also one of just three albums featuring his trio with Eddie Gomez on bass and Jack DeJohnette on drums—the others being The Montreux Concert (which was released by Verve at the time) and another Resonance discovery, put out two years ago, Some Other Time: The Lost Session in the Black Forest. The Hiversum set was the climax of the trio's three sessions we now know of—recorded two days after Some Other Time, five days after Montreux.
The Montreux Concert is widely considered one of Evans' best albums; some place it just behind his wondrous back-to-back 1961 sessions, Waltz for Debby and Sunday Afternoon at the Village Vanguard. I would put Another Time on the same level as Montreux, and the sound quality is nearly as good.
The Gomez-DeJohnette trio was by far his best since the '61 band with bassist Scott LaFaro and drummer Paul Motian, which was disrupted when LaFaro, 10 days after the Vanguard sets, died in a car accident, a tragedy from which Evans never quite recovered. (The '68 trio didn't last long either: soon after these sets, DeJohnette was recruited by Miles Davis; Gomez stayed on, but the subsequent drummers weren't quite as polyrhythmically sublime.) Evans himself, who'd dipped deeper into addiction after that event, is in fine form: elegiac, romantic, lyrical—all the adjectives usually attached to his pianism, but there's also a buoyancy and sometimes a fervent swing that his name doesn't so commonly evoke. And it's a joyous fervency, not the cocaine-fueled frenzy one hears on some of his last albums (eg, his 1980 Vanguard set, Turn Out the Stars).
Evans' most energetic albums seem to be the live ones. Some Other Time, the Resonance album recorded in a Black Forest studio, though mainly quite good, has passages of rote playing.
The sound quality on Another Time, the Hilversum concert (the similarity in titles is unfortunate), is superb on CD and better still on LP, unmatched by any other Evans albums except for Montreux and the better Riversides. Many years ago, the long-lamented Classic Records released an excellent limited-edition 45rpm remastering of Montreux, which sounded better than the original pressing; someone should think about a re-release.
Meanwhile, there's this, and Feldman tells me there are more excavated treasures to come.
Read more at:
Track Listing: 
You're Gonna Hear from Me; Very Early; Who Can I Turn To?; Alfie; Embraceable You; Emily; Nardis; Turn Out the Stars; Five.
Bill Evans: piano; Eddie Gomez: bass; Jack DeJohnette: drums.

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Muhal Richard Abrams (1930 - 2017)

By Howard Reich Contact Reporter Chicago Tribune
In 1965, Chicago pianist Muhal Richard Abrams and colleagues formed an organization that would change the course of jazz and much more.
The Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians dramatically redefined how individuals and ensembles could compose and improvise their works, and how they could take control of their own performances and recordings.
Abrams was integral to those achievements and influenced generations as composer, teacher, organizer and scholar. He died Sunday evening in his New York home with his wife, Peggy Abrams, and daughter, Richarda Abrams, at his side, they said. Muhal Richard Abrams, who was born in Chicago and launched his career here, was 87.
In co-founding the AACM, “He was able to create a community of artists who all respected each other, all shared the responsibility of playing with each other and all actually taught each other,” said Wadada Leo Smith, an early AACM member whose “Ten Freedom Summers” was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 2013.
“Muhal spent his life in service to us, his fellow musicians, composers and the world,” said George Lewis, a MacArthur Fellowship winner and author of the definitive study “A Power Stronger Than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music.”
“He was a great teacher, but he also taught us to teach ourselves and to teach other people. … Now all four of the (AACM) founders have passed away, and we are on our own,” added Lewis, referring to AACM co-founders Abrams, drummer Steve McCall, multi-instrumentalist Kelan Phil Cohran and pianist Jodie Christian. (Recording secretary Sandra Lashley also signed the AACM’s articles of incorporation on May 8, 1965.)
Abrams attended DuSable and Wendell Phillips high schools and took classes at Roosevelt University and Governors State University, but he considered himself a mostly self-taught musician.
“He used to come to the Roosevelt sessions,” remembered Joe Segal, who organized jazz performances at the school starting in 1947.
“He was one of many very fine pianists. He was straight-ahead,” added Segal, meaning that Abrams was playing in the bebop manner of the day.
“In fact, I have some cuts of him playing. If I didn’t tell you who it was, you’d never guess.”
Abrams’ keyboard prowess won him engagements accompanying major figures who played Chicago, including Max Roach, Kenny Dorham, Hank Mobley, Ray Nance and Sonny Stitt.
But by the late 1950s and early ’60s, the jazz landscape in Chicago was imploding because of changing musical tastes, the rise of rock ’n’ roll, disappearing clubs and urban renewal.
Unwilling to give up on music even as opportunities for work were evaporating, Abrams in 1962 formed the Experimental Band, inviting fellow free thinkers to expand stylistic and expressive boundaries. Staffed by such rising figures as saxophonist Fred Anderson, woodwinds masters Joseph Jarman and Roscoe Mitchell, and drummers McCall and Jack DeJohnette, the Experimental Band drew inspiration from Sun Ra’s Arkestra and set the stage for the emergence of the AACM in 1965.
“Not only did Muhal cultivate this community, but we were able to practice a discipline that the world has never seen from a musical organization,” said trumpeter-composer Smith.
“During those times we never received a single grant, never had any deep pockets from private donors. We walked the streets, posted signs, made mimeographed announcements.”
Within a few years, the AACM was gaining fame and admiration in Europe and beyond, thanks to the travels of the Art Ensemble of Chicago and Anthony Braxton’s trio. Early AACM bands such as Cohran’s Artistic Heritage Ensemble and units led by Abrams, Christian, Jarman and Mitchell opened up new sonic possibilities. Freewheeling ensemble interplay, ancient and invented instruments, age-old New Orleans musical traditions, unabashed dissonance and Afro-centric musical rituals were behind the AACM’s motto: “Great Black Music: Ancient to the Future.”
“We had no idea the AACM would catch on as it did,” Abrams said in a 1990 Tribune interview. “We certainly didn’t establish it to be some kind of important institution.
“We weren’t looking for notoriety, or anything. If we had, it probably wouldn’t have turned out that way.
“We simply were turning to each other for support, and that was all it took. The resources were within us.”
In the late 1960s, Abrams also emerged as a co-founder of the nonprofit Jazz Institute of Chicago, which to this day programs the Chicago Jazz Festival and organizes educational events across the city.
“He came to the meetings, though he wouldn’t let us put his name on as a board member … but he was very much part of it,” said Harriet Choice, a co-founder of the organization and a former Tribune jazz critic.
Abrams also was involved in planning the massive Grant Park jazz concerts of the mid-1970s that led to the creation of the Chicago Jazz Festival, in 1979.
By 1977, Abrams had moved to New York, establishing a chapter of the AACM there and developing into one of the most uncategorizable composer-pianists of the late 20th century. Jazz, classical, blues, avant-garde, folkloric and other musical languages coursed through his work — some meticulously composed, some invented spontaneously at the piano.
“He was a student of esoteric knowledge,” said Lewis. “He went far beyond the standards of academically acceptable modes of thinking and of knowledge production and transmission.
“He was a tireless inventor, constantly searching for new information — voracious appetite and curiosity and love of learning.”
Abrams’ enormously wide view of music was unmistakable when he sat down at the piano, unfurling an epic sweep of sound and ideas. Strands of melody and harmony intertwined, orchestral splashes of color emerged from his fingertips, shades of Alban Berg and Claude Debussy met up with jazz riffs and blue-note figurations. It all attested to Abrams’ vast knowledge of the breadth of Western and non-Western music.
“Muhal, in his later years as a pianist, he had this sort of hypertranscendental mode of performance,” observed Lewis.
“It was meditative, and it was long-form, and it built up very slowly over time — the emotional fervor of it. And you just had to go with it. It was unpredictable, but it wasn’t dictatorial.”
Meaning that his music welcomed anyone open to its far-flung influences.
Abrams was widely recognized for his achievements. He was the first winner of the Danish JAZZPAR Award, in 1990; won a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters Fellowship, the United States’ highest jazz honor, in 2010; and received an honorary doctoral degree from Columbia University in 2012.
And he never stopped championing bold new ideas in music, leading a new version of Muhal Richard Abrams’ Experimental Band at the Chicago Jazz Festival in Millennium Park in 2015, to celebrate the AACM’s 50th anniversary.
“The major issue is still reaching the public,” he said in the 1990 Tribune interview, on the eve of the AACM’s silver anniversary.
“Many musics have been exposed to the public over the past 25 years, so the situation is a little different, but not very much.
“In a way, it’s the same as when we began.”
Memorials for Abrams are being planned for Chicago and New York.