Sunday, May 20, 2018

Jack Reilly ( 1932 - 2018 )

By Lynn René Bayley
Jazz pianist, educator and sometime classical composer Jack Reilly, who died this past Friday at the age of 86, was one of my oldest friends who I never met in person. Back in 1989, I started my own homemade music ‘zine devoted strictly to classical music and jazz, a forerunner of this blog. These were the early days of desktop publishing; I used a program called “Publish It!” which set up a three-column-per-page layout, used a hand-held scanner for pictures that converted good-looking photos into poor, grainy images to insert (in some instances I just did a cut-and-paste from the Schwann Catalog because it looked better), had copies made at the local Kinko’s, staple-bound each issue by hand and then sealed the binding with some sort of liquid elastic. It looked homemade and I never had more than 40 subscribers, but I kept it going for three years before I called it quits.
Jack sent me a copy of his early, home-bound copies of his “Species Blues” books (later professionally published by Hal Leonard) to review, but because I was so busy with the current issue I explained to him that I wanted to hold off on reviewing it until I had a chance to properly digest it. For some reason, he assumed I didn’t understand what he was talking about and so told me NOT to review it because I was too stupid. Well, that just ticked me off. I don’t claim to be competent at bookkeeping or building a ham radio, but if there’s one thing I do know, it’s music, so I delved into the three-book series and wrote a very positive and detailed review and sent it to him. He was awed by my analysis of his work, and from that moment on, we became friends.
But for whatever reason, Jack still decided to play me for a fool. He called me on the phone but said his name was Sean Petrahn, an Italian-Jewish jazz critic, and wanted to write reviews for my magazine. I was delighted to have him, even though I already had Ralph Berton and jazz trumpeter Jack Walrath as reviewers in the jazz field (I never was able to get any known names for classical reviews except for Terry Teachout, who I had met a decade earlier at the Aspen Music Festival). Jack/Sean wrote some very fine reviews for my ‘zine, but he kept playing me. He had his wife, Carol Lian, call me on the phone pretending to be Steve Allen’s secretary and asking me how she could get in touch with Sean because Steve wanted him on his TV show. Once I stopped publishing, he admitted the charade and we became real friends.
He was always supportive of me and I of him. I wrote good reviews of his CDs, which were not plentiful, and just couldn’t understand why this superb jazz musician wasn’t as well known as his early friend and colleague, Bill Evans, whose work his resembled in many ways. When he decided to release his series of spontaneous improvisations on the Aleister Crowley deck of tarot cards, “Tzu-Jan: The Sound of the Tarot,” he asked me to write the liner notes, for which he paid me. It was very welcome money, though not a large stipend. The funny thing was, once past his Sean Petrahn phase, we rarely talked on the phone in the intervening years, but we kept in touch via email almost up to the end.
Reilly’s work was consistently interesting. He didn’t lay into technique nearly as much as other jazz pianists, and perhaps this is what held back his popularity. People love flash in jazz pianists, and this Reilly would not do. His music was meaty and well-developed, one of his best works being the “La-No-Tib Suite,” which is Bitonal spelled backwards. He recorded a jazz version of the suite while his wife Carol, a fine classical pianist who also invented her own improvisations, recorded a classical version of it. He continued to send me his CDs to review, some of which appeared in Fanfare, as well as his Hal Leonard copies of Species Blues, The Harmony of Bill Evans and his last book, The Harmony of Dave Brubeck. Reilly’s musical analyses were detailed to a T and always extremely interesting. The Hal Leonard books also included CDs of him playing examples of various chord positions so that musicians could hear what he was writing about. In both books, while respecting the original works, Reilly included reharmonizations of their music in his own style.
When reviewing The Harmony of Dave Brubeck, I mentioned that during Brubeck’s active career many jazz critics lambasted him for his “pretentious” and “heavy-handed” playing style, which I never agreed with (I was a Brubeck fan from the moment Time Out first appeared in the early 1960s). Indeed, some critics even went so far as to approach alto saxist Paul Desmond and ask him why he didn’t just leave the quartet and go out on his own. Reilly was gracious enough to pass my comments on to Iola Brubeck, who wrote me back and commented that it was just the mindset of the time. I still have her email saved in my archive. He was also responsible for giving me Sheila Jordan’s email address, which led to my published interview of her.
Jack’s wacky sense of humor continued to the very end as well. I still have the hysterically funny meme he sent me of President Donald Trump, showing one of his signed executive orders. Over the real executive order, Jack had photoshopped an image directing all jazz musicians to learn to play bebop heads in all 12 keys…beginning with Charlie Parker’s Donna Lee. I knew he had been a cancer survivor, back in the early 2000s, but seemed to be in fairly good health until his final days.
In short, Jack Reilly was a wonderful musician and a loyal if somewhat quirky friend. He continued to send me links to jazz videos and great audio clips he had found online, and I did the same, once locating a late-1950s TV clip of the late George Russell leading a band which included Tony Scott on clarinet and Bill Evans on piano playing some of his pieces. Jack couldn’t thank me enough for that one. We also agreed that the late Clare Fischer, though recognized for his composing skills, was one of the most underrated jazz pianists of his time, and he gushed about the brilliance of the late Hall Overton as well. Reilly also sent me recordings of some of his classical compositions, which although they were well written I found a bit thick in texture and not altogether appealing, but by that time he had come to respect my musical judgment and so wasn’t really offended. I praised his jazz to the very end.
If you haven’t discovered Jack Reilly, and are a jazz fan, you need to search him out on YouTube and also collect some of his records. He was a superb artist whose work, like Mark Murphy’s, flew under the radar.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

1 Sem 2018 - Part Twelve

Seth MacFarlane
No One Ever Tells You

By Christopher Loudon
Four years ago, primetime animation kingpin Seth MacFarlane put his ardor for the Great American Songbook to the test, uniting with arranger and conductor Joel McNeely to record the breezy Music Is Better Than Words. The polished collection of Tin Pan Alley chestnuts and obscurities netted him a Grammy nomination.
MacFarlane and McNeely subsequently reunited for a platter of Christmas tunes. Though the press materials for this third teaming make no mention that the disc’s arrival coincides with Sinatra’s centenary, the timing can’t be accidental. The blueprint for these 17 tracks is clearly those mid-to-late-’50s classics-Only the Lonely, No One Cares, In the Wee Small Hours-that explored the somber flipside of Sinatra’s ring-a-ding-ding frivolity.
Backed by a wall of brass and a sea of strings, MacFarlane again succeeds admirably-as does McNeely, whose charts estimably echo Nelson Riddle and Gordon Jenkins. While he lacks Sinatra’s raw emotional wallop and more closely mirrors the mellow warmth of Dean Martin, he is no poseur. There’s plenty here from the Sinatra canon (including the title track, a last-minute addition to 1957’s otherwise upbeat A Swingin’ Affair! ). But there’s also ample room for MacFarlane to exercise his archaeological skills, digging up such gems as Cole Porter’s storm-clouded “Goodbye Little Dream Goodbye,” Henry Mancini and Carole Bayer Sager’s sweetly forlorn “Don’t Call It Love” (from the film 10) and, from Camelot, Lerner and Loewe’s wishful “Before I Gaze at You Again.”

Stacey Kent
I Know I Dream: The Orchestral Sessions 

By Dan Bilawsky
Stacey Kent has practically done it all over the past twenty years, selling north of two million albums, putting her gorgeously delicate stamp on standards, introducing fresh tunes into the canon, racking up awards, and bringing her flawless voice to fans in more than fifty countries. But one thing she hadn't done prior to this point is record an album with an orchestra. Cross that one off the list now and bathe your ears in this spellbinding music.
With I Know I Dream, Kent's voice receives a warm embrace from a sizeable orchestra containing nearly sixty musicians. But rather than force her to play up to sweeping peaks or grandiose ideals, the strings and winds manage to magnify the warmth and confidential tone endemic to Kent's work. Somehow, this influx of sounds leads to an even further dimming of the lights and sharpening of the emotional intent. It's intoxicating understatement at its finest.
Kent's sensitivity, grace, and multilingual savoir faire all contribute to this pleasure cruise. She serves as an expert tour guide through songs of love, moments of nostalgic reflection, and expressions of joy. Her voice can act as a ray of sunshine or a consoling hand, but above all it serves as a mirror for the heart.
Pieces like "Bullet Train," powered by a contemporary polish and groove, and "Make It Up," with a perky Brazilian flavor, both serve as aural pick-me-ups; forays into French—sly-turned-direct during Serge Gainsbourg's "Les Amours Perdues," emotionally gripping on Léo Ferré's "Avec Le Temps"—leave singular memories hanging in the mist; and scaled back settings like "I Know I Dream," where voice and piano commune with the moment before a stunningly gauzy orchestral draping is drawn around Kent, leave you breathless. Few singers can work their way into a lyric like this.
These arrangements—most by Tommy Laurence, a few involving Jim Tomlinson's hand with or without a partner—fit Kent like a glove, playing to her quiet strengths. The material is first-rate, with Jobim gems and French tearjerkers sharing space with appealing songs Tomlinson co-wrote with (either) Cliff Goldmacher, Kazuo Ishiguro, or Antonio Ladeira. And the musicians, of course, deserve high marks in working to the parameters of the Stacey Kent aesthetic. While this is but one more jewel in a discography with many, it's one that deserves singling out for its luster.
Track Listing: 
Double Rainbow; Photograph; Les Amours Perdues; Bullet Train; To Say Goodbye; Make It Up; Avec Le Temps; I Know I Dream; La Rue Madureira; Mais Uma Vez; That’s All; The Changing Lights.
Stacey Kent: vocals; Jim Tomlinson: saxophones, alto flute, percussion; Graham Harvey: piano, Fender Rhodes, keyboard; John Paricelli: guitars; Jeremy Brown: double bass; Joshua Morrison: drums; Curtis Schwartz: electric bass (4); Erika Matsuo: station announcement (4); Martin Burgess: violin; Amanda Smith: violin; George Salter: violin; Katie Stillman: violin; Lorraine McAslan: violin; John Mills: violin; Andrew Storey: violin; Richard Milone: violin; Paul Wiley: violin; Rob Bishop: violin; Jenny Godson: violin; Catherine Morgan: violin; Matthew Ward: violin; Jeremy Morris: violin; Clare Hayes: violin; Richard Blayden: violin; Richard George: violin; Alison Dods: violin; Susan Briscoe: violin; Takane Funatsu: violin; Fiona Bonds: viola; James Boyd: viola; Ian Rathbone: viola; Nick Barr: viola; Chian Lim: viola; Reiad Chibah: viola; Martin Loveday: cello; Nick Cooper: cello; Will Schofield: cello; Judith Herbert: cello; Juliet Welchman: cello; Julia Graham: cello; Vicky Matthews: cello; Chris Laurence: bass; Richard Pryce: bass; Lucy Shaw: bass; Eliza Marshall: flute; Sarah Newbold: flute; Patricia Moynihan: flute; Siobhan Grealy: flute; Holly Cook: flute; Jamie Talbot: clarinet, alto flute; Time Lines: clarinet; Tom Lessels: bass clarinet; Steve Morris: contrabass clarinet; John Thurgood: French horn; Corinne Bailey: French horn; Joanna Hensel: French horn; Andy Sutton: French horn; Sue Blair: harp; Adrian Bending: vibraphone, percussion.

Van Morrison and Joey DeFrancesco
You're Driving Me Crazy

By C. Michael Bailey
Van Morrison has been busy, releasing three recordings in quick succession, Roll With the Punches (Exile, 2017), Versatile (Exile, 2017), and presently You're Driving Me Crazy with jazz organist Joey DeFrancesco. At this point in his career, Morrison can pretty well sing what he damn well pleases. On his past several recordings, Morrison has revisited his catalog, recasting some of his older songs in new frames and You're Driving Me Crazyproves no exception. Revisited here are "The Way Young Lovers Do" from Astral Weeks(Warner Bros, 1968), "All Saints Day" from Hymns to the Silence (Polydor, 1991), "Close Enough for Jazz" from Born to Sing: No Plan B (Blue Note, 2012).
The presence of Joey DeFrancesco must be noted for the refinement and aplomb he brings to Morrison's beautiful "Magic Time," infusing the piece with an easy-listening grace. The pair breath a gently-swinging life into Morrison's "Have I Told You Lately" (from Avalon Sunset (Mercury, 1989)), while recasting Inarticulate Speech of the Heart's "Celtic Swing" as a breezy romp featuring Morrison's alto saxophone and Dan Wilson's electric guitar. The pair lay down the blues on Morrison's "Goldfish Bowl" from What's Wrong with this Picture (Blue Note, 2003). It would not be fair to DeFrancesco to label this as a "Van Morrison" recording, but it is that. What DeFrancesco brings to the table is the integrating feature of his exceptional musicianship and swing. The two click best on the old war-horses: "Travelin' Light" and "Every Day I have the Blues" where their music making is effortless. And that is what we have become accustomed to from Morrison, music too easily made and enjoyed. It is not often that nature smiles so generously upon us, but it has done so in Van Morrison.
Track Listing: 
Miss Otis Regrets; Hold It Right There; All Saints Day; The Way Young Lovers Do; The Things I used to Do; Travelin’ Light; Close Enough for Jazz; Goldfish Bowl; Evening Shadows; Magic Time; You’re Driving Me Crazy; Every Day I have the Blues; Have I Told You Lately; Sticks and Stones; Celtic Swing.
Van Morrison: vocals, saxophones; Joey DeFrancesco: Hammond organ, trumpet; Dan Wilson: guitar; Michael Ode: drums; Troy Roberts: saxophone.

Joey Alexander

By Geannine Reid
Pianist Joey Alexander knows how and when to strike the ivories. At the age of 14 he has already recorded two GRAMMY-nominated studio albums, My Favorite Things (Motema Music, 2015) and Countdown (Motema Music, 2016). Late in 2017, Alexander released Joey.Monk.Live! (Motema Music), a critically acclaimed surprise release to honor Thelonious Monk's centennial. Alexander has released his third studio album entitled, Eclipse. The eleven selections are mixture of originals and standards, demonstrating his aptitude as a composer (Alexander composed six of the eleven tunes), arranger, bandleader, and player. Joining Alexander is a rhythm section of bassist Reuben Rogersand drummer Eric Harland, and guest appearances by saxophonist Joshua Redman on three tracks.
Alexander's original "Bali" opens the disc in a celebratory mood, with a relaxed melody that has nice interaction between the bass and melodic figures. The Latin-ish straight eight feel is a perfect setting for Alexander's playful solo approach, and after Rogers mellow solo, Alexander begins the dance. His lines are clear and defined by clean phrasing and rhythm. He takes his time to build in intensity, developing each melodic fragment to a logical completion before moving on to the next idea. The trio has a very relaxed feel and joy about their playing and they are obviously are having fun playing together.
"The Very Thought of You" has guest artist Redman on the track. Alexander starts the tune of with a solo piano version of the melody. With intricate inner voice leading and smooth rhythmic styling, Alexander takes some very interesting harmonic turns, that are sure to delight. Redman enters and restates the melody; the duo is in symbiosis with each other and blend beautifully. Redman's solo is beautiful, his upper register work is impeccable. The two interact in a way that is conversational highlighting what a good listener Alexander is.
Eclipse is a wonderful third outing by Alexander. There is a nice range of tempos and feels, reflective moments and dramatic displays of virtuosity, and even moments of free group improvisation. Alexander is a confident and creative player that has a trio that converses with trust and respect. Adding the amazing sound of Redman, and you have a magical, musical journey. It's all about exploring the many possibilities of emotion that is Eclipse.
Track Listing: 
Bali; Faithful; Draw Me Nearer; Moment’s Notice; Blackbird; Eclipse; Fourteen; The Very Thought of You; Space; Time Remembered; Peace.
Joey Alexander: piano; Ruben Rogers: bass; Eric Harland: drums; Joshua Redman: saxophone.