Monday, July 2, 2018

R.I.P.: Bill Watrous (1939-2018)

R.I.P.: Bill Watrous.

One of the all-time greatest trombone masters. I love his big band albums for Columbia. He and Garnett Brown were the trombonists who topped DownBeat polls in the 70s. And I love this video (I bought a DVD copy in Japan some years ago) from one of the best jazz TV concerts ever, featuring the winners of the DownBeat Readers Poll in 1975. Btw, that's why jazz attracted a young audience in the 70s: it had swing, energy, positive vibes, enthusiasm and communication between players and between players and the audiences. It was not an intellectual exercise of ego trips.

The first time I saw Watrous' name was on Deodato's "Prelude." A couple of years later, he signed with Columbia and released two acclaimed albums leading his own big band: "Manhattan Wildlife Refuge" (1974) and "The Tiger of San Pedro" (1975), which led him to be voted as #1 Trombone player in the 1975 DownBeat Readers Poll.

Watrous also played and/or recorded with Milton Nascimento ("Courage"), Paul Desmond, Kenny Burrell, Maynard ferguson, Woody Herman, Quincy Jones, Art Pepper and many more.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Vocal Jazz CD of the Month - "Tiffany Austin: Unbroken"

Vocal Jazz CD of the Month
Tiffany Austin: Unbroken (Con Alma Music CAM 002) 2018
Rating: ***** (musical performance and sonic quality)

Produced by Richard Seidel
Co-Produced & Arranged by Mitch Butler
Recorded & Mixed by Adam Munoz @ Fantasy Studios (Berkeley, CA)
Mastered by Bernie Grundman @ Bernie Grundman Mastering (Hollywood, CA)
Photos: Bill Reitzel
Graphic Design: Amy Woloszyn

Featuring: Tiffany Austin (vocals), Ashlin Parker (trumpet), Mitch Butler (trombone), Teodross Avery (tenor sax), Cyrus Chestnut (piano), Rodney Whitaker (bass), Carl Allen (drums)

The best jazz vocalist that I've heard in the last ten years. Period. 
And finally a record with a producer! One extra star for this.
Influenced by Dianne Reeves, Dee Dee Bridgewater and Rachelle Ferrell, Tiffany takes vocal jazz to a new dimension.
She adds lyrics to Charles Mingus' "Better Git It In Your Soul" and Ornette Coleman's "The Blessing," performs a powerful version of John Coltrane's "Resolution" with impressive wordless vocals, exhibits a wonderful phrasing on Dizzy Gillespie's "Con Alma" (lyrics by Sonny Henry), and offers a haunting rendition of Michel Legrand's gorgeous ballad "You Must Believe In Spring."
So far the best vocal jazz release of the year.

With the release of "Unbroken," on her Con Alma Music imprint, Tiffany Austin further solidifies her standing as one of the leading vocalists on the current international jazz scene.

Austin was propelled onto the national stage in 2016 when her debut recording, "Nothing But Soul," received rave reviews from media outlets such as DownBeat and NPR's Fresh Air as well as airplay on jazz radio stations across the U.S. With her sophomore CD "Unbroken," Austin has raised her artistry to a higher level both conceptually and musically. Her silky smooth voice has gained an earthy smokiness and a gravitas ideally suited to expressing her broadening, deepening artistic vision.

"Unbroken" is a soul-steeped affirmation embracing the blues and swing, spirituals and R&B, bebop, post-bop, and Austin's Louisiana Creole heritage. "I've experienced multiple instances of people trying to separate blues from jazz," Austin says. "How can you divide the music that comes from the same diaspora, the same spirit? The idea behind this album is that the African-American spirit remains unbroken. After all of the things we go through we're still here, joyfully creating great art and great music."

Produced by the Grammy Award-winning jazz advocate Richard Seidel (former President of Verve Records) and arranged by trombonist Mitch Butler, the music on "Unbroken" is impeccably executed by the rhythm section of pianist Cyrus Chestnut, bassist Rodney Whitaker, and drummer Carl Allen as well as Butler, veteran tenor saxophonist Teodross Avery, and the formidable young trumpeter Ashlin Parker. In addition to four originals, Austin penned lyrics for the arrangements of Charles Mingus's "Better Git It in Your Soul" and Ornette Coleman's "The Blessing."

The multi-generational band mirrors the album repertoire, which touches on several eras of African-American history. The CD opens with two Austin compositions that speak to the vicious response that has sometimes met black accomplishment -- "Blues Creole" evokes the pioneering Louisiana Creole accordionist Amédé Ardoin, and the searing "Greenwood" connects Watts and Ferguson to the 1921 pogrom that wiped out Tulsa, Oklahoma's prosperous "Black Wall Street" neighborhood.

As if in direct response to these tales of oppression, Austin answers with a rollicking version of the old gospel song "Ain't No Grave," which builds to a glorious sanctified scat solo. She embraces the transformative power of love with a sumptuous "You Must Believe in Spring" and offers an object lesson in gratitude with her lyric for Ornette's early free bop invocation. Soaring to the heavens on Donny Hathaway's "Someday We'll All Be Free," Austin also summons the spirit with a wordless sojourn through Coltrane's "Resolution," scatting his entire solo note for note.

Unbroken closes with righteous marching orders by way of a riveting duet with Whitaker on the civil rights anthem "Keep Your Eyes on the Prize." The song provides the key to Austin's overarching argument, that whether the source is Sunday morning worship, Saturday night revelry, or an afternoon protest, African-American music is animated by a liberating imperative. "Freedom songs aren't only about freedom from an oppressor," she says. "It's about living your life soulfully. We must live with soulful connection to ourselves and our history."
Born and raised in South Los Angeles, Tiffany Austin grew up in a house filled with music. Her parents listened to soul and pop masters like Donny Hathaway and Stevie Wonder, while her Louisiana Creole grandmother introduced her to jazz. Austin graduated from the prestigious Los Angeles High School of the Arts and then attended Cal State Northridge where she majored in creative writing, while studying classical voice.

After graduating in 2004, Austin set out for Tokyo with the plan that she'd look for work as a singer and spend a year in Japan. After finding regular work as an R&B chanteuse, Austin ended up staying in Tokyo through 2009 and only returned because UC Berkeley's School of Law made her a scholarship offer she couldn't refuse. Austin submerged herself in law school and left music behind but after her first year realized she desperately needed a musical outlet and began performing with bassist, composer, and bandleader Marcus Shelby on numerous projects, including the title role in "Harriet's Spirit," an opera about Harriet Tubman. (She went on to earn her J.D.)

With a series of prestigious gigs and residencies, Austin quickly gained attention as the most exciting new vocalist in the region. Now, with Unbroken, Austin makes it clear that she's far more than a beautiful voice. Claiming her cultural birthright, she's an artist drawing nourishment from all of jazz's roots.

Tiffany Austin has planned a series of CD release concerts on the West Coast and in New York City: 6/7 Birdland, NYC; 6/29 Stanford Jazz Festival; 7/5 Kuumbwa, Santa Cruz; 8/11 SFJAZZ, San Francisco. At all but the Stanford date, Austin's septet will feature special guest Carl Allen; Cyrus Chestnut will be with Tiffany at Birdland.

Photography: Bill Reitzel

Instrumental Jazz CD of the Month - "Andrea Brachfeld: If Not Now, When?"

Instrumental Jazz CD of the Month
Andrea Brachfeld: "If Not Now, When?" (Jazzheads JHI229) 2018
Rating: ***** (musical performance & sonic quality)

Produced by Andrea Brachfeld & Bill O'Connell
Recorded @ Mozart Studio and Trading8's Studio
Mixed by David Kowalski & Harvie S
Mastered by Dave Darlington
Photo & Graphic Design: Christopher Drukker

Featuring: Andrea Brachfeld (flutes), Bill O'Connell (acoustic piano), Harvie S (acoustic bass) and Jason Tiemann (drums)

We had Joe Farrell, Herbie Mann and Dave Valentin. We still have Hubert Laws. But now is Andrea Brachfeld's time as the top jazz flute player. Gorgeous tone, outstanding phrasing, and also a brilliant composer.

The "incredible clarity of purpose" flutist-composer Andrea Brachfeld gained after spending 2016 in deep introspection about her life and music generated the nine original compositions on her exhilarating new album "If Not Now, When?," released by Jazzheads Records. The quartet outing, featuring the dynamic rhythm section of pianist, arranger, co-composer, and co-producer Bill O'Connell, a longtime collaborator, as well as bassist Harvie S and drummer Jason Tiemann, is an uncompromising manifestation of music Brachfeld recalls came to her on a cold day in January 2017.

"It seems that music always chooses me, and I very politely acquiesce to its energy. This has been my journey throughout my life and If Not Now, When? is no exception," she explains. "Of all my projects, this recording is the closest yet to my heart. Every note felt good in my body."

The album's song titles, which include "The Listening Song," "Creating Space," "The Silence," "Anima Mea," "Deeply I Live," and "Moving Forward," allude to the year Brachfeld spent on an inner journey meditating as opposed to composing, an experience that was clearly cathartic. "The way I composed all of the songs was like taking a huge block of marble and chopping away until I got the image inside the marble," she says. "It was about seeing what melodies came out and working on them until they felt right."

A grant from Chamber Music America and the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation for the CD -- "a wonderful affirmation" -- assured Brachfeld she was on the right path. "In the end," she says, "it's all about your voice, your journey to find your voice."
Brachfeld's flute playing has what the late New York Times critic John S. Wilson described as a "vigorously dark, gutty quality." It's no wonder the first jazz flutist to turn her head was free jazz pioneer Eric Dolphy. In her music, that energy she described can pour out to bruising effect. "If you want to play jazz, you have to be able to get the articulation of Charlie Parker, to make the instrument sound like a trumpet or saxophone," says Brachfeld. "With a lot of flute players, I don't hear those articulations."

Andrea Brachfeld was born May 3, 1954 in Utica, NY and raised in New York City. She began playing piano at age six and flute at 10. In 1969, she enrolled at the High School of Music & Art, and, at 16, got her first jazz gig, playing her own pieces with her quartet at an "All Night Soul" presentation at St. Peter's Church. She attended Saturday morning Jazzmobile workshops; Jimmy Heath was one of her flute instructors.

She went on to study flute at the Manhattan School of Music, where her fellow students included Kenny Kirkland, Fred Hersch, and Angela Bofill. After connecting with the Charanga band Tipica New York, Brachfeld recorded with the legendary band Charanga '76, which catapulted her to fame as the first woman to play flute with a Charanga band in the United States.

Andrea Brachfeld Brachfeld recorded her first album, "Andrea" (1978), with Tito Puente percussionist José Madera producing. A year later, she accepted an invitation to perform in Venezuela and ended up staying for two and a half years, during which time she led her own group, opening for such visiting luminaries as GaryBurton, Chick Corea, and Paco de Lucia.

When she returned home to New York in 1981, she devoted herself to her family and attended graduate school, acquiring a Master's in education. For nearly 25 years, she taught ESL and bilingual education while maintaining a local profile as a musician.

Then, in 1998, Brachfeld approached acclaimed jazz flutist (and former high school classmate) Dave Valentin with material she had written and asked if he wanted to record any of it. "His response was, 'I want you to record it.'" That she did, acting as her own producer on 2002's Latin-tinged "Remembered Dreams" (Spirit Nectar). Over the next decade and a half she would release a half dozen albums, eventually moving away from Latin music and back toward her first love, bebop.

Andrea Brachfeld has recently performed at the following venues (all dates with Insight -- Bill O'Connell, piano; Harvie S, bass; Jason Tiemann, drums -- except as indicated): 4/28 The Jazz Loft, Stony Brook, NY; 4/29 An Die Musik, Baltimore; 5/18 Trumpets, Montclair, NJ; 6/18 Triad Theater, NYC; soon she will be appearing at: 8/10 Pavillion Café, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC (with Bill O'Connell, piano; Lincoln Goines, bass; Robby Ameen, drums); 8/25 Long Branch (NJ) Jazz & Blues Festival; 10/4-7 La Cote Flute Festival, Gland, Switzerland; 10/12 Flushing (NY) Town Hall.
Photo: Maureen Plainfield
Web Site: andreabrachfeld.com