Monday, November 7, 2016

Zach Larmer Electric Band, Inner Circle

by Jeff Becker

Guitarist Zach Larmer has a feel for the unexpected that is grounded in the tradition of his music, on his debut recording, Inner Circle, features a talented large ensemble consisting of: keyboardist Tal Cohen, bassists Juan Pablo Diaz and Jermaine Walden, and drummers Rodolfo Zuniga and David Chiverton as the core units, with guest appearances by Brian Lynch on trumpet, Aldo Salvent on saxophone, and John Daversa on EVI and trumpet. Six of the seven tunes are penned by Larmer with the addition of s standard, “Softly As In A Morning Sunrise” rounding out the set. The recording was done live in the studio, with an audience present and no editing, which gives a perceivable energy to the project and focus on projecting a cohesive group sound. 

The music throughout the recording is measured, often virtuosic and frequently grounded in its jazz references. It is deeply musical and heartfelt, interspersed with segments of excellent written material by Larmer that achieves what every bandleader aspires to, but rarely achieves, a cohesive group sound with plenty of room for each player to shine in their own unique way while still contributing to the whole. 

The opener, “On the Dock,” finds Walden’s bass line working out to a catchy bass riff that is supported by Chiverton’s drum kit. The ensemble sound paints a picture of rolling melodies with Larmer and Daversa providing the main theme. The music is celebratory, Daversa’s EVI solo has lines drifting up and down and uses staccato rhythms that build to a crescendo climax. Larmer’s solo is starkly beautiful with his warm tone and patient melodic sensibilities that sounds decades beyond his actual age. 

The other highlight of the album is the creative treatment of the standard “Softly As In A Morning Sunrise.”  Starting with Larmer’s chordal stabs which leads into a funky groove by the group with Larmer unwinding a relaxed rendition of the melody with a hip ensemble passage at the end of the form.  You can certainly hear the jazz tradition in Larmer’s phrasing, rhythm and melodic colors. However, he also has a fresh approach that incorporates the rich guitar lineage of fusion, funk and rock, all to good effect and musical satisfaction. Cohen’s contribution to this track is brilliant, his support of Larmer’s solo displays his intense listening skills and his solo work is energetic and builds. Running slightly over thirteen minutes, this track is a musical journey that foreshadows the many more musical delights we can expect from Larmer in the future.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Sound Underground, Quiet Spaces - A Strongly Programmatic Concept

by Jeff Becker

Herbie Hancock has been quoted as saying, “music happens to be an art form that transcends language.”  Music is the universal language and when three musicians form a group that is comprised of trumpet, alto saxophone and guitar, the conversation between the players becomes even more important.  Sound Underground composed of saxophonist David Leon, trumpeter Alec Aldred and guitarist Jonah Udall is one such perfect example.  On Quiet Spaces, the trio brings the language of the heart into musical view, with a revealing and intricate journey full of surprises. The trio turns these moments inside out, leaping through a wide range of textures and sounds on a journey full of surprises. 

“Tiny Kingdom” opens with the trio giving a glimpse of the music texture to come, creating a landscape that builds with call and response figures, while each player takes a turn supporting and taking the lead, as in any good conversation, everyone gets a chance to speak.  As if in a battle between silence and sound, each part is intricate to creating the whole, obscuring the fragility of the moment with flying musical passages and rhythms. The sound triumphs in the end, leaving the listener is a space of wanting to know more and appreciating the musical story just experienced.

“A Moment Fixed in Amber” introduces a stately guitar ostinato, soon pierced by the dazzling muted trumpet. The exotic nature of the conversation brings images of animals calling one another when the saxophone enters.  The narrative takes the listener deeper into the exotic forest, the dark harmony is suggestive of an ominous cold mist filling the air. The track leads into the slowly galloping rhythmic feel of “Wanderer’s Rondo,” emerging the listener into the warmth of the unobstructed sun. The two horns convey the elegance and diplomatic melody, with twists and turns and musical surprises, one can picture the animals playing gracefully in the sun and enjoying life’s many bounties.

Quiet Spaces was recorded live and without isolation and because we can hear all the intimate breaths and mechanical noises associated with each instruments operation, the listener is drawn in to the space with the conversing musicians. They exploit the studio setting to create a sonic space that is ambient and captivating for the introspective intellectual. This expressive quality goes a long way towards giving Quiet Spaces its magical essence and musical pictures. Indeed, the album is a strongly programmatic concept, the listener is taken on a journey through a conversation between three friends. As we witness the progression of the conversation with sounds vividly portraying myriad shifts in the balance of topics, leading us through different moods, and even making us feel the ever-changing patterns of an imaginative story.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Brian Groder Trio, R Train on the D Line a New York Inspired Journey

by Jeff Becker

Trumpeter Brian Groder's trio consists of bassist Michael Bisio, and drummer Jay Rosen. They play a stylish brand of modern jazz that builds upon the freedom of improvisational jazz, yet with a clear focus that is still accessible. Their second offering R Train on the D Line is an extension of where they left off with their 2014 release Reflexology.

The Opener “Quanta” is fast and furious, and you are immediately taken by the clean intensive sound of trumpet. The lines between composed and the improvised lines seamless blur, seguing seamlessly between rhythmic figures. This same precision and restrain is a signature sound for Groder. The same syncopated melody line can be found on “Retooled Logic,” which also kicks off with a syncopated melody line and wide intervallic leaps. The trumpet and drums dynamically drop out, leaving Bisio to improvise a poignant arco passage.   What is magical is even in these introspective moments, the pulse and forward motion never disappears, it is implied long after the rhythms of Rosen cease.  Spaces are what create some of the most memorable moments in music, almost like a fine Hitchcock movie, its what Is not being said, yet implied that allows the listener to take flight.  Another tune the ensemble shines on is the caressing ballad “Whispers,” the tenderness and beauty of the trio really shines through.

Groder's continues to build his discography in a thoughtful, meaningful approach.  He chooses his collaborators well. Noted moments include his collaboration with Sam Rivers, Doug Mathews, and Anthony Cole in 2006 on Torque as well as his 2009 collaboration with pianist Burton Greene, Groder & Greene. Both of the albums are full of dynamism and precision, the same consistency that is found in Groder's playing also here on R Train on the D Line.  A recommended Listen.

Justin Piper, Avant Funk and Plenty of GROOVE

by Jeff Becker

Justin Piper is a multi-faceted artist; an educator, composer, and performer who resides in Boston Massachusetts. Piper is the musical director for the band Ripcord, and leads his own trio that performs improvisation based music that feature his own compositions. Piper’s philosophy as a teacher and educator is, “to instill his students with the joy of playing music while also nurturing an interest in the theoretical and foundational aspects of music.”

Avant Funk is Piper’s latest recorded endeavor, it combines the melody and harmony of modern jazz and the slick syncopation of funk, with Justin Piper’s musical energy driving each composition throughout the album. Piper’s innovative musical vocabulary is always pushing the harmonic, rhythmic, and melodic boundaries, while keeping a groove.

Sometimes it is nice when a multi-instrumentalist, such as Piper, takes the next step and forms a project to create an avenue that documents and explores their unique approach to each instrument and opens the world of personal possibilities of expression. The music takes on a richer appeal in doing so. With Piper, Avant Funk finds him performing on guitar, bass, Rhodes and programming. Drummer Tom Garrington joins Piper on the project and the two combine their formidable talents in a bristling set of original music penned by Piper. We hear their subtlety and breadth as players as well, their distinct conversations between each other are breathtaking. Whether naturally creating, or drawing on and reinterpreting melodic fragments taken from the inspiration from each other, they arrive at a depth and beauty as a duet that defies easy categorization.  The two build melodic and harmonic statements based in modern jazz with the infectious syncopation of funk, to create a musical energy that is sure to please a wide base of music lovers.

“I Fall Down” starts the musical journey with Piper’s warmly distorted guitar. Piper and Garrington set up a feel the ‘feels’ good right away. The chemistry of this duet is undeniable. The music takes its time to develop, but Piper naturally balances melodic figures with more chordal and groove moments. Piper’s solo is excellent.  Seamlessly combining techniques of rock guitar to the jazz idiom and language. 

A funky repetitive figure starts, “Buzz Book,” and Piper’s melodic writing really shines on the melody of this one. The intricate melody gives way to Piper’s quick lines in his solo.  Accented with a wah-wah pedal effect, Piper builds his solo to an interesting harmonized guitar figure that serves as an excellent climax for the piece and a convincing ending statement to this groove based selection.
“Rolling Blue Hill,” features a strong melodic statement that is built upon a repetitive melodic core; here the piece takes on another character with the addition of an acoustic guitar being strummed. Piper starts the compositions with the melodic idea and remains with it, carrying it through multiple developments, his anchoring of the basslines keep the track in focus, while Garrington’s drums give energy and add in, filling out the space in an inimitable way that gives movement without getting in the way. 

“Big Rock,” given away by the title, is immediately rock-driven, a clear and singable piece that finds the guitarist outing all the hip warm and harmonically savvy lines in a perceptive rock/jazz approach, which highlights how he can enfold rock and jazz sensibilities into one.
“Two Whee’s” is a tune that is direct and instantly appealing, with Piper handling the legato melody as the rhythm section relaxes into a steady rock-like feel.  The selection develops into a capricious vamp that reflects Piper’s agile guitar playing and love of melodies that develop over time and with subtle variations in orchestration and melodic twists. That process of expansion continues during Piper’s colorful solo; Piper’s flurries of notes form a swirling counterpoint with a repeating background figure. 

Piper’s lyricism and legato expression is again on full display on the tracks “Somnambulist” and “Tonic Immobility.” As with “Two Whee’s,” Piper’s melodicism on “Somnambulist” and “Tonic Immobility” grows out of the simplest of ideas, but he organically develops his lines into complex flowing statements that take the listener on a satisfying adventure that is full of surprises, deeply rooted in logic and always wrought with groove.  Piper’s playing is able to go in and out of chords, while still conveying the grooves and textures, but his phrases always feels whole and connected. Even though Piper is a multi-instrumentalist on the project, his playing has the energy and urgency of an in the moment performance, with no hint of staleness or preconceived ideas.

In conclusion, I really enjoy the variety of what this duet can do, the music invites one to go on an adventure of styles and textures and that is what makes this duet special, it is their ability to play so many different kinds of styles and still sound like a cohesive “band.”  

An excellent fusionistic rock journey Avant Funk packs a punch, and shows the ability and diversity two players can create when groove, energy and urgency are the main ingredient – sprinkled with stainless steel agility and technique this groovin’ offering stands up to any performance test with road worthy fuel injection.  Highly Recommended.