Dave Bayles leads us down the road not taken

The musicians tip jar, accompanied by The Dave Bayles Trio, at The Uptowner Bar. All photos by Kevin Lynch

THE DAVE BAYLES TRIO AT THE UPTOWNER BAR, EVERY TUESDAY

THE DAVE BAYLES QUARTET AT RIVERWEST PIZZA, FRIDAY, JULY 8

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“I took the one less traveled by/ And that has made all the difference.” – Robert Frost, “The Road Not Taken.”

 

Dave Bayles is something of a poet of the drums. Since the drums are the most fundamental of instruments in jazz, and in most African-American vernacular musics, that sort of makes him a poet of musical essences. You can hear and feel the magnetic power of his verse-like cadences in the propulsive swing he generates with other musicians.

This skill is so well established that he’s arguably Wisconsin’s premiere straight-ahead jazz drummer. He’s best-known as the long-time drummer of the all-star sextet We Six. That band comprises faculty of the Milwaukee Jazz Institute, where Bayles is principal percussion instructor. For many years, Bayles has also driven the engine of The Dave Stoler Trio, led by the powerhouse Madison pianist. He’s also backed up many big jazz names, including Peter Bernstein, Rick Germanson, Benny Golson, Slide Hampton, Brian Lynch, Brother Jack McDuff, Charles McPherson, Melvin Rhyne, and Phil Woods. Bayles is also now drumming for the resurrected Toty Ramos Latin Jazz Sextet, which played at Riverwest Pizza last week.

 

Drummer-bandleader Dave Bayles at The Uptowner

However, all that implies a well-trod path, gilded with justifiable esteem, along which the heartbeat of modern mainstream jazz strides. Fair enough.

And yet, quiet as it’s kept, the drummer-bandleader has led THE DAVE BAYLES TRIO, an intimate and compulsively exploratory trio gig through the backroads of the pandemic to the present – every Tuesday night at The Uptowner Bar, on the corner of Humboldt Boulevard and Center Street in Milwaukee.

The Dave Bayles Trio, (L-R) Russ Johnson, trumpet; Dave Bayles, drums; Clay Schaub, Bass.

“It is a delightful, creative group that I thoroughly enjoy,” Bayles muses modestly. Yet the trio has built much intrepid synchronicity along the road not taken. They plan on releasing a live album recorded at The Uptowner. 

The regular trio includes the redoubtable and elastically adaptable bassist Clay Schaub. Out front is Russ Johnson, IMO the Midwest’s most powerfully creative and masterful trumpeter – north of Chicago’s Wadada Leo Smith and Marquis Hill, who now actually spend most of their time on the East Coast.(p.s. This Tuesday, July 12, Johnson and Schaub will be out of town. They will be replaced for this week by alto saxophonist Clay Lyons and bassist Doug Hayes.)

Russ Johnson at The Uptowner

So, if you stop by on a Tuesday night, you’ll begin to sense the phenomenon of talent and creative verve that sustains Johnson’s pre-eminence, which he reasserted recently in Madison in an all-star jam session led by the brilliant pianist-composer Johannes Wallmann, to celebrate the retirement of two veteran and beloved Madison jazz radio programmers. That night, Johnson’s trumpet blistered through the firewall of wonder when the music called out for it, and sang seductively at other times.

The informal vibe of The Uptowner is conductive to experimentation and unfettered daring, to venturing a few huge steps beyond.

So, if you want a taste of what the great jazz writer Whitney Balliett once called “the sound of surprise,” stop on by.

The venerable building that houses The Uptowner recently had its roof replaced, and Bayles relates that “someone said that one night we blew the roof off the joint.” Hyperbole? It may not be so improbable. This ship is full-steam ahead. Bayles asserts, “The gig will be going on until the building falls down.”

Here are a few photos of the group at The Uptowner, “workin’ and steamin’ ” into a stratosphere that’s a free ride for all patrons.

Ah, but don’t forget the musicians tip jar.

 

 

THE DAVE BAYLES QUARTET AT RIVERWEST PIZZA: And yet, now that summer is high, Bayles is about to debut a new quartet outdoors, on the beguiling terrace of Riverwest Pizza, 932 E. Wright Street, from 6 to 9 p.m. this Friday, July 8. This quartet features singer Pamela York, saxophonist Chris Medsen, and bassist Jeff Hamann. Bayles hopes to continue this gig, though at intervals less frequent than his trio at The Uptowner.

Regardless, this quartet promises to be a breath of fresh air, in the best sense.

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Madison Jazz Festival was filled with “en plein air” jazz and a reminder of a transformative act of protest

 

Saturday the sky sang brilliant blue, the wind whispered Mary, and the sun burned like the jazz, from warm to hot. I returned to arguably the best summer jazz festival in Wisconsin, The Madison Jazz Festival. The event immersed the city in jazz for nine days, in the streets, clubs, and concert halls, and on the ever-inviting Union Terrace, overlooking Lake Mendota.

The Terrace is where I made plans to meet one of my dearest friends from my 20 years in Madison, Richard “Ricardo” Meyer. It had been too long since I had seen Ricardo. All the music was free admission on The Terrace, and pretty much world-class, in a diversity of styles. So we only paid for drippingly-delicious cones from the Union’s famous Babcock ice cream stand, and for burgers and brats at the bandstand-side food vendor.

When we arrived, Emma Dayhuff and the Phoenix Ensemble was in full gear, and providing some of the most incendiary music of the afternoon. The quartet included tenor saxophonist Isaiah Collier, alto saxophonist Greg Ward, and drummer Vincent Davis, led by bassist Dayhuff, who is a PhD candidate in jazz performance at the UW-Madison. She’s already garnered enough reputation to be working this day with leading Chicago musicians Collier, Ward, and Davis.

Isaiah Collier, sax, Emma Dayhuff, bass, and Vincent Davis, drums, perform at the Madison Jazz Festival. All photos of the festival by Kevin Lynch 

One elderly listener near me grumbled “they don’t have any singer,” perhaps a bit challenged by the extended solos, especially of tenor man Collier. But I assured him that the next act will be led by a singer.

After the break, Twin Cities vocalist Sarah Greer changed the pace and mood decidedly with a blend of originals and standards. She showcased a voice with extraordinary dynamic range, especially on the top end, recalling the extraordinary pop-soul singer Minnie Ripperton.

Then came the band that I knew would be top-notch. It was billed as Sharel Cassity and the UW Faculty Band — Johannes Wallmann, keyboards, Peter Dominguez, bass, and  Matt Endres, drums.

Twin cities jazz singer Sarah Greer.

Sharel Cassity and the UW Jazz Faculty Band at the Madison Jazz Festival (above and below.). 

For me, and I suspect many others, the revelation of the afternoon was alto saxophonist Cassity, which is saying something considering I expected Greg Ward to be the top alto player of the day. He’s superb, for sure, yet I didn’t hear all of his set with Emma Dayhuff.

However, between what I’ve heard of Cassity on Precarious Towers, the new album by Johannes Wallmann (to be reviewed on this blog soon), and on this afternoon, her sound and soul are as sundrenched as the day. That’s not to say Cassity’s playing lacks a wide range of shades, shadows and nuances. She has all the chops she needs to express in a soulfully post-bop manner. These days it’s risky to comment on gender, but I can’t think of a better female saxophonist I’ve heard. She’s right up there with the best alto players of any gender.

And despite having a brand-new album of his own to promote, Wallmann was generous enough to allow Cassity the spotlight, as the quartet performed largely her own original compositions from her albums. This gambit hopefully will help promote his new album once people realize that, on Precarious Towers, she’s the horn soloist — in effect, the sonic element catching the sunlight atop those towers. 1

Sharel Cassity’s playing and horn catch the sunlight on the Union Terrace Saturday

What was most memorable Saturday was when she paused to explain how one piece was inspired by a quote by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. She proceeded to recite the King quote: “I refuse to believe that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war, that the bright day of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality. I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil.”

She then played her tune “Be the Change” from her album Evolve.

This all had remarkable resonance to me because, just before her set, my friend Ricardo Meyer had revealed to me that he had rejected the draft during the Vietnam War as a conscientious objector. His alternative duty was two years in Mexico doing public service and, while there, he attended the historic 1968 Mexico Olympics. This event is most famous for the occasion of two African-American sprinters, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, raising black-gloved fists in the air during the awards ceremony for the 200-meter dash. Though interpreted controversially as a gesture of black power, Smith later said in an interview, “It was a cry for freedom and for human rights. We had to be seen because we couldn’t be heard.”

Of course, Martin Luther King Jr. had been assassinated in Memphis in March, seven months before those Olympics. In the many years since, the need for the transformation that King envisioned remains a struggle, all the more reason for anyone and everyone to “be the change,” as Cassity puts it.

At Saturday’s Madison Jazz Festival event, my old friend Richard “Ricardo” Meyer offered up the fist-in-the-air “for freedom and human rights,” echoing the famous gesture of American sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos (below) at an awards ceremony in the 1968 Olympics, which Ricardo attended. The video below documents the occasion.

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1 A bit of research shows Cassity has plenty of reason to claim a spotlight: From All About Jazz: Listed as “Rising Star Alto Saxophone” in Down Beat Magazine for the past 11 consecutive years (this persistent “rising star” categorizing makes me wonder if she’s butted up against a critical glass ceiling).

“Sharel has appeared on the Today Show, earned her MA from The Juilliard School under full scholarship, won the 2007 ASCAP Young Jazz Composers Award & has been inducted into the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame. Cassity has shared the stage with jazz luminaries including Herbie Hancock, Wynton Marsalis & the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra; as well as mainstream artists Aretha Franklin, Natalie Merchant, Vanessa Williams & Trisha Yearwood. She has released five albums as a bandleader and appeared on over 30 as a sideman, toured 24 countries and performed at leading venues like the Newport Jazz Festival, Monterey Jazz Festival & the North Sea Jazz Festival.”

 

 

 

 

Here’s the results of an International Critics Music Poll, with Kevernacular’s contribution

Chicago Trumpeter Amir ElSaffar and his Rivers of Sound Orchestra, pictured above, produced my choice for jazz album of the year. Photo by Tom Beetz. 

Yes, but what were the best of the year, and what does all that add up to?

Here’s one man’s opinion.*

I participated in the 14th Annual International Critics Poll of El Intruso, the Spanish publication dedicated to jazz, experimental and creative music. I have included the results of the NPR critics poll here in recent years. But for a change of perspective, it’s interesting to see what critics from all around the world come up with, as the best of the year (see entire international poll link at bottom).

Special mention: The documentary film Summer of Soul, directed by The Roots drummer Questlove, captures the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival, which reportedly drew 300,000, but got little fanfare, elsewhere. This provided the best new film soundtrack. Nina Simone, B.B. King, the 5th Dimension, the Staple Singers, and more. Here’s info on it  https://pitchfork.com/news/summer-of-soul-soundtrack-release-announced/ 

The international poll does not ask for top 10 album lists, I will list my choices of best albums of the year for the NPR poll:

Best Jazz Albums for 2021 NPR Critics Poll

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1. Amir ElSaffar Rivers of Sound OrchestraThe Other Side (Out Note) This was the surprise of the year. I didn’t expect ElSaffar do a big band and a very unconventional pan-cultural creature. But this is actually their second recording and a rare symbiosis emerges, beautifully conceived and executed. Yet one must set aside preconceptions of what a jazz orchestra should sound like. He’s a Chicagoan but has deeply investigated his Iranian roots and allowed the bitonal modalities to flourish like an exotic garden.

2. Charles Lloyd and the MarvelsTone Poem (Blue Note) Tenor sax guru Lloyd and his stylistically elastic quintet, with simpatico guitar innovator Bill Frisell, lays his ineffable touch on Ornette Coleman, Thelonious Monk, Leonard Cohen and Gabor Zsabo, a concoction enfolded with a few worthy originals.

3.. Anthony Braxton2 Comp (Zim) 2017 (firehouse) _- One of the true geniuses and intrepid and prolific visionaries of the music called jazz or Black music (or what Braxton calls “Language Music” or “Holistic Modeling Musics”) surfaces again with a stimulating 12 hours of original music packed into a single Blue-Ray disc. Rediscover Braxton’s uncannily self-generated world of music, or take the plunge — into this transformative experience of creative possibility.

4. Johannes WallmannElegy for Undiscovered Species (Shifting Paradigm) — Another masterful statement from the Madison-based pianist-composer, who shows how deftly he extends his compositional and conceptual palette to a chamber string orchestra. He spotlights two brilliant soloists for his jazz quintet with strings — Dayna Stevens, a limpidly inventive saxophonist whose plangent tone and superb phrasing almost mystically invoke Stan Getz. He also plays luminous EWI (electronic wind instrument). And trumpeter Ingrid Jensen has developed a deeply personal lyrical voice on her horn. Wallmann’s taut yet supple string writing remains always integral to the force of his expressive purpose, even in the surging romanticism of “Longing.” This elegy stirs the imagination (what species?) while deeply commenting on our global environmental malaise.

5. Lionel LouekeClose your Eyes (Sounderscore) Wow, what a brilliant guitarist he’s become, extending the modern, harmonically weighty tradition from Wes Montgomery. He has dazzling rhythmic acumen and plays with tension like a master basketball dribbler. This was his first full-album statement “in the tradition” as the compulsive original Braxton once did, and almost all his takes are meaty and revelatory. He got a bit too clever by crunching the closer, Trane’s “Naima,” which lost the tune’s arching, iridescent lyricism.

6. Marcin Wasilewski Trio — en Attendant — (ECM) With this sad news this year of Chick Corea’s passing, and of Keith Jarrett’s apparently disabling stroke, Marcin Wasilewski joins the conversation as a darkhorse for “greatest living (and active) jazz pianist, or perhaps “best jazz piano trio.” Here’s my review of this recording:

Is this the best? Marcin Wasilewski’s cutting-edge piano trio forges ahead

7. Frank Kimbrough –  Ancestors (Sunnyside) Another great recent loss among jazz pianists, Kimbrough enhanced the Maria Schneider’s Orchestra expansively harmonic sound paintings, and really stepped out in recent years with his profoundly delicious Monk’s Dreams box set, and a few marvelous recordings including this one, gracefully asserting his place as successor to his artistic ancestors.

GREAT NEW VIBES SECTION:

8. Simon Moullier TrioCountdown ((Fresh Sound New Talent) A virtuoso vibraphonist new to me dazzled in this deftly imaginative romp through a brilliant selection of modern standards (from Monk and Mingus to Kern and Porter, etc.). His monster chops stay pretty on course to compositional expression and illumination rather than detouring into mere showiness.

9. Joel Ross – Who Are You? (Blue Note) A vibrant (pun intended) quintet session led by vibraphonist Joel Ross, and certainly the best album of largely original music by a vibist I’ve heard in a number of years. It’s modern, straight-ahead jazz which shows how elastic the modern mainstream of the music form can get.

(See also honorable mention album “Marimba Maverick” by Mike Neumeyer,)

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10.. Noah Haidu – Slowly: Song for Keith Jarrett (Sunnyside) An eloquent and moving tribute to Jarrett, One of the most esteemed and influential pianists of his generation, and in light of the stroke which may have permanently ended Jarrett’s performing and recording career. Pianist Haidu has the chops, sensitivity and gravitas to pull this tribute off.

Honorable Mention: Miguel Zenon — Law Years: The Music of Ornette Coleman (Bandcamp), Stephanie Niles – I Pledge Allegiance to the Flag – The White Flag (Sunnyside)?  Roberto Magris & Eric Hochberg – Shuffling Ivories (JMood), Jamie Breiwick The Jewel (Live at the Dead Poet) (Ropeadope), Silent Room (Enzo Carniel and Filipo Vignato) – Aria (Menace), Craig Taborn – Shadow Plays (ECM), Mike Neumeyer – Marimba Maverick (Voirimba), Marc Cary — Life Lessons (Sessionheads United) Craig Taborn – Shadow Plays (ECM)

Best Historical Albums

John ColtraneA Love Supreme: Live in Seattle (Impulse)

Bill Evans — Behind the Dikes (Elemental)

Roy BrooksUnderstanding (Reel to Real)

 

Best Latin Jazz Album

Miguel Zenon and Luis PerdomoEl arte Del Bolero

Best Jazz Vocal Album  

Mary LaRoseOut Here (Little i Music)

 

Best Debut Album

Kazemde GeorgeI Insist (Greenleaf)

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Kevernacular’s ballot for El Intruso – 14th Annual International Critics Poll ballot for 2021 (see link to the poll below)

musician of the year – Miguel Zenon, Amir ElSaffar

newcomer musician – Kazemde George (saxophone)

group of the year –  Charles Lloyd & The Marvels, Emile Parisien Sextet

newcomer group – Silent Room (Enzo Carniel/Filippo Vignato duo)

album of the year — Amir ElSaffar Rivers of Sound OrchestraThe Other Side (Out Note); Charles Lloyd and the MarvelsTone Poem, Emile ParisienLouise (ACT); Lionel LouekeClose Your Eyes (Sounderscore)

composer – Amir ElSaffar, Anthony Braxton, Johannes Wallmann

drums – Brian Blade, Joe Chambers, Nasheet Waits

acoustic bass – Buster Williams, Christian McBride, Reuben Rogers

electric bass – Steve Swallow

guitar – Lionel Loueke, Mary Halvorsen, Miles Ozaki

piano – Chick Corea, Vijay Iyer, Marcin Wasilewski

keyboard/synthesizer/organ – Lonnie Smith

tenor saxophone – Charles Lloyd, Chris Potter, Joe Lovano

alto saxophone – Miguel Zenon, Jim Snidero, Kenny Garrett

baritone saxophone – Gary Smulyan

soprano saxophone – Emile Parisien, Isaiah Collier

trumpet/Cornet – Wadada Leo Smith, Brian Lynch, Dave Douglas

clarinet/bass clarinet – Anat Cohen, Jeff Lederer

trombone – Gianluca Petrella, Filippo Vignato

flute – Nicole Mitchell

violin/Viola

cello – Hank Roberts

vibraphone – Simon Moullier, Joel Ross, Mike Neumeyer

electronics — Marc Cary

other instruments

female vocals – Cecile McLorin Salvant, Stephanie Niles, Mary LaRose

male vocals – Kurt Elling

label of the year — Sunnyside

Here’s a link to the El Intruso International Critics Poll:

Encuesta 2021 – Periodistas Internacionales

 

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  • Alas, I didn’t hear but one cut of Song for Billie Holiday by Wada Leo Smith, Vijay Iyer and Jack DeJohnnette, which I regret, and most likely a high top-tenner.

Kevin Lynch, The Shepherd Express, Culture Currents (Vernaculars Speak), nodepression.com

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