World-renowned jazz pianist Lynne Arriale comes home with a new album celebrating social and political heroes

Lynne Arriale has traveled a long ways since she left her hometown of Milwaukee. When she returns to Wisconsin for concerts in Madison and Milwaukee, it will be as a brilliantly mature pianist and composer whose music has grown and evolved into something profoundly attuned to social and political conditions of our time.

The Lynne Arriale Trio, with John Christensen on bass and Mitch Shiner on drums, will perform Saturday, April 2 at Café CODA, 1224 Williamson St., in Madison, at 7 and 9 p.m. Tickets are $25 per show. For information, visit https://cafecoda.club/.

Then, the trio performs in Milwaukee on Sunday, April 3 at The Jazz Estate, 2423 N. Murray Ave., at 7 p.m. Tickets are $20-$27. For information, visit https://jazzestate.com/.

Finally, Arriale will perform a master class on Monday, April 4 from 6 to 8 p.m. at The Helen Bader Recital Hall, of the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music, 1584 N Prospect Ave, Milwaukee. The class is free and open to the public.  For more information, visit https://www.wcmusic.org/concerts-events/master-class-series/  or https://fb.me/e/2k1sFSB4C

Always a fabulous musician, since winning the 1993 international great American jazz piano competition, she has come to realize the confluence of art and life, for its better and worse.

But before addressing her mature artistry further, I’ll suggest it’s probably too easy for those from a musician’s hometown to always think of her as “our musical daughter,” and never realize the scope of the artist’s accomplishments and acclaim. Jazz Police’s declaration of her as “the Poet Laureate of her generation” may sound a tad high-falutin’ for hometown folk. Yet, in a still culturally under-recognized city, we might take pride in a native’s success where we can get it. Arriale’s growth derives from her talent and drive, and the vast reach of her world-wide touring, recording and educating experience, accompanied by consistent acclaim.

Her full biography is rather dizzying. Awards and jazz chart-topping among her previous 15 albums aside, one of Arriale’s most distinctive honors was to be the only woman among a gaggle of ten all-star pianists in a tour of Japan titled “100 Golden Fingers,” which included Tommy Flanagan, Hank Jones, Cedar Walton, Kenny Barron, Harold Mabern, Monty Alexander, Roger Kellaway, Junior Mance and Ray Bryant.  It’s doubtful that a larger aggregate of distinguished mainstream jazz piano masters has ever toured together. Her musical collaborators include Randy Brecker, George Mraz, Benny Golson, Rufus Reid, Larry Coryell, and Marian McPartland.

Nor has it been all about Arriale the artist; this comparably dedicated educator was the first woman accorded a cover story for the magazine JazzEd. She has conducted master classes and clinics internationally throughout the US, UK, Europe, Canada, Brazil and South Africa. She’s also Professor of Jazz Studies and Director of Small Ensembles at The University of North Florida in Jacksonville.

Nevertheless, as much as any pianist of her generation, Arriale has dedicated herself to the distinctive art form of the jazz piano trio, as the late Bill Evans and company came to define it. As demonstrated in her new album The Lights Are Always On, she continues developing her synchronistic relationship with bassist Jasper Somsen, and drummer E.J. Strickland, one of my favorite percussionists of his generation. Yet, like most dedicated touring professional jazz musicians not named Keith Jarrett, she’s also an ace at working with local trio mates, as she’ll do in Wisconsin.

None of which, is to say that, on her own, she’s averse to sometimes enhancing the purity of the trio form. This was evident in stunning fashion in her magnificent previous album Chimes of Freedom. As I wrote at the time, “The title song, by Bob Dylan, and Paul Simon’s ‘American Song,’ both sung by K.J. Denhert, tenderly render portraits of humanity.”

Lynne Arriale. Courtesy JazzTimes

Arriale’s finely attuned and powerful playing and arrangements eloquently expanded upon the implications of those verses by two of our nation’s supreme songwriters.  Arriale increasingly reached musical and expressive inroads into the essence of the American experience, in all of its joy and suffering, celebration and loss.

Her new album furthers that quest, while asserting her own vision by composing all the music. The Lights Are Always On is a suite of compositions that reflect the world-wide, life-changing events of the past two years. Several of the pieces nominally honor heroes around the world, including “those who served as caregivers on the front lines of the COVID pandemic and as defenders of democracy,” amid the crisis of the last five years, and the Jan. 6 Capitol mob insurrection.

In the liner notes, Arriale explains the pointed and poignant meaning behind the title tune:

“This collection was inspired by the doctor and all front-line health care workers,” she says. “For me, Dr. (Prakash) Gada, (an esophageal and robotic surgeon in Tacoma, Washington) crystallized the workers’ sense of mission during
this extraordinarily challenging time. He said, ‘Here I am back at work after
COVID…I fled Kuwait after the invasion. No matter what happens, no one works
at home. The lights are always on. Babies are being born; bones are being set.
This hospital, this profession…we are in a league of our own; we’ll take care of you,
I promise. I stand next to the most fearless people I have ever seen.’ ”

The title tune coveys care and tenderness in Arriale’s delicate yet forthright phrasing and, as the piece develops into rising phrases and searching tonalities, a measure of dedication and courage, and the “better angels of our nature,” which she still believes in.  The tune is brief, as in a dedication.

The album opener “March On,” evokes dogged determination in a steady sequence of  minor Tyner-esque chording, as in the steady, tireless dedication of protest marchers for justice in America and worldwide. “notably in the 2017 Women’s March on Washington and those marching to protest the murder of George Floyd.” writes album annotator Lawrence Abrams.

Similarly spirited, “Sisters” is a feel-good, gospel-tinged aria for the advancement of women’s rights and equality, an anthemic statement of full-throated chords, octaves, and shining linear pronouncements, all riding Strickland’s groove-splashing cymbals.

Honor” alludes to Col. Alexander Vindman’s extraordinary courage and righteousness as a witness addressing the impeachment hearings “regarding Donald Trump’s scheme to withhold congressionally approved foreign aid to Ukraine, and thereby extort from that country a sham investigation of Trump’s rivals,” Abrams writes.

Somson’s bass solo seems to evoke the National Security expert’s very personal dedication to his father, who led him to emigrate from Russia forty years ago. Vindman’s story is all the more pointed amid the current Russian attack on Ukraine, after Trump’s weird “bromance” with Vladimir Putin. We know too, that Vindman was fired by Trump for his honesty.

Here and throughout the album, Arriale’s soloing is concise and emotionally to the point, as a performing composer, never lapsing into mere virtuosic display.

“Into the Breach” addresses the Capitol Police who braved the Jan. 6 mob trying to stop the certification of Joe Biden’s presidency win. Arriale doesn’t try to dramatically evoke the chaos, rather again focusing on the heroes, and the sense of dedicated bravery. Her chords and phrases halfway through reach into the upper register, suggesting rising blood pressure and stress. Again, a bass solo allows for thoughtful breathing room, while sustaining the urgency. “Into the Breach” conveys a grave almost Zen-like serenity, which may engender such courage, in the face of overwhelming danger.

The album also features “The Notorious RBG,” a dedication to the pioneering Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Especially memorable is the penultimate tune “Walk in My Shoes,” dedicated to the late Rep. John Lewis. The fairly chromatic dissonance of the chording conveys a masculine righteousness, steely passion and dignity — the essence of the spirit of this bloodied demonstrator in the Civil Rights era in the racist South, followed by a distinguished career as an eloquent firebrand for justice in Congress. I even like the way the tune fades out at the end, as if, even in Lewis’ passing, his spirit may come back, around the bend someday, in some form.

 

 

Joe Henderson’s brilliant album “In ‘N Out” will come alive at the Jazz Estate Saturday

Album cover image courtesy of copertinedvd.org

Anybody who loves, or wants to hear more of, the music that Blue Note records presented through the mid-1960s – as bold extensions of hard bop and more avant-garde freedoms – should pay heed of an event happening at 8 p.m. this Saturday at The Jazz Estate on Murray Avenue in Milwaukee ($13 cover).
A strong and fearless quintet will perform live music from one of saxophonist-composer Joe Henderson’s greatest albums, In N’ Out, recorded on April 10, 1964. 

The Jazz Estate’s curator/booker, trumpeter Eric Jacobson, will lead the band. He’s among the region’s two or three best trumpeters, and is chair of brass and woodwinds department in The Wisconsin Conservatory of Music’s jazz studies program. Jacobson has curated Record Session, which has presented live an impressive list of music from classic recordings, by ensembles he puts together for several years at The Estate. It’s a fascinating project for any jazz fan who came of age in the 1960s, or has since discovered the decade’s music, a period rich in classic jazz modernism and innovation.

Trumpeter Eric Jacobson, who organizes the Record Session series at the Jazz Estate, will lead a quintet Saturday performing compositions from Joe Henderson’s 1964 album  “In ‘N Out” and other classic albums of his. Courtesy Eric Jacobson facebook page.

The band also includes saxophonist Jason Goldsmith, pianist Mike Kubicki, bassist Jeff Hamann, and drummer Todd Howell. Goldsmith has a big task obviously, but is a highly accomplished musician who teaches saxophone at the West End Conservatory, and has performed with leading jazz musicians, including Ernie Watts, Ed Shaughnessy, James Moody and Slide Hampton.

Jacobson has not revealed the exact playlist but indicated that material from In ‘N Out will be a jumping-off point for a survey of Henderson compositions from various other albums, including Page One, Mode for Joe, Inner Urge and Power to the People. Those were all Blue Note albums. except for the last one, recorded on Milestone as the 1960s cultural Revolution gained power. 1

Here’s a brief Facebook teaser video for the event from Jacobson:

A ghost will shadow the bandstand. Henderson actually performed at The Jazz Estate some years ago, when I was not living in Milwaukee, unfortunately. Although he could play with startling and moving passion, his intelligence always guided his horn’s voice, even at quicksilver tempos. You could really hear the man thinking when he improvised, as logical as it was sometimes startling, ear grabbing and, not infrequently, beautiful.

Joe Henderson, in 1996, as a mature master of modern saxophone and jazz composition. Courtesy janperssoncollection.dk

As In ‘N Out is at the nominal inspiration for this project, I’d like to give you my take on it, as a Blue Note and Joe Henderson classic.

First, as a visual artist, I must note the album cover itself (see top), one of the best examples of Blue Note’s striking, even arresting, trademark graphic art style. Here we see Henderson’s head comprising the dot of the “i” in the title. And the graphic merges the idea of “in” and “out” with a brilliant downward sweep of the second letter of “in”. It conveys superbly, with the arrows, the churning, forward-pushing energy and sharp intellect of this music. As a total image, the album cover title asserts its own sort of muscular beauty. (Graphic artist Reid Miles knew this was a winner, as he signed the design. Look closely for it.) 2

But before a comment on the music specifically, I’ll say that it’s generally understood that the title referred to the musicians striving for a blend of both “inside” playing, which largely adheres to a tune’s chord changes, and playing “outside,” or in a manner free from characteristic bop type changes. The latter realm is something that pianist McCoy Tyner especially facilitates, along with the extraordinarily gifted bassist Richard Davis. Tyner by then had mastered the modal style of jazz that is regular bandleader John Coltrane played.

Modal jazz is influenced by Indian classical music and Coltrane especially used it to flying free of sometimes-constricting complexities of modern jazz changes, which he himself exemplified in his classic tune “Giant Steps.” This recording’s drummer Elvin Jones, also an innovative bandmate of Coltrane’s, frees up the music rhythmically, with his uncanny polyrhythmic style, while still maintaining powerful and swinging tempos.

Now, as for that extraordinary title tune which begins in the album. The head of “In ‘N Out” starts with an off-kilter but captivating phrase, almost as if Henderson is hovering at the fork in the road between going in or out. It then bursts (out/into) a very fast bebopish line that has the intervallic and harmonic nuances that were distinctive and peculiar to Joe Henderson.

The ensuing soloists absolutely burn – Henderson on tenor, pianist McCoy Tyner at the peak of his powers with a cascading solo rippling with his own harmonic innovation of fourth intervals. Trumpeter Kenny Dorham, a naturally lyrical player, slows the tempo for a few moments, then jumps into the speeding vehicle himself, and finally Henderson returns for a very witty closing solo. The tune is breathtaking and whizzes by at 10 minutes and 22 seconds.

It is as if the whole band has taken both forks in the road, in and out, touching down on each and yet flying over them with ever-expanding wings.

I won’t really review the whole album as such, but I will say concisely that the ensuing “Punjab” is also an intriguing tune, but a more spacious and lyrical side of Joe Henderson, which continues on the third tune, “Serenity.” The album shifts to a few hard bop-ish pieces, “Short Story” and “Brown’s Town” both ingenious in her own ways and composed by the date’s trumpeter Kenny Dorham, a greatly under-appreciated musician of the post-bop/hard bop era. “Short Story” is a descending line with a few stately extensions and twists, just like a good short story. And Dorham himself proceeds with an extremely musical and compelling solo.

I’ll conclude by noting that, in ways, this remains an underappreciated album. A few years ago, I chose the SFJAZZ Center in San Francisco as a destination for a desire to take a westward road trip. Specifically we made the big drive to hear the SFJAZZ Collective perform a couple of concerts which would become a recording of Joe Henderson compositions (and originals). Curiously, this world-class ensemble did not perform oe record any of this album’s tunes, though I didn’t hear their third evening of Henderson music, and he was a fairly prolific composer.

Late in his career, Henderson recorded several magisterial albums for Verve records which gained him great popularity and acclaim, as arguably our greatest living tenor saxophonist. He died at 64 on June 30th of 2001 in San Francisco, his home during most of his career, of heart failure, after a long battle with emphysema.

So for me, and I hope many others, Saturday will be a rare opportunity to hear superb Joe Henderson music live, pretty close to the way he recorded it.

The ghost will be listening too, and hopefully nodding with a smile of approval.

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  1. Eric Jacobson, a highly accomplished but honest musician, says that the band will do all the compositions from In ‘N Out, except the title tune which, he says, they didn’t have time enough to rehearse. As my description of the tune might suggest, it is a technical as well as artistic challenge to master. “But there’s so many great tunes of Joe’s that I want to play, so it’ll be a fun night,” Jacobson says.
  2. The album cover design compromises function for form in one respect. Pianist McCoy Tyner’s name is reduced to an “etc.” because Reid Miles didn’t have enough room in this layout for his name. Great as he was already, Tyner still had the smallest reputation amongst these musicians. His breakout Blue Note album as a leader, The Real McCoy – with Joe Henderson and Elvin Jones as sidemen – wouldn’t be released until April, 1967, three years later.

Pianist Tim Whalen brings his powerful tribute to Bud Powell to the Jazz Estate

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Cover design for Tim Whalen’s “Oblivion: The Music of Bud Powell” by Jamie Breiwick for  B-Side Graphics. Courtesy www.timothywhalen.com

Oblivion: The Music of Bud Powell – Tim Whalen (WayHay Music)

The Tim Whalen Trio will perform on Thursday, April 6 at The Jazz Estate in Milwaukee.

“Oblivion,” the title of a Bud Powell tune, might be the single best word to describe the great pianist’s sad legacy. His name is in need of desperate repair, ravaged by the winds of time and his own peculiar fate. Pianist-composer Tim Whalen has gone a considerable distance in accomplishing that with his album Oblivion: The Music of Bud Powell. But we must backtrack a bit to understand the title’s significance.

It remains a matter of bald historical fact that Bud Powell was the mid-and-late 40s bebop era’s most sought-after pianist, yet he remains to this day probably the most underappreciated, given his true stature.

His direct contemporary Thelonious Monk has had his day in the sun, something to be celebrated, thanks significantly  to a composing style apart from, and more easily congenial, than the hard-core bebop that Powell excelled at. And their stories interwtine and lead to perhaps the most fateful day of Powell’s career, which also speaks to present-day concerns about police brutality against unarmed black men.

It’s unfortunate that Robin D.G. Kelly’s largely impeccable and voluminous 2009 biography, Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original, doesn’t note the cruelty and neurological damage done by a police officer on the night of January 21, 1945 to the man that Kelley calls Thelonious Monk’s best friend.  According to Duck Baker, album annotator of Bud Powell Paris Sessions (Pablo 2002), “Bud was foolish enough to interfere with some Philadelphia flatfeet who were getting rough with his best friend, Thelonious Monk.” The bludgeoning Powell suffered for his loyal courage “changed the course of his life, as Bud was led to a series of mental ‘hospitals’ where he was pumped full of pills and given shock treatments.”

Powell’s life generally spiraled downward after that, though he managed a resurgence in 1946, as evidenced by several recordings and, after being readmitted to a mental institution in 1947, by his celebrated Blue Note recordings (especially 1951’s The Amazing Bud Powell Vol. 1.) Also excellent are recordings in Europe in the late ’50s and early ’60s, including a late reunion with Dexter Gordon on the saxophonist’s superb Our Man in Paris. His career ended in “scuffling obscurity,” says jazz historian Alyn Shipton, due to his complicated mental problems and issues with drugs, and ironically to his return to New York in 1964. This was a man who, in his early 20s with the Cootie Williams Orchestra, had accompanied stage acts “so brilliantly that he outplayed the dancers he was supposed to be accompanying,” bassist Ray Brown recalls in Shipton’s book.1

Regarding the deleterious effects of shock treatment, I can attest, as it has been still used in recent years in sophisticated hospitals and clinics. I witnessed shock treatments given to my late ex-wife who suffered cognitive damage after undergoing them at the Mayo Clinic and other facilities.

Monk, for one, remained much attuned to Powell’s travails. “Bud was a genius, but you know, he was so sick, and now he’s fragile,” Monk once recalled. Another time, Monk commented, “Bud is beautiful. But he’s not doing so well in America, he’s sleeping in the gutter.” Those are both quotes from Kelly’s copious Monk biography, which amounts to a new sort of definitive history of the bebop era.

Nor have I done Powell justice over the years, having become enamored of the late recordings he did of Monk’s music for Verve Records (and his Portrait of Thelonious on Columbia), to the neglect of Powell’s earlier work. Those Monk recordings somehow managed to be marvelous but were recorded long after he had lost his prime bebop musical facility and suffered from many medical peaks and valleys. 2.

Whelan

Pianist Tim Whalen at the recording sessions for “Oblivion: The Music of Bud Powell.” Courtesy timothywhalen.com

All of this underscores the importance and value of Whalen’s recording, which he will be playing from when he performs Thursday, April 6 at The Jazz Estate in Milwaukee with bassist Jeff Hamman and drummer Dave Bayles.

Comprising all Powell compositions except one by Whalen, Oblivion opens appropriately enough with “Hallucinations.” It conveys how much Bud possessed a spirit as high as his tragic bop kindred Charlie Parker. Whalen’s solo pushes hard, as if pressing to make a point about the tune’s odd juxtaposition of exuberance and sense of suffering. His heavy percussive attack recalls another bop-era pianist Eddie Costa, although he negotiates the knotty changes with aplomb.

What follows is one of Powell’s dazzling masterpieces, an impressionistic miniature comparable to Duke Ellington’s “Daybreak Express.” After a fine chordal intro, Powell’s “Parisian Thoroughfare” glitters with an ensemble line evoking a bustling street scene, with the band sounding like a crazy chorus-line of dancing cabs in a Folies Bergere fever dream.

Whalen finds fresh inlets of light by carving out spaces and adding garlands, a sort of blending of street smarts with Francophile ornamentation. Tenor saxophonist Elijah Jamal Balbed is a modern post-Coltrane player with a rich yet grainy texture to his tone that alludes to classic tenor players and adds an offhanded gravitas to his playing. Guitarist Paul Pieper proves a swift co-conspirator in Powell’s most challenging harmonic gauntlets. Drummer Sharif Taher here has a powerful chugging style reminiscent of Tony Williams.

“Kind Bud” is a deeper, darker aspect of Powell’s bebop and for its blues lament, almost intimates a political statement about the tragic fate of such a gifted artist, especially regarding his awareness of his place in society as a black man in a white man’s world.

“Un Poco Loco” is another ironic commentary on his own afflictions and perhaps the album’s hardest swinging tune, especially on Balbed’s surging sax solo. Whalen, by contrast, allows the music to breathe a bit, while never betraying the tune’s structural integrity.

The CD’s ensuing “Blue Pearl” is a rather glimmering beauty with a slight Latin tempo. The comparatively little-known tune has a lapidarian quality, reflecting a craftsman of precise discipline that begets beauty. Here and elsewhere, bassist Eliott Seppa’s harmonizing with the piano-guitar-saxophone frontline recalls the Heath Brothers at their peak.

One would expect the title tune “Oblivion” to sound as abject as say, Billy Strayhorn’s “Lush Life,” but the band understands it as a “bouncing with Bud” blues that signifies a devil-may-care attitude. That suggests Powell’s peculiar brilliance as searingly self-possessed in the knowledge of how his black genius was betrayed. Yet he’d never let on, never let you see him pitying himself.

Bud photoBud Powell during the years he recorded with Blue Note Records. Courtesy estaticos 02.elmundo.es

Sometimes Powell’s themes and solos can be almost overwhelming, but you get a heaping helping of bop at its most modernistic and visionary and yet with a long shadow cast over it, as the CD cover’s noirish watercolor landscape superbly conveys. So perhaps even now, this music isn’t for everyone, but there’s no doubt it’s a bracing and historic statement of an art form evolving to extraordinary artistic heights.

Whalen offers his own ode to Bud, in “I’ll Keep Loving You,” a brooding ballad that feels like a stealthy suitor stealing into the beloved’s heart even if the lover’s been long gone, off in another world.

Still, Whalen and company assure that Bud Powell has returned, in hallowed honor.

Whalen is a distinctly ambitious musician who has led both a popular R&B/funk jazz ensemble and a nonet, largely of Madison-based musicians, for a number of years. Among numerous accomplishments since moving to Washington DC in 2010, he orchestrated the string arrangement for the Oscar-winning song “El Otro Lado del Rio” by Jorge Drexler from the film The Motorcycle Diaries.

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1 Alyn Shipton recounts Powell’s triumphs and tragedy in his A New History of Jazz on pages 491-495.

2. Despite Powell’s apparent loss of top-end technical facility in later years, the musical relationship between him and Monk remained crucial and vital. Some argue that Powell was Monk’s best interpreter. Seminal bebop drummer Kenny Clarke reputedly said, “Monk wrote for Bud. All his music was written for Bud, because he figured but was the only one who could play it.” https://www.amazon.com/Portrait-Thelonious-Bud-Powell/dp/B000002AHT