Mike Clark

Indigo Blue: Live At The Iridium

Drummer Mike Clark, whose work with Herbie Hancock and The Headhunters in the 1970s expertly straddled the jazz-funk divide and generated enough aural excitement to influence multiple generations of players, indulges his straightahead side on this live all-star session recorded last year at New York’s Iridium.

Trumpeter Randy Brecker, alto saxophonist Donald Harrison Jr., tenor saxophonist Rob Dixon, bassist Christian McBride and pianist Antonio Faraò join Clark on a swinging program that includes original compositions by bandmembers and a couple of Thelonious Monk standards. Despite his reputation as the man who literally wrote the book on funk drumming (he authored the 2012 Hal Leonard publication Funk Drumming: Innovative Grooves & Advanced Concepts), Clark finds himself in very familiar territory here, having honed his straightahead chops over decades playing gigs with the likes of Chet Baker, Joe Henderson, Woody Shaw, Bobby Hutcherson, Nat Adderley, Gil Evans and scores of other heavyweights from the worlds of bebop and blues. His spang-a-lang ride work reveals itself to be second nature as the veteran drummer drives the ensemble with his tasteful snare-and-cymbals swing grooves and insistent shuffles. But Clark’s most creative statements come during the quieter moments of this recording. Hear his brushes sizzle, subdivide, scrape and swish on the Faraò ballad “Sweet.” And dig the understated-yet-creative way Clark provides support during the bass solos: he ticks, taps, skitters and clicks out the time with intensity, but at a volume low enough to reveal the depths of McBride’s resonant, pure-acoustic tone.

BT ALC Big Band

The Search For Peace

Co-led by trombonist Brian Thomas and trumpeter Alex Lee-Clark, the 19-piece BT ALC Big Band succeeds in funking up one of the most storied traditions in jazz. The Boston-based big band’s fourth album, The Search For Peace, reflects an artistic debt to funk icon James Brown, the bandleader’s danceable rhythms and potent horn charts being key influences on the program’s seven original compositions (three by Thomas and four by Lee-Clark). This 43-minute album offers plenty of barn burners that could fill a dance floor; just the first 30 seconds of Lee-Clark’s “Dance” should get listeners bobbing their heads and shaking their hips.

The catchy “Tune For Lou” sounds like the lost theme song from a 1970s sitcom and features a greasy organ solo from Sam Gilman, nodding to the soul-jazz organ tradition. “Live 9” begins with a beat influenced by reggae before moving into soul and funk territory. “Make It Your Job,” a Thomas tune, is driven by kinetic trombone work and a canyon-deep groove. And the title track subtly samples a recording of President John F. Kennedy’s June 10, 1963, commencement address at American University in Washington, D.C., in which he said that the United States would “do our part to build a world of peace where the weak are safe and the strong are just. We are not helpless before that task or hopeless of its success. Confident and unafraid, we labor on—not toward a strategy of annihilation but toward a strategy of peace.”

Apparently Thomas and Lee-Clark, who are both educators, wanted to inject a short history lesson into the musical proceedings.

Boston-area fans can catch the BT ALC Big Band at Sally O’Brien’s in Somerville, Massachusetts, on July 25, Aug. 29 and Sept. 26.

Dock In Absolute

(CAM Jazz)

A quirky name, an unusual home base and an aesthetic centered on deep melodicism are all factors that make Dock In Absolute an intriguing band.

On its sophomore album, Unlikely, the Luxembourg-based trio—Jean-Philippe Koch (piano), David Kintziger (electric bass) and Michel Mootz (drums)—walks the tightrope between high drama and attention-seeking bombast without ever slipping into the faulty side of that divide. The all-original program here includes eight Koch compositions, one by Kintziger and another that the pianist and bassist wrote together.

Fond of quicksilver tempo shifts and sonic dynamism, bandleader Koch helps the material lope, sprint and morph gracefully, but avoids the pitfalls of flabbiness and excess. “Night Train To Lipetsk” barrels along in muscular fashion, building drama, segueing into a section in which Kintziger’s authoritative bass subtly slides to the forefront, then shifts into a solo piano segment before snapping back into a full-band flurry, spiked with Mootz’s skittering cymbal work. The longest tune—the gorgeous, seven-minute “Floating Memories”—features some of Koch’s best work, as he delivers an arresting, memorable melody and later provides pithy, upper-register coloration.

Somewhat like British trio GoGo Penguin and pianist Hiromi’s trio, Dock In Absolute is fueled by drum patterns that owe more to rock than jazz, resulting in songs like “Borderline” and “No Plan B” that seem destined to resonate with festival audiences.

The outliers in the Unlikely program are “Drawing Light”—Kintziger’s captivating solo bass tune—and the closer, “Tangle Borders,” a layered track that incorporates touches of dissonance in the form of a recording that sounds a bit like a police dispatcher’s radio transmission.

The band’s democratic interplay will be showcased on stages around the globe in 2019, with gigs at the Jazz in Daegu Festival (Aug. 18, in South Korea), the Odessa Jazz Festival (Sept. 22, in Ukraine) and the Kolkata Jazz Festival (Dec. 1, in India). At press time, the band only had one U.S. date scheduled: Aug. 10 at the San Jose Jazz Summer Fest in California.

Sylvie Courvoisier/Mark Feldman

Time Gone Out

On the face of it, a piano and violin duo seems less like a jazz project than something from the classical realm, and if you’re listening for the traditional tropes of mainstream jazz—blue notes, swung eighths, regularly recurring chord changes—you won’t find them here. If, on the other hand, what you listen for is creative improvisation that marries a strong compositional sense with a high level of virtuosity, you can’t go wrong with Sylvie Courvoisier and Mark Feldman’s duo album, Time Gone Out.

It opens with “Homesick For Another World,” an eerily beautiful performance that finds the two evoking that “other world” through ghostly violin harmonics and strummed piano strings, before fading into a pregnant silence. And yet, there’s such a tunefulness to Feldman’s playing that the piece never feels off-putting. “Limits Of The Useful,” on the other hand, feels more purposely abstract, as the two focus more on texture than tune, particularly in Courvoisier’s use of prepared piano through the first half. Here again, though, there’s such a playfulness to what they’re doing that it’s easy to be drawn into the music.

By far, though, the album’s best moments come when the music’s scale turns epic. At nearly 20 minutes, the episodic title tune ranges from fevered improvisation to exchanges that could pass for excerpts from some lost piece by Olivier Messiaen. The level of communication between these two (who, in addition to being longtime duet partners, are also spouses) not only facilitates these stylistic pivots, but also leaves room for the occasional gag, as on “Not A Song, Other Songs” where at one point a long glissando from Feldman is answered by Courvoisier pounding a deep, thunderous chord—boom! You can almost hear the two of them smiling as they move on to the next exchange.

Nature Work

Nature Work

In Chicago, Sun Ra compositions rank as repertoire with chimerical improv being the lingua franca.

Ample evidence comes on the quartet recording by Nature Work, helmed by the city’s Greg Ward on alto saxophone and Jason Stein on bass clarinet. Splitting up writing duties on the tracks here, the pair invites experimentally inclined bassist Eric Revis and exploratory drummer Jim Black to round out the group, adding some New York gravitas to the proceedings.

But Nature Work just sounds like Chicago, smartly penned heads sitting alongside patches of emotionally wrought blowing. On Stein’s “Porch Time,” Revis and Black lock into a maniacal debate, churning out some of the most menacing moments of the album, as Ward blends in calming, ropey lines of improv before the tune’s composer briefly restates the tune’s melodic material.

Contrasting Stein’s writing with Ward’s finds tunes like the latter’s “Tah Dazzle,” pointing toward some divergent ideas—but only marginally. Ward seems to find wobbly phrases and lines for the pair to repeat, providing listeners easier access to the swelling improvisations that follow. While both players clearly are writing to give everyone space to explore, Stein works to get to all involved to that musical nexus more immediately.


Psychedelic Backfire I/II
(Rune Grammofon)

Jammy Oslo-bred fusion trio Elephant9, now more than a decade into life, offers up a pair of live recordings on Psychedelic Backfire I and II that seethe with aggression and recline with tranquility.

Revisiting its recorded past in a live setting at Oslo’s Kampen Bistro, the band dispatches six cuts on the first disc as a trio, with a pair of the tunes being revisited on II. But here keyboardist Ståle Storløkken matches patches of regal prog, as on “I Cover The Mountaintop,” with Soft Machine-esque jazz and psychedelia. “Actionpack1,” a tune off 2018’s Greatest Show On Earth, turns motorik, the ensemble’s drummer Torstein Lofthus flexing significant time-keeping acumen—and stamina.

Sometimes the setup doesn’t quite work, though: The version of “Habanera Rocket” on I sounds a bit thin and quickly descends into patchouli-scented aimlessness. With Dungen guitarist Reine Fiske in tow for a second version of the tune on II, the song’s quieter opening section better sweeps into a chunk of funky improv. Of course, hearing Storløkken unspool the ambient opening of Stevie Wonder’s “You Are The Sunshine Of My Life” might provide a more accessible port of entry. But even some of the knottier moments on both installments of Psychedelic Backfire make clear that there’s still some point of convergence in the psych and jazz worlds that are worth trying to pry open.

Marlene Rosenberg

MLK Convergence

If you don’t know bassist Marlene Rosenberg from her work with Paul Wertico or Ed Thigpen, OK. But she’s gigged with a virtual murderers’ row of players and had Makaya McCraven in her group before most folks had heard the drummer’s name.

Origin label honcho and drummer John Bishop had been paying attention, though.

“The first time I noticed her was when she was in Joe Henderson’s band with Renee Rosnes and Sylvia Cuenca back in the late ’80s,” he wrote in an email. That group issued the live set Punjab in 1990, Rosenberg taking a writing credit for “Blue Waltz.” “But she’s done thousands of gigs over the decades; one of us jazz worker bees.”

As playful, sturdy and vaguely funky as the material is on MLK Convergence, the album’s title works to reference the civil rights icon as much as the first letters in the names of the trio’s principal members, which in addition to Rosenberg includes drummer Lewis Nash and pianist Kenny Barron. Apart from a track featuring Christian McBride doubling-up on bass, “And Still We Rise,” and the album closer, “Love’s In Need Of Love Today,” most of MLK Converge doesn’t feel overwhelmingly political. But “Not The Song I Wanna Sing,” the only cut here with vocals, offers up lines from guests like, “Rogue killer cops take black lives that do matter/ Minor traffic stops that end with blood spatter” over an acoustic groove suitable for A Tribe Called Quest to have sampled in 1994. Rosenberg, who’s been based in Chicago since the ’80s, also makes certain to mention the 2014 shooting of Laquan McDonald, a 17-year-old slain by a city policeman.

Michael Winograd

Kosher Style
(OU People)

There was a time, back in the 1960s, when klezmer was considered not just retro but actually dead, and those who played it were not practitioners but revivalists. Clarinetist Michael Winograd grew up in that era, but plays like a skeptic—listening to him, you’d never imagine there was a time during which klezmer was in decline.

Much of that has to do with the way Winograd has mastered the klezmer clarinet vocabulary. It’s not the tunes he plays so much as the way he plays them that stamps this music as being “Kosher style”—the throaty glissandos, the crisp grace notes, ululating ornaments that make his clarinet phrases sound distinctively, definitively of the Jewish tradition. Interestingly, the rest of his young, Brooklyn-based ensemble pretty much leaves that space entirely to Winograd. Although there are moments in which the saxophonists mimic the clarinet’s phrasing, trumpeter Ben Holmes and trombonist Daniel Blacksberg tend to play it straight, to such an extent that Holmes’ carefully-tongued phrases would be as at home in a polka band as in Winograd’s ensemble.

Nevertheless, it’s hard not to be awed by Winograd’s complete command of klezmer ornamentation, much less the wit with which he deploys it to make the music fit contemporary Brooklyn Jewish culture. It’s so kosher you should feel guilty listening to the recording on your stereo Friday night.

The Hot Sardines

Welcome Home, Bon Voyage

If one had never heard the music of The Hot Sardines but had seen a recent photo of the octet onstage, it would be easy to assume that vocalist and co-leader Elizabeth Bougerol’s washboard is the most unusual aspect of the band’s instrumentation. But that honor actually goes to the band member whose specialty is “playing the feet”—gifted tap dancer A.C. Lincoln. Of the dozen tracks on the hot-jazz band’s new live album, more than half of them feature tap-dance breaks that add an essential percussive element to the retro-leaning ensemble’s sonic fabric.

Welcome Home, Bon Voyage documents vibrant performances in two cities: Toronto (at Koerner Hall on April 14, 2018) and the band’s home base of New York (at Joe’s Pub on April 20–21, 2018). The Hot Sardines walk a path between fun and kitsch as they interpret works from such composers as Songwriters Hall of Fame inductee Clarence Williams (1893–1965), represented here with a lovely version of the ballad “Baby Won’t You Please Come Home” and a red-hot romp through the novelty tune originally titled “I Ain’t Gonna Give Nobody None O’ This Jelly Roll.” At the latter song’s conclusion, Bougerol tells the crowd, “It’s about dessert,” joking about the 1919 song’s innuendo.

Throughout the program, Bougerol offers a sly, charming delivery, and on a ballad like Fats Waller and Andy Razaf’s “Keepin’ Out Of Mischief Now,” there’s not much shelter provided by historical recontextualization, so the vocal performance must succeed on its own merits—as opposed to winning over the audience simply through an act of musical archeology. But sociohistorical context is always a factor when a 21st century band decides to tackle material like 1902’s “(Won’t You Come Home) Bill Bailey,” which addresses a romantic squabble, or 1928’s “Crazy Rhythm,” which contains the lyrics “What’s the use of Prohibition/ You produce the same condition.”

Musical chops abound here, as displayed by the dialogue between trumpeter Noah Hocker and clarinetist Nick Myers on “Jelly Roll,” or the poignant pianism of band co-leader Evan Palazzo on “Exactly Like You” and “After You’ve Gone.”

Following mid-July shows in Austria, the United Kingdom and Ukraine, The Hot Sardines will begin a leg of U.S. dates on July 26 at Bard College’s Fisher Center in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York.