Doing A Little Searching With A Big Sound

Vocalist Sara McDonald steps out in front of her seventeen-piece big band + string quartet like the sorcerer’s apprentice. She smiles into a crowd of friends and colleagues. She’s a bit nervous. Her demeanor is casual yet commanding. This will be the debut of The Sara McDonald Orchestra at The Triad Theater  on West 72nd Street in New York City.

Sean Little is playing tenor to my left, Christopher Misch-Bloxdorf is playing trombone right behind me, Laura Huey is playing viola on the ground, Sam Neufeld is playing trumpet way in the back, Jill Ryan is playing alto right behind me and Owen Dudley is playing guitar in the far right hand corner.

(L to R) Martin Seiler, tenor sax; Christopher Misch-Bloxdorf, trombone; Sara McDonald, voice; Sean Little, tenor sax. Photo by Ivy Meissner.

When it comes to conducting a large jazz ensemble there are a handful of methods. I prefer to think of two polar opposites: the Paul Whiteman classical method and the Butch Morris conduction method. Orrin Evans often leads his Captain Black Big Band from the piano with shouts and stomps, while Ryan Trusdell’s Gil Evans project observes the role of “conductor” in the classical sense. Sara McDonald adheres to her own rules.

McDonald is a multi-tasker, giving an illusion of passive conducting with one eye and an ear behind her back at all times. While she sings to the crowd, she conducts behind her back and claps above her head. McDonald’s lyrics are meta-mystic, they retain a mysterious yet personal aftertaste. McDonald’s writing, both musical and lyrical feels like she has morphed her memoir into fable.

The recording she’s celebrating is A Very Tiny Big Band Album. It was born during a trip to Germany summer 2013.  She explained that, “There was already an established big band in Munich that was interested in my work and so I gathered everything and got to writing. I also only had three weeks to write and arrange all of the material and send it off. Once we set up everything with The All Jazz Orchestra, they wanted to get the parts as soon as possible so they could begin rehearsing before I got there.”

Sara McDonald’s significant other, German-born multi-instrumentalist and composer Martin Seiler, played an integral role in the making of A Very Tiny Big Band Album. “Basically, Martin gave me the contacts and resources I needed, I sent a bunch of emails, and we set up rehearsals for when we arrived.”

Album cover photograph by Ivy Meissner

Album cover art/photograph by Ivy Meissner.

McDonald enters big band writing from the side door; she doesn’t’ spend much time listening to large ensembles. She digs into electronic soundscapes associated with artists like Zero 7, Flying Lotus, and St. Vincent’s recent large-ensemble work with David Byrne. “For this record I was greatly influenced by Sufjan Stevens, Hanne Hukkelberg, Grizzly Bear, and Martin Seiler; his big band composing and arranging is actually some of the most impressive of its kind.”

Seiler is working on a score for a film called Stills featuring a small electronica ensemble with strings and woodwinds.“Not to sound pretentious, I just appreciate any composer that will rage an ostinato figure as long as they damn well please.”

McDonald’s alma mater is The New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music. The New School is a jazz education hub that serves as an incubator for many established musicians and rising voices. In response to McDonald’s time in the walls of jazz-school, she attributes her education to two (female) professors.

“Getting to study with Jane Ira Bloom was definitely one of the most musically enriching experiences I’ve ever had. She’s a kick ass lady with a tremendous amount of wisdom. I also took a class with Ingrid Jensen, another great human who taught me a lot about music and life and things like that.”



“Southern Point” is a piece in Sara McDonald’s big band repertoire written by the experimental rock band Grizzly Bear. “What I appreciate most about their sound is how lush it is,” McDonald explains. “They’re able to write catchy hooks and melodies while maintaining sonic integrity, which I think gets overlooked so frequently in the pop music world.

“Their arrangements are unconventional at times, their harmonies are complex and the lyrics are thoughtful and interesting. They can be aggressive and rocky at times, but tastefully so, and they manage to span so many genres while never falling into one completely. It’s substantial pop music. I would love to one day achieve all of those things with my music.”

At The Triad for her live debut, it’s safe to say that Sara McDonald’s rhythm section rocked: electric bass, electric piano and electric guitar rhythm section lay on the edge with keyboard parts often dominating and dictating the metric and harmonic shifts. The most impressive aspect of Sara McDonald, the vocalist, is her ability to deliver melodies hidden deep within the harmony, with pure pitch, full tone, unique timbre and honest confidence.

In New York City, many large ensemble leaders have a difficult time maintaining their bands. With touring and teaching opportunities, it’s difficult to get 17 hardworking musicians in one place at the same time. The struggle is real for Sara McDonald. “Scheduling rehearsals is hard and finding space is even harder, but I can’t ever let myself get discouraged. If I let the technical aspects of this endeavor freak me out then it will never survive. If there’s a will there’s a way.”

And McDonald’s willing it! She’s pushing for festivals and clinics in the coming years as she continues to expand her own boundaries in writing and arranging. It’s tedious, she admits, but “if you don’t love doing it then it just won’t work. It takes up a lot of my time but I certainly do love it more than anything.”

Hear the Sara McDonald Orchestra Monday, June 2 at the Tea Lounge in Brooklyn. They will perform 2 sets at 8:30 and 10:00 p.m. at no cover charge. Stream A Very Tiny Big Band Album below and purchase for a mere 5 dollars.



Troy Roberts Brings Nu-Jive to New York


Troy Roberts is a powerhouse of a musician. Since flocking up to New York City one year ago, the saxophonist has worked steadily with some of the city’s top players and ensembles (Linda Oh, Ari Hoenig, and Orin Evans’s Captain Black Big Band). But this month, he’s celebrating his own music, his own project, Nu-Jive. On the wake of his 5th release as a leader, Nu-Jive 5, Troy Roberts reaffirms his place as an authority in the electrifying, sophisticated groove jazz aesthetic. The band stretches out with ease, precision and elasticity while executing dangerously funky charts.

Celebrate Nu-Jive 5 with the band on May 15, 2013 at The Metropolitan Room; order tickets here by Friday the 10th and get a free CD with entry.

Troy Roberts took the big migration from his native Perth, Australia to Miami, Florida in 2005 to pursue his M.M. at University of Miami’s prestigious Frost School of Music. It wasn’t long before the saxophonist was working with some of Miami’s most talented artists including trumpeter Jean Caze (who appeared in this article on Jesse Fischer) and Sammy Figueroa, with whom he snagged a Grammy nomination.

Troy Roberts has a gift for crafting complexities interwoven in subtleties. As soloists, Roberts’s (band) mates all have a unique but unanimously seamless way of developing ideas in motion, while never losing sight of the momentous groove. Nu-Jive presents music that is both streamline and balls-to-the-wall, with many improvisations interweaving rehamonizations and avoiding many of the repetitive patterns and clichés so commonly thrown out in “fusion” or “groove” jazz.

For those familiar with the Nu-Jive concept, this is nothing new. But in addition to raising their own bar, this collection of tunes represents the band’s movement into an arena toying with soundscapes in post-production courtesy of Mauricio Quiros. Tracks like “Convertible Burt” bring out a nod to acoustic/electric drum and bass inspired jazz like Joshua Redman’s take on “Lonely Woman.”

As a saxophonist, it’s easy to hear Troy Roberts’s influences on the horn. Soulful, versatile players across the decades, from Stanley Turrentine to Michael Brecker, come out during his extended but never long-winded improvisations. And although Nu-Jive implements “modern” harmonic and rhythmic concepts, one can hear the band’s intent on executing memorable solos that never stray too far from the blues. That being said, Nu-Jive 5 is futuristic. “Casaenglewood” and “Night on the Town” throw down a gauntlet of head-bumps, and could easily serve as a montage for any late night drive on South Beach. The reoccurring mysterious “Ghetto-Rig” theme is a personal favorite, along with the epic album closer entitled “Stoner,” featured at the end of the video above.


(L to R) Nu-Jive is: Eric England, bass; Tim Jago, guitar; Troy Roberts, sax; David Chiverton, drums; Silvano Monasterios, keys.

NYC is lucky to have Troy Roberts around and his project dropping in to grace us with groove. Dig this record and support the hit on May 15.

A note from the editor: Hardbop has been on a hiatus since “All Aboard the Joy Ride,” published in February. The blog will be back at it this spring/summer with a array of posts, such as a feature on Charles Burchell (drummer/producer/composer from NOLA, currently based in Boston), and a revisit to the 2nd annual Center City Jazz Festival in Philadelphia, PA which is going down this weekend. Last year, Hardbop profiled three key players in Philly scene and the festival: Ernest Stuart, Victor North, and Wade Dean. Dig. Thanks for your readership.

All Aboard the Joy Ride


Taken during sound check at the Joy Ride NYC debut on February 2, 2013.

Jamison Ross gained the spotlight this past September after winning first place at the 2012 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition. But I’ve known the drummer as a person, and a musician for six years. Ross contains a palpable passion for life, and it shows in his music. He believes that soulfulness is the key to everything that is good in this world. For more on this topic, I suggest you all stream this video. A drummer who thinks in melodies, Ross is a skilled composer who also knows how to take control and lead a band. He studied with drummer Leon Anderson Jr., and pianist Marcus Roberts at Florida State University before moving to New Orleans in 2011. Since leaving Florida for the Big Easy, Ross has been an in-demand musician. He’s performed with saxophonist Wessell “Warmdaddy” Anderson and embarked on tours with pianist Henry Butler and vocalist Carmen Lundy.

My introduction into b&w film photography coincided with my time at the FSU College of Music. Here are some shots of Jamison from 2009 and 2010.

(L to R) Jon Olejnik, Jamison Ross, Steve Wilson // Steve Wilson had come to FSU to conduct a master class and performance for the Cannonball Adderley Festival in Tallahassee.

(L to R) Jon Olejnik, Jamison Ross, Steve Wilson // Steve Wilson had come to FSU to conduct a master class and performance for the Cannonball Adderley Festival in Tallahassee.


(L to R) Jamison Ross, Alphonso Horne, Ricardo Pascal // They played an uptempo contract of “Cherokee.” Steve Wilson complimented Ross’ ride cymbal work, turning to the student to encourage us all to take a lesson with Jamison’s right hand.

Recitals at FSU's were suprisingly intimate. The musicians pictured here continue to perform together

(L to R) Barry Stephenson, Ricardo Pascal, Jamison Ross // Recitals at FSU were surprisingly intimate, and thanks to great lighting I was able to capture many magical moments.

(L to R) Jamison Ross and Nadav Spigelman. The very photoshoot where I captured the Hardbop llama logo, Jamison performed outside (in the cold) with Nadav and FSU faculty pianist Bill Peterson.

(L to R) Jamison Ross and Nadav Spigelman // This very photo shoot is where I captured the Hardbop llama logo. On a farm outside of Tallahassee there was jazz + llamas.

Walt Weiskopf clinic in Spring 2010 with Jamison Ross on the kit.

Walt Weiskopf clinic in Spring 2010 with Jamison Ross on the kit.


One of many emotional and exciting moments inside of B Sharp’s Jazz Cafe. This was taken (during someone’s killin’ solo) at Barry Stephenson’s senior recital in 2010. Ross is at the kit, with Emily Fredrickson by his side and Joe Goldberg in the foreground.


This was taken at trumpeter Alphonso Horne’s senior recital, spring 2010. Also pictured: Barry Stephenson, bass; Jamison Ross, drums; Emily Fredrickson, trombone.

The “Joy Ride” is what Jamison Ross uses to embody his 3-part mission. He explains that the message is that “Joy is captivating; Joy is genuine; Joy is love; Joy is soulful, but most importantly, JOY is an innate feeling. The feeling of joy engages and provokes people of all nations to believe in something greater than themselves. Joy is the most essential ingredient of music. With this ingredient, music expands from a sound to an experience.” The band is “a family of extremely conscious individuals with different perspectives and life experiences.” In spite of their differences, they love and respect the presence that they each bring to the music. Nothing gets in the way of their collective goal: “to take the world on a joyful ride.” The movement is “an army of creators that en ‘JOY’ what they do. They strive for authentic ways to portray and ultimately express the JOY that they feel for their artistry to the world that is without knowledge of their competence.”

“Today is the beginning,” Ross said smiling just before taking the stage on February 2nd at BMCC Tribeca Performing Arts Center in NYC. Each year, the “Monk in Motion” concert series honors first, second, and third place winners of the Monk  Competition. Willard Jenkins and Tribeca PAC Executive Director, Linda Herring started the series in 2003, eventually partnering with the Monk Institute in 2005. Ross’ performance was preceded by a panel moderated by Jenkins featuring drummers Carl Allen and Allison Miller. Runner-up Justin Brown will offer his concert on March 2 @ 8:30pm.


Chris Pattishall, piano; Alphonso Horne, trumpet; Troy Roberts, saxophone; Cocoran Holt, bass; Jamison Ross, drums; Nate Werth, percussion.

Ross appeared at Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola (NYC) the last week of October and in mid-January with all FSU alumni quintet led by pianist Chris Pattishall. Pattishall and Alphonso Horne both reside in NYC, but grew into their “jazz skin” playing with Ross in Tallahassee. Their friendships (like many other FSU jazz alumni)  continue to grow, both on and off the bandstand. Before the gig on February 2nd, Horne had just come off a brief tour subbing for Marcus Printup in The Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. Cocoran Holt, bassist for saxophonist Kenny Garrett among many others, hooked up with Ross when they both began playing with vocalist Carmen Lundy. Nate Werth, while on the road with Snarky Puppy, met Ross last year in New Orleans at a jam session at The Maison on Frenchman Street. For the February 2nd hit, Ross hired saxophonist Troy Roberts as the sub for Joy Ride’s tenorman, David Stewart. Troy Roberts moved to NYC in May 2012 after earning his M.M, followed by a teaching gig, at University of Miami. Roberts is heavy talent and serious presence on the saxophone. He fronts his own band, Nu-Jive (album review coming soon) and last year, he had the privilege of representing his homeland of Australia on “International Jazz Day” playing John Coltrane’s “India.”

Ross performed two vocal numbers: Carmen Lundy's "Forgive Me" and Muddy Waters' "Deep Down in Florida."

Ross performed two vocal numbers: Carmen Lundy’s “Forgive Me” and Muddy Waters’ “Deep Down in Florida.”

(L to R) Pattishall, Horne, Roberts

(L to R) Chris Pattishall, Alphonso Horne, Troy Roberts, Cocoran Holt (behind on bass).

During intermission, Ross participated in a Q&A with Willard Jenkins, and was presented with the “Elizabeth Butson and Nancy Fox Outstanding Young Jazz Artist Award” by Linda Herring. Elizabeth Butson is on the Board of BMCC Fund and has supported the programs, especially jazz, since 1998.  After Butson’s friend Nancy Fox passed away from cancer this past January, Butson created the award as a legacy in her best friend’s name.

Accelerated recognition of Jamison Ross’ talents, hard work, and overall attitude has spun out to make for a busy 2013. Throughout the remainder of February, he’ll be working  in New Orleans with Irvin Mayfield and George French. Throughout the year he’ll b touring with Carmen Lundy, making appearances in South Africa , Europe, Japan, and NYC.  In March, he’ll head to Italy to record with pianist Dominica Sanaa and in April, he’ll appear in NYC for one night special trio performance with pianist Ellis Marsalis and bassist Ben Williams. The full circle: Jamison Ross’ teacher at FSU, Leon Anderson Jr. was mentored by Ellis Marsalis. With the support of Concord Music Group, Ross will enter the studio early July to record his debut record as a leader. He will feature the Joy Ride band plus a few guest appearances. The record is slated for release at the beginning of 2014.


Jamison Ross and Nate Werth easily interlock rhythms to thicken the groove.


The Joy Ride Band. (L to R) Pattishall, Horne, Holt, Roberts, Ross, Werth.

In this business that we call music, now more than ever, the artist must wear many hats. The music must connect with their audience on a sonic and a personal level. There is expected to be a steady feed of Jamison Ross, the person, after Jamison Ross, the drummer, has set his sticks down. And that’s what he gives us. The tech-savy 25-year-old is regularly wiring in on his website, Twitter, Facebook, Socialcam and Instagram.  It has given him a necessary advantage in the global music market. At the recent APAP Jazz Connect Conference in NYC, there were panels entitled “How to Make Your Website Awesome!” and “Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr & Beyond (DIY).” This says something about what the jazz community is lacking, but Jamison Ross is holding it down, ahead of the game.

Donny Wails

This weekend is the 2013 Winter Jazz Fest. If you’re having difficulty deciding what to attend amidst the collage of insane talent splattering lower Manhattan, consider heading to Zinc Bar at 8pm on Saturday to hear Donny McCaslin’s latest project. I sat front row early last month at the Jazz Standard, and was nearly knocked down by McCaslin’s “gargantuan” sound. The group performed selections from his latest record, Casting For Gravity, supported by Jason Linder, keyboards; Tim Lefebvre, bass; and Mark Guiliana, drums.

Casting For Gravity (2012)

Casting For Gravity (Greenleaf Music, 2012)

The record is a commanding piece of sonic aggression and riveting rhythm. Stadium Jazz. The audience the night I attended seemed to be split: about half were 20-somethings prepared for ultimate mind-blowage, while the other half had presumptuously come out to hear some jazz at a nice club. The set list: 1. Says Who // 2. Love Song For An Echo // 3. Tension // 4. Henry // 5. Paria Grande.

McCaslin grew up in Santa Cruz, California absorbing a mix of  funk  (Tower of Power) and the drum and bass (Aphex Twin). Lately, the saxophonist has been morphing these two balls-to-the-wall aesthetics with modern, often angular jazz. Highlights on the record include a Boards of Canada cover and a tune written by producer/saxophonist David Binney entitled “Praia Grande” named for the Portuguese beach where it was composed. Casting For Gravity is, in many ways, a sequel to Perpetual Motion (2011) and an extension of his working relationship with Binney. And like Binney’s own playing, McCaslin’s saxophone soars atop a harmonic and rhythmic rodeo of twisted grooves and contemplative ballads.

McCaslin’s electronic influenced writing forces him out of his comfort zone, but Lefebvre and Guiliana are right at home. Mark Guiliana has molded his career around his superhuman drum capabilities: compounding meters, energetic robotic textures, and aggressive and suspenseful beat drops. Such drops brought orgasmic “ohhs” from a 10-seater table of students from the Collective School of Music. Jason Linder performs regularly with Guiliana—they’re 2/3 of the group Now vs. Now—and the keyboardist will be making two other appearances this Saturday including a set with Omer Avital at 10:30pm at Zinc Bar, and a midnight set at the Cultural Project Theater with his band Breeding Ground.

Donny McCaslin (photo by Alexander Ariff)

Photo by Alexander Ariff

Photo by Alexander Ariff

Photo by Alexander Ariff

Photo by Alexander Ariff

Photo by Alexander Ariff

Tim Lefebrve is nothing short of a bass beast. His resume contains acts from the underground drum and bass duo Louis Cole and Genevieve Artadi, to pop-jazz artists Chris Botti and Donald Fagen. When Lefebvre moved his home base from NYC to Los Angeles, bassist Chris Morissey filled his shoes in Guiliana’s band Beat Music (also featuring Linder). Morissey sat next to me and described McCaslin’s dynamic as “beautiful, soulful shredding.” Morissey continued by saying that “everyone [in the band] was playing with their tongues hanging out of their mouths and not with any of that pussyfooting ‘serve the song’ bullshit that could turn that instrumentation into something else entirely.” Morissey, a forward thinking musician who leads two of his own groups, can appreciate a “fearlessness and a trust in [Donny’s] band-leading. It’s a lot harder than it sounds.” It’s worth noting that also in the crowd at the Standard was one of the band’s closest colleagues, woodwind extraordinaire, Anat Cohen.

Donny’s quartet toured extensively before tracking Casting For Gravity. “It feels like we’re breaking a part the songs in a new way,” Linder reflected after the set. “The songs he wrote are conducive to growing.” Experience the growth of this band, and many others this weekend at Winter Jazz Fest, and catch McCaslin on the road:

February 5, 2013 / Blue Wisp / Cincinnati, OH

February 6 & 7, 2013 / Indiana University / Bloomington, IN 

  February 8 & 9, 2013 / The Green Mill / Chicago, IL

 February 15 & 16, 2013 / Tallcorn Jazz Fest / Cedar Falls, IA

 February 22 & 23, 2013 / Holland Performing Arts Center / Omaha, NE

  March 2, 2013 / San Joaquin Valley Jazz Fest / Fresno, CA

 March 4, 2013 / Kuumbwa Jazz Center / Santa Cruz, CA

 April 1-4, 2013 / University of North Florida / Jacksonville, FL 

Jesse Fischer & Soul Cycle: Retro Future

Jesse Fischer & Soul Cycle’s last release, Homebrew (2011), was a hot mess of funk, groove, jazz, and soul. The record grabbed my ears by way of its guest appearances: Stefon Harris, Gretchen Parlato, and Sean Jones. Great performers aside, Fischer’s writing on Homebrew was top-notch, and looking back, Soul Cycle’s debut with Mosaic in 2009 is equally stanky. The group’s new record, Retro Future (ObliqSound 2012), is officially out today on iTunes and other online markets. It’s stirring up quite a buzz on The Revivalist, JazzTimes, Soul Tracks, Soul and Jazz Podcast, and Rightfully so, Retro Future delivers in all respects of the groove: sophisticated funk, stellar solos, and head bumpin’ hooks.

Design by Rachel Hennon. Photo by Isabelle Selby.

I love how Fischer manipulates and envelops odd rhythmic groupings or complex meters within sensual textures on such tunes as “Gotham Underground,” “Moon Ship,” and “Cyberphunk.” On “Gothan Underground,” I applaud percussionist Shawn Banks. Check out how he fits in the cross hairs on woodblock/cabasa, enhancing a momentous pulse beneath a swaying chromatic horn melody. Alto saxophonist and Atlanta-based Brian Hogans takes an exhilarating solo, reminding me of Cannonball Adderley or Kenny Garrett, building with weaving, streamline harmonic language. This cut is perfect for those long, late MTA nights…

Fischer situated himself within his spaceship (piano, keyboards, latptop, AKAI trigger pad) to lead Soul Cycle at a CD release party at BAM Café this past Saturday, October 27, 2012. Soul Cycle: Fischer, keys; Jean Caze, trumpet/flugelhorn; David Linaburg, guitar; Solmon Dorsey, bass; Adam Jackson, drums; Shawn Banks, percussion.

The BAM Café is not your  typical East Village café; it’s a venue on the second floor of the glorious BAM complex in Downtown Brooklyn. The large arched corners give the illusion of a massive tunnel. The bandstand isn’t elevated but rather a wide area between opposing bathrooms, which wasn’t too awkward. The live mix was surprisingly balanced given the depth of the room and height of the ceiling. Kudos to the sound-man, and to DJ Idlemind for spinning consistently funky, frequently sampled breaks before the band began.

Photo: Alexander Ariff

The band opened their set like the record, with “Tanqueray & Tonic.” Fischer took the first solo on electric keys followed by Caze on trumpet. Next was “Moon Ship.” Fischer took an nice unaccompanied piano intro, quoting the main melody within jagged rubato rhythms. Drummer Gabiel Wallace wore headphones as to sync with a sample, triggered by Fischer. This is not easy for a live band to accomplish while remaining flexible enough to improvise. One way that the band manages to not fall off course is their use of doubling: Linaburg often doubles Dorsey’s bass line, and the guitarist often lays out during Fischer solos in lieu of comping too much. The guitarist took a really nice solo on West African, pentatonic based “Digital Savanna” where he used a staccato, muted picking technique as to emulate a kora. Other highlights included Caze’s solo on “Cyberphunk” atop pulsating reggaeton infused by Bank’s shekere.  Fischer invited guest vocalist Rachel Eckroth on stage for two numbers: “Aquarius” (from the musical Hair) which appears on Retro Future, and later in the set with a rendition of the often-sampled George Duke number “Someday.”

Fischer (born in 1980) is among a generation of musicians who grew up in the age of hip-hop. These players (Glasper, the Snarky Puppy crew, Hargrove, Esperanza, etc.) with their open-minded, sponge-like musical outlook, have already begun to influence an entire “jazz” generation. Future leaders of this music have spent time with the jazz tradition (in the ivory towers or/and on the bandstand) as much as soul, gospel, r&b, groove, etc. The term “Retro Future” says it all: soul is nothing new, it’s organic and flowing, timeless and universal. But what Fischer is getting at, is an increase in mankind’s rigid routines, and how this mindset parallels the continuing popularity of computer music. How can human musicians transfer this concept into sonic textures? Jazz musicians like of Herbie Hancock, George Duke, and Roy Ayers have always been tackling this question since its inception. Jesse Fischer & Soul Cycle come from the same soulful, forward-thinking trajectory…and in the format of the groove, under the multicolored lighting of venues like BAM Café, patrons will undoubtedly continue to nod, smile, bounce, and applaud.

Photo: Alexander Ariff

To learn more about Fischer, visit his DL Media Music bio, and note that he’ll be back in Brooklyn on December 12 at Littlefield. Here’s a newly released video of Soul Cycle live at Rockwood Music Hall on October 1, 2012.

Guitarky Puppy (8.14.12)

It’s taken me about two years to write about one of my favorite bands on the scene today, Snarky Puppy. With origins in the Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) area and a current home base in Brooklyn, Snarky Puppy’s career has been nothing short of a well-oiled machine. From the Pup’s first studio album (The One Constant, 2006) to their latest, highly acclaimed release (Ground Up, 2012), their evolution has been a sonic journey for the listener as much as the musicians themselves. In short, the band’s members, and their music are all simultaneously getting better. You can catch Snarky Puppy in full force in Brooklyn on October 4, 2012.

Before the band embarked on their second massive tour of the year, I caught a triple-bill at Shapeshifter Lab in Brooklyn, featuring sets by the guitarists Bob Lanzetti, Mark Lettieri and Chris McQueen. Lanzetti and McQueen both attended University of North Texas in Denton for jazz studies—along with many other band mates—and Lettieri is based out of DFW. All three sets were drastically different; exposing each guitarist’s personality in a more bare bones, intimate musical setting. The mission of Guitarky Puppy remained in showcasing the compositions equally, if not more than, the musicians themselves.

(L to R) Lanzetti, Lettieri, McQueen (c) Alexander Ariff

Bob Lanzetti’s group featured Justin Stanton, keyboards; Michael League, bass; Robert Searight, drums. Lanzetti has a definitive tone on the guitar evoking textures similar to Andy Summers (The Police) and Jeff Beck. He holds it up close to his chest, articulately picking and graciously strumming with delicate, deliberate control. Lanzetti hopes to debut his solo project on record in 2013; you can also hear his work with Underground System Afrobeat and visit his artist page here. This tune reminds me of the Americana elements that seep through players like Bill Frisell; and like Frisell, when Laznetti chooses, he rips. Here is a video (excuse the iffy audio) courtesy of Martin Cohen of

Mark Lettieri’s group contained the same burning rhythm section (Stanton, League and Searight). Lettieri is a bold player, who blends the precision and confidence the L.A scene, where he grew up, with the soulful sauce of Texas, where he is currently based. He also has a heavy foot in the hip-hop world, backing such acts as Erykah Badu and appearing on the upcoming Xzibit’s record Napalm.

Mark Lettieri (c) Alexander Ariff

Lettieri is an in-demand guitarist who has (finally) released his debut solo album entitled “Knows”. The record features band mates League and Searight in addition to GroundUP label mates Caleb McCampbell, synth; and Wes Stephenson bass; from the Funky Knuckles.

Closing out the night was Chris McQueen’s band Foe Destroyer. Unfortunately,  the band’s gritty sound was masked in the mud of Shapeshifter Lab’s acoustics. McQueen’s sticker covered guitar is perhaps a symbol of his inner-punk, but a look at his credentials will wash away any pretense that he has stayed a narrow course. The band came into fruition in early 2010 by McQueen, Daniel Garcia (from the band Oso Closo), and longtime musical friend Cade Sadler. They have some older tracks on bandcamp and will be releasing a new record soon. In the meantime, crank this cut and dig McQueen’s lovely jazzy solo on Snarky Puppy’s “Like A Light“.

Manner Effect: A Band of 5 Leaders

In many ways, “pop” musicians rely on the imagination of their arrangers. In the case of Michael Jackson, Quincy Jones was integral to his evolution. But like Stevie Wonder, Manner Effect are their own producers and arrangers; Manner Effect relies solely on Manner Effect. Their jazz-trained, pop-infused, and unmistakably passionate music is a presentation of ballads that groove, bringing improvisation back to the art popular song.

Manner Effect live @ Rockwood Music Hall, Sunday Night
(Photo courtesy of MOZERPHOTO)

New ideas still fresh in their blood from a brief Michigan tour, NY-based Manner Effect will appear at ShapeShifter Lab in Brooklyn, Thursday August 2, 2012. The band’s packed album release show for was this past Sunday night at Rockwood Music Hall. The group also entertained packed houses at The Triad in March, and Smalls Jazz Club in April.

A band of “five leaders,” Manner Effect is Sarah Elizabeth Charles, voice; Caleb Curtis, saxophones and flute; Logan Evan Thomas piano; PJ Roberts bass; Josh Davis drums. Abundance was recorded May 2011; the band has had a year to tour and grow since recording. “It still holds up,” says Curtis “but we’ve definitely evolved as a band since recording the album.” Immediately following the tracking, Manner Effect embarked on a 10-day tour out to Michigan; Davis and Curtis attended Michigan State University, and Roberts and Thomas attended Western Michigan University.

In addition to playing concert spaces and clubs, the band conducted workshops with elementary schoolers in Pontaic and the recent trip included working with high schoolers at Siminar Camp in Kalamazoo. Because Manner Effect has a different angle than a traditional “jazz” group, the older kids received the band as if they were rock stars.

Manner Effect @ The Union in Kalamazoo
(Photo courtesy of MOZERPHOTO)

What excited me most about Abundance? The omnipresent and impeccable chemistry between vocalist Sarah Charles and saxophonist Caleb Curtis. On the inspirational gospel “Open Your Eyes, You Can Fly,” and the title track “Abundance,” Charles and Curtis find middle ground while enchanting the ear with dynamic unified timbre. The two remind you of when a saxophonist can influence a vocalist, just as much as vice versa. The two also let loose during the groups interpretation of Michael Jackson’s grandiose “Earth Song.” Jackson’s 1995 music video is a must-see; find the Manner Effect studio footage here. The dark, sexy Steely Dan groove on the first section is a sophisticated touch, modulating and concluding with an epic vamp that rivals the original version. Anther cover on Abundance is an interesting re-harmonization of Jobim’s “Corcovado.”  With brief spurts of Middle Eastern modality and Elvin Jones-like swing, Manner Effect adds a distinct gravity to a typically light bossa nova standard.

Notable original tunes include “Flying,” music video below, and “Hope,” a charming tune with a rap verse provided be emcee W.E.S. Josh Davis’s hip-hop drunk-swing (swunk) on the kit harkens other modern players (Eric Harland, Chris Dave) and Curtis’s overdubs on tenor and alto fill out the songs texture, instead of getting in the way of its live, interactive groove.

The DVD that accompanies the album is informative and entertaining. It includes a 30-minute featurette, footage from the studio, and live performances from their U.S. tour, allowing you to get to know the band and see their humility first hand. This is just one of my many ways Manner Effect has prepared themselves for the modern musical marketing era; Abundance’s Kickstarter exceeded its $8,000 goal to earn approximately $9,228. Put your eyes and ears on the Abundance package on iTunes, Amazon, or order directly from the band’s site. Also find them on Facebook and Twitter.

Album Review: Ari Erev’s Handful of Changes

Ari Erev – A Handful of Changes

Ari Erev, piano; Joel Frahm, tenor and soprano saxophone; Gilad Dobrecky, percussion; Arie Volinez, electric and double bass; Tal Ronen, double bass; Eitan Itzcovich, drums; Ofer Shapiro, alto saxophone and clarinet

“Changes” is a slang term that jazz’ers use for chord changes, or harmonic motion. How an improviser maneuvers his or her way through harmonic motion is critical in how they develop and differentiate their musical voice. On A Handful of Changes, Pianist and leader Ari Erev captures a special band to execute his (mostly) Latin-infused compositions. Each member adds their personal flair and posture atop his changes, but above all, it is saxophonist Joel Frahm’s voice that elevates this recording from pleasant, to stellar.

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Profiles from the Center City Jazz Festival, Part 3

This is Part 3 of the series: Profiles from the Center City Jazz Festival.
By: Alexander Ariff

I am still reliving memories from April 28, when I attended  the first Center City Jazz Festival in Philadelphia, PA. The first two profiles featured Ernest Stuart and Wade Dean. This is the final installation, a feature of saxophonist Victor North

Victor North. A Jazz Anchor.

Victor North sitting in during a jam over “Bag’s Groove” at the last set of the CCJF.
(c) Alexander Ariff

Victor North grew up in Anchorage, Alaska. He moved to Philadelphia 22 years ago. In the past two decades, North has seen radical changes in the scene. He remembers a different atmosphere in the 80s: sponsors were more present at festivals and concerts, such as the live series Penn’s Landing that included Art Taylor, Milt Jackson, The Brecker Brothers, and Joe Henderson. Victor North was finally able to hear first-class musicians, who until then, only existed on his stereo. Continue reading

Profiles from the Center City Jazz Festival, Part 2

This is Part 2 of the series: Profiles from the Center City Jazz Festival.
By: Alexander Ariff
I am still reliving memories from April 28, when I attended  the first Center City Jazz Festival in Philadelphia, PA. The last profile was Ernest Stuart, here is number two, saxophonist Wade Dean. 

Wade Dean. Enspirational.

(L to R) Niel Perdursky, Jason Frataccelli, Wade Dean
(c) Alexander Ariff

I first heard Wade Dean in 2006 at a jam session inside of Naked Chocolate, a cafe (that no longer exists) on Walnut Street.  I witnessed Dean strut in, exchange some words, and take out his horn.  Dean told me that night that his horn was attached to him, it was a  part of his body; he never went anywhere without it. Back then, words like that stuck to me: a fertile, aspiring jazz musician. This past April, when I interviewed Dean after his set at Fergie’s Pub, he laughed, remembering the Naked Chocolate session: “the short-lived session grew out of a natural pairing, chocolate and jazz.”

Wade Dean moved to Philadelphia in 2003 to earn his M.M at University of the Arts. He was so determined to be a part of the scene that he would walk, at night, with his horn, two miles deep into North Philly to play. Dean said that his horn could have been stolen many times walking to Ortlieb’s, but he kept going back. “It broke my heart when it closed,” he said “but it’s back open now [for jazz] on Tuesday nights. There was day school in the classroom, but night school was getting your ass kicked by Mike Boone, Orin Evans, or Tim Warfield.”

Here is an exclusive recording of Wade Dean’s group, The Wade Dean Enspiration, from the Center City Jazz Festival. The band was the first to play the entire festival–they were also reuniting after a 6-month hiatus. You’ll hear Wade Dean (alto, from Philadelphia, PA), Adam Siegel (alto, from Albany, NY), Anwar Marshall (drums, from Germantown, PA), Jason Frataccelli (bass, from Philadelphia, PA), and Niel Perdursky (Fender Rhodes, from Philadelphia, PA). The first alto solo is played by Dean.

Wade Dean (left) and Adam Siegel (right)
(c) Alexander Ariff

Dean grew up in Orangeburg, South Carolina and still calls himself a “southern-boy.” After graduating from University of South Carolina in 2003, he made Philadelphia his home. First attending UArts, then in 2008 serving as Director of Jazz at University of Pennsylvania. His concept on the horn is distinctly soulful, and like many Philadelphia musicians, he is rooted in jazz but does not stray from gospel, blues and r&b groove oriented music.

Dean calls his Philadelphia jazz-colleagues resilient, and went as far as to use the word “stubborn.” He believes that the “we’re going to do it whether you like it or not” attitude contributed greatly to the making of the Center City Jazz Festival. Dean praised CCJF founder Ernest Stuart, and said that the festival could spark “a reawakening, and a renaissance.” The CCJF gave the musicians “new blood” by shining light on musicians, of all ages, who may not have had earlier chances to be heard by large, big-eared audiences.

(L to R) Adam Siegel and Wade Dean

Dean is set to move to  Los Angeles, California to enroll in a PhD program at UCLA in Musicology, Sociology and Africana Studies. He’ll focus on the music of Post-Katrina New Orleans. He believes this will allow him to stay steeped in jazz, by playing it, while informing his writing. He’s not just leaving a great gig at UPenn. Dean is leaving his band and his city…for now. “Philadelphia is my second home,” Dean said, “I became a man here.” If you’re on the east coast, you can say farewell to Dean at his goodbye party at Chris’ Jazz Cafe on June 29.

This is Part 2 of the series: Profiles from the Center City Jazz Festival. The first profile was of festival founder Ernest Stuart. Additional  reading: David Adler’s terrific recap on the CCJF for NPR. For more on Wade Dean’s music visit his website, Myspace, Reverbnation, and Facebook page. The final post will feature saxophonist Victor North.