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.

Profiles from the Center City Jazz Festival

By: Alexander Ariff
Profiles from the Center City Jazz Festival, Part 1
I am still reliving memories from the first Center City Jazz Festival in Philadelphia, PA. I heard of the festival, via its fundraising campaign. After watching the inspiring video, I backed  the Kickstarter project. The festival stretched 5 blocks of Center City using the following venues: Chris’ Jazz Café, Fergie’s Pub, Time and Milkboy.
This series features short pieces on three musicians I interviewed on April 28, 2012.  The first profile is trombonist and CCJF founder, Ernest Stuart.

Ernest Stuart. A Prepared Improvisor.

Ernest Stuart, age 28, founder of the Center City Jazz Festival, trombone in hand on Chestnut Street.
(c) Alexander Ariff

The Center City Jazz Festival would not have existed without Ernest Stuart. I caught up with him as he was traveling from Milkboy, where he had just performed, to the CCJF box office inside of Café Loftus takes a certain kind of improviser to be confident on the bandstand, while running a jazz festival. He hung up his phone from a call regarding festival finances. “It’s a pain in the ass sometimes,” he confessed, “but money has a way of solving problems.” Money towards the CCJF certainly energized the Philly jazz scene. One hundred eighty-eight people backed Stuart’s vision. The CCJF also received sponsorship (Philadelphia Magazine, Turtle Studios, Yelp, and Laube Torrefaction.) Stuart firmly believes that without Kickstart and Facebook, he may not have been able to exceed the campaign’s goal of $16,500.

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Album Review: Nicky Schrire’s “Freedom Flight”

Personnel:                                                 Nicky Schrire- Vocals
Nick Paul- Piano
Sam Anning- Bass
Jake Goldbas- Drums/Percussion

On select tracks:                                     Paul Jones- Tenor Saxophone
Jay Rattman- Clarinet
Brian Adler- Percussion
Peter Eldridge- Piano

Review by: Steven Lewis

Freedom Flight is vocalist Nicky Schrire’s debut album, but it sounds like the work of a seasoned veteran. Schrire (pronounced shrear-a) has a sweet, clear voice and a great deal of technical agility. Freedom Flight features an eclectic, polyglot repertoire including the Beatles and Bob Dylan, James Taylor, and Loudon Wainwright along with a pair of Schrire’s originals. All of the music on this record combine  these disparate pieces into a style that is unmistakably her own.

She demonstrates skill and creativity not only in her singing, but also in her fine original compositions and arrangements. Clever and understated, they are the highlight of the album; she sets her material in an intimate way that brings out the lyrics meanings with unusual clarity. Particularly effective is Schrire’s duet with clarinetist Jay Rattman on “Me, The Mango Picker,” her overdubbed vocals on “The Swimming Song,” and her wordless vocal behind saxophonist Paul Jones’s solo on “Ode To A Folk Song.” Schrire gives the album’s only standard, a beautifully spare version of Lerner and Loewe’s “If Ever I Would Leave You,” a moving rendition. Her skilled accompanists realize the arrangements with aplomb and provide some outstanding solos—especially Paul Jones’s blistering work on “Folk Song” and “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right.”

Photo (c) Shervin Lainez

Freedom Flight comes out May 22, 2012. It is an exceptional debut, and Schrire displays a refreshingly inventive and consistent musical voice while handling a wide variety of material.  There is certainly more quality work to come from this promising young artist.

Nicky Schrire will be performing at Rockwood Music Hall, Stage 1, Tuesday, May 22, 2012. On June 6, 2012, the band expands, when they celebrate The Freedom Flight Release Party at Cornelia Street Café. For more gigs and other info visit Schrire’s website:

Steven Lewis is a contributing writer living in Suwanee, GA and Tallahassee, FL.

Not Just Another “Jazz” Poem

Vincent Toro is an award-winning, NYC based poet, playwrite, director, actor and scholar. Toro’s most recent prize is the 2001 Metlife Nuestras Voces Playwriting Award. He is pursuing his MFA in Creative Writing at Rutgers University-Newark and is currently enrolled in Dr. Lewis Porter’s Thelonious Monk/Ornette Coleman Seminar. While taking Dr. Porter’s seminar, the class deeply focused on the Robin D. G. Kelly biography. Toro composed  a poem that captures not only the musicality of the written word but interweaves the historical and biographical blocks that created the “unique” Thelonious Monk.

Vincent Toro

To perform the piece, Toro collaborated with Hardbop editor and Rutgers Jazz History grad student Alexander Ariff. The two crafted a musical performance with a beat, allowing the poet a groove to rap his poem atop. Vincent Toro explains his motivation behind writing the poem, “These Keys” : “In reading anthologies of jazz poems for my research project for this class, I came to an understanding that  I did not want the poem for the performance to be deduced to “name dropping,” as so many jazz poems seem to do. I wanted to deal directly with the defining characteristics of Monk’s music and the draw themes directly from his life.”

“Name dropping” may appear in Monk poems such as Sacha Feinstein’s “Buying Wine”: When I return with a bottle / he’s playing “Blue Monk,” slow for the mood.

Vincent Toro was after something different: “the poem is a hip-hop jazz poem that envisions Monk’s life as a collective dream that we as listeners get to be active participants in. “These Keys” treats Monk’s life as an allegory for finding personal liberation in the face of exterior forces that want to limit, categorize, and exploit your talent and work. The “keys” in the poem are the vessel or weapon through which Monk is able to carve out his own identity. The “keys” are recursive metaphors: The piano keys as a key that opens doors to other possibilities.”

“These Keys” by Vincent Toro
(Lyrics for “Monk’s Dream” by Thelonious Sphere Monk)
these keys     like the projects of Columbus Hill
like a drunk rhombus     or a discombobulated rumba
like dreams slunk on dime store racks
like a trinkle tinkle in time     a melodious thunk plunked
as you squint    diligently    these keys like footprints     scuffing
Mintons floor    like a miniscule Crepuscule     the jewel of Mingus’
bass    chords minced as Evidence     diced fine like Nellie’s veggies
blind like stubborn     sidemen playing out     of time         don’t know

there ain’t no wrong notes      so don’t ask me to lay out
to lay down    to lay low     or hang up this fedora         the explorer
Pandora     these keys     unlocked     unabridged
like the mystery     of Epistrophy         apostrophe
fingers atrophy         from atrocities         wrought by calamity
of the cabaret card     these keys     bop hard     bunched
like whole tone bouquets     buffets of Steinways     plinked with clunky
funky     finesse         as Bud and the     Baroness     baritone of Mulligan bless

these keys     harmonically      sardonically    chronically     sonically
stride and swing    Jackie-ing     Rhythm-a-ning        do your thing
let them call you crazy     when the swing got you swirling
let them call you lazy     when you refuse to play a matinee
either way     they’ll try to play you out     devoutly pout
deny you     vilify you     canonize then     sterilize you
organize     to make an off     minor myth out of you
once you split the scene for good    lord no one sees

that these keys     are     your blood     your
Nutty Mood     your Ugly Beauty food         delicious
dissonant     and misunderstood
the critics will print the banter         about the drugs
the tragedies         black poverty         pry about mental
dis-ease     but nobody will concede
or want to believe     that you were ele
funda    experi    instru        mentally     happy     tapping

these keys like drunk skunk Columbus rhombus
these keys of Mingus     Mintons     Mysterious Epistrophes
these keys that deliver     dissonant epiphanies
that know all the landlord and the labels can’t see
these keys that     capture     and spring    undiscovered melodies
these keys are so far out     dazzling     hilarious
these keys like junk dreams     in junk drawers         toys of chromatic joys
that know     that know     that silence is the loudest noise

In the performance, Vincent Toro is attempting to implement two important characteristics. He explains: “The first is the use of space/silence. Monk’s melodies seem to consist of bunch up notes followed by intervals of silence that create a distinctive voice. Often the silence appears in unexpected moments. I wanted to emulate this in my phrasing of the poem, which is loosely transcribe by space on the page if you look at the poem. ”

“The second characteristic, one that is broader and more general, is the sense of playfulness in the music.  There is a sense of humor in Monk’s playing, a way that he approaches his instrument as if he doesn’t take it too seriously, even though he is dead serious about the music. It creates a spirit of fun that, in my opinion, a fundamental part of why people still enjoy his music so much. I tried to echo this by utilizing word play and slanted repetition in the lines, meaning the repetition doesn’t follow or set pattern and it doesn’t always repeat exactly the way you heard/read it the first time.”

The musical approach to accompanying a poet may appear like a new ballpark of rules but it’s not. David Amram–who participated with Jack Kerouac, among others, in the late 1950s NY jazz/poetry revolution stated that “any musician backing up a poet ought to treat the poet like a singer–know how to listen!” In “These Keys,” the performance engages and requires the listener’s attention. It represents a balanced group mentality that expands on the possibility’s of Monk’s rhythm. With collaborations like “These Keys,” the “jazz” poem’s definition continues to widen into sophisticated hip-hop territory.

An Apology and an Explanation

To my readers, I apologize for being MIA the past few months. With the turning of the calendar in January 2012, my position on Hardbop took a back seat as I became deeply involved in another set of blog posts for WBGO is an extremely reputable and prolific jazz radio station, arguably the best on the planet. I have been collaborating with NPR’s JazzSet with Dee Dee Bridgewater. I have provided links to my blog posts and will continue to update, via this blog, my subsequent work with WBGO.

JazzSet turns 20 this year so I’ve been troweling the archives and hand selecting clips of killer musicians. I hasn’t been too challenging to find the best stuff, in fact, its  challenging choosing what not to post. These clips are rare, not released on any record, take advantage to hear and learn about this music while its up on the web. I’ll be continuing them throughout April closing out sometime this summer TBD. Also, count on a full report from the first annal Center City Jazz Festival in Philadelphia, PA.

Post #1:  Bobby McFerrin and Bela Fleck and the Flecktones

Post #2: Joe Henderson, Don Byron and Terrence Blanchard

Post #3: Kenny Kirkland, Uri Caine and Geoff Keezer

Post #4: Holly Hofmann, Dianne Reeves, Toshiko Akiyoshi and Regina Carter

Post #5: David Murray Big Band and Josh Redman

Post #6: Junior Cook, Gary Burton and Elvin Jones

Post #7: Victor Goines, Alex Spiagin ann Gianluigi Trovesi’s Octet