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Grammy-nominated spreaders of the stankface Hiatus Kaiyote are preparing to release their sophomore album, Choose Your Weapon, on May 5. The release which picks up where their beloved debut, Tawk Tomahawk (and their By Fire EP of late last year), leaves off and keeps their jazz/R&B/funk sound going strong with even more soulfulness than you could probably fathom. The first single from the album, “Breathing Underwater”, just dropped this week. Give it a listen below.
On top of that, the band is playing SXSW and going on tour throughout the US this spring, so check them out if they’re rolling through.
Mar 18 Austin, TX – KCRW at The Parish*
Mar 19 Austin, TX – YouTube at Copper Tank Brewing Co.*
Mar 20 Austin, TX – Aussie BBQ at Brush Square Park*
Mar 20 Austin, TX – Sound Sessions at The Tap Room*
Mar 21 Austin, TX – Okayplayer at Bungalow*
May 05 New York, NY – Gramercy Theatre
May 07 Boston, MA – Brighton Music Hall
May 08 Philadelphia, PA – Underground Arts
May 09 Washington, DC – U Street Music Hall
May 11 Chicago, IL – Double Door
May 12 Minneapolis, MN – Fine Line Music Cafe
May 14 Boulder, CO – The Fox Theatre
May 17 Seattle, WA – Neumo’s
May 19 San Francisco, CA – The Independent
May 20 Los Angeles, CA – The Roxy
May 21 Santa Ana, CA – Constellation Room
May 22 San Diego, CA – House Of Blues Voodoo Room
May 23 Las Vegas, NV – Insert Coin(s)
May 26 Austin, TX – The Parish
May 27 Dallas, TX – Trees
May 29 Atlanta, GA – Vinyl
May 31 Baltimore, MD – Baltimore Soundstage
Jun 03 Providence, RI – The Met
The always exciting clarinetist and saxophonist Anat Cohen will be releasing Luminosa, her follow-up to 2012’s Claroscuro. The quartet from that album is back again – Jason Lindner on keys, Joe Martin on bass, and Daniel Freedman on drums – and their sound is intact as the band continues to develop together. The album will also have guest appearances from Romero Lubambo and Gilad Hekselman on guitar and Gilmar Gomes on percussion, plus Brazilian musicians from Cohen’s Choro Aventuroso band on accordion, 7-string guitar, and pandeiro. Three of the album’s tunes are up on Bandcamp now as a preview. Intriguingly, one of these tunes is a cover of Flying Lotus’ “Putty Boy Strut,” a tune that has also been covered (perhaps less surprisingly) by BBNG. Check out a preview of Luminosa after the jump.
Anat Cohen is currently touring with her quartet:
March 1st, 2015: Shea Center for Performing Arts Wayne, NJ USA [Anat Cohen Quartet]
March 2nd, 2015: Johnson Theatre Durham, NH USA [Anat Cohen Quartet]
March 4th, 2015: Jazz Standard New York, NY USA [Anat Cohen Quartet]
March 5th, 2015: Jazz Standard New York, NY USA [Anat Cohen Quartet]
March 6th, 2015: Jazz Standard New York, NY USA [Anat Cohen Quartet]
March 7th, 2015: Jazz Standard New York, NY USA [Anat Cohen Quartet]
March 8th, 2015: Jazz Standard New York, NY USA [Anat Cohen Quartet]
March 18th, 2015: The Rex Hotel Toronto, ON, Canada [Anat Cohen Quartet]
March 19th, 2015: Dazzle Denver, CO USA [Anat Cohen Quartet: Celebrando Brazil]
March 20th, 2015: Dazzle Denver, CO USA [Anat Cohen Quartet: Celebrando Brazil]
March 21st, 2015: Musical Instrument Museum Phoenix, AZ USA [Anat Cohen Quartet: Celebrando Brazil]
March 22nd, 2015: Sculpture Garden at the Jewish Community Center Tucson, AZ USA [Anat Cohen Quartet: Celebrando Brazil]
March 23rd, 2015: The Auditorium at TSRI San Diego, CA USA [Anat Cohen Quartet: Celebrando Brazil]
March 25th, 2015: Kuumbwa Jazz Center Santa Cruz, CA USA [Anat Cohen Quartet: Celebrando Brazil]
March 28th, 2015: Santa Fe College Fine Arts Hall Gainesville, FL USA [Anat Cohen Quartet: Celebrando Brazil]
April 9th, 2015: Cliff Bell’s Detroit, MI USA [Anat Cohen Quartet]
April 10th, 2015: City Winery Chicago, IL USA [Anat Cohen Quartet ]
April 11th, 2015: Orpheum Theatre Galesburg, IL USA [Anat Cohen Quartet ]
April 12th, 2015: Dakota Jazz Club Minneapolis, MN USA [Anat Cohen Quartet]
April 18th, 2015: “We Always Swing” Jazz Series House Show Columbia, MO USA [Anat Cohen and Bruce Barth]
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It’s another live show this week which I think came together rather well considering it was the sole purpose for me to emerge from my warm house and a constant binge of House of Cards (to which I returned promptly home after wrapping this show up and finished the third season at 3am) to make this week’s show.
The Line-Up for 27 February 2015
Jon Lundbom & Big Five Chord – The Bottle
I’ve been playing Lundbom’s new album Jeremiah a lot lately for assorted reasons. Its constant freshness on my mind earned the 1 spot this week. Flying Lotus – Breathe . Something/Stellar STar Rez Abbasi Acoustic Quartet – Black Market
I haven’t written much music writing over the last week– the process too mechanical, the work unmoving. Everyone around just wants me to say nice things and it just got exhausting. Then I heard the latest album from Rez Abbasi Acoustic Quartet and I got a good couple paragraphs out talking about music and legacy and taste and real meaty stuff instead of the usual “this is cool, listen to this, blah blah blah”. Abbasi looked at a period of music and made something new with Intents and Purposes, and he made me want to make something new, too. Donny McCaslin – Fast Future
Yep, still loving the new Donny McCaslin album. It’s awesome. Vijay Iyer Trio – Diptych
I haven’t given myself completely over to that two note combo that has become my heartbeat in a little while. Mndsgn – Convert Kenosha Kid – Map of the Universe
This group appeared on Nextbop last week, so it seemed appropriate they appeared on The Line-Up. Makaya McCraven – The Jaunt
I’m essentially finding any excuse to play cuts from In the Moment DJ Harrison – Echo Parking Marco Benevento – If I Get to See You at All
Benevento played two nights in Austin this past weekend and I missed him and I’m bummed and I bet it was super rad. Don’t be like me. He’s got lots more tour to go. See him if he’s actually near you. Tigran Hamasyan – Double Faced
Still pouring over Mockroot here. Teebs – LSP feat. Austin Peralta Jacky Terrasson – Kiff
Jacky Terrasson has a new album out called Take This. Here’s a cut from it.
Looking back over historical jazz releases, we tend to celebrate the albums that, in hindsight, redefine the genre. That is for good reason, but it is well worth celebrating the albums with great musicians playing great music – there’s not much better than a well-played blues. Recently I found myself digging into Donald Byrd’s albums from the early 1960s. These are great albums – excellent playing from his quintet, mostly built on the blues, and the most satisfying parts of these albums may be the least genre-defying. Alex Norris’ excellent new album Extension Deadline, with Norris on trumpet, Gary Thomas on sax, George Colligan on organ, and Rudy Royston on drums, fills a similar space. Extension Deadline is full of catchy themes, great solos and a strong group dynamic. Although it was released in 2015, much of this album could have grown from some of the same soil that Royal Flush grew from (though given the instrumentation here, something like Larry Young’s Unity might come to mind as well). There is innovation on Extension Deadline, but the most satisfying thing about the album is the deceptively simple way that the band members interact with each other, swinging throughout.
Norris has only released one album as a leader prior to this outing, 2000’s A New Beginning, but he has chops to spare and has recorded in many different settings as a sideman. All of the tunes on Extension Deadline are originals from Norris, with the exception of George Colligan’s “Optimism” and a trio version of Bobby Hutcherson’s “Little B’s Poem”. Norris opens the album with a lyrical solo on the title track after the band plays through the head, and once it’s established here, most of the album stays in a solid medium-tempo groove. Rudy Royston and George Colligan as the rhythm section play a huge role on this album, with Royston’s swinging drums driving the album forward and Colligan’s organ adding bass, harmony, and melody.
“What Happened Here?” is a particular highlight, with organ chords punctuating the bassline and punchy horns filling out the very catchy head. After playing through the tune’s head, they move into an organ solo from Colligan that touches on the tune’s theme while coming up with a great, innovative solo. The interaction here, as throughout the album, between Colligan and Royston is fantastic. Following Colligan’s solo, Norris’ trumpet solo is also great, moving farther from the tune’s theme while Royston’s cymbals crash behind him. Thomas’ sax solo follows over the ride cymbal and kick drum rhythm. Royston and Colligan build in intensity along with the sax solo, and then Royston takes a drum solo as the theme is played by the organ. “What Happened Here?” is perhaps the catchiest individual tune on the album, but every tune on the album delivers great solos and group interaction.
If there is any complaint to be made about Extension Deadline, it would be that while these tunes are clearly fleshed out and lived in, there can be a certain sameness to the album. Much of this album has a mid-tempo to up-tempo swinging groove with unison lines from the trumpet and sax. “Little B’s Poem” is an exception, with a ballad tempo and Thomas’ sax sitting out the tune. And I should say that this is a minor quibble, given the strength of the playing here. Extension Deadline is an excellent straight-ahead set from the Alex Norris quartet that I’m sure will stay in rotation. Just as you won’t find yourself complaining about the classic straight-ahead jazz that serves as the template for this album, you’ll find plenty to dig into here. Hopefully this quartet can continue to work together and we can hope that the next Norris album will not be another fifteen years away.
Extension Deadline Track List:
1. Extension Deadline
2. Night Watchman
3. What Happened Here?
4. San Jose
5. Little B’s Poem
6. Where Angels Fear
8. Red Flag
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When I moved, for some reason, I can’t even recall why anymore, I figured it would be a good idea to throw a housewarming party. This also meant right when I was sort of getting used to the process of going live, here I was again early in the studio putting together a playlist that I could possibly play instead of whatever I had playing at the 9 o’clock hour at my house. This hour is what my weird head would think would be good to play at a jazz party. Maybe you agree, too, that this is an hour of bangers new and newish enough.
Oh, also, shout out to the new intro finally including Art of Cool on top of Nextbop!
The Line-Up for 20 February 2015
D’Angelo and The Vanguard – Betray My Heart
I wanted to start this show off immediately stating that this is a party, so I went right into D’Angelo. This would be an unheard of move. Ludicrous. You don’t start with D’Angelo, that’s just too much too soon. But oh, yes, I went there. This hour is a party. There’s no doubt about that. Nujabes – Aruarian Dance Javi Santiago – Plutonian (TD2)
Santiago just released an EP that I’m getting around to listening to. Hey, it’s got Corey Fonville on the kit, so my attention is piqued. Taylor McFerrin – Already There feat. Robert Glasper, Thundercat, & Marcus Gilmore
Reminder– this song is still pretty dope. Tigran Hamasyan – The Grid
There’s a new Tigran album! It’s out! We finally have it! I’ll finally get to listening to it soon, but Tigran is perfect for a jazz party, sound unheard, so I knew tossing him into this week’s show was a no brainer. Donny McCaslin – 54 Cymru Beats
I spent last week listening mostly to only two albums– José González’s Vestiges and Claws and Donny McCaslin’s Fast Future. It was all I needed. McCaslin keeps the throttle pumping forward and I stay psyched with his releases. Apple Juice Kid – Bitches Jeremy Pelt – Harlem Thoroughfare
There’s just so much working on Tales, Musings, and Other Reveries that I can’t turn it down. I’m playing it still pretty constantly. Makaya McCraven – Finances
I love In the Moment. I love it so much I got pissed when Ben Gray reviewed it before I could. I love it so much I’m playing it at least once a week all the way through (which, considering how much I have to keep up with, says a lot). I love it so much I’ll play it for other people whenever I have access to spread it around whenever I can hook my phone up to any available speakers. I love this album. Mndsgn – Sheets Otis Brown III – Stages of Thought
The day I rode into the radio station to put this show together was when it finally dawned on me that this song is on 5/4 time. It’s this awesome, it cheers me up every time, and it’s doing all this in an odd time signature? I can’t get enough of this song. Vijay Iyer Trio – Hood
I wasn’t having a jazz party and not play some new Vijay. That’d be just plain silly. Mndsgn – Convert Marco Benevento – Coyote Hearing
I’m getting pretty excited about Benevento playing in Austin next week on the 28th at The Parish. Also, I have a house in the woods that may have some coyotes around, so this felt like a good closer. Two birds, one stone.
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I think I’m starting to get used to this going live thing. While I may still not have the entire “I totally prepared well in advance of my arriving at the on air booth” thing down, I at least had a few more ideas in place beforehand and I think this turned out to be a pretty cool show.
The Line-Up for 13 February 2015
Albert “Tootie” Heath/Ethan Iverson/Ben Street – Reets and I
I’m just playing songs off Philadelphia Beat every chance I get. With a show this packed, the only chance I had was to play Heath, Iverson, and Street in the 1 spot this week. DJ Harrison – Echo Parking Jeremy Pelt – Nephthys
I am still head over heels in love with Jeremy Pelt’s new album, Tales, Musings, and Other Reveries, just as I fall head over heels in love with every Jeremy Pelt album. Johnny Griffith – Princess Aura Goes to Phyrgia Ben Gray was quite pleased with Johnny Griffith’s new album, Dance With the Lady, and I figured such a glowing endorsement was enough of a reason to have us all check this group out. Teebs – LSP feat. Austin Peralta 10^32K (Frank Lacy/Kevin Ray/Andrew Dury) – Give It Some Thought
This group kept popping up in my email for an event they had coming up that had no interest to me because it was thousands of miles away and thus uncoverable (note to artists: any message sent to me about a gig is essentially useless and ultimately ignored), but I for some reason looked through past emails sent my way and liked what I heard, even if their 2013 album, That Which is Planted if full of extra long songs that definitely don’t fit radio format (another thing artist should note when making epics– someone still has to be able to play them) but I buckled nonetheless and figured I’d at least give some play their way. Makaya – Split Decision Rez Abbasi Acoustic Quartet – Butterfly
I was pleased to learn Rez Abbasi has a new album out with his acoustic quartet, but once I saw the songs they would play — a take on Tony Williams’ “There Comes a Time”, Weather Report’s “Black Market”, and my complete weakness, Herbie Hancock’s “Butterfly” — I was just certain that this was going to be an album I needed to hear more of. Marco Benevento – If I Get to See You At All
Benevento is playing in Austin at The Parish on February 28th and I’m really wanting to go. If you’re an Austinite or a Texan with enough gumption, it’d be dope to run into you there. If you aren’t but still are in the path of any of Benevento’s other US tour dates throughout the next few months, I’m sure it’d be dope to run into any of the other folks who have a good idea of what kind of party to go to. Bonobo – Cirrus DRKWAV – Darkwave I’ve spoken of the release of The Purge, the new album from Skerik, John Medeski, and Adam Deitch, and I’m listening through the album lately now that I have it before its release on the 24th. It’s a ride.
The debut full-length album from saxophonist Johnny Griffith’s quintet is an inspired set of straight-ahead originals from Griffith that is informed by modern, contemporary jazz, but would also fit in nicely with a collection of albums from the Young Lions of thirty years ago. Griffith is joined by Jeremy Pelt on trumpet, Adrean Farrugia on piano, Jon Maharaj on bass, and Ethan Ardelli on drums for the album.
From the opener, “The Zissou Predicament”, (and if you’re not already interested in the album as it name-checks a Wes Anderson character, well, I don’t know what to do for you), the band jumps into a knotty head that is followed by outstanding solos from Griffith, Pelt, and Farrugia. The band may not be made up of household names, but the rhythm section behind the horns makes a strong impression here – these are names to look out for (Farrugia also showed up on the similarly excellent Turboprop album from drummer Ernesto Cervini). It’s worth mentioning how good the band sounds here, as well – the liner notes say that the band was recorded live to tape, and indeed, the record captures the live feeling, with a rich bass sound, crisp drums, and the horns right up front.
Griffith mentions Joe Henderson, John Handy, Andrew Hill, Kenny Wheeler, and Anton Webern as inspirations for the tunes on the album. This listener also hears some influence from Freddie Hubbard, Miles Davis, Wayne Shorter (“Princess Aura Goes to Phrygia” and “The Mile Walk,” for instance, sound like something that could have come from Shorter’s pen), and John Coltrane (“The Kuleshascope” sounds like a mashup of Coltrane’s “Countdown” with the Godzilla theme). While these influences shine through clearly, Dance With the Lady is a wholly original set, and the improvisations from the band are strong throughout. I mention improvisations from the band, rather than just from the soloists, because the rhythm section support behind the soloist is really fantastic on this – the band is having an extended conversation throughout. Some highlights of the album include Farrugia’s piano solo on “Princess Aura Goes to Phrygia,” Pelt’s trumpet solo on “The Mile Walk,” strongly evoking Miles’ trumpet sound, and Griffith’s sax solo on “The Zissou Predicament.” The aptly named “Bass Interlude” is a spotlight on Maharaj, with the bass solo coming organically out of “The Kuleshascope” and leading the band into “The Mile Walk.” “Syrah” is a compositional highlight, based on a simple riff but building to a great full-band workout, with Ardelli’s drums driving them forward.
Dance With the Lady is the debut album from the Johnny Griffith Quintet (following a 2013 EP). Based on the strong performances here, let’s hope this isn’t the last we hear from them.
Dance With the Lady Samples:
Dance With the Lady Tracklist:
1. The Zissou Predicament
2. Princess Aura Goes to Phrygia
4. The Kuleshascope
5. Bass Interlude
6. The Mile Walk
7. Dance With the Lady
9. That Night.. (Under the Bench) So Long Ago
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One of the bright spots of the late night television landscape lately has been shining on CBS as the network has kept a pert rotation of hosts to take over The Late Late Show each weeknight in Craig Ferguson’s vacancy of the slot while waiting for James Corden to take over the show this coming March. This past week, Wayne Brady acted as a talk show host once again for a few days and had over multi-Grammy award winner Robert Glasper on with his trio to perform Coldplay’s “Yellow” with Brady giving his trademark soulful, altogether pleasing vocals. One wouldn’t expect this song to get a foot stuck up in it, but these dudes definitely did. Check out video of the performance below.
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I made this show live, which I don’t do often but ever since I moved, I knew it would happen eventually and more regularly. Other than a mis-pressed button near the middle, I think it turned out alright.
The Line-Up for 6 February 2015
Albert “Tootie” Heath/Ethan Iverson/Ben Street – Bakai
I’ve still been obsessing over Philadelphia Beat, which involves Heath playing the drums with his always constant exuberance. Ufsp – Sunny Delight Makaya McCraven – Finances
I’ve been waving the champion’s flag for In the Moment, which is possibly the best released album of 2015 so far. Yeah, I’m making that bold a claim. Vijay Iyer Trio – Hood
In this set, I wanted to focus on the groove and the sense of looping, so these first two tracks felt like the perfect fit. D’Angelo and The Vanguard – Betray My Heart
The main reason why I played this song is because the monitors in the KRTU on air booth are superb and I wanted to hear this song as loud as possible through them. Mndsgn – Convert Kat Edmonson – Oh My Love
Forward promotion! Jamie Cullum – Out of This World
Everyone at KRTU has been playing Interlude pretty constantly, which I’m appreciate since I’ve been waiting for the US release of this album for a while and am glad to know it lives up to all the hype and more. The new Jamie Cullum album is unexpectedly, infectiously good. Jean-Michel Pilc – What Is This Thing Called Love?
My raving over Pilc’s solo piano album, What is This Thing Called? knows no end. Dj Harrison – Carnaval 74 Jeremy Pelt – Glass Bead Games
The new Jeremy Pelt album, Tales, Musings, and Other Reveries is outstanding, as all Jeremy Pelt albums are, but I played through it a few times and found myself marveling in it repeatedly. Jonti – Pássaros Ernesto Cervini – Red Cross
I’ve listened to drummer Ernesto Cervini’s new album, Turboprop quite a few times in the last few weeks so it seemed to be the best thing on my mind at the close of this week’s show.
Dizzy Gillespie’s “Con Alma” first appeared on his 1954 album Afro (which also featured “Manteca”, “Caravan”, and “Night in Tunisia”, among others). Gillespie’s trumpet is backed by Rene Hernandez on piano, Roberto Rodriguez on bass, and percussion from Jose Mangual, Ubaldo Nieto, and Ralph Miranda. The tune starts with the bass and piano setting up a nice groove along with the layers of percussion before Dizzy’s trumpet comes in at about 0:20 with the melody over the descending bassline. That big trumpet swell at about 0:40 is perfect… Dizzy’s trumpet solo starts just before 1:30, and he’s fitting right in with this relaxed feel imparted by the bass and percussion. Minimal piano accompaniment and Dizzy in that relaxed mode, though occasionally he drops in a great line like the one around 2:20 that he takes to the end of this solo before handing the reins to Hernandez for a piano solo. Hernandez keeps the tune’s feel intact while putting together a fine piano solo with some nice cascading lines. At about 3:00, Dizzy’s trumpet again takes the lead. His soloing here has a little more fire than before, but the percussion and bass keep this relaxed groove going. The head returns at about 4:30 or so and the tune comes to a close just after 5:00. All too short, given the fine trumpet and piano solos here and the relaxed groove that could keep going forever (though the percussion is a little stuff and unvarying, in all honesty). Dizzy’s trumpet playing is great and the short piano solo in the middle gives this a bit of variety to keep it interesting.
Dizzy kept “Con Alma” in rotation and gave it a very different flavor fourteen years later in a 1968 performance with his big band. Dizzy’s trumpet here is joined by James Moody on sax, Jimmy Owens on flugelhorn, Alphonso Reece and Victor Paz on trumpet, Paul Jeffery, Sahib Shihab, and Cecil Payne on sax, Curtis Fuller on trombone, Michael Longo on piano, Paul West on bass, and Candy Finch on drums. This version starts out with the drums, bass, and piano and a feel that is similar to the original percussion from the version on Afro. At 0:45, the horn section comes in to add some punchy brass and then at 1:00 the move into the head with Gillespie’s trumpet taking the melodic lead. At 1:25, the melody is handed over to the big horn section, and then passed back to Gillespie at 1:40. James Moody steps up at 2:00 for a sax solo over a driving rhythm and accents from the horns. Moody gives a great sax solo, a classic bop sound – lots of fast runs over the tune’s changes. At 3:45 this sax solo comes to a close and there is a fanfare from the horn section, followed by a piano solo. This is less bombastic than the sax solo that came before it, but again is full of great right hand lines over these chord changes. At 5:45, the piano solo comes to a close and Gillespie steps up to take a trumpet solo. The sound is a little thin at first, but he seems to deal with that and puts together some fine, lyrical lines as the drummer moves to his ride cymbal behind him. At 6:45, Gillespie is playing some very high notes and the horn section adds some accents behind his solo. The trumpet solo finishes at 7:30 and they move to a composed section for the horns. At 8:15, the horn section is playing the backing from the tune’s head while Gillespie improvises a bit. They return to the fanfare, then there is an open drum break before the band moves into the head again, with some classic big band additions – punchy brass and drum breaks. They return to the head at 9:25, sounding similar to the tune’s beginning. Cool piano line behind this before the big, brassy ending at about 10:00. An interesting arrangement of the tune, with great sax, piano, and trumpet solos. The big band arrangement is very much of this period and you’ll have to gauge your interest in that period as a listener.
As good as Dizzy’s versions of his own tune are, it’s probably not too crazy to say that “Con Alma” really took off in the hands of other musicians. There are quite a few versions of this one out there, so this is really just a small selection focusing mostly on the past 15 years or so. Before looking at some of the more recent versions, though, a great one from 1967. A year before Dizzy’s big band arrangement of “Con Alma”, Stan Getz’s Sweet Rain album featured his version of the tune. Getz’s sax was joined by Chick Corea’s piano, Ron Carter’s bass, and Grady Tate’s drums for this version. The drums play an introduction before Getz’s sax comes in with the melody, backed by Corea’s piano chords and Carter’s descending bassline. Getz’s sax tone is perfect for this melody and he carries it beautifully. Tate’s drumming behind this is excellent, too. At about 1:30, Carter moves to a walking bassline and Tate’s drumming moves into more of a straightforward swing, but they go back to the earlier drum pattern shortly afterward. By around the 2:30 mark, Getz’s sax solo is really killing, just swinging along easily, but this is pretty close to perfect. At 3:50, Corea starts a piano solo. Tate’s drums go back to something like the pattern he used in the tune’s introduction and Corea takes a piano solo that is just as perfect as the sax solo that came before it – this is really impeccable. Corea’s solo comes to a close at 5:40 and Carter takes a bass solo. Tate’s drums drop out except for the ride cymbal and some rim shots behind the bass, and Corea offers up some really minimal comping behind Carter here. Just after 6:30, Getz comes back in, and then the band leaves some open drum breaks for Tate to do his thing. At about 7:30, they start to put the ending together, and they end this pretty bombastically. Tate returns to his drum pattern for a bar or two at the very end and they take it out. Great version of the tune here – is this the definitive one?
Jumping forward a few decades… In recent years, “Con Alma” has become a vehicle for a number of different piano trios. OAM Trio (Omer Avital on bass, Aaron Goldberg on piano, and Marc Miralta on drums) included “Con Alma” on their 2000 album Flow. They start this with a smoky feel, Miralta adding some shaking percussion and Goldberg’s floating piano chords backing Avital’s melodic bass improvisation. A piano arpeggio starts at about 0:55 as they make their way to the melody. Then at about 1:10 the head starts in an unorthodox and very cool way with Avital’s rhythmic bassline that will anchor the start of this version of the tune. The piano takes the melody and they keep this whole thing punchy – check out that single bass note from Avital at about 1:45… but they move back into that floaty, smoky space shortly afterward, leading up to a piano solo starting at about 2:20. God damn, but these guys are on top of this tune and improvising something lovely. A nice buildup has Goldberg playing a bit busier around 3:30, spinning out some nice descending piano lines and then continuing to move this along. There’s a breakdown at 4:15 and they move back to their unorthodox version of the head – definitely very different this time around from the way they played this in the opening. Unison lines from the piano and bass and lots of original, composed parts here. At about 5:25, Avital and Goldberg play the melody in unison; Avital plays a bowed bass starting around 5:45 over the drums and rhythmic comping from the piano. He takes this out a bit, definitely moving into some musical spaces that didn’t seem likely in Dizzy’s original version of the tune! After playing this out they end on one of those nice smoky piano chords. Wow, a lot going on in this version of “Con Alma” – OAM trio moved through so many different styles during this and kept the whole thing interesting and fluid. Really interesting newly composed parts in the head, too. Fantastic. It’s also worth noting that Aaron Goldberg also played this tune on his Turning Point album around this time as well in a piano trio with Eric Harland on drums and Reuben Rogers on bass in another version worth seeking out.
Adding a couple of horns to the piano trio, pianist Spike Wilner’s 2009 album Three to Go included his version of “Con Alma”. Wilner was joined here by Ryan Kisor on trumpet, Joel Frahm on sax, Ugonna Okegwo on bass, and Montez Coleman on drums. Wilner’s piano opens this version of the tune solo with some big chords. At about 0:20, the drums and bass join underneath this, and then the horns gradually increase in volume, moving toward the front to take the “Con Alma” melody through the head in the introduction here. The band gets a big, triumphant sound courtesy of the horns and Wilner’s big chords. At about 1:45, a piano solo starts. Wilner’s fingers are dancing on the keyboard in this solo over fine drum and bass accompaniment. Really nice arpeggio at about 3:00, with the piano keeping the tune’s melody intact throughout this solo. At 3:40 the lead is handed to Ryan Kisor for a trumpet solo. After breaking this down a bit for the start of the trumpet solo, things pick back up again at about 4:15. Great work from the rhythm section behind the trumpet, and Kisor throws down some great lines here. Joel Frahm’s sax solo starts at about 5:40, and the rhythm section breaks it down again, giving some space for Frahm to build his solo. As with the trumpet solo, the sax is backed by a strong rhythm section and Frahm builds an excellent solo, returning to the “Con Alma” melody at about 7:30. The sax and trumpet then play the melody in unison again at the end while the piano improvises behind them. The horns drop out momentarily at about 8:15, with the piano happily taking up that space, and then they play through the “Con Alma” theme again, getting that same triumphant feeling that they had in the introduction from the ascending horn lines here. Coleman’s drums crash behind these triumphant-sounding horn lines and they bring it to a close.
Gerald Clayton’s first album, Two-Shade, released in 2009, included a solo piano version of “Con Alma”, but he also plays the tune live with his trio featuring Joe Sanders on bass and Justin Brown on drums. In 2010, he played the tune at the New Morning in Paris (“Con Alma” starts just after 9:15 in this video). Clayton starts this version with a characteristically beautiful solo piano introduction before the drums and bass join at about 9:40. The head starts at about 9:55 with Clayton’s light piano touch taking the melody over brushed snare and Sanders’ descending bassline. At about 11:00, Clayton moves into a piano solo while Sanders outlines the “Con Alma” chords behind him. The interaction between Clayton and Sanders is great, with the bass filling in pieces of the melody when Clayton leaves some space. Throughout this improvisation, they keep the tune’s melody front and center, so even as the piano moves further from the head, the theme is always being outlined. At about 14:00, the trio is really swinging – Brown has moved from brushes to drum sticks and Sanders’ walking bassline is great here. At about 15:10, there’s a composed part that Clayton has added to his arrangement of this tune, and then at 15:35, the drums and bass drop out, only to return at 16:00. This part is really cool, with Clayton’s piano merging a classical feel with really swinging playing. At 16:35, the drums drop out and Sanders plays some bowed bass for the outro – check out that descending run at 16:50! Shortly after this, they bring this version of “Con Alma” to a close. Great playing from everyone here, and a great arrangement of “Con Alma” from Gerald Clayton. Clayton has done this tune solo on Two-Shade, and has also done a fine duet version with saxophonist Ben Wendel, always doing well by Gillespie’s melody.
Stepping away from the piano trio format for a moment (yes, I realize that Spike Wilner’s version wasn’t a trio either), drummer Ulysses Owens Jr.’s 2012 album Unanimous, with Nicholas Payton on trumpet, Jaleel Shaw on sax, Michael Dease on trombone, Christian Sands on piano, and Christian McBride on bass, included their version of “Con Alma”. They start with a drum intro from Owens before a fanfare from the horns comes in at about 0:15. Then at 0:30, the full band joins to play through a smooth three-horn arrangement of the “Con Alma” melody. The trombone takes the lead at about 1:00, and then the full horn section returns at 1:15, followed by a piano-led section that moves into a trombone solo shortly afterward. Some very high notes from the trombone around 3:15, then back into the mid-register stuff to close the solo. After the trombone solo, the piano-led section returns to introduce the next solo from the trumpet. It’s a good trumpet solo with some more fire behind it from the drums than was present under the trombone – especially around 4:45 or so as Payton kicks his solo into a higher gear. He plays some long, sustained notes that seem to evolve as the harmonies continue to change behind those sustained notes. At about 6:10, the piano-led section returns, this time to introduce a piano solo. It’s a good piano solo from Christian Sands, nice and swinging throughout. At 8:10, the horn section returns to play the head again at the close of this. Very similar to the head at the introduction, and the fanfare returns at 9:15 to close out this version. Quality playing from everyone, with Nicholas Payton’s trumpet solo as the highlight here, but overall this version could have use a little more, you know, alma (this might be a good place to reference this piece from Jonathan Wertheim).
And another piano trio version… In 2013, Aaron Parks released Alive in Japan, a live recording with Thomas Morgan on bass and RJ Miller on drums from a 2012 set that Parks recorded on his iPhone. This version starts with an abstract solo piano intro that doesn’t immediately point to the “Con Alma” theme. At about 0:45, some chords come in under this and the drums join in. Then at about 1:00, the trio moves into the tune’s head, swinging through this with Parks’ vocalizations lightly audible along with the piano and Miller’s ride cymbal providing the steady pulse. Really nice bass accompaniment at about 1:40 or so between the piano phrases. Parks takes a very relaxed piano solo after the head, playing melodic phrases over the walking bassline and leaving plenty of space throughout. After a fine piano solo, Morgan’s bass solo starts at about 5:30 over a light cymbal pulse and piano chords to accompany. The recording picks up the full bass tone and Morgan turns in a melodic solo of his own to follow Parks’ piano solo. At about 6:45, Morgan gives this more of a walking bass feel, though the bass solo continues. Some sort of ominous-sounding chords from the piano at about 7:20 but it’s back to the relaxed feeling at about 7:40. Shortly after that, they return to the head and continue with this relaxed, swinging feel. Again, nice descending bass lines in between the piano phrases. At 9:00, Parks’ piano comes in with a Latin-sounding line to close out this version of “Con Alma” and they take it out after this brief outro.
The soon-to-be-released Philadelphia Beat album (out March 3, 2015) from drummer Tootie Heath features another piano trio version of “Con Alma”, with Ethan Iverson on piano and Ben Street on bass. This version starts with Heath’s Latin-sounding introduction before the bass and piano join to play the head. The way that Iverson’s piano plays these chords gives this version of the tune a stately, almost classical-sounding feel. A cool, spooky section at about 0:35 and then they return to the main melody. Just before 1:00, Iverson takes a piano solo over this drum beat that Heath has been holding down and great bass accompaniment. That spooky feeling returns at 1:25 as the piano solo moves forward, and comes back again at 2:10 as a regular part of this arrangement of the tune. At about 2:45, the piano chords again give this a sort of classical feel at the tune’s close and they finish on that. Short and sweet, a nice and melodic piano solo from Iverson between the head at the start and finish of the tune. That little spooky feel is a nice addition to this version of “Con Alma”, and Heath’s drums are reminiscent of the percussion on Gillespie’s original version of the tune from Afro.
“Con Alma” is an undeniable classic from Dizzy Gillespie, but it’s an example of a tune that really took off in the hands of others. This is one that has been played many, many times, so this is just the tip of the iceberg – Sonny Rollins and Sonny Stitt, Oscar Peterson, George Shearing, and Wes Montgomery, to name a few, have all done versions of “Con Alma” worth seeking out and a bit of time on youtube or spotify or wherever you’re wasting time on the internet these days will come up with plenty more versions of this tune. There’s certainly lots to hear, starting with the birth of this tune and somewhat stiff rhythm , moving to the relaxed feel of Stan Getz’s version and later to the rhythmically adventurous version from OAM Trio, the versions from Gerald Clayton and Tootie Heath that gave this a sort of classical feel, and the super-fun quintet version led by Spike Wilner. Keep listening.
Ben Gray is a listener with a lot of ideas about this music around in his head.
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