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Tag: Bill Frisell

Joe Lovano’s Hometown Band Offers A Hero’s Welcome

Joe Lovano

If there were a Mount Rushmore of Cleveland jazz, maybe on the bluff overlooking the West Flats, who would be on it? Albert Ayler and Tadd Dameron for sure, and maybe Eddie Baccus, too. Joe Lovano is still very much with us, but it’s not too soon to reserve a place for him up there, too.

Lovano’s career accomplishments, including his tenure with Bill Frisell in Paul Motian’s enormously influential trio, loom so large that it’s easy to forget that the saxophonist’s first big gig was with the Woody Herman Orchestra.

Trombonist Scott Garlock, the executive director of the Cleveland Jazz Orchestra with whom Lovano will play two concerts this weekend, remembers.

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A Great Week in Cleveland, Part 1: Ben Wendel and Joel Ross

Ben Wendel Credit Anouk van Kalmthout
photocredit Anouk van Kalmthout

When I moved to Cleveland in late 2019, I was eager to plunge full-time into a jazz scene that looked like New York’s to me. That notion might be laughable to longtime citizens of The Land, but from the jazz desert of Erie, Pennsylvania, that’s how Cleveland looked to me. Consider this ten-day period in Sept. 2019 when Bop Stop presented a cavalcade of stars that would make even the most hardened New York booker bow in respect and awe.

Even with stars in my eyes I knew that such intervals are few and far between. But every rule needs an exception as proof, and one has arrived this week where in the course of three nights, Cleveland will host concerts by the brilliant tenor saxophonist Ben Wendel, vibes wizard Joel Ross and the mesmerizing poet, community activist and truth-teller Moor Mother.

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Chris Hovan’s Quartet Brings Generations Together at Bop Stop Gig

Jazz has so many dialectics, you’d think it was invented by Socrates or Hegel. Inside/outside, written/improvised, traditional/avant-garde: all are ways of arriving at the truth about jazz.

As a journalist as well as a player, Cleveland’s Chris Hovan is surely familiar with these admittedly reductive categories and more–like this one: young/old. It’s implied in the name of his Generations Quartet, which will appear Thursday night at Bop Stop at the Music Settlement.

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Roll Call: 27 August, 2021, part 1

I get a lot of music for my consideration, nearly 400 so far this year. Almost all of them are notable for something, and I’d like to give them their due. So, every week, more or less, I’ll offer hot takes on the releases of the preceding seven days. This week was exceptionally busy with 13 new releases, three of which arrived on release day. So this week’s reviews will be spread over two posts with the second scheduled for . . . whenever I can listen to all of them.

It seems like every cooking show I watch (and I watch a lot of them), features extreme close-ups of chefs using tweezers to lovingly position tiny perfect garnishes on their exquisitely refined food. At 81, drummer Andrew Cyrille does much the same thing with every cymbal stroke or brush of his snare drum. Much like fellow drum mystic Paul Motian did in his late career, Cyrille has pared away all excess and embellishment leaving a style where every gesture feels essential. On “The News” (ECM Records), he reconvenes the quartet from 2016’s “The Declaration Of Musical Independence” with the crucial substitution of Cuban-born pianist David Virelles for synthesist Richard Teitelbaum. Virelles,who tapped Cyrille and bassist Ben Street for his 2012 Pi Recordings debut, “Continuum,” is notable for what he doesn’t play; the space he leaves in this late-night music music creates an atmosphere that is haunting and more than a little haunted. Frisell, himself a master of musical space, contributes three compositions, including the bouncy, Ellington-inspired “Go Happy Lucky.” His rapport with the leader is complete, as is Street’s. “The News” is the kind of recording you can listen to fifty times and never get to the bottom of it.

I want to know: who the hell is Ex-Vitamins, the mastermind behind this eponymously titled, self-released surprise package of hooky, club-ready audio MDMA? The publicity materials hint at a New Jersey-based keyboardist and producer with friends “who once referred to David Bowie, St. Vincent, Paul Simon, Taylor Swift, Demi Lovato, or others as the boss.” Ex-Vitamins lists them in the credits—and why not, when the names are as glossy as drummers Mark Guiliana and Nate Smith, bassist Tim Lefebvre and saxophonist Ben Wendel? Recorded during 2020 as individual parts assembled by Ex-Vitamins, the music is throbbingly rhythmic and as vivid as a Yayoi Kusama installation. At 5:30, the semi-abstract “Wendy” is the longest cut, while the shortest, “Ism,” is two-and-a-half minutes of pure Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, circa 1992. Snackable. This might be a late summer without parties, but whoever he is, Ex-Vitamins has put together a slyly jazz-adjacent party record that hits the ears like a mega-dose of B-12.

The pitch was not inspiring. Seeing the “Theme From The Odd Couple” on the track list earmarked Andy Farber‘s Early Blue Evening as yet another release by yet another rehearsal band led by a guy who thinks jazz history ended in 1974 and who looks like me. But Artist Share is not the kind of place to take your vanity project. Furthermore, any band that includes James Zollar, Art Baron, Carl Maraghi and Godwin Louis would be one very expensive hobby. So, this one earned a spin, and I’m glad it did. True, any of Farber’s 11 charts for Early Blue Evening could have been written before Thad met Mel, but they are all beautifully written and played with affection–and great precision, too–by these ace New York players. The Ellington and Basie bands of the 50s are a clear and acknowledged point of reference, but even those touchstone outfits had arrangements in their band books that weren’t nearly as good as these. Excellent solos by Baron, the last trombonist hired by Duke, and by the leader who on “Portrait of Joe Temperley” plays the saxophonist’s own instrument, stamp the passport on authenticity and seriousness of intent. Getting the wonderful Catherine Russell, whose lineage stretches to the idiom’s birth, to sing the concluding “How Am I To Know” only adds to the recording’s big band bona fides. Lesson learned: don’t judge a record by its cover.


Bassist Marc Johnson exploded onto the scene in 1985 with “Bass Desires,” his ECM Records debut as a leader that featured a dream team of Bill Frisell and John Scofield, Charlie Haden and Peter Erskine. Since then he’s led or co-led 18 recordings, but none since “Swept Away” in 2012. For “Overpass,” Johnson adds to a category that Manfred Eicher’s label essentially invented: the solo bass record. Beautifully recorded in São Paulo, “Overpass” captures a beautiful instrument put through its paces from the opening bounce of Eddie Harris’ “Freedom Jazz Dance” to the cyclonic “Whorled Whirled World” that ends the 43-minute recording. Introspective takes on “Nardis” and “Love Theme from ‘Spartacus'” look back on Johnson’s tenure in the last of pianist Bill Evans’ trios, but the highlight is “Samurai Fly,” a retitled reprise of “Samurai Hee-Haw” from Bass Desires’ debut where the Nebraska-born bassist takes on the triple roles of himself, Scofield and Frisell on an overdubbed barn-burner of a barn dance.


Naufragés (Arté Boreal) is the French word for castaways, but if taken as a self-descriptor, this music places the Montréal quartet led by electric bassist Alex Lefaivre  on an island squarely in the middle of the new musical mainstream, at least as it is practiced by the graduates of university or conservatory jazz programs. That means a lot of straight-eight grooves with some tunes in five or seven for contrast, rock-solid technique demonstrated by all players and a general avoidance and a cultivation of group sound. The greatest pleasures on Naufragés can be found in the hookup between the leader’s electric bass and Alain Bourgeois’ crisp drumming. Their hustling pulse balances the more lyrical instincts of guitarist Nicolas Ferron and Erik Hove’s soft-edged alto saxophone. The bright, lucid recording by Simon l’Espérance lets you hear every note of it.

The cover image of “Run In The Storm” (self-released) shows Andrew Renfroe playing a hollow-body guitar, the kind of instrument you might associate with jazz. Drop the needle and you hear a very different sound, aggressive, heavy-gauge and biting. It’s the classic sonic signature of a Fender solid-body guitar (publicity photos show him hefting a Telecaster). Bill Frisell has long since made the jazz world safe for solid-body instruments, and Renfroe’s playing, more earthy than ethereal, leans heavily on the blues and the harmonic innovations of French modernist composer Olivier Messiaen. That’s an unlikely formula, but Renfroe, saxophonist Braxton Cook and the locked-in rhythm team of Taber Gable on keys, bassist Rick Rosato and Curtis Nowosad on electro-acoustic drums supply the heat that makes the alloy come together. The vivid recording only enhances the physicality of the Florida-born guitarist’s full-length debut.

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