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CD Review: Jason Palmer: The Concert: 12 Musings for Isabella

Jason Palmer The Concert: 12 Musings for Isabella









Thirty years ago today, as Boston’s raucous St. Patrick’s Day celebrations approached last call, two men wearing police uniforms entered the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and made off with 13 works by Rembrandt, Degas, Vermeer and others. With a value exceeding $500 million, the daring theft is probably the largest property crime in U.S. history, and remains unsolved.

Now, Boston-based trumpeter Jason Palmer has taken this cool story as the unlikely inspiration for The Concert: 12 Musings for Isabella, an effervescent new double-CD set for Jimmy Katz’s Giant Step Arts label available today.

You might call it a jazz version of “Pictures at an Exhibition,” though, unlike Mussorgsky, Palmer, who moved to Boston in 1997 to attend the New England Conservatory, has never seen any of the works that inspired his 12 compositions (two of Degas’ sketches were combined into a single composition).

It’s a work bristling with lines of pinpoint accuracy, snaky unison themes and thought-provoking soloing from the front line of Palmer, tenor saxophonist Mark Turner and vibraphonist Joel Ross. What really stands out, though, is the way that bassist Edward Perez and the almost absurdly musical drummer Kendrick Scott hustle you through the Gardner’s Renaissance-revival halls. They’re busy, but they leave plenty of elbow room for the soloists to stretch out.

And they do; the shortest track of the 135-minute program clocks in a two ticks under 8 minutes. So, this is very much a blowing session, though Palmer keeps things interesting through various strategies. He’ll mix meters within the same composition, as in the tumbling “Chez Tortoni” (after Manet), one of several pieces that feature chase choruses that call forth soloistic bravura, albeit of the most thoughtful sort. His heads have a uniformly brainy shapeliness, even when he changes things up by sometimes making them unison, sometimes harmonized with a stroke of West Coast-y counterpoint added for good measure.

You’d expect nothing less from the pairing of Palmer and Turner, two of the most punctilious composer/improvisors on the scene. The leader is the kind of trumpet player who enters the upper register only when he has a point to make, as he does on the now-he-dips, now-he-soars “A French Imperial Eagle Finial.” He paints his solos with short, precise musical brushwork, a brassy Fragonard.

Turner is similarly scrupulous, though he works in longer lines that are unsurprisingly surprising. His command of both his instrument and his ideas is sovereign, even when he’s hurtling through the harmonic chutes and ladders of “Landscape with an Obelisk.”

Joel Ross is in fast company here, but he often threatens to steal the show as on the roiling chase choruses of “Christ in a Storm on the Lake of Galilee” (after Rembrandt) where the musical waves were anything but calmed. Ross chooses intervals that are often surprising (a Fauvist, maybe?) and his comping in the pianoless quartet is never pushy.

I can’t say enough about the supple and responsive rhythm team of Perez and Scott who are up for every challenge, as on the opening “A Lady and Gentleman in Black” (after Rembrandt). As Palmer takes apart and reassembles his stop-start melody, Scott takes up the challenge with a subtle application of heat and washes of cymbal color.

It all makes for a stimulating day of phantom museum-going, and at $15 for a download, it costs approximately .000003 percent of the estimated value of the stolen artwork. With museums closed, it’s an incredible bargain and one that you should take advantage of immediately when your purchase can do the most good for artists who could really use the support.

Jason Palmer: The Concert: 12 Musings for Isabella
(Giant Step Arts)

Jason Palmer – trumpet, compositions
Mark Turner – tenor saxophone
Joel Ross – vibraphone
Edward Perez – bass
Kendrick Scott – drums

Jason Palmer’s Weblog

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CD Review: Mara Rosenbloom presents Flyways: Murmuration

Murmuration cover









One of the most extraordinary musical events of the last year was the appearance in Erie last September of pianist Mara Rosenbloom‘s Flyways with the vocalist Anaïs Maviel and Sean Conly substituting for Rashaan Carter on bass. This concert stood out both for risk taken by JazzErie, the usually conservative presenting organization, and for the quiet audaciousness of Rosenbloom’s music, which cast a spell over the audience at Mercyhurst University. If you want to know more about that occasion, I previewed the concert for the Erie Times here and reviewed it here.

At that concert, she hinted at an imminent release of this music and it has arrived. Mara Rosenbloom presents Flyways: Murmuration, recorded last March and June, presents music of understated audaciousness and captures the often confessional intimacy of that concert.

The centerpiece is the 36-minute-long “I Know What I Dreamed – Our Flyway” a setting of the second of Adrienne Rich’s 21 Love Poems. That cycle describes the difficulties of maintaining a relationship that is not supported by the community, but there’s also a rich subtext about the difficulties of the creative life. This portion of the work, with strong bass support from Carter and subtle, heartbeat percussion from Maviel, begins when she sings “I’ve been writing for days,” interrupting the reverie of the lover’s awakening with music of swirling, agitated obsession. That’s a state many of us know well, and it calls forth some of Maviel’s most looping and soaring lines. Her voice is not large, but it is pure and flexible and she brings a rapt, soft-focus inner glow to the text’s many moments of glowing introspection. It’s fair to say that though most of the work is improvised, it doesn’t sound like jazz, a style in which Rosenbloom and Carter are admittedly rooted. It’s more like a dramatic scena or a monodrama, and it’s quietly dazzling.

The CD’s other 18 minutes consist of five evocative miniatures, “Improvised Prelude – Greetings,” “Bird Migration Theme 2 – Take Off,” “Bird Migration Theme 1 – Murmuration” and “Bird Migration Theme 2 Reprise,” and a further Rich setting, “Dream of a Common Language – Irruption.” That text, from Rich’s Origins and Histories of Consciousness, is about the necessity and anxiety of change. It’s agitated and unsettling and captures perfectly the mood of a society on lockdown.

It’s a high point on a record that defies categorization and ignores genre boundaries. Still, the most touching moment might be the CD’s most conventional: the concluding solo piano take on one of the most familiar of standards, “These Foolish Things.” Rosenbloom dedicates it to her teacher Connie Crothers, a pianist whose stubborn originality kept her far from the recognition she deserved.

Let’s hope that doesn’t happen to Rosenbloom. Flyways: Murmuration is a strong statement about the most vulnerable places with us. It’s a work of rare bravery and candor, an illumination of an inner life to which we are all called to examine, never more so than now.

Mara Rosenbloom presents Flyways: Murmuration
(Fresh Sound/New Talent )

Mara Rosenbloom – piano, compositions
Anaïs Maviel – voice, surdo drum
Rashaan Carter – bass

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Comedian Harrison Greenbaum at Jr.’s Last Laugh

‘Hardest working’ comedian set for Erie shows, Erie Times-News ShowCase, 12 March, 2020

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Baritone Mario Diaz-Moresco and pianist Spencer Myer at the Rocky River Chamber Music Society

Spencer Myer and Mario Diaz-Moresco
Spencer Myer and Mario Diaz-Moresco at West Shore Unitarian Universalist Church 

Social distancing wasn’t a thing in 19th century Vienna when Beethoven wrote “An die ferne Geliebte,” but one suspects that the COVID-19 epidemic may spawn a new cycle of laments for distant or inaccessible lovers. Baritone Mario Diaz-Moresco and pianist Spencer Myer opened Monday night’s Rocky River Chamber Music Society recital at West Shore Unitarian Universalist Church with Beethoven’s 1816 song cycle and emphasized the songs dignified longing and emotional attenuation over lovelorn anguish. This was a poised and lyrical reading that was lovestruck but never moonstruck. The dedication that is the final song, “Nimm sie hin denn, diese Lieder” (Take, then, these songs/That I to you, beloved, sang) arrived as a benediction, not a plea. Beethoven, it seems, was far too proud to beg.

By way of transition (and giving Diaz-Moresco a break), Myer offered two rounds of Beethovenian trou normand in the form of the Andante favori in F and the C Major Rondo, Op. 51, No. 1, the latter of which was played with winning innocence and charm. Debussy offered that, too, in the final song of his three Villon Ballades, which cast a very modern side-eye to the conversational style of Parisian women. Diaz-Moresco was teasing and charming in this coquettish piece, even placing his hand on his hip in a manner familiar from countless Instagram selfies.

It was a nice introduction to the all-American program after intermission which opened with Barber’s late Three Songs. Like the Debussy triptych, that set opened in a somber vein with “Now I Have Fed and Eaten Up the Rose,” set in the liminal zone between life and death, while the skipping nonsense of “A Green Lowland of Pianos” brought out Diaz-Moresco’s natural comic gifts.

Myer’s programming of Barber’s Op. 20 “Excursions” was clearly a labor of love. Why aren’t these charming miniatures–a Gershwinian slow blues, a bustling, insouciant cityscape allegro and a closing hoedown that would make a great what-is-that? encore piece–better known?

Still, all this seriousness and fun was only a warmup for the most delightful and animated portion of the program: fours of William Bolcom’s delicious Cabaret Songs. Diaz-Moresco ate these up, milking the laugh-out-loud drollery of “Fur (Murray the Furrier)” and the Edward Gorey-esque dark comedy of “Song of Black Max” for all they were worth–which is quite a lot. The woozy, last-call mordancy of “Oh Close the Curtain” (a party song one drink beyond Porter’s “Well Did You Evah”) and “George,” a jaunty, show-stopping tale of gender fluidity and justified homicide, were delivered with the verve of Bobby Short. In Bolcom’s hands, social distancing can keep you safe, but why miss out on the fun?

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