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Rob Garcia 4 in Erie and Cleveland

Drummer Rob Garcia might be the only man alive to have played with both Chicago creative music legend Joseph Jarman and Woody Allen. For the record, he’s also appeared with Wynton Marsalis, Joe Lovano, Dave Liebman and Diana Krall. If that suggests a wide musical curiosity and technical mastery, Garcia has all of those attributes and more. He’ll be appearing in Erie tonight under the aegis of JazzErie and at Cleveland’s terrific Bop Stop club on Wednesday.

The band is terrific. Saxophonist Noah Preminger is a restless and probing player who has been Garcia’s primary collaborator for 20 years. Bassist Kim Cass was brought into the band by Preminger and Argentine-born pianist Leo Genovese is onboard after an ear-opening turn in the bands of bassist and vocalist Esperenza Spalding. This, friends, is a heavyweight lineup.

I caught up with Garcia this morning as he was about to drive to Erie from Columbus where the quartet played last night.

Our conversation, edited for length and clarity is below.

 

lct: How did you get through last year? Was it okay? And what did you learn?

RG: I did some live streaming performances, a couple solo things. There was a monthly series at a very small art gallery in Brooklyn where a solo musician would come in and perform mostly improv. Some people would play worked-out pieces, but also amongst the art that’s on the walls, a sort of response to the art. We continued the series, and for a while we did a weekly series where a musician would  do a remote performance from their home based on a particular set of paintings or artwork. I did a couple of those, a couple group livestream concerts, but for the most part, I practiced a lot. I wrote music, My grandfather, had a lot of 16-millimeter films that he took from 1936 to 1971. So I, I got into taking little pieces or making montages of the films and scored them. I created music through through recording at home and made  videos of them which was which was satisfying. It was nice to  have a collaboration with my late grandfather who’s passed away in 2002.  And I continued to teach drum lessons remotely. I also took a part time job at the Park Slope Food Co-Op.

lct: Ah, the infamous Slope Co-Op! Is this the first time that you and the band have played out since the lockdown?

RG: You know, I play with lots of different bands, but  since about mid-May of this year, it’s been quite busy. And a lot of these gigs are coming in last-minute. I’m a freelance musician like we all are. So, I play in lots of different bands and and actually did a couple live shows with this group in June and July.

lct: I want to ask you about this group, because you and Noah Preminger have been together forever it seems, but Leo Genovese and Kim Cass are new. How did this band come together?

RG: I met  Kim through Noah. They know each other from going to school in Boston. He’s just such a amazing player, unique player playing stuff on the bass that I don’t hear anybody else doing. He has a lot of personality to his playing and very unique. Leo I met years ago. Over the years we would do some sessions and then I started calling to sub in my band at times when maybe  Dan Tepfer was was doing most of the gigs or Gary Versace. I really enjoyed his playing and more things were working out for him to do it. And he’s such a unique player as well. I really feel like this combination is really special. Everybody has a very distinct sound, and  plays their instruments so well and creatively and together, and we all have big ears; we’re listening to each other. And so we know how to make it work with each other, you know?  I feel like the sound, the vibe is very present, and that’s really fun.

lct: And Noah Preminger has been with you for a long time. How did you meet and what do you hear in his sound that has made your association so rewarding?

RG: I first met Noah on a gig we both did with John McNeil, the trumpet player. John had a regular, a weekly gig in Brooklyn, and Noah was playing regularly with him. I’ve known John for years even before that, so I subbed in the band once in a while. So that’s how I met Noah. When I was getting a quartet together for the Douglas Street Music Collective I called Noah, and I really enjoyed  playing from that first gig that we played together with John.  I loved [Preminger’s] playing, I loved his vibe. Personality-wise, we got along well, and, and I just started calling him for all all my gigs. And the this sort of quartet kind of came together with with Noah, from the beginning. He plays my music really well, he understands what I want, the stuff off the page. And, and a lot of times I’ll write songs,  with him in mind, like knowing his playing and knowing what he likes to do. We both continue to grow as players and expand our own vocabulary, and just make it work. I think it really works.

The Rob Garcia 4 will play Monday, September 13 at 7 p.m. at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Erie, 7180 Perry Highway, Erie, PA 16509 Erie, PA 16509 sponsored by JazzErie. This is a free concert.

The band will also appear Wednesday, September 15 at 7 p.m. at BOP STOP at The Music Settlement, 2920 Detroit Ave, Cleveland, OH 44113. For ticket information, click here.

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Roll Call: September 3, 2021

I get a lot of new music for my consideration, 407 releases 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. The week of August 28 was so busy–15 new releases–that I spread it out over two posts, and two weeks. Now I’m effectively a week behind with more delays probably on the way as a big review of Cleveland’s Tri-C festival will occupy my time next week. For now, though, savor what was a very strong week for creative music.

Pianist Rachel Eckroth got her start playing with and writing for large jazz ensembles, but lately, the LA-based musician has added color and texture to music by genre-agnostic artists such as Rufus Wainwright, St. Vincent and KT Tunstall.

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Roll Call: 27 August, 2021, part 2

I get a lot of music for my consideration, 398 releases 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. Last week was so busy–15 new releases–that I spread it out over two posts, and two weeks. Where this leaves this week’s 12 (!) new releases is anyone’s guess. I’m not complaining; this has been a very rewarding week of listening.

Jazz musicians interrogating life’s biggest questions is nothing new, but I can’t recall anything quite like  “Portals, Volume 1 – Mourning” (Sunnyside Records). Then again, its composer Caroline Davis isn’t quite like any other jazz musician.

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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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Roll Call: 20 August, 2021

I get a lot of music for my consideration, more than 350 new releases in 2021. 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.

 

Pittsburgh-born bassist Leon Lee Dorsey has had a busy 2021. In January he released “Thank You Mr. Mabern,” a trio date  that may well be the late pianist Harold Mabern’s final session. Now comes “Freedom Jazz Dance” on Dorsey’s own Jazz Avenue 1 imprint.

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