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Author: John Chacona

Smash! Stephen Philip Harvey and His Band of Superheroes Are Here

Stephen Philip Harvey

 

“I hate that a big band is so . . . big,” saxophonist, composer and arranger Stephen Philip Harvey said with a chuckle. “It’s financially a problem, but I just really like big band music.”

Harvey likes it so much that he’s putting aside the financial, organizational and logistical challenges of touring with a big band to bring the Stephen Philip Harvey Jazz Orchestra (SPHJO) to Cleveland’s Bop Stop Thursday night to support the release two weeks ago of the band’s debut recording, Smash! (Next Level, 2022).

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Andy Milne & Unison Offer a Perfect Way To End Cleveland’s Perfect Jazz Weekend

Andy Milne and Unison

Everywhere you look, there are signs that the local jazz scene might again look like the one that went on leave in March, 2020. Reading the tea leaves, the return of the Tri-C Jazz Fest to Playhouse Square is huge tell. That tentpole event needs no introduction from me, just a hope that you’ll go and enjoy the great music on offer.

But there’s one more jazz event you should make room for this weekend. It’s the return to Cleveland’s Bop Stop of pianist Andy Milne and his Unison trio for a welcome if long-overdue tour to support his latest recording The reMission (you can read my review of that record here).

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Roll Call, June 19: Dmitri Matheny, Bill Ortiz, Grant Stewart and Melissa Stylianou

I get a lot of music for my consideration, already 350 (!) new releases so far this year. Almost all of them are notable for something, and I’d like to give them their due. So, when I’m not previewing live events in Northeast Ohio, I’ll offer hot takes on the preceding week’s releases. Like these.

Portland is known for rain, artisanal coffee and thanks to Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein, as the apotheosis of farm-to-table Millennial pretentiousness.

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New Ghosts presents Boundary-Crossing Quartet Allegories at Bop Stop

Allegories band Susan Alcorn Dave Ballou Shelly Purdy Michael McNeill

“Ultimately, I’m not interested in presenting just jazz,” said Matt Laferty, one of the founders of the music presenting organization New Ghosts told me. “I’m interested in everything that pushes, and you know, this is going to push in ways that I can’t even predict having an awareness of.”

Laferty was describing the music that Allegories will play Wednesday night at Bop Stop—or at least, he was attempting to predict what the cooperative quartet of pedal steel guitarist Susan Alcorn, trumpeter Dave Ballou, pianist Michael McNeill and percussionist Shelly Purdy might play.

 

It’s not an easy task. All four range freely across genre borders, but can be found in the dead center of a Venn diagram where jazz, contemporary classical music, improv and something that hasn’t yet quite acquired a label overlap.

McNeill, who lives in eastern Virginia, formed the ensemble after a planned tour with his jazz-oriented trio of New York bassist Ken Filiano and drummer Phil Haynes fell through.  “I thought, well, who in Baltimore might I like to play with?” He started with Purdy with whom he played when the two were on the vibrant new music scene in Buffalo and Ballou, another artist with whom he’d worked.  Susan Alcorn’s work was wall known to McNeill, but he didn’t know her personally. “I sent her an email and said, ‘I have this date. Would you like to play?’ And she said, ‘Sure.’ So that was that.”

It’s an ensemble that has collected a wide variety of playing experiences and styles. Ballou has performed or recorded with Maria Schneider and Steely Dan, Woody Herman and Andrew Hill, Dave Liebman and Joe Lovano. He teaches at Towson State University in the Baltimore suburbs. Purdy, who also lives in the Baltimore area, is a percussionist and composer who presents new and experimental music on both traditional and found instruments.

Alcorn, a Cleveland native, might be the best-known but least classifiable of the quartet’s musicians. She’s played with similarly genre-agnostic musicians such as guitarist Mary Halvorson and trumpeter Nate Wooley and her solo work touches on jazz, ambient sounds and music that Laferty described as “abstract in the almost American primitive style of someone like John Fahey.” Though her instrument is associated with country music, something Alcorn has played a lot of, her work nevertheless transcends that—and every other—genre.

Together, the quartet played an engagement at Baltimore’s An Die Musik venue in 2018 that was so successful that they planned to work together, perhaps in 2020. You know how that story ends.

When the band got together again, McNeill, envisioned a short tour of venues in Maryland and Virginia, but Alcorn suggested that he call Laferty about playing in Cleveland.

Alcorn remembered a hometown concert presented by New Ghosts in the back room of  the now-shuttered Nighttown where she was joined for part of her set by the local trio Iceberg. “She’s a brilliant musician,” Laferty said. “I find her playing endlessly compelling. So, even though I didn’t know Michael’s music well, I jumped at the chance to book Allegories.”

About that music: Allegories isn’t about completely free blowing. “I’m writing things that I hope lend themselves to interesting improvisations that without trying to control three great improvisers will get us into some areas I’m interested in exploring,” McNeill said. But, he added “We could probably do that without the compositions. So, we might play some totally free music too.”

In other words, there no telling what might happen Wednesday night at Bop Stop, and that suits Laferty just fine.  “I’m counting on the fact that I cannot count on what I’m going to get,” he said. “What better gift could you want?

 

Allegories, June 22, 7 p.m., at Bop Stop, 2920 Detroit Ave., Cleveland. $20 available here.

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Caili O’Doherty Returns to Bop Stop with a New Band and a New Record

Caili O'Doherty
photo by Anna Yatskevich

In the Irish language, céilí, pronounced KAY-lee, broadly means “dance.” That’s an apt description of the effervescent pianistic style of Caili O’Doherty, who will bring a quartet to the Bop Stop on Sunday to support “Quarantine Dream,” her new recording released last Friday.

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