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Tag: John McNeil

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: August 21, 2020

I get a lot of music for my consideration, more than 300 new 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, I’ll do quick hits on the releases of the preceding seven days. it’s a great writing exercise, and a lot of fun, too.

Teodross Avery - Harlem StoriesWith the possible exception of Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk has been the subject of more tribute albums than any jazz musician I can think of. The notion of a tribute album has more to do with marketing as it does with music, and again like Ellington, Monk’s music, vast and endlessly current, needs no special pleading. To his credit, Teodross Avery says as much in the publicity materials for “Harlem Stories: The Music of Thelonious Monk,” and the CD bears him out. Avery plays the music relatively straight, reminding us that while Monk is a godfather of jazz’s more exploratory directions innovations from the 1950 on, he’s also a foundation stone of the mainstream. Both sides of the composer are represented by the two bands Avery chooses here with bassist Corcoran Holt the only common member. The first, features pianist Anthony Wonsey and drummer Willie Jones, III, on whose label, WJ3, the CD was released. Avery’s strong, bright tone leads the charge through four of Monk’s greatest hits and the seldom-covered “Teo” (get it?) with Allakoi Peete’s cajon adding discreet color to “Ruby My Dear.” Jones is a quintessential East Coast drummer, right on top of the beat, but when Marvin “Bugalu” Smith takes the drum chair for the final five compositions, the beat gets wider. Credit pianist D.D. Jackson who joyously pushes the band to explore the brilliant corners of Monk’s lines. Jackson’s florid, extravagant style couldn’t be farther technically from Monk’s laconic concision yet gets to the core of the master’s revolutionary, trickster spirit.

The ultimate secret truth of jazz is that there’s no going back. Still, what fan of jazz vocals can resist a little nostalgia for the 1950s when the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Carmen McRae, Sarah Vaughn and Dinah Washington were all on the scene? In that light, the week after the death of Annie Ross might not have been an ideal time to audition Allegra Levy‘s “Lose My Number.” Or maybe it was. Levy’s voice doesn’t have Ross’ sparkle or her insouciant sass, but, damn, she’s fearless. Who else would dare write lyrics to a program of nine snaky, boppish lines by the trumpeter John McNeil? Levy’s generation is tagged with being post-ironic, an accusation that five minutes on Twitter will render laughable, but her  lyrics are nicely mordant and in a cool sort of way, as weltschmerzy as Lorenz Hart’s. Love songs for the “Modern Love” generation.  “Livin’ Small” makes McNeil’s coiling melody into a post-Crash update to “The Folks Who Live On The Hill” or “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love.” “Strictly Ballroom” is a boppish, Lambert, Hendricks and Ross-ish update of Berlin’s “I Won’t Dance” (“I wish when you held me it was only in highest esteem.“) while “Tiffany” is a daydream of luxury with a songful bass solo by Carmen Rothwell and a glittering, diamond necklace of a piano solo from Carmen Staaf, who dazzles throughout. Indeed, the trio, driven by drummer Colleen Clark, almost steals the show while McNeil delivers a trumpet benediction on three tracks. “Lose My Number” is a keeper in every way.

Camila Nebbia - AuraWhen ears&eyes records sent a record of new music from Buenos Aires, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it certainly wasn’t the bristling, whip-smart and fiercely committed music that I found on “Aura.” Saxophonist and composer Camila Nebbia‘s compositional style occupies the increasingly porous borderlands between jazz and contemporary classical music. She draws from the large ensemble strategies of Anthony Braxton, the rhythmic cycles of Anna Webber’s big band work and the attention to sound and timbre of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians. There are echoes of tango in the arcing glissandos in the strings, and the revolutionary fervor of tenor saxophonist Gato Barbieri’s early ensembles on Impulse. Those records had an explicitly political subtext that’s suggested in Nebbia’s “La desintegracio?n,” which alternates order and chaos until sharp orchestral tuttis slam the door. Like Barbieri’s ensembles, Nebbia’s nine musicians play with a jostling looseness. Soloists elbow their way to the front of the sonic picture, say their piece and step back, like speakers at a student protest. It’s wonderfully fresh and exciting and even the unadorned sonics add to the DIY authenticity of the project.


The saxophonist Jane Bunnett once told me that “once the clavé gets inside you, you hear clavé everywhere.” The five-beat heart of Cuban rhythm is as close as music comes to an irresistible force, and it’s the best thing about Kemuel Roig‘s “Genesis.” Like a lot of artists in their debut statements, the Cuban-born pianist, composer and arranger throws everything he has at this one: dreamy arrangements, churchy power ballads, movie-theme melodies and even a tender ballad dedicated to Roig’s young son. Here, as occasionally elsewhere, things can get a little too pretty, but then the irresistible rhythm kicks in to sweep you away. Roig is also a playful soloist and a witty arranger. Setting Joe Henderson’s “Inner Urge” to a 6/8 Afro-Cuban rhythm for Chris Potter was a shrewd acknowledgement of the tenor player’s rhythmic strength. More Potter in clavé, please.


Sanlikol - The Rise UpAround thirty years ago, musicians such as clarinetist Chris Speed and trumpeter Dave Douglas explored integrating elements of Balkan music into a jazz context, and lately the Iraqi-American trumpeter Amir El’Safar and the Canadian oud player Gordon Grdina have something similar with the scales and improvisational methods of the Middle East. Yet the music of Turkey, the empire that governed both regions for centuries, has been relatively little explored. “The Rise Up,” by Turkish-born, Boston-based pianist, composer and arranger Mehmet Ali Sanlikol, begins with a kind of missionary zeal to make Turkish culture and music more intelligible by using as entry points familiar narratives, among them the poetry of Rumi and the Sephardic diaspora to the Ottoman Empire. The latter was suggested by saxophonist David Liebman, who commissioned the nine-part suite and is its primary soloist.  That’s one connection “The Rise Up” makes with the classic “Sketches of Spain,” which was a practically concerto for Miles Davis. The similarities don’t stop there. “Sephardim,” the second of “The Rise Up’s” three movements incorporates the solea that arranger Gil Evans used in the earlier masterwork. The orchestra, conducted here by Ken Schaphorst, echoes Evans’ assortment of low and high brass and doubling woodwinds. Sanlikol plays oud, ney, an end-blown flute, and zurna, a reed instrument and even sings in a five-man Byzantine choir. It’s a poignant reminder that the Ottoman empire was multi-ethnic and multi-cultural and the heart of this deeply-felt and lovingly executed project.

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