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Tag: Nighttown

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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The More Things Change . . . Dan Polletta Returns to 90.3 FM

Dan Polletta

“Jazz Is Dead” is the perennial Hydra of music criticism. Every time that the abundant evidence to the contrary decapitates that claim, two more spring up: “The jazz record business is dead” or “jazz radio is dead.”

Nostalgia for a half-remembered Golden Age may be the price of admission into any fan club, especially one with a membership that skews old and grumpy. Yet doomsayers aside, there are plenty of signs of life for anyone who cares to look—or listen–for them.

One can be found in northeast Ohio, though you’ll have to look in the dark to find it.  From midnight to 6 a.m., Dan Polletta, who for many years was a voice of jazz radio at WCPN, is back on the air at WCLV.

His return is part of a reordering of the public radio landscape that began when Ideastream Public Media signed an operating agreement with WKSU to make that station the news and information hub, while moving WCLV’s classical music programming from 104.9 FM to a stronger signal at 90.3 FM, WCPN’s former dial position.

That’s the frequency where for 22 years, Jazz with Dan Polletta held down the 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. shift, a tradition that ended in 2009 when changes in the station’s programming deemphasized jazz and Polletta shifted to becoming a reporter on the culture beat.

Polletta’s 33-year run at WCPN came to an end in August 2020 in a series of pandemic-induced layoffs. The veteran broadcaster freelanced as the host of The Landscape, a podcast produced by Crain’s Cleveland Business, but when the Ideastream added jazz to WCLV’s predominantly classical music programming, Polletta happily returned to 90.3.

“I’m very excited,” Polletta told me by phone earlier this spring. “You know, it’s nice for jazz to have some sort of presence back on the air.”

Radio is an intimate medium where on-air personalities develop close relationships with their listeners. It’s no surprise then that in many ways, Polletta is sticking to a familiar script. “I have always very much made the music the centerpiece of the program,” he said, adding “It’s not about me. It’s about this present moment, sharing this jam. I just feel like I’m sitting down and talking to people about jazz and we’re listening to records together. I know that’s old fashioned, but that’s really the way I see it.”

Still, he acknowledges that the radio world—the media world—has changed, not only since 1987, but since his last live jazz air shift in 2009. “Maybe the breaks are a little bit tighter now. When I started in public radio, we’d go on and on and on about the music and the players–and I get all that. I love all those guys, but that’s probably not going to happen as much in 2022, just to be realistic.”

Polletta also needed to be realistic about how to sustain a flow over a six-hour air shift. “Everybody has a different approach, but the people who say ‘Oh, I just come in and kind of wing it,’ I can’t do that,” he admitted. “I know everything I’m going to play except for the last song of every hour. I try to build sets to flow. I take a lot of time with that–probably too much time, but I think it’s important to construct the kinds of sets where the pieces flow together, and I try to cover a lot of ground stylistically.”

Since he first opened the mic in 1987, Polletta has been a part of the northeast Ohio jazz scene and he’s witnessed how the music and the players have evolved. As the curtain rises on Act II of his jazz radio career, Polletta observes that the scene has always been solid.

“As far as talented local musicians are concerned, there’s plenty enough to hear. What’s changed is the number of national acts that come to town. Part of that is because Nighttown closed and has not yet reopened, but there also used to be a jazz society here that presented concerts and that disbanded many years ago. So thank God for the Bop Stop. What Gabe [Pollack, the club’s director] does is amazing, isn’t it? But I think we had a lot more shows 20 years ago and I think that’s just the nature of jazz too.”

He may be right, but five nights a week, 52 weeks a year, there’s a jazz show that’s as close as your radio or streaming device. To find it just listen for the familiar, authoritative voice of Dan Polletta.

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June Busts Out In Cleveland with a Cuban Piano Powerhouse and an All-Star Band

Hilario Durán/Andy James

Friday: Hilario Durán Trio at Bop Stop

GENTLE READERS, Here’s a note from the Bop Stop: “DUE TO HEALTH AND SAFETY PROTOCOLS AND AN ABUNDANCE OF CAUTION, TONIGHT’S SHOW WITH HILARIO DURAN HAS BEEN CANCELED. WE ARE WORKING TO RESCHEDULE THIS DATE FOR THE FALL. ALL TICKET PURCHASERS WILL BE NOTIFIED ABOUT REFUNDS.”

If a nation’s stature were ranked by great pianists per-capita, Cuba would surely lead the world. With a population comparable to Ohio’s, Cuba has produced keyboard lions Fabian Almazan, Harold López-Nussa, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Omar Sosa, Manuel Valera, David Virelles and the pianistic Valdés dynasty whose currently represented by Chucho and Cuchito. On Friday, a Cuban-born pianist who is squarely in the lineage of these lions of the keyboard will visit Cleveland.

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Can We Talk? Gerald Clayton Comes to Bop Stop for Two Conversations on Improvisation

 

For generations, the jazz business has spent a lot of time and money looking for ways to grow the genre’s dedicated but comparatively small audience. Pianist Gerald Clayton has some advice for them: Ain’t nothing to it but to do it.

“That applies to how to approach playing the music, learning how to play the music, and also learning how to listen to it,” the 38-year-old Clayton said in a phone interview Tuesday. “If we just have folks listening to this music over and over and over, I think the process will come pretty naturally and take care of itself, but I think there’s nothing wrong with having a bit of a liaison, a tour guide pointing out some things to listen for.”

On June 1 and 2 that tour departs from Bop Stop sailing under the flag of Piano Cleveland’s Listening Series with Clayton as your guide.

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