September 13th, 2016
March 6th, 2016
On Friday, February 26, at the Seattle Art Museum, Earshot jazz presented Brian Blade & the Fellowship Band.
Seventeen years into its existence, drummer Brian Blade’s Fellowship Band possesses full assurance as it explores a quietly edgy style of jazz.
Tuneful, stylish, and imaginative, the unit takes its lead from one of the most solid percussionists in the business, and one who is keenly attentive both to what his bandmates are doing, and to what his compositions call for.
A spirit of collective undertaking establishes the “fellowship” of the band’s name. Pianist Jon Cowherd, Myron Walden on alto saxophone and bass clarinet, Melvin Butler on soprano and tenor saxophones, and Chris Thomas, on bass, all respond in kind, and the result is a stylistic cohesion that makes for riveting listening.
That quality was evident on the band’s 2014, Grammy-nominated release, Landmarks, which was its fourth, and a return to the Blue Note label which had issued the Fellowship Band’s self-titled 1998 debut as well as Perceptual, in 2000.
In a review of Landmarks in JazzTimes, Geoffrey Himes suggested that Blade’s evident humility – “you don’t even hear his drums until more than two minutes into the second track, and they don’t take the foreground until the beginning of the sixth track” – is in keeping with his long tenure in the band of a similarly self-effacing leader, Wayne Shorter.
It was, Heim wrote, “a testament to Blade’s leadership that his fellow musicians rein in their considerable technical facility” to boost the emotional depth of the band’s pieces. “This is not,” Heim wrote, “an album of young musicians trying to prove how many notes and changes they can play within eight bars; this is a session devoted to milking all the emotion lurking in the hymn-like melodies and wistful tempos.”
The music of Landmarks was a special instance of the harmony of the Fellowship Band’s repertoire: as the album’s name suggested, the project took inspiration from a sense of place, Shreveport, Louisiana, where Blade grew up, and the album was recorded. Blade told DownBeat that he deployed a mix of through-composition, poetic short pieces, and long “landscapes” to create a sense of travel about a location. “I like the journey aspect of Landmarks” – the “trip” that the tunes created.
He also emphasized his pleasure in taking that trip with such able bandmates: “I try to write what I have discovered and realized with as much clarity as possible, while thinking of the band. When they play it, all this rhythm, melody, and harmony becomes alive, and other ideas reveal themselves.”
On Landmarks, the sojourning was marked by the forms of music that have resonated during the history of the region around Shreveport, where the drummer was born, in 1970 – rich vernaculars of jazz, gospel, blues, and rhythm-and-blues that have generated rich, fresh vernaculars distinctive to the region.
August 7th, 2015
Earshot Jazz presented Tim Berne’s Snakeoil at the Royal Room in May an the were great. Tim Berne’s third ECM album, You’ve Been Watching Me, sees the saxophonist-composer again leading his dynamic New York band Snakeoil, now a quintet with the arrival of guitarist Ryan Ferreira. Just as Berne has hit a new peak with his writing on You’ve Been Watching Me, his band has reached a heightened state of collective interaction, realizing the compositions to a tee. Snakeoil – with the leader on alto sax alongside pianist Matt Mitchell, clarinetist Oscar Noriega, percussionist Ches Smith, and Ferreira on electric and acoustic guitars – can still be bracingly kinetic. But there is new space in these compositions and more lyrical focus to the improvisations, leading to a dynamic, even cinematic experience.
April 17th, 2015
Last Friday at the Royal Room Earshot Jazz presented Mark Helias’ Open Loose. The group has five records under its belt, and a stage chemistry that has stunned the New York jazz scene. Tenor saxophonist Tony Malaby and drummer Tom Rainey join bassist Helias in masterful explorations of “open loose” improvisation. The trio’s remarkable synergy is a combination of their individual dedication to the art of listening.
April 17th, 2015
September 12th, 2014
August 11th, 2014
(Jason Goessl, Brian Oppel, Phil Cali)
Earshot Jazz presented the last in the Jazz: The Second Century series last month ending the series with Trimtab. I really enjoyed listening to this group.
R. Buckminster Fuller, the great 20th century architect and theorist said, “We are called to be architects of the future, not its victims.” The band Trimtab is the sonic answer to this call. Trimtab is the concept of guitarist Jason Goessl, who being heavily influenced by the ideas of Buckminster Fuller, saw an intrinsic link between architecture and musical form – a link he sought to express in sound. Initially formed in Minneapolis, Goessl moved west to Seattle and enlisted bassist Phil Cali and drummer Brian Oppel, to form the newest incarnation of Trimtab, and further realize his musical vision.
Sweeping dynamic changes, woven through hypnotic musical tensions, all set against persistent grooves, the music of Trimtab is a unique blend of the concrete and the sonic, the physical and the ephemeral. There is a unique gravitational pull in their music, much like the unseen forces that send skyscrapers into the heavens and lift bridges across impossible expanses. Trimtab, if they are the true architects of the future, call on the past and the future alike to forge a sound whose gravitational center is the inescapable present. If they are answering the call, hopefully someone is listening.
August 6th, 2014
Earshot Jazz presented Sunna Gunnlaugs Trio at the Seattle Art Museum June 28th in a wonderful performance.
From Iceland comes a lyrical pianist with impeccable touch and time who, as The Washington Post said, “elegantly bridges soul-searching passages with uncluttered swing.” Three highly praised albums into a now-globetrotting career, Sunna demonstrates qualities that keep that lifestyle pleasurable: Her work is contemplative and unhurried, and yet fully capable of evoking great emotion and tension in her spacing and intonation. She counts as her influences the likes of Bill Evans and Keith Jarrett – the former echoes in her touch, the latter in a yearning lyricism – as well as Scandinavians like Bobo Stenson and Jon Balke. Like the last two, her accomplishment is in imbuing drama and feeling into measured playing, as well as relating a complexity of soul and spirit in glimmers as if through a drawn-out far-Northern gloaming. She has steeped her responses in both schools. After coming to the U.S. in 1993 to attend William Paterson, Sunna ventured to close-by New York City. There she eventually teamed with the likes of saxophonist Tony Malaby and bassist Drew Gress. She wins high praise for a style at once highly personal and compellingly inclusive of her audiences. She interpreted her repertoire with truly accomplished trio-mates, fellow Icelander Thorgrimur Jónsson on bass, and her and long-time collaborator (and husband) Scott McLemore on drums.
August 6th, 2014
One of the Northwest’s premiere jazz artists, pianist/vocalist/composer Dawn Clement is a sought after collaborator who has worked with the likes of Pharaoh Sanders, Nancy King, Ingrid Jensen, Jay Clayton, and more. The Seattle native is currently a member of the jazz faculty at Cornish College of the Arts, where she has served since 2000. Her fourth album, Tempest Cobalt, marks her debut as composer.
Joining Dawn will be Byron Vannoy on drums and Geoff Harper on bass. The Dawn Clement Trio performed original compositions, as well as some music they’ve written for Priester’s Cue.
July 23rd, 2014
LAst month Earshot Jazz presented in concert Human Feel at the Seattle Art Museum. This collective, after its start in Boston, in the 1990s became a quintessential representative of new directions in New York area jazz. Andrew D’Angelo (alto sax, bass clarinet), Chris Speed (tenor sax, clarinet), Kurt Rosenwinkel (guitar), and Jim Black (drums) played sparkling, angled jazz with jazz-rock energy, improvisers’ intuition, and contemporary chamber music chops.
It has always commanded the attention and affection of Seattle jazz fans because Black, D’Angelo, and Speed all ventured East from Seattle. They are certainly among our city’s finest musical exports. During the last 20 years, they and the band’s fourth stellar member, guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel, have been present at, if not generative of, some of the major turns in modern jazz – sometimes referred to as the “Downtown Jazz Scene,” perhaps misleadingly, particularly now that the band is very much ensconced in Brooklyn. The quartet’s mid-90s recordings, Welcome to Malpesta in 1994 and Speak to It in 1996, gained attention and wrought influence at the same time as the members of the quartet all branched out into other highly considered outfits. Speed and Black began long tenures with Tim Berne’s Bloodcount and two of Dave Douglas’s numerous. They performed together in Pachora, Speed’s yeah NO quartet, and Black’s AlasNoAxis quartet. Black played with Ellery Eskelin’s trio and with Laurie Anderson, while D’Angelo joined Matt Wilson’s quartet and Rosenwinkel landed an enviable contract with Verve. Still, as Human Feel they remained a touchstone of small-group collaboration, and their approaches influenced rising jazz experimenters the world over.
In its latest orbit, says Black, the band is intent on “balancing lyricism, aggression, order, and chaos, discipline and anarchy.” A new album, Human Feel’s sixth, is expected soon from Skirl Records.