Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Ellery Eskelin - New CD Release Announcement Trio New York II

Just received this in my email from Ellery Eskelin and thought I would take the opportunity to promote a really fine saxophonist.

TRIO NEW YORK II is NOW Available... Listen to samples on the website... See the promotional video on YouTube… Order on-line using Pay Pal for Immediate Delivery Worldwide...

Please visit the website and click the TRIO NEW YORK link for complete information and track samples
Have a look at the TRIO NEW YORK II video on Youtube. 
To ORDER NOW simply visit the Mail Order page. You’ll have the CD in no time!

prime source CD 7010

Ellery Eskelin - tenor saxophone
Gary Versace - Hammond B3 organ
Gerald Cleaver - drums

The New Yorker magazine recently referred to me as a saxophonist “with a romantic streak that runs parallel to his experimental leanings”. I like that. Romance is a descriptor that is rarely associated with the improv scene in New York City. And for the past couple of decades that is what I’ve been doing mostly. I’ve always thought of “Trio New York” as a free improvisation unit, in some ways a continuation of the type of work I’ve been doing all along, in other ways a distinct break from many of the concepts I’d been working with previously. For those of you familiar with our first recording, you'll know that we use the Great American Songbook as our source material.

“Trio New York II” is the second recording by this group and represents an evolution, the band having fine tuned it’s musical processes from gig to gig though our touring in Europe as well as performances in Canada and the US, most recently being the Detroit Jazz Festival. I’m very proud to be working with two of the great musicians of our time, organist Gary Versace (who knows his way around a Hammond organ and knows how to be creative with it) and Gerald Cleaver (who is both swinging and free, always with impressive dynamic sensitivity). This new release also coincides with the fact that as of this month I’ve been living in New York City for thirty years. A lot has happened during that time and I feel as though I’m finally in a place where I can truly integrate all my experiences into the music, from the early days up until today.

As for this recording, please know that it’s very important to me to take the extra time and expense to document this work and present it to you as a physical entity with the highest standards of artistic and technical quality possible. This documentation is not only central to my progress as an artist but I feel it is doubly important that as we are asking for your time and attention you should understand that you are getting a state of the art recording for your collection that you can value for many years to come. Trio New York II is released on my own “prime source” label.

Thank You,
Ellery Eskelin

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Two Original Tracks from Saxophonist Dotun Bankole

Tenor Saxophonist Dotun “Dotsax” Bankole dropped by my house the other night for a jam. He plays a 156k silver plate Mark VI which is about a year younger than the horn I've been playing lately, a 148k Mark VI that is basically bare brass, having been stripped of its silver plate a long time ago. The horns are brothers from the late 60's, although his has a high F# key and mine doesn't  Dotun really liked the resonance of my horn and we traded instruments for the evening. He is playing on a Jody Jazz metal mouthpiece which was given to him by the manufacturer while on tour in the States a couple of months ago with Femi Kuti.

Dotun was bemoaning the scarcity of jazz in present-day Lagos. There is not a single venue in this city of 17 million that features live jazz every day. I thought maybe it was just me because I have played out less this past year than in any year in recent memory, although I have been working in a city which is lauded in some media circles as one of the really happening places in the third world. Not really happening for jazz since there is practically no place to jam, even for excellent local players, and not much happening even for home-grown styles like afrobeat although the music press refers to afrobeat as being really popular worldwide – I've previously written about that paradox.

In any event, Dotun continues to improvise and create on his saxophone. Recently he has been working on two original tracks in the studio: Irawo Owuro and Aja Nti Ele, where he plays soprano sax rather than his more usual tenor. You can listen to these two works-in-progress here and look for and buy the CD when it is released. Click on the track names to download and listen. Meanwhile, you can catch Dotsax playing tenor behind Femi Kuti at the New Africa Shrine in Ikeja, Lagos, on Thursday and Sunday evenings.

Friday, 15 March 2013

Lee Konitz, Conversations on the Improviser’s Art

Just finished reading Andy Hamilton’s excellent book of interviews with and about 85-year-old alto saxophonist Lee Konitz, one of the few remaining survivors of Bird’s generation, who continues to create masterfully until this day. It is a good read all the way through and I heartily recommend it. Rather than review the book, since I am sure you can find reviews elsewhere on the net, I decided to post some of my favorite quotes from Lee. His prologue is a strong start: 

“I'm writing this after a trip to Vienna, and while I was there I had the opportunity to hear an Austrian tenor player, fifteen years old, who really played the instrument very well, and wowed the audience with his expertise. And a few days ago I heard an Italian alto player of the same age who was really unbelievably accomplished, instrumentally and musically – and he really got the audience shouting approval. When I was fifteen years old I was playing, but no one had really inspired me like these two guys have obviously been inspired. These two people were not aware, as of yet, of a true musical statement, without the sensationalism – something they will learn, we hope. 

…I never wowed an audience in my whole life like these young players did, so I can’t help but feel I've missed something. But in a more modest way I've been able to continue playing, in private and in public, with occasional comments from people after a concert telling me they like the way I played through the years.” 

On Charlie Parker: (Hamilton) At his peak, for a few years in the late 1940’s, Parker was probably the most phenomenal improviser jazz has ever seen. (Konitz) “Red Rodney was quoted as saying that he didn't think Bird knew the changes all that well! So I wonder. He certainly knew elementary harmony…” 

On Anthony Braxton: “Well, it’s the worst solo I've ever heard in my life, I think. I don’t know what his real intention is in doing this…I can’t stand his sound. I think it’s awful.” 

On practicing: “I haven’t read music for years. I don’t enjoy doing that too much.” 

On the sound of the saxophone: “Our sound has to do with our whole anatomy…We are the sound. When Charlie Parker borrowed my horn for a set at Birdland, to my complete astonishment, it no longer sounded familiar to me. It’s a most flexible instrument.” 

On perfect pitch: “No, I have imperfect pitch! Sometimes when things are right I can hear pretty accurately. But waking up in the morning and hitting a concert A or whatever, I have to think about that for a minute…Absolutely unsure – after all these years. That’s amazing!” 

Great stuff – go get the book and read more (yes, I know it is old school but some people still read books these days). Better yet, get out some Lee Konitz records and listen for a while.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

The Genius of Fela’s Horn Lines

Now that I have about a dozen of Fela Kuti’s tunes under my belt courtesy of weekly lessons with his former baritone sax player Showboy, currently music director of Egypt 80, I have begun to understand Fela’s music much better. Although I have long been a big fan and have listened to Fela’s records for decades, placing him in my 1970's musical triumvirate alongside Miles Davis and James Brown, I am just now really appreciating the sheer genius of the lines he wrote for his horn section. Genius is an overused term and I do not choose it frivolously. 

Fela’s music is not written down anywhere - but Showboy knows all the tunes, the arrangements, the solos, the horn parts, the harmonies, the rhythms, the voicings, the vocals, and the cues by heart, since he spent so many years playing and touring with Egypt 80. He is teaching me by ear, scatting the parts while I do my best to pick them out on my horn and note them down. It is obvious to me that Fela was a tenor sax player since virtually every horn part I have learned so far falls comfortably under my fingers on tenor. Felas’s music is primarily in minor keys and the keys are, again, almost all comfortable ones for the tenor sax, not bizarre keys that test if you got As in music theory class. Although Fela started out on trumpet, played alto sax before taking up tenor, and finished his career mostly on keyboards (I understand the reason is that the cumulative effects of multiple beatings by the authorities made it difficult for him to play much sax in the later years of his life), his music is that of a tenor saxophonist. Composed on the instrument, not on paper away from the horn. 

Over the last few weeks something broke loose and I discovered the inner logic to Fela’s music, an epiphany of sorts. Lately I’ve been able to pick up tunes in minutes as opposed to hours. Last session I was on top of Power Show after only about 10 minutes. 

It dawned on me that most of the famous tunes by the undeniable greats Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane are in tenor-friendly keys as well (duh!). The great players don’t torture themselves over theory and unnecessary gymnastics. Very few of their compositions fall outside of key signatures that are basic for the way the tenor operates mechanically. I have written before about Occam’s Razor, the logic that says that given multiple possible solutions, the simplest one is always the best. Fela’s horn lines fit this rule. With all the talk of the so-called Afrobeat Revival, I've yet to find one composer who has equalled Fela’s writing for horn sections.