What We Leave Behind by Soul Basement and Jay Nemor – unabashed positivity and unrestrained candor

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The Music and Myth starts off 2017 with good vibes and a great big serving of soul courtesy of What We Leave Behind. This upbeat, high-spirited collaboration between Italian musician Soul Basement and American/Icelandic singer-saxophonist Jay Nemor served as a welcome break from my month-long study of John Zorn’s catalog, its smooth, simple, old-school sound in stark contrast with Zorn’s complex, eclectic avant-garde experimentation.

There’s neither experimentation nor much metaphor in this live studio recording, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a clear, powerful message. I received the album for review from Fabio Puglisi, the man behind the Soul Basement project, who described it as “all about jazz, soul and those good old-fashioned moods, yet still looking towards the future”. This forward-looking is achieved through to-the-point, socially conscious lyrics by Nemor as well as a delivery that aptly switches from impassioned to delicate, remaining hopeful and determined throughout.

The first words the listener gets to hear are definitely meant to establish the tone the artists wish to grant the recording: “Got a smile on my face, things are going my way, I’m doing fine.”

Though not nearly as memorable as a “No Love Dying” or a “Code Cool”, this simple, self-explanatory track succeeds in marking a clear direction for the rest of the record and getting the listener in a persistent feel-good mood. The song’s major revelation is Nemor’s deep, spellbinding voice. Whether it’s his soulful singing or his unambiguous spoken-word interludes, the vocalist’s delivery is a constant high point throughout the record, adding gravitas to a playlist that might otherwise have felt too light. His unabashed positivity and unrestrained candor carry over to the second track, “Noise Pollution”, which seems poised to become the album’s anthem, with its funky beat and resounding contemporary message.

Talking loud ain’t saying nothing

Tired of all these politicians faking and fronting

Misleading the people with destructive illusions

It’s a foregone conclusion

That we gotta find some kind of solution

Telling all them lies

just to get inside

So that they can do

Not a thing they promised to

For me and you

What else can we do

A change is overdue

Nemor’s frankness is both his strength and his weakness as a lyricist, with effective songs like “Noise Pollution” countervailed by the likes of “It’s Time”.

Even after countless have stood at the frontline

time after time after time

to show us the way to a better day

yet still here we are looking for a new leader to come and save the day

Does another have to put their life on the line

in hopes that we will finally make up our mind

to develop a collective mind set

so that we can fight, proclaim and protect

our human rights

which when you think about it’s a damn shame we even have to fight

for our so called inherent God given birthright

Here, the writer’s lack of subtlety translates to an articulation that falls dangerously close to preaching and distracts from an otherwise well-crafted song. As a lyricist, Nemor is at his best when delivering simple, heartfelt statements such as “With You”, a beautiful, unassuming ballad à la Gregory Porter, with captivating instrumentation and exceptionally tender vocals.

“Love Will Find You” again features – as they say in writing – a bit too much telling and too little showing. However, the somewhat flawed lyrics are outweighed by a catchy dynamic arrangement and a short but fresh-sounding saxophone solo, making it a more-than-enjoyable listen.

“The Joy Inside”, with its lively percussion and crisp vocals is an understated gem while “Angel of Mine”, a gorgeous ballad wherein Nemor does his absolute best work, wouldn’t be out of place in Barry White’s repertoire – high praise for any soul musician. To me, this is the highlight of the record and a truly memorable moment.

The soft, nostalgic “Future Reminiscence”, a spoken-word serenade to bygone times and enduring memories sounds unspectacular at first, but its heartfelt message, smooth sax and low-key vibe leave a pleasant aftertaste and a general feeling of well-being to close the record.

Crafted with care and obvious dedication to the spirit of modern jazz and soul, What We Leave Behind is a heartfelt effort with a strong, consistent message, an endlessly charismatic vocalist and a couple of outstanding compositions. The duo of Soul Basement and Jay Nemor clearly possess great chemistry. There’s a multitude of ways for them to further cultivate this successful collaboration and I’m looking forward to hearing the future fruits of their labor. Recommended by The Music and Myth!

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Emily’s D+Evolution by Esperanza Spalding – intense, intelligent and intrepid

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One record I was really looking forward to this year was Esperanza Spalding’s fifth studio album, Emily’s D+Evolution released on Concord ten years after her debut, Junjo.

Esperanza is one of those musicians that just seem too good to be true. Basically, her entire career has been one long, continuous hype. It should really be impossible for the young songwriter, bass player and vocalist to rise to these almost ridiculous expectations and yet she does it every single time, with each new record.

“Notorious” for snatching away the Best New Artist Grammy from Justin fucking Bieber in 2011 (thus salvaging what little credibility NARAS has left), Esperanza is a rare phenomenon in a genre that generally doesn’t receive the recognition it deserves: a superstar.

To steal a lyric from her new record, she is “exceptionally pretty” but also exceptionally talented. She has the confidence of a seasoned veteran but the energy of a hungry young artist. She is intelligent without being condescending and daring without being reckless. She’s had a unique career trajectory, unceasingly rising to new heights and everything she’s put out has been a gem. It was bound to stop somewhere.

Bullshit – no, it wasn’t!

After a four-year break, Esperanza put forth her most ambitious work yet. Emily’s D+Evolution is essentially a concept record, a collection of compositions that perfectly reflects the vision and boundless energy of an artist at the peak of her creative force. It’s a record that bridges so-called genres, joyfully experimenting with the possibilities of the composer’s talent and managing the rare feat of sounding at the same time enlightened and naïve in its lyricism. In other words, it’s exactly what it should be at this stage in her career.

When I reviewed her previous record for BlindedBySound, I called it “another impressive offering from Esperanza and, no-doubt, an important step forward on the road to leaving a very serious musical legacy.” If Radio Music Society was a step forward, Emily is a giant leap of moon-landing proportions. Everything is on point, there is not a single misstep. In her previous work, I pointed out her excessively straightforward lyrics as somewhat lacking in finesse. Here, this candidness no longer feels juvenile, but ripe, clever, playful and sexy.

The record starts with the words “see this pretty girl, watch this pretty girl flow” and I couldn’t help but burst out laughing (in the good way, not the way I do whenever I accidentally hear a tune by Sean Paul).

“Good Lava” is the perfect opening song – provocative, loud and unhinged. As a listener, you instantly realize that this is an entirely new creative direction as Matthew Stevens’ Marc Ribot-influenced guitar, Esperanza’s own Pastorius-tinged bass and Justin Tyson’s drums heavily tilt the sound towards funk and even rock, where it basically remains throughout the whole album.

Still, although the sound is different, Esperanza’s charismatic delivery is the same in her portrayal of her alter-ego, Emily. On “Good Lava”, she teases:

 

lone ranger,

I see you like the view

wond’ring from a distance

what my pretty peak can do

come brave me

[…]

you stranger

one day are gonna be

planting your own flag of

conquered fear and fantasy

right on me

 

For “Unconditional Love”, Emily reverts to her Esperanza-persona, with vocals that call to mind the sound of Radio Music Society in spite of the pronounced presence of guitarist Stevens (a constant throughout the record, which turns out to be almost as much a showcase of his talent as Spalding’s). Undoubtedly a beautiful song making good use of the singer’s splendid voice, it might have benefited from a different position on the record. This way, it slightly takes away from absorbing the full impact of the new creative direction.

The narrative balance is quickly restored with “Judas”, one of the highlights, both in its heavy, impactful sound and conscious, ruminative lyrics, that demonstrate the songwriter’s evident improvement in an area that used to be a noticeable shortcoming.

 

judas, you know the

lonesome road

don’t ya collectin’ bottle caps

of rum

honest sinning to chase the

blues

blur ya ‘til kingdom come

take a little girl who gets to see her

mama broke down

now she’s a lady made for

the modern world

my life

but if you ask my advice us

raging girls

are china dolls fed up with bull that follows

all the way down

digging up holy scriptures to

shame her while she drowns

but if you ask my advice that

shallow grave is a bargain

 next to judgment day

it’s only a matter of time

honey

good money

sinks through her teeth

she’s not evil

forgive this innocent wrecking

ball (man-made)

 

In “Earth to Heaven” the vocalist’s rich, clean delivery contrasts with the band’s rough, prog-rock energy and the poignant, determined poetry.

 

there are no perfect

amends here

you get to just keep on

getting there getting there

there’s no promise or test

here

you get to just keep on

getting there getting there (soldier)

no virgins or saints here

you get to just keep on

getting there getting there

all good children and evil

are even here

 just getting there

war man’s cross on

their shoulders

kings die ringed in gold

slaves die consoled

on the other side

a meek’s reward

is better

like a pearly resort

except without a report

from hell

how on Earth can you tell?

Equally forceful and another one of the record’s highlights, “One” sees the vocalist at her dynamic best, masterfully playing off of Karriem Riggins’ drums and a short but biting guitar solo to again create a powerfully contrasted track. And since every reviewer and their pet iguana mentioned Joni Mitchell, I’ll take this opportunity to confirm that yes, the artist does draw from Mitchell in her storytelling and delivery and she does so elegantly, giving a nod to a creative influence while still decidedly retaining her individuality.

“Rest in Pleasure”, a soft, sexy counterpoint to the previous two tracks – and once again notable for Matthew Stevens’ excellent contribution – allows Spalding to step back from the heavier narrative of the song’s predecessors and let her hair down, before returning to a more confrontational tone with “Ebony and Ivy” and “Noble Nobles”, where her improved poetry is placed front and center, from the sarcastic recital at the start of the former to the cynicism prevalent in the latter (talking founding fathers with a free philosophy/ that don’t mention me/ or the stain of red blood on their hands/ at all).

With her characteristic charm and wit, the songwriter tackles issues of history, racial heritage, white privilege and education, as is evident in the following example from “Ebony and Ivy”.

sage grows on the mountain

you can dig it with a silver

spoon

float it off to market hawk

and talk it

from hot-air balloons

get your good

old-fashioned learnin’

hear the bell and summer’s

endin’

underneath the apple tree

time to choose a branch

and build your nest of

animosity

now we’re really

really learnin’

it’s been hard to grow outside

growin’ good at act happy

and pretend that the ivy vines

didn’t weigh our branch down

The deceptively soft and harmonious “Farewell Dolly” brings forth pressing issues of gender roles while “Elevate or Operate” with its carnival-ride intro and shades of The Jimi Hendrix Experience comments on glass ceilings and unfulfilled ambitions (so honey stop your whining, wishing, scheming/ press a floor to waste your dreams in) while “Funk the Fear” extends on the topic, berating the very thought process exposed in the former.

The record closes with a dark, almost macabre rendition of “I want it now” (Veruca Salt’s piece in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – itself a rather dark and macabre moment), which the vocalist delivers with a gleeful voracity, refusing to withhold for even a second the fact that this album is meant as an adamant creative statement.

With this brilliant, experimental album, Esperanza Spalding has created not only the best work of her career, but also the best vocal record of 2016 and a surefire contender for The Music and Myth Awards.

Blazzaj – fifteen years of funk and an evening of time-traveling

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Blazzaj is a band that I’ve been listening to for what seems like forever. I’m proud to say that this dynamic and tremendously entertaining group of musicians from my hometown of Timisoara was at the spearhead of my first forays into good quality music back in the tumultuous and acoustically confusing years of high-school. Let’s just say they are the first Romanian band whose “myth” I got really interested in and the musical journey we have been on together (the journey that always takes place when artists and their audience click) has come full circle last night on their 15 year anniversary concert.

Then:

It was 2003 and we were at a concert in a place called Club 30 (I think?!). A while before that, my best friend at the time had recommended we check out this awesome Jazz band that he described as “a breath of fresh air” on the local music scene. By then, Blazzaj had already been around for a while but we had just discovered them and to us they were brand new.

I recognized the lead vocalist, Tavi “Vita” Horvath, ‘cos he was one of the guys hanging out and working at this hip CD store that sold counterfeit records (made in Bulgaria if memory serves). The store was called Rocka Rolla and all the high-school kids loved it ‘cos it was the one place in the city where you could buy decent music. The owner was a 40-something long-haired rocker from back in the day and he also managed some local bands on the side. Sometimes he also seemed to serve as the sound engineer for some of the gigs and he and Vita were usually seen together.

Anyway, by the time we attended the aforementioned concert we were already pretty familiar with their work. The gig was in this little club and we were having a great time because the venue was nice and cozy and had no problems serving beer to underage kids. It also had pretty decent acoustics, at least for the sensibility of two seventeen-year-old high-school kids. When Blazzaj hit the stage we were super excited. First and foremost we were excited because we loved the band, because their music was funky and cool and clever and, most importantly, different from anything else you could find at the time. We were also excited because these guys were our home-town boys, because they were talented and funny and humble, because to us they were superstars and yet they were approachable and friendly and real.

At that point the band was just in the middle of a transition. Bass-player Florin Barbu had left and newcomer Uțu Pascu was struggling with the more difficult parts. Also, in a powerful blow, Eddie Neumann the sax-player and also the brain behind much of the music had just left both the band and the country in a fit of rage that I remember materialized into a post on the band’s official forum, an angry diatribe directed at the sorry state of the current (early 2000s) Romanian music scene (“I feel sorry for your ears!”).

Anyhow, since Eddie’s sax, a huge part of the show, was now entirely missing two of the other musicians had to step up to the plate and fill the gap. Those musicians were keyboard player (doubling on trumpet) Petrică Ionuțescu and guitar-player Horea Crișovan. Someone also had the clever idea of filling the void left behind by Eddie’s so-so vocals with the contribution of a female lead vocalist who at the time was a girl named Lavinia Pițu, who sounded pretty good but had about as much to do with Jazz and funk as auto-tune.

Nevertheless, the show was absolutely amazing. The band seemed driven by sheer energy and a charming honesty provided in great part by frontman and human high-capacity-battery Tavi Horvath. Tavi wore his heart on his sleeve and he never hesitated to pour said heart out on the mic with such disarmingly honest, sometimes even juvenile energy (and I mean that in the best possible way) that you could not help but get caught up in his enthusiasm. With a very capable band backing up the eccentric lead vocalist the band completely rocked that gig and turned two young and impressionable listeners into loyal fans.

Now fast forward to 2013!

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Now:

A few days ago I got a Facebook notification informing me that Blazzaj were going to be performing in the concert hall of a local music high-school named after Ion Vidu, a celebrated composer and choral conductor (I can’t help but wonder what he would have thought of the “soldiers of funk”).

In the ten years since the first Blazzaj concert I had ever attended so many things have changed in my life, my taste in music, the city and its music scene.  One thing that has remained constant though, is Blazzaj itself, as the band still plays gigs every once in a while promoting funk and good mood as only they can. But the band has also experienced many changes throughout the years. Lavinia Pițu was quick to depart but they did keep the female-vocalist formula and recruited Romanian Jazz woman of mystery Cristina Pădurariu, an immensely talented musician with a splendid voice and a quirky and awkward personality that made for a powerful stage presence.

This was, to me, the highlight of their career. Musically they had achieved a balance that was felt in their performances. Their material was top-notch. If their debut record Atentie Blazzaj! (Attention Blazzaj!) was a bit of an experiment, struggling at times to keep a musical balance and sometimes sounding a bit rushed, their follow-up Macadam is, in my opinion, one of the best records produced by the Romanian music industry (as in…ever!).  No doubt, it is also the music industry’s best-kept secret.

To this day Macadam is a musical treasure, a unique record that sounds as relevant today as it did ten years ago. With the powerful songs from this album front and center, and some from their first one thrown in for added fun, with talented and energetic musicians, a front-man who was eccentric and charismatic and one of the most versatile female Jazz vocalists in the country, Blazzaj had it all and it was a great time to be a fan. As a side-project, guitar-player Horea Crișovan and Cristina Pădurariu sometimes performed as a duo, playing songs from the international repertoire. These gigs were always amazing (I think I caught three of them) and, though they had nothing to do with Blazzaj, they still added to the band’s overall ”myth”.  Cristina Padurariu regrettably left the band somewhere around 2004/2005 and everything that happened afterwards is a bit foggy in my memory as my own musical interests shifted towards other things.

After 2005 I think I only caught them live a handful of times. I know they had some more female vocalists until they decided to drop that position and just keep Tavi Horvath on lead alone but unfortunately, their failure to produce the highly-anticipated third record made them lose a lot of steam and, perhaps, also some fans along the way (Some of my friends and fellow fans also tuned out around this time so I know it wasn’t just me).  Still, I did keep my eye on the career of Horea Crisovan, the band-member who always interested me the most (for reasons that have everything to do with his incredible talent that I’ve written about before and will write about again).

Alright, so I read online that the band would be holding a gig to commemorate fifteen years of existence, a gig that will be filmed and turned into a DVD. That in itself was enough to sell me on participating but the cherry on top was that Horea Crișovan and Cristina Pădurariu would be there as well; the best guitar player in the country and the charming chanteuse who could sing your eulogy and have you clapping. There was no way “The Music and Myth” would not be in attendance.

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The Gig:    

The moment the band walked onstage was surreal for me, it took me right back to that day I had first seen them. Things had changed, no doubt. The band was decidedly bigger this time. Aside from the guys I remembered from years ago (including Vali Potra on drums, Petrică Ionuțescu on trumpet and keyboard and Uțu Pascu on bass) they now had Lucian Nagy on sax, Sergiu Cătană on percussion, Gabi Almași on guitar and theremin and K-Lu on turntables.

You know how sometimes you haven’t seen a band in a few years and are really amped up for their performance only to see that the wear-and-tear on their creative forces has made them a far cry from what you remembered? Well, that is definitely not the case with Blazzaj. Unbelievable, the band’s intense delivery was every bit the same as I remembered and for that I have to give credit mostly to the ageless Tavi “Vita” Horvath who seems to have stepped straight out of a time machine and whose enthusiasm for performing remains unparalleled on the Romanian quality-music scene. The man is every bit as fun today as he was ten years ago and he seems as excited to be performing for his audience after a decade and a half on the music scene as he ever was. Tell me how often you see that in a performer!?!

The gig would have been great on Tavi’s energy alone but the band seemed determined to keep up the pace and brought nothing less than their A game. A standout as always was Horea Crisovan who is absolutely amazing and was given a fairly good amount of time to shine.

They started off with some of their newer songs (and by new I mean everything since releasing Macadam a decade ago) which was a great way to kick off the show because the newer ones are particularly high on energy and Vita’s trademark lyrics, purposefully silly most of the time, help you suspend your disbelief and just abandon yourself to the fun performance.  However, the number of songs they played from their second record was surprisingly low for an anniversary show and was a bit of a let-down.

At the beginning of the performance Tavi mentioned that two of the guest vocalists (musicians Mara and Alexandrina) had not made it to the show apparently due to some traveling misfortune so that might explain the conspicuous absence of some of the better vocal songs, like “De Partea Ta” (On Your Side) and “Faptele” (Facts). Luckily, Cristina Pădurariu had made it, which was the one guest appearance I was most excited about. I had seen Cristina lurking backstage and was eagerly awaiting her contribution. The first track to feature her was “Un Lucru” (One Thing) and I have to say that something seemed off. It wasn’t her singing, as her voice is always in excellent shape, but her timbre just did not seem to be very well reproduced within the arrangement of the sound. In fact, the whole sound engineering part of the show left a lot to be desired, which was disappointing for such an important event. Luckily, the experienced musician quickly adapted and regained her balance on the most important track in the set-list, “Urma” (The Trace). The song is the most ambitious in the band’s repertoire and easily one of the ballsiest and most well-constructed songs in the modern Romanian music scene; an eerie ballad that builds up to a crazy and cathartic explosion of hard rock courtesy of Tavi Horvath, who’s got plenty of experience in that field. It goes without saying that “Urma” is the constant highlight of any Blazzaj show and I was surprised that it wasn’t featured in a more prominent spot in the concert. Seeing Tavi and Cristina perform this song together again was a beautiful and emotional moment as the two musicians, vastly different as far as personalities go, always made for a great duo. Cristina stayed on board for “La Pensie” (Retired), where she played didgeridoo and sang background vocals.

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If I remember correctly they closed off the show with “Armata-i Antifunk” (The army is Anti-funk) and returned onstage for “Ograda” (The Barnyard) and “Rindea”  (Plough Plane), though I might be getting the final songs mixed up.

Overall the show was great and a ton of fun as Blazzaj shows always are but, for a landmark concert, I have to say it was lacking on the technical side (the sound was a bit “off” and the lights were constantly blinding and annoying the audience). Fortunately, as far as the actual performance went, the guys were wholly entertaining and went on to demonstrate why they are considered some of the country’s most talented musicians.

For me, the show also had a major nostalgia factor that made me happily relive the days when I was loyally following the career-path of this band. It also made me regret having given up on them in recent years. Hopefully the DVD will turn out great and prove a successful move in the career of this band that has certainly demonstrated its staying power.

Blazzaj is as much a part of Timisoara as the canal that flows through the city or the architecture that defines its character. The band is a local musical landmark and, as long as they will be around, I’m sure the audience will love to listen to them. I know I will definitely keep them on the radar again and, who knows, perhaps someday soon we will see a third record after all.

JazzyBit live in “Rost” – a hot act on the threshold of a debut album

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With the beginning of October autumn was shaping up to be a very musical season. There is, of course, the highly anticipated Al DiMeola concert coming up in November, Iva Bittova played the synagogue as part of the SoundCzech festival, the Simultan Festival (that I sadly didn’t get to attend) brought some good quality music among the many other art forms it aimed to promote, and the well-advertised Timisoara Baroque Festival featured more concerts than you can shake a conductor’s baton at (more on one of these concerts in a future article). Meanwhile, on the local Jazz-scene a young trio that has been growing in popularity for the last year and a half announced that they will be playing their last gig in town for this year before retiring to the studio to record their debut album.

When I had heard a few weeks ago, that JazzyBit was going to be performing at the launching party of my latest writing project, a Romanian comic book series called Fairytale Therapy, I was very happy and excited but also a bit embarrassed. Pianist Teo Pop and I had worked together in tech support at my old job (albeit in different departments) and, though I’ve been aware for a while that he’s in a Jazz trio and though I like to call myself a “Jazz journalist”, I had never seen him in action.

Things always turned out in such a way that we were never in the same place at the same time, even though the very young band already has some pretty impressive gigs under their belt (including the Jazz festival in Gărâna, arguably the biggest event of its kind this side of Europe). Well, at least I was going to hear them at the book-launching event so I was happy about that. The party turned out great but I had little time to focus on the music, being pressed by the responsibilities that plague the debuting comic-book writer:  drinking wine, mingling with friends and signing autographs, stuff like that…but I digress. Anyway, I had heard enough to know that I like their sound so when I got a Facebook-notification warning me that this would be their last gig in a while I knew it was now or never.

The show was held in a place called Rost, a quirky but rather narrow newly-opened bar in the center of the city. What the place lacks in acoustics it makes up for in ambiance since no matter where you are seated you will be close to the musicians. That always helps one get into the “vibe” of a show even if one forgot to make reservations ahead of time and got stuck with the worst vantage point in the room (I already apologize for the bad pictures). Anyway, once the guys started playing you didn’t care where you found yourself because they plain and simply rocked the house.

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Pictured: JazzyBit rocking the house
Not pictured: A good vantage point

The trio, consisting of my work-buddy Teo Pop on everything with a keyboard, Mihai Moldoveanu on bass and Szabo Csongor-Zsolt on drums (who looks young enough to be my son but plays with the self-confidence of Lewis freakin’ Nash) was founded in 2011 and started performing together at the beginning of 2012. Though only playing together for rather short time JazzyBit have the chemistry of a band with a lot more years under its belt and on stage that translates into high energy and great fun.  I’ve never made a secret of the fact that this is a very subjective website, more of a musical diary than a review-blog, so I have to start off by saying that I’m not really into Latin-Jazz nor am I a big fan of synthesizer in a Jazz trio (I always prefer the piano) but in spite of that I was instantly captured by the performance.

Throughout the hour and a half of their performance there was never a dull moment and I was impressed with the great talent of these young musicians whose charismatic and high-octane delivery kept them safe from ever falling into a generic sound. Teo Pop is incredibly fast and very versatile and his interactions with Szabo Csongor-Zsolt, including the round of back-and-forth one-upmanship – always a crowd pleaser at a Jazz show – provided the spice for the performance while Mihai Moldoveanu’s bass was a powerful backbone.

The band played their own compositions, most of which will probably be found on their debut record Touch the Sky. The songs, with a predominant Latin-Jazz influence, also contained elements of funk, blues, straight-up piano trio and even a bit of rock at one point. My favorite pieces have to be “Curacao” (seen here as performed at the Budapest Jazz Club) and “Poate de ce” (“Maybe Why”) for its low-key delivery that reminded me of another pianist whose music I greatly enjoy.

While the band still seems to be working on carving out a more well-defined identity for their sound (a process that is completely understandable at this point in their careers and will no doubt be finalized by the time they finish recording their album) the interaction between the musicians is really good. All in all, JazzyBit is a hot act right now, worth seeing at this point primarily for its “bang-for-your-buck” delivery. You have a fresh and energetic band that plays like a veteran act and the best time to catch them live is right now. I predict a massive growth in demand and popularity sooner rather than later and, at this point in their career, you can still catch them is small, intimate venues. If before getting to see them live I was interested in their debut record only from what I had seen on Youtube, after their show this Saturday I am counting the days until “Touch the Sky” hits the shelves!

Move by Hiromi and The Trio Project – the fast and furious Hiromi almost violent in her masterful delivery

Hiromi-Uehara

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted an entry on my music blog. In fact, lately, it feels as though I say that every time I write a new review. In my defense, the life of a full-time writer can get busy at times, what with all those words one has to clock in every day. My time has been spent finishing my debut novel as well as focusing on my humor writing, like my first ever article in Cracked or pretty much anything I post in Dog Door. Lucky for me, all those hours I spend writing in my office all alone are usually accompanied by music, which brings me to this record by Japanese pianist and composer Hiromi Uehara.

Move was released in 2012 and has the talented Hiromi joining forces with the equally talented contra-bass guitarist Anthony Jackson and drummer Simon Phillips. When I say “equally talented” I know what I’m talking about because Move is a tour de force not only for Hiromi but for the other two musicians as well, but let’s start with the beginning.

In this case, the beginning is the very song that gives the album its name. I’ve talked on this blog before about the importance of a powerful opening track and, from the very first seconds of “Move” we get a sense of what this record is all about: namely showcasing the incredible talent and speed of Hiromi as well as the musical dexterity of her band. From the get-go the track is highly energetic with the fast and furious Hiromi almost violent in her masterful delivery.

The problem with Jazz records that emphasize the speed and technique of the musicians is that they often do that at the expense of melody and the results are not always satisfying. Hiromi just narrowly avoids falling into that trap as she makes use of rhythm and repetition in order to deliver a sample of melody where she fears the songs might be lacking in that respect. Still, even the more “melodious” part of the songs give the feeling that they had been composed slower and then just fast-forwarded to their current state. The result is a sound that feels raw and brave, the mark of a capable composer.

As if to prove that Move is not merely a technique-driven work, the sixth track, “Suite Escapism: Fantasy” offers one of the most hauntingly mellow tunes I’ve heard in a long time, one that I couldn’t get out of my head for days (that hasn’t happened since Jason Domnarski’s G-Unit) Aside from the aforementioned track which is part two of the three-part “Suite Escapism” series which constitutes the “heart” of the record, all the others are fast, powerful and, at times, obsessive feats of piano-playing sparkled with some equally agitated bass and drums. Always a sign of a powerful band, the other members get their own opportunities to shine (see especially Simon Phillips on “Suite Escapism: Reality” and Anthony Jackson on Margarita). Together the “Trio Project” manage to produce a roller-coaster ride of hardcore Jazz with elements of funk, rock, and fusion and, at times, even a bit of a Latin vibe.

It is only in the hands of gifted musicians that a record such as this never once comes off as tiring and the strong and sometimes aggressive piano-Jazz compositions can be savored with the ease with which one could enjoy an Erik Satie composition. That is not to say that the record could not use a bit more “soul” (and I don’t mean the music genre) but overall it comes very highly recommended. After the graceful final track ends (I’m talking about “11:49” which is brilliant as a closing track because it leaves you craving for more) and after having basked in Hiromi’s talent as a “fast” pianist I guarantee the very next thing you will do is seek out more of her work. I should know, since I’m currently halfway through her 2011 release, Voice.