Thursday, September 29, 2011
VOLKER GOETZE AND ABLAYE CISSOKO, DUO WHO EARNED CRITICAL ACCLAIM FOR THEIR DEBUT CD, SIRA, LAUNCH INTERNATIONAL TOUR IN OCTOBER
Thursday, March 10, 2011
GOWANUS REGGAE AND SKA SOCIETY WILL CELEBRATE RELEASE OF G.R.A.S.S. ON FIRE WITH SHOW AT THE APPLE STORE IN SOHO ON MARCH 22
On March 22, the eleven members of G.R.A.S.S. will celebrate the recent release of G.R.A.S. S. on Fire with a performance at the Apple Store in Soho. Showtime is 7 PM, and the store is located at 103 Prince Street. For more information about the show, visit http://www.apple.com/retail/soho/ or call (212) 226-3126.
With the release of G.R.A.S.S. on Fire, G.R.A.S.S - the appropriately abbreviated Gowanus Reggae and Ska Society - have taken on the challenge of bringing the music of the legendary Bob Marley and the Wailers to an entirely new level. On G.R.A.S.S. On Fire, this collection of eleven intrepid musician/explorers "dedicated to bringing the sounds of classic Ska and Reggae to the fine people of Brooklyn and beyond, "bring a jazz perspective to Marley's seminal 1973 release, Catch A Fire, instrumentally interpreting the reggae pioneer's music so that it retains all of its original passion and sincerity.
G.R.A.S.S features some of the finest players from Brooklyn's vibrant musical community, creating music with the spontaneity of jazz and a deep reverence for Jamaican rhythm. The society is made up of an ever-evolving group of players, including bassist J.A.Granelli, Nate Shaw on keyboards, Mark Miller on trombone, saxophonists Michael Blake, Ohad Talmor, and Paul Carlon, David Barnes on harmonica, Russ Meissner on drums and guitarists Tony Romano, David Bailis, and Brad Shepik.
The goal of the Society, says Granelli, who is the son of legendary drummer Jerry Granelli, "is to bring as many interesting voices to the music as possible." Nate Shaw adds, "the band is made up of jazz musicians who all share the same profound respect for the music of Jamaica. The love runs deep." G.R.A.S.S. is a mere toddler of a band - about three years old - born out of what the musicians called "big ass playdates," at which they would gather at Shaw's house, along with wives and kids, to jam and just hang out. The "Society" came out of those gatherings, as the rhythm section began to regularly focus on dissecting specific reggae songs in what Granelli calls a "free form school of rhythm."
Since its January release, G.R.A.S.S. On Fire has earned considerable critical acclaim:
"...a tanatalizing sweep of giddy delight." - Allaboutjazz.com
"This creative homage to Marley is worthy of its association with the iconic artist, and with genres of both jazz and reggae." - Good Sound.com
"Positive vibes abound from this one-of-a-kind society of kindred spirits." - Jazzreview.com
"Anyone who loved the original is sure to fall in love with this retrofitting." - Midwestrecord.com
ABOUT G.R.A.S.S ON FIRE
Rather than work away at the distinctions between improvisational jazz and Reggae, when the players in G.R.A.S.S. connect, it's obvious that the two genres have vastly more in common than they have differences. "It's impossible to understand jazz fully without an understanding of African and Western European classical music, for instance," say Granelli. "Mento-ska-rocksteady-reggae-dance hall" all spring originally from those same roots, so in effect our study of jazz and other forms of American roots music led us to Jamaican music naturally."
The Society's first foray into presenting reggae in the context of an entire album was in 2009, when they performed the music from the soundtrack to The Harder They Come at The Bowery Poetry Club in New York. The concept was so well received, the players so inspired by what they'd been able to create, that they decided to capture their next effort - G.R.A.S.S. On Fire - on record. Regarding their choice of material, Granelli explains, "Catch A Fire works well for us because the Wailers were really a small, hardened basic unit at that point in their career. We spent a lot of time studying the original Jamaican versions of the songs before they were overdubbed in England, and we all felt very close to those version of the songs."
To be clear, G.R.A.S.S. On Fire is NOT a "tribute" album. Anyone who's heard Granelli's take on the 1950-era hit "Whatever Lola Wants" from Mr. Lucky's El Oh El Ay CD or on AC/DC's "Back In Black" with EZ Pour Spout (another band of which he's a member,) for example, would hardly expect a note-by-note instrumental recreation from musicians whose collective oeuvre ranges from Balkan, Turkish and African influenced jazz to avant-rock to post bop, and then some. What the CD does capture, without benefit of lyrics, is the essence, the spirit, of the music that brought Bob Marley and the Wailers, and through their major label debut, reggae music, to the wider world.
To that end, G.R.A.S.S. chose to alter the order of the songs from that on Catch A Fire, thereby making it as much a reflection of their work as a group as it is of their appreciation for Marley and the Wailers'. "We felt that G.R.A.S.S. On Fire had to hang together as an album, first and foremost," explains Granelli. "Our thing is a pretty different version of the music, so we put it in the order that worked best for what we had created. We also combine two songs ('Kinky Reggae'and 'Midnight Ravers' here meld to become 'Kinky Midnight') and added one that never made the original release ('High Tide, Low Tide') so the original order would not have worked anyway."
Still, although much of the power of Catch A Fire lays in its politically charged lyrical content, Granelli feels that none of that spirit has been lost by the instrumental interpretations on G.R.A.S.S. On Fire. "When we were working on the music, the lyrics were always a part of any decision that was made musically - a printed copy was made for everyone who played on the CD- and we tried to capture the feeling of the words, and translate them into a musical language. Instrumental music is an abstract art form, so all we can hope for is that we have imbued the music with meaning and made an emotionally artistic statement. If we have done that, the listeners will have their own experiences of what it means."
Tuesday, January 11, 2011
Vocalist's Second Motéma Music CD Drops Today, 1 -11 11
Let’s Fly, the much anticipated follow-up to Amy London’s acclaimed 2008 Motéma debut, When I Look in Your Eyes, is a swinging and sensual affair, replete with jazz and Brazilian standards, tasty re-imaginings of songs by Joni Mitchell and Laura Nyro, and rare gems by bop legends Charles Mingus and Elmo Hope. London’s considerable talents, developed through her many years as a first-call New York City jazz, Broadway and big band vocalist, shine on Let’s Fly, her second CD for Motéma . The recording takes its name from the lead track, an uplifting, truly swinging version of ''Let’s Fly," which was penned by vocal legend Annie Ross when she was just 14. Ross submitted the song to a contest for a chance to have Johnny Mercer record the winner. "Let’s Fly" won, and was recorded by Mercer in 1945. It has never been recorded since, until now, where it happily sees the light of day with London's delightful approach, featuring a vocalese verse of her own.
Let’s Fly, released on Jan. 11, 2011, is a true love letter of a CD. "I am in love with every single song on this CD, tunes and lyrics alike. They are all melodies, grooves and stories that I love to share with audiences, wherever I go," enthuses London. "What unites this material for me, is that the stories reflect where I am right now in my life. Every song was sung with certain people in mind, and I wrote the arrangements to ornament the stories."
On this musically impeccable set, London is accompanied by an A-list of New York players who breathe and groove with her as one, as they travel through her solid, unique and deeply personal arrangements. Motèma label-mate Roni Ben-Hur provides an important element of the overall sound. His tone and swing on guitar, which helped make London's When I Look in Your Eyes an international success, is even more prevalent here, where London has chosen to arrange material with a smaller, more intimate, ensemble feel, as opposed to the ‘little big band’ approach of her previous disc. Drummer Steve Williams, known well for his stellar work with Shirley Horn, reveals himself once again to be a quintessential "singer’s drummer," never missing a beat, always in support of the song. Amy gives her regular collaborator, bassist Santi Debriano, a great deal of room in this recording to express his unique improvisational talents, and the ultra-tasty pianists Tardo Hammer, Glauco Sagebin and Richard Wyands also bring delicious musical treats to the table. Under London’s sure leadership, the ensemble effortlessly glides from up-tempo swing classics to complex melodic ballads, portraying a deep emotional musicality that is also accentuated with evocative percussion work by Steve Kroon (Luther Vandross.)
The work of a gifted storyteller with a powerful, poignant voice, London’s Let’s Fly spills over with musical tales of love and passion. She launches her newest musical offering with the wistful reverie of Harold Arlen/Johnny Mercer's "Out of This World," which opens with a hypnotic groove and evolves into a stunning showcase for London's soaring vocals. On The CD's title track, London offers up a lighthearted, vocalese take on “leaving your blues behind," supported by cool keyboards and blithe bass lines, courtesy of Tardo Hammer (Annie Ross, Jon Hendricks) and Debriano (Pharoah Sanders, Larry Coryell, Randy Weston.) London's original vocalese verse breathes new life into this carefree gem, as it simultaneously honors Ross as a great pioneer of the vocalese style. " It was immensely intimidating to both compose a solo and write a vocalese for 'Let's Fly.' It sat on my piano for a year, while the mantra of 'How can I ever attempt to write something to a tune by the legendary Annie Ross, the creator of 'Twisted,' the most beloved and clever vocalese ever?' danced in my head! I tossed some ideas around, and finally went with my gut feelings about the meaning of the song," says London in reference to her reworking of "Let's Fly." "This is the third vocalese I've written," she continues. "Each time I write them, I keep in mind the brilliant job done by Eddie Jefferson on 'Moody's Mood for Love.' Eddie took the original lyric of 'I'm in the Mood For Love,' and expounded upon each phrase, digging deeper meaning and more imaginative stories out of each idea, while maintaining the rhyming throughout. That was my goal here as well."
London keeps the energy high on Jobim's "This Happy Madness," which opens with Ben Hur's beautiful guitar styling, and quietly builds through London's enchanting vocals into a joyous solo from Brazilian pianist Glauco Sagebin. With brilliant and astute accompaniment by veteran pianist Richard Wyands, (Ella Fitgerald, Billie Holiday, countless others) the singer covers the unusual Charles Mingus ballad, "Duke Ellington's Sound of Love," with sensual soulfulness, a quality that permeates all thirteen selections on Let's Fly, from the tender "You Taught My Heart to Sing," to the affirmative "Here's To Life."
Turning from the Great American Songbook to some of her other significant influences, London plays roles of both pianist and singer on Laura Nyro's "I Never Meant to Hurt You," (off the 1967 album, The First Songs). "I consider Laura Nyro to have been my first vocal coach-as a teenager. I sang along with her constantly and spent hours at the piano learning all of her songs," remembers London. She pays tribute to another of her early influences, Joni Mitchell, on "All I Want," infusing Mitchell's Blue-era tune with a sinuous, rhythmic energy. "I was enormously influenced by both Laura and Joni when I was growing up and first getting into music. I sang and played every single song the two of them wrote. For a long time, as an aspiring jazz singer in New York, I felt guilty about having been influenced by 70s pop music, I thought I wouldn't be taken seriously by the jazz crowd if I performed any of it. Now, I'm finally out of the closet. I grew up in the 70s, I was immersed in and sang along with that music, as did almost everyone in my generation, and I'm not embarrassed about it anymore!" declares London.
"'You and the Night/Habanera' offers an interesting pairing,' London continues. "I sang Habanera, an aria from the opera Carmen, when I was studying opera in college, and I think it makes an intriguing combination with the Arthur Schwarz/Howard Dietz tune from the 1930s. Also, opera singers always sing Habanera in the original, higher key of D minor/D major, but here I've sung it in the key of G."
London interprets the Irving Berlin chestnut from the 1920s, "How Deep Is the Ocean," with a modern groove, and laces "I Love Being Here With You" with a sense of swing that aptly captures the spirit of composer Peggy Lee. "This tune was written in the 1950s (and included on Peggy's 1961 album, Basin Street East) so it's a "younger" jazz standard that's also unique in that the legendary female jazz singers didn't write a lot of tunes, but Peggy's an exception," explains London. The singer says that she chose to include "You Taught My Heart to Sing" because its writers - lyricist Sammy Cahn, from the Tin Pan Alley days, and modern pianist McCoy Tyner - presented her with an unusual paring of different generations and styles.
As disparate as the work of the songwriters included on Let's Fly might seem, London, who teaches at New School University and is one of New York’s most respected jazz vocal instructors, says that all the songs do, in fact, have something in common. "The first thing I look at in a song is the story. It is the most important aspect of any song. Of course, it has to be combined with a great melody to be a great piece overall," she explains. "A good song should be like a one act play, with both a melody and lyric that are built around a beginning, lead to a climax, and then to a resolution at the end." Closing the album on an upbeat note, Amy sings and scats on "Without A Song," her ultimate valentine for her premier passion – music - “After all,” she concludes, “there ain’t no love at all, without a song.”
London's Motèma debut, When I Look In Your Eyes (2008), served as an introduction to her powerful way with lyrical interpretation and inimitable arrangements, bringing her to the attention of an appreciative audience of jazz lovers and garnering excellent reviews internationally. Mark Saleski lauded her "incredible voice" in his review on Blogcritics.org. and Christopher Loudon of JazzTimes noted, “hers is an immense talent deserving of national attention." Midwest Record also raved about the CD, calling it "a fast ball right down the middle for jazz vocal fans. Tasty, tasty, tasty. "
The publicity generated by When I Look in Your Eyes effectively launched Amy London’s international touring career, leading to performances in Russia, Turkey, the UK, Italy, France, Belgium and around the U.S.
One might well wonder why this talented artist’s recording and touring career got such a late start. The fact is that London had chosen to work locally in the metropolis of jazz in order to be able to focus on raising her two daughters. Now that her girls are nearing adulthood, with the solid support of her label, her musical partners, and the press, the auspicious 1/11/11 launch date for this CD also looks to mark the true lift-off date for the career that this vocalist extraordinaire has always believed she would have. Perhaps therein, lies the true meaning behind the CD’s uplifting title, Let’s Fly!
More about Amy London
Born into a culturally active, Ohio-based Jewish family filled with mirth and talent, performing was quite literally in Amy's DNA. Jazz began to officially enter her orbit when she began studying jazz piano as a high-school senior, and then had an opportunity to take voice lessons with Milt Weiner, who had coached Doris Day and Rosemary Clooney. "Milt was the first one to bring my attention to jazz phrasing and putting across the story, he was a huge influence," says Amy. Though she earned her B.A. degree from Syracuse University in opera, Amy's true passion, and most of her college musical experience, was singing in big bands, small bands and in musicals. She joined with singers Judy Niemack and Alexandra Ivanoff to form the vocal trio, 'Jazz Babies.' Seven years with the 'Jazz Babies,' along with experience gained in 'Vocal Jazz, Inc.,' a five-voice group that toured the New York City elementary schools, honed Amy's jazz harmony chops to a high polish.
Further vocal group work with New York Singer's Orchestra in the late eighties brought Amy to the attention of the legendary Broadway composer Cy Coleman, who cast her as the lead singer in the "Angel City 4," the vocalese quartet that was the musical engine of his six-time Tony-winning and Grammy-nominated Broadway hit, City of Angels. After City of Angels closed, Amy enjoyed a three year stint at the 'Rainbow Room,' and also received a call from 'New York Voices' leader Darmon Meader to record with the group as the fifth voice on the CD Ancient Tower. A three year engagement in an Afro-Cuban band led by the NYC leader, Alfredito, gave her a chance to jam with such Latin jazz stars as Charlie Palmieri, Barry Rogers and Jimmy Sabatier while developing her "cool Latin vamp," and led her to add mastery on a variety of percussion toys to her growing arsenal of musical talents. All the while, Amy was building her skills as a solo jazz singer, leading her own groups in NYC clubs such as The Blue Note, Dizzy's, Birdland, Small's, Sweet Rhythm, Kitano, Jazz Gallery and many more.
London is an in-demand vocal coach in NYC, and at New School University, where she helped establish the vocal jazz program (now one of the strongest such programs in the country). She also works and teaches with her husband Roni Ben-Hur, who is a key music educator in his own right.