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orrin evans

Winning Spins by George Kanzler

After the big band era, some of the cravings for an orchestral sound in jazz were assuaged by the rise of the Hammond B3 organ in the post-bop, hard bop years. Smaller, often neighborhood clubs, could fill the room with a B3 trio, the big keyboard emulating the depth and sonorities of a much bigger ensemble. Meanwhile, big bands never went away, many flourishing as once-a-week or once-a-month attractions at venues that usually featured B3 combos. Many of these “big bands” were pared down orchestras, nonets or tentets that functioned as mini-big bands. This Winning Spins features an innovative B3 organ player in mostly trio settings that emphasize the orchestral possibilities of the instrument, and a slimmed-down-to-nonet big band that plays regularly at Philadelphia clubs.

Presence, Orrin Evans and the Captain Black Big Band (Smoke Sessions, 2018), presents a streamlined nonet version of the big band that Orrin founded a decade ago in Philadelphia, his hometown, to showcase and celebrate that city’s jazz talent. Although now the pianist for high profile trio The Bad Plus, Orrin continues to be a staunch champion of the Philadelphia jazz scene, as this album proves. It was recorded live at two neighborhood clubs: SOUTH Kitchen & Jazz Parlor and Chris’ Jazz Café.

Listeners seeking finesse won’t find it on this exuberant recording bristling with rambunctious, dueling ensemble passages and boisterous, raise-the-roof solos. Tunes and arrangements are all by band members, with trumpeters John Raymond and Josh Lawrence also contributing charts for two of Orrin’s three originals. Trombonist David Gibson’s “The Scythe” blasts out of the gate with raucous ensembles and solos from tenor saxist Troy Roberts, Josh, David and Orrin, whose choppy block chords evoke Monk. Tandem soloing, led by Troy, and wild free passages seem inspired by Charles Mingus on fellow bassist—and only non-participant—Eric Revis’ “Question,” also arranged by Josh. Orrin introduces his own “Flip the Script” with hesitant chords soon overwhelmed by brass jabs as a jagged, jumpy theme emerges, the piece ramping up with Caleb Curtis’ alto sax trading with Troy’s tenor, a shout chorus with piano breaks and a stuttering, drum breaks-filled coda. An audience clap-along introduces Troy’s “Trams,” a tune with a swashbuckling groove and wah-wah brass-enveloping solos before Orrin and Troy trade solos over a final, repeated band riff. Orrin’s “Answer” is the closest thing to a ballad here, but builds to a searing climax. His “When It Comes” appears twice in short versions—is it the band’s theme?—that feature his piano, but overall this is a very democratic band, spreading solos and compositions among the members.

Orrin Evans leads a quintet at Smoke Jazz and Supper Club with Josh Lawrence, Wheeler Curtis, Ben Wolfe and Ralph Peterson, Jr., Jan. 11-13.

Photo Credit:  John Abbott

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troy roberts

Another Reason to Celebrate by Elzy Kolb

Three’s the charm

Tenor saxophonist Troy Roberts keeps good company—he’s a mainstay of ensembles fronted by organist Joey DeFrancesco and drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts. He’s also appeared with Aretha Franklin, Van Morrison, Dave Douglas, Christian McBride, Orrin Evans and Wayne Shorter, and has shared the stage with the likes of Esperanza Spalding, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Kurt Elling and Gregory Porter.

Over the course of his busy and varied life in jazz to date, Troy has garnered three Downbeat magazine jazz soloist awards, a couple of Grammy nominations, and a semi-finalist slot in the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Saxophone Competition. But no matter how full his playing and touring schedule is, Troy always finds time to create his own music. “I love composing; it’s a great outlet for me,” he notes. Currently, the Australia-born saxophonist is channeling so much inspiration from so many directions that it takes three bands to play it all and, in the next few weeks, listeners in the tristate area will have a chance to check out each one of them in action.

Troy’s quartet is his favorite outlet for trying out new compositions and arrangements. The main focus is originals and “quirky arrangements of standards,” he says. “We do show tunes, things that are rarely played.” He’s also turned his attention to jazz-style arrangements of pop hits, such as Sting’s “Consider Me Gone,” and Burt Bacharach’s “Close to You.”

“I’ve always been a Burt fan,” he says. “Sometimes the most familiar versions of his songs can sound a little cheesy. But the melodies are strong and they have very cool forms. They sound so easy listening but are difficult to play—there are always strange, specific things in there.” He continues, “That’s my goal as a composer—to write something that’s quirky and challenging to musicians, but something people who don’t know anything about music can love. I try to write like that for my quartet.”

In addition to presenting material from the band’s 2017 release, Tales & Tones, the foursome debuts brand-new compositions and arrangements at the Deer Head Inn on Jan. 11, premiering pieces it aims to record this year. Joining Troy on the bandstand are pianist Silvano Monasterios, drummer Jimmy Macbride and special guest, Los Angeles-based bassist Eric England.

The saxophonist describes Troy Roberts’ Nu-Jive—his electric ensemble—as his longtime focus. With several recordings available, including 2018’s Perspective (Inner Circle Music), the band has established a worldwide following. “I went to Ukraine with Joey DeFrancesco a while back, and Nu-Jive fans from Ukraine and Russia showed up asking for autographs. I was blown away,” he says.

Eric and Silvano are also on hand Jan. 12, when Nu-Jive hits the stage at Fat Cat, along with guitarist Tim Jago and drummer David Chiverton, both Miami-based artists. “It’s a great and grooving band,” Troy says. “They’re my brothers; they know the music inside and out. They read what I write and make music of it. It’s difficult music—it’s hard to get subs for this band.”

An organ trio is the latest addition to Troy’s lineup of creative endeavors. “The trio developed from learning to love that sound from one of my bosses—Joey DeFrancesco,” he explains.

Catch Troy’s organ trio at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola Feb. 6, with organist Pat Bianchi, drummer Rudy Royston and special guest, tenor saxophonist Christ Potter. “Chris has always been one of my heroes,” Troy declares. Expect to hear new tunes at the gig, which is a homecoming of sorts: Dizzy’s is the first New York club Troy played, on his first trip to the Big Apple in 2009.

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patrick bartley

Fresh Takes by Nick Dunston

Saxophonist and composer Patrick Bartley, Jr. is a pioneering voice in New York’s jazz scene. A prolific sideman, he’s played with artists from Wynton Marsalis to Jon Batiste. However, to get a more complete sense of his artistry, one must take a look at the J-MUSIC Ensemble and the J-MUSIC Pocket Band. Speaking of these bands, Patrick says “J-MUSIC Ensemble brings together the worlds of jazz and modern Japanese music. The Pocket Band has a stronger emphasis on the acoustic jazz sound, focusing on video game music repertoire and treating the songs as jazz standards.”

Patrick continues, “My first memorable musical experiences were from playing video games and watching Japanese animation. Music from the black church, hip hop and R&B stuck out to me and would inevitably become an important part of my development as a jazz musician as well. I formed this band after years of putting my love for this music on the back burner, later realizing I needed to do this in order to be completely true to who I am as a musician and a person.”

Catch Patrick Bartley, Jr.’s J-MUSIC Pocket Band play at Black Cat LES on Jan. 13 (open jam session to follow).

Photo Credit:  Natalie Deryn Johnson

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romero lubambo

Romero Lubambo: Crossing Borders by Ken Dryden

Romero Lubambo is one of today’s most sought after guitarists, thanks to his lyrical playing and versatility. A native of Rio De Janeiro, Romero was exposed to music by several family members who sang or played instruments. After classical piano lessons, he picked up the guitar in his teens. Romero’s ability and wide exposure to music boosted his in-demand status.

“The bands in Brazil played Motown, jazz, Brazilian music, Cuban music, boleros and everything,” Romero notes. “It was basically for people, partying and dancing. It was very nice for me to have a vision of music, every aspect and influence of the music. There was pop music, we played a lot of Beatles; I loved that.”

Romero’s life was transformed when he discovered jazz. “I wanted to hear Wes Montgomery, George Benson or Jim Hall,” he says. “I managed to get some LPs and started studying by myself at home, listening to recordings and learning with masters. I still do that today.”

The guitarist’s associations with skilled backing vocalists from his early days performing carried over into his professional career, including a long working relationship with Dianne Reeves that began in 1996. “We were invited to play together in a concert in Brazil,” he says.

“It was me, Dianne, Michael Brecker, Ivan Lins and Cesar Camargo Mariano. Right after we came back, she was recording an album called Bridges. I participated in it with Billy Childs, Reginald Veal, Mulgrew Miller, Brian Blade, Terri Lyne Carrington and so many great musicians. The producer was George Duke, Dianne’s cousin. George taught me so much in terms of production, how to be calm and do your best in the studio. After that, I do everything I can with Dianne.”

Romero also started playing with two gifted Brazilian singers, Luciana Souza and Leny Andrade, recording several CDs with each of them. His desire to play with vocalists brought an unexpected dividend: his marriage to Pamela Driggs. “I met her when I went to record an album with her band Brasilia. I love her—her voice, her singing and everything. We do things together whenever we can.”

In 2016, Romero celebrated his 30th anniversary playing in Trio da Paz, a project he co-founded with bassist Nilson Matta and percussionist Duduka da Fonseca. He explains, “I knew Nilson very well. The last year before I came to New York, Nilson played bass with me every day. We set up this trip together, we started preparing and putting money together to travel. Duduka was already in New York; I saw him once at a jazz club in Rio and he said, ‘You have to go to New York.’ When we came here, we called him and got together and it was great.”

Although they all work on individual projects, the trio still plays together. “We’ve done two weeks at Dizzy’s every summer since 2005 and we’ve had Claudio Roditi, Harry Allen and Maucha Adnet as guests the last four years. It’s hard to put the three together to find dates, but it’s very special since we’re not playing every day.”

There are several recordings by Romero in the works. “Recently I did an album with an idol, Edu Lobo, in Brazil. We did a project two years ago with saxophonist Mauro Senise and last year we won a Grammy for the best Latin Brazilian CD Dos Navegantes. The next one is coming out in June. I have a duo with pianist Peter Martin called “New Orleans Meets Rio.” He’s lived a lot in New Orleans and I’m from Rio, so we play music from New Orleans, Rio and everything in between. We’re going to record that as a duo.”

Romero is excited about his upcoming concerts at Dizzy’s. “It’s hard to get budgets to record an orchestra, even a string quartet and horns. This will be strings, horns and a Brazilian rhythm section. Rafael Piccolotto de Lima wrote me to ask if I would be interested in doing something together. I sent him a lot of the stuff that he’s orchestrating for the whole band and it’s going to be very interesting. Songs I’ve already played before in a trio or as a solo guitarist are going to be nice with his arrangements. I want this to be the beginning of a lot of things with this chamber jazz orchestra, I’m thinking of recording and doing concerts with it.”

Live shows are regularly recorded at Dizzy’s, so Romero is hopeful: “I’m going to talk to the engineer there to see if it can become a live CD, that would be the easiest thing to do. I like live performances.”

Romero Lubambo and Rafael Piccolotto perform de Lima Chamber Orchestra Project at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola Jan. 17-20.

Photo Credit:  Andrea Nestrea

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pat bianchi

Winning Spins by George Kanzler

After the big band era, some of the cravings for an orchestral sound in jazz were assuaged by the rise of the Hammond B3 organ in the post-bop, hard bop years. Smaller, often neighborhood clubs, could fill the room with a B3 trio, the big keyboard emulating the depth and sonorities of a much bigger ensemble. Meanwhile, big bands never went away, many flourishing as once-a-week or once-a-month attractions at venues that usually featured B3 combos. Many of these “big bands” were pared down orchestras, nonets or tentets that functioned as mini-big bands. This Winning Spins features an innovative B3 organ player in mostly trio settings that emphasize the orchestral possibilities of the instrument, and a slimmed-down-to-nonet big band that plays regularly at Philadelphia clubs.

In the Moment, Pat Bianchi (Savant, 2018), is anchored by Pat’s working trio of the leader’s organ, Paul Bollenback’s guitar and Byron Landham’s drums. Paul is subbed by Peter Bernstein and Pat Martino on one track each, while Carmen Intorre, Jr. takes over the drum chair on four tracks. Joe Locke’s vibes replace guitar on three tracks, and the late Kevin Mahogany sings with organ and drums on another.

Pat and Paul create a panoramic, multilayered sonic palette with the B3 and electric, device-laden guitar. And they venture way beyond the get down, boogaloo and deep groove music associated with the “chicken shack” school of B3 music. That exploration pervades the record, nowhere more so than on the Gil Evans-Miles Davis “Time of the Barracudas”—titled “Barracudas (General Assembly)”—the album’s longest cut: a spacey, electronics spiked track that has a psychedelic late 1960s-early 1970s vibe. The two also romp through a surprisingly fast, Byron’s sticks-driven version of Willie Nelson’s ballad “Crazy,” create some bluesy unison lines on Pat’s “No Expectations” and give a nod to soul jazz on Stevie Wonder’s “Don’t You Worry ’Bout a Thing.” The three tracks with Joe’s vibes joining Pat’s B3 and Carmen’s drums tackle repertoire rarely essayed by organs. Chick Corea’s gnarly “Humpty Dumpty” introduces the unison chords and tight mass sound that marks the B3-vibes marriage. It returns on the closing two numbers, a spaced-out take on Wayne Shorter’s “Fall” and a bright, jaunty run through Thelonious Monk’s “Four in One.” Pat Martino, in whose band Pat plays, guests on “Mr. PM,” written by the leader. Peter is on board for a soulful ballad, “Blue Gardenia,” and Kevin brings a Johnny Hartman vibe to Billy Eckstine’s “I Just Want to Talk About You,” in an arrangement that accentuates the orchestral tones of Pat’s B3.

Pat Bianchi brings a quartet with Paul Bollenback, Joe Locke and Byron Landham to Jazz Standard Jan. 30.

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