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Brian Charette

Master Keys: Brian Charette By Elzy Kolb

The Hammond organ and electronic instruments may seem like musical yin and yang, but Brian Charette feels a strong connection to both. Though the first has a reputation as a soulful groove machine, and some may regard electronic music as cold and cerebral, the keyboardist sees shared roots. “From the beginning of electricity, there has been electronic instruments,” Brian points out. “The B-3 was one of the first synthesizers, one of the first electronic instruments. It made a one-man band scenario possible.”

His interest in electronics was piqued early on, starting when his grandfather put together a contraption for the youngster to play with, consisting of a piece of plywood with a lot of switches attached. The homemade toy fueled young Brian’s imagination, becoming the control panel for fantasy playscapes involving anything from rockets to ships to planes. He was also intrigued by his grandfather’s ship-to-shore radio, digging the unusual sounds as the signal broke up and faded in and out.

Brian studied piano from early childhood, and he counts Ellen Rowe and Neal Larrabee among his teachers and mentors. By the time he hit his teens he was gigging regularly, including dates with greats such as Lou Donaldson and Houston Person.

However, “When I first came to New York, I did more electronic music production than playing. I produced rappers, made beats for them, recorded with them, played in rock bands,” Brian reveals. At age 35, “I started to play lots and lots of jazz again.” Since then, he’s built an enviable reputation as a first-call organist in the Big Apple, estimating that he’s put out 16 or 17 jazz albums as a leader on Hammond organ, plus working with the likes of George Coleman, Vic Juris, Bucky Pizzarelli, Javon Jackson, Peter Bernstein, Steve Wilson and other notables. 

In the past five years he’s felt the pull to branch out and once again explore the wealth of electronic options. Part of the attraction is that he can do it all himself. The appeal is also the drawback: “Every single thing has to be done by me.”

With his brand-new recording, Like the Sun, for the first time Brian is combining his two musical passions on the same project. “There are not a lot of examples of putting together Hammond organ with electronic music, but it’s very attractive to me,” he notes. The album concept has been in the works for a few years, but the COVID-necessitated stay-at-home strategy provided him with the time to bring it to fruition.

The finished recording didn’t stray far from Brian’s original idea, despite the challenges and disruptions of 2020. “I’m not overly influenced by current events: My life, yes. My music, no. Music is a dream world for me, the temporal is not really in play. I’m so stimulated by playing music that requires focus, I go to another place. I become like a music machine myself.”

The 13 tracks are mostly live takes; two feature guitar overdubs. “It feels like jazz with machines. I program for a high level of randomness and how I react to it in that way is very unusual, the whole mosaic can change. It may be a stretch for some people, it may push boundaries, but it’s not offputting.”

Like the Sun officially drops in December, but pre-release copies were on offer Nov. 24, in honor of Brian’s birthday. He celebrates the new recording with a Dec. 5 livestream from Brooklyn’s Soapbox Gallery. Check with the club about reservations, as there may be limited seating available.

“It will be all me, playing all of these crazy machines,” Brian says. He aims to perform all of the Like the Sun material, expanding each piece, and playing some piano along with the electronics. There’s a possibility of a special guest, singer Melanie Scholtz, Brian’s wife, who may read some of her poetry at the venue. The two often perform piano/voice duos, including recent livestreams from the Soapbox and Jazz Forum. “I love streaming when I’m not in charge of the technology. It’s a great relief when it’s not my responsibility. I just have to put the set together and play,” he explains.

“The CD music is meant to be optimistic—I wish people could listen to it and just feel fine. I want it to be a party everyone can come to.”

Brian Charette livestreams at Soapbox Gallery Dec. 5

Photo by Volha Talatynic

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Chip Shelton

Chip Shelton: Inspirational Winds By George Kanzler

Despite the current pandemic, wind player and singer Chip Shelton has two CDs with his Peacetime Ensemble currently in jazz radio and sales circulation. He recorded Plan Be Dream Music (CCM Records) in 2015 and released it early this year, following up recently with Mentors (CCM), a 2008 live date from Cecil’s Jazz Club in West Orange, N.J.

Both albums feature Chip on a variety of saxophones, clarinets and flutes. The latter are central to Chip’s identity as a jazz player. I was the first jazz flute major at Manhattan School of Music in the 1990s,” he reveals in a recent phone call from his home in New Rochelle, N.Y. “When we made Mentors I was having back problems so I found saxophones in C, the home key of flutes, because I was having problems negotiating my B-flat and E-flat saxes.” He was able to find the C instruments made by the King Company, circa 1928. (Chip plays modern saxophones on Plan B.)

We get to hear him playing C-melody (tenor) saxophone as well as a C-soprano sax and flute, as he pays tribute to tenor saxophonists Jimmy Heath, Frank Foster and Frank Wess on Mentors. As a member of New York’s Jazzmobile Workshop Orchestra in the 1970s, Chip played for all three jazz masters when they were guest conductors/leaders.

It was in the Jazzmobile group that Chip first met T.K. Blue, a fellow saxophonist-flutist with whom he’s worked off and on in the Jersey City-based collective Spirit of Life Ensemble since the 1990s. Spirit of Life is a large band (anywhere from a dozen to a score) that emphasizes the primacy of rhythms and their pan-African sources. Chip also emphasizes rhythm on his CDs, both featuring rhythm sections with hand percussionists. “On my recordings and gigs, with my bands and Spirit of Life, I also play hand percussion, including tambourine, bell tree, cowbells, bongos (with bundle sticks), shakers and shekere.”

Besides playing percussion and wind instruments, Chip also sings, and like with his wind instruments, he’s had mentors. Jazzmobile with saxophones, professors at Manhattan School of Music with flute and jazz singers with voice.

I was invited to join a boys’ choir when I was a kid in West Virginia,” Chip recalls,  but he declined. In the early years of this century his interest in singing rekindled, and he sought out lessons with jazz vocalists Mark Murphy and Joe Lee Wilson.

Plan B features some of Chip’s lyrics, delivered both in song and parlando. They are basically expressions of his optimistic view of life, an attitude also reflected in his music. Typical lyric sentiments include “love needs inspiration,” “life needs dedication” and “surrender to love’s mysteries and feel love.”

Asked how he decides which of the many wind instruments in his arsenal he chooses to use for each tune, Chip shares three considerations. “First, what key is it in? Some keys are natural for some instruments. Second, what is the mood of a song? A ballad will sound better on a smooth alto sax than a high-pitched sopranino. And third, what is the ensemble context? If I want to play flute in Spirit of Life, a big, burly ensemble, I need my own amp and pickup. Your instrument has to project over the band.”

While both of his current CDs feature much of his saxophone playing, Chip is currently working on a project he initiated while at Manhattan School of Music in the 1990s.

“I was active then with the National Flute Association, and exposed to flute ensembles. I conceived World Flute Ensemble, the first jazz flute ensemble. We had ten flutes, five rhythm and two vocalists and played gigs at St. Peter’s and Zanzibar.”

Now he’s putting together Chip Shelton’s Flute Party Band, with eight flutes, a four-piece rhythm section and two singers: himself and a female vocalist. Among the flutes he plays are bass and contrabass. BTW, he also dances. I have a background in dance as well as wind instruments,” notes Chip, who won a dance talent contest in 7th grade. You can see a nicely produced video preview of the nascent Flute Party Band on his website, chipshelton.com.

Chip Shelton’s Flute Party Band livestreams Dec. 5 at: https://us02web. zoom.us/j/82967404731.

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Sherrie Maricle

Sherrie Maricle’s Persistent Sound By Stephanie Jones

Twenty minutes from Philly, on a two-acre plot where a dairy barn once flourished, Sherrie Maricle envisions a future for the music. In 2016, the drummer, band leader and consummate educator created a performance space in her former home studio just north of University of the Arts, where she serves as a master lecturer. Now, she seeks to offer a similar outlet away from the city. 

 

“At my space in Philadelphia, I was able to create an ‘alternative venue for jazz,’ as they say, and I’m intending to do the same thing here on this new property I have,” Sherrie says. “It has real potential. As soon as the world can get back to live music, I will attempt to share some as quickly as possible.” 

 

From afternoons in grade school spent sitting behind her first kit, Sherrie has cultivated an artistry intrinsically linked to live sound. Over the past three decades, she’s performed at Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center, the Hollywood Bowl and festivals across the world, frequently leading her critically acclaimed DIVA Jazz Orchestra—whose members have included Noriko Ueda, Roxy Coss, Alexa Tarantino and Rachel Therrien—as well as smaller outfits. The excitement she feels playing live among her fellow artists emerges in energy she passes from one phrase to the next. She seems to exhibit a presence of self that extends beyond her physical form. The fullness she translates from behind the kit often begins at the piano when she’s arranging new music. 

 

“[Big band sound] informs a lot of what I do in my quintet and my trios—mainly, these days, the 3D Jazz Trio,” Sherrie explains. “I’m a strong believer in making [each arrangement] unique to your ensemble. That might mean reharmonizing it, shifting the melody around here and there and, of course, changing up the feel, but also creating an ensemble section not dissimilar to the vibes that I enjoyed a lot from the Ray Brown Trio—that full ensemble. You’d always get the illusion that the group was a lot bigger.” 

 

As an arranger, Sherrie considers the ensemble sound as a whole as well as the individual voices creating the whole sound. “It’s a little bit of both,” she notes. “When you first begin creating these arrangements, the ensemble sound is the first thing that comes to your mind, and making it excellent and unique. When you have longevity with players you work with, all your players immediately play into the arrangement that you’re writing.” 

 

Sherrie regards the kit itself as another element of her expression’s fullness. She views the lineage of a more open tuning, in 4ths or 5ths, as ideal for her melodic ideas to emerge and take shape. “I like that very open, resonant [sound] as opposed to closer intervals like a 3rd,” she says. “I like my drums, especially in a big band, tuned fairly low. A kit that’s tuned really high, or the tom-tom is tuned almost in the bongo range—I often don’t mind it when I hear it, but when I try to play on a kit like that, all of my melodic ideas and ideas for improvisation can’t function [laughs]. It just sounds so different to me.” 

 

Leader instincts, in part, prompt Sherrie to ascribe an orchestral consciousness to the instrument she loves so much. “The drums are going to have all different sonic levels anyway,” she muses. “The low pitch of the bass drum is a cushion for the whole band to ride; as the drums get higher, adding cymbals, that’s a complete sonic range that parallels the sound of the band from the bass and bari sax, low end of the piano, all the way up to the lead trumpet parts.” 

 

In her small ensembles, she replicates that fullness, allowing its resonance to influence musical conversations she has with 3D Trio-mates, bassist and multi-instrumentalist Amy Shook and pianist Jackie Warren—both of whom reflect Sherry’s aesthetic. “We share a similar sensibility,” she says. “All three of us share a musical soul.” In November, the trio members released their first holiday album Christmas in 3D, “Please Daddy (Don’t Get Drunk this Christmas)” serving as the catalyst for recording. “We kind of got inspired by this unorthodox Christmas song,” says Sherrie, who contends the band’s collaborative approach to arranging helps create a conceptual arc for their records. 

 

“We’ll each pick three or four tunes and come [to the session] with a concept, sometimes a written arrangement,” she says. “Then we hash through it together, make the changes we want and off we go.” 

 

The 3D Jazz Trio releases Christmas in 3D at First Presbyterian Church in Clarks Summit, Pa., Dec. 18; Deer Head Inn in the Poconos, Dec. 19; and Blue House Productions in D.C., Dec. 20. 

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Roni Ben Hur

No Pandemic Fatigue For Roni Ben-Hur By Don Jay Smith