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Jerome Jennings

HOT FLASHES By Seton Hawkins

Jerome Jennings: In Solidarity

To say that Solidarity, the sophomore album release of master drummer Jerome Jennings, tackles social issues would be an understatement. An intensely personal and thoughtful expression of love and insight, Solidarity examines the lives, stories and agency of figures like the intersectional feminist scholar Audre Lorde, transgender activist Marsha P. Johnson, and Civil Rights activist and icon Recy Taylor. Throughout the album, Solidarity explores how to embrace being an ally, acknowledging voices, acknowledging and celebrating difference, and amplifying the messages of groups most at risk in our society.

“This is a journey for me,” Jerome explains. “I have been educating myself on what is happening with the people who are the most vulnerable in our society. There is so much happening right now with the LGBTQ+ communities, with women’s rights, with the #MeToo movement, with Black Lives Matter. And inside each of those movements, there are further vulnerable people.” After first encountering the seminal 1970 essay anthology The Black Woman, Jerome read the writings of Audre Lorde (who contributed to the book), which ultimately led him to her own iconic work Sister Outsider. “In that book she had essays like ‘There Is No Hierarchy of Oppressions,’ and ‘The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House,’” he recalls. “I knew I had to write music in dedication to her. She was a lesbian, and so her sexuality put her in a marginalized group, but inside that group she was also a black woman. I had not thought of the complexity of that until I read her work. She coined this term ‘Theory of Difference,’ which is the name of the piece I wrote for her. We’re all different, but we don’t need to run from those differences; we don’t need to try to be like one another.”

Jerome’s album, highlighting narratives of people representing marginalized groups, comes out at an interesting time in jazz’s own history. A musical genre infamous for its own misogyny throughout the past century, jazz has in recent years seen an increasing reckoning with its history. “We’re finally getting to a point where men are conscious about the lack of women on the bandstand,” Jerome notes. “People like Melba Liston, Clora Bryant and Mary Lou Williams are getting more ink these days, but it’s long overdue. They still don’t get the recognition they should be getting.”

The narrative and conceptual ambition of Solidarity is exceptional, made all the more impactful by the quality of the compositions and performances. In recent years, Jerome has demonstrated himself to be not only one of the best young drummers in jazz today, but also one of its more interesting composers. The music and album are celebrated with a Nov. 12 release party at Dizzy’s Club. Percussionist Paula Winter, pianist Zaccai Curtis, bassist Devin Starks, saxophonists Stacy Dillard and Jorge Castro, trumpeter Josh Evans, trombonist Andrae Murchison and vocalist/flautist Melanie Charles join Jerome on stage for the event.

To learn more about Jerome Jennings, visit www.jeromejennings.com.

Photo Credit: John Abbott

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Roger Kellaway

Roger Kellaway: The Art of the Trio By Seton Hawkins

Nov. 1 marks the 80th birthday of one of jazz’s most iconic and singular musical voices: Roger Kellaway. A pianist, composer, arranger and bandleader, Roger has also forged an utterly unique space in the industry, performing in settings from solo piano to orchestra, and playing with artists ranging from Clark Terry to Bobby Darin, from Oliver Nelson to Elvis Presley.

Given the breadth and diversity of his work, a milestone birthday performance by Roger could take any number of musical avenues. However, at New York’s Birdland Theater on Nov.15-16, Roni Ben-Hur and Jay Leonhart join Roger to celebrate his big day in the rather classic piano-guitar-bass format popularized by masters like Nat King Cole and Oscar Peterson. That configuration might be a surprising choice in this day and age, but it has been Roger’s go-to setting for more than a decade, and unquestionably provides him with a gorgeous platform for his unique and wonderful pianistic sensibility.

Indeed, for Roger the classic trio format harks back to one of his earliest influences: “When I was growing up, the Oscar Peterson trio with Barney Kessel and Ray Brown was very attractive for me, though the one I love the most was his trio with Herb Ellis and Ray Brown,” he explains. “That became my favorite trio sound of all time.” Though in the late 1950s the trio configuration in jazz shifted to piano-bass-drums, Roger maintains that the alluring earlier lineup has a tremendous amount to offer. “When you’re playing with drums, you have the midrange to the low range of the sound spectrum taken up with drums and cymbals,” he notes. “Piano, guitar and bass is much more transparent, almost like a chamber group. You’ve got air between the instruments; the responsibility among the people changes because it’s intimate.”

The love of space and of intimacy in performance, and a chamber music aesthetic certainly seem to serve as running themes in many of Roger’s projects. Iconic efforts such as his cello quartet or his collaborative work with Eddie Daniels highlight a tremendous sense of space and almost classical sensibilities in execution. “I’ve been drawn to a chamber kind of situation without drums,” he says. “It leads me to see how much I enjoy playing solo piano, too. I can move into any genre I want, without worrying about a rhythm section.”

November marks not only Roger’s 80th birthday and New York performances, but also the release of his latest record, The Many Open Minds of Roger Kellaway. Featuring the piano-guitar-bass trio format, the album draws from earlier live dates at the Jazz Bakery and offers a dazzling portrait of the ensemble. “We had a few nights, as I recall,” Roger explains. “So we had plenty of material in the can, and my wife, Jorjana, and I actually edited together the pieces on the album. What we chose were all set closers. So the album has an interesting energy to it. Although it starts with ‘52nd Street Theme,’ that’s a tune that I close with. The whole album has that kind of energy on each track.”

Roger’s performances at the Birdland Theater offer a similarly unique energy. With his theater shows running concurrently with the Django Reinhardt Festival 20th Anniversary Celebration at Birdland Jazz Club, the two projects are taking advantage of the opportunity for mutual guest appearances. Indeed, Roger is going to join the Django Reinhardt Festival as a special guest, while Ludovic Beier and Pierre Blanchard are scheduled to sit in with the Roger Kellaway Trio. The logistics questions aside, the cross-pollination promises a one-of-a-kind experience for listeners as the two bands traverse the floors to play with one another. “I don’t want to talk with my knees about it!” Roger jokes. “That flight of stairs is not to be taken in five or ten seconds! But we’re going to work all that out.”

Ultimately, the weekend offers a truly perfect encapsulation of Roger Kellaway’s career: an artist whose creativity is so boundless that his musical energy requires two simultaneous shows.

Visit www.rogerkellaway.com to learn more about Roger Kellaway, his performances, and The Many Open Minds of Roger Kellaway.

Roger Kellaway plays Birdland Theater Nov. 15-16, and also appears on those dates at Birdland Jazz Club as special guest of the Django Reinhardt Festival.

Photo Credit: Jorjana Kellaway

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Yunior Terry

THE LATIN SIDE OF HOT HOUSE By Raul da Gama

Yunior Terry: A Bass that Swings…and Prays

Yunior Terry Cabrera was born to a higher calling. Like his brothers Yosvany and the late Yoel, he is part of the dynasty that flourished under family patriarch, Eladio “Don Pancho” Terry Gonzalez who, with his wife, Lidia Cabrera León, brought song, dance and worship to their home in Camagüey, Cuba. “After completing a year of study and ceremonies, I was initiated into the Sabalú cabildo de Matanzas, Cuba,” Yunior says.  “Now I have joined Yosvany in becoming an Arará practitioner. That is, I joined the community as a cultural bearer of African rhythms, chants and ceremonies that originated in the African kingdom of Dahomey,” the composer, bassist, violinist explains.

Today he is a cup-bearer for his family and the communal diaspora to which they belong. “Arará people have descended from Fon, Ewe, Popo, Mahi and other ethnic groups in Dahomey,” Yunior says. “Arará is also the music, dance and religion of our people in Cuba and elsewhere.” To the uninitiated, Arará music may sound similar, if not the same, as Cuba’s many other musical forms, such as Lucumi, Bantu and rumba. However, it is markedly different, despite the ubiquitous presence of the batá and conga drums that drive all Afro-Cuban music and dance ceremonies, Cuban comparsas and performances on the concert stage. The difference with Arará is found in the core sound of Ye-Dé-Gbé percussion: the yonofó, apitlí, wewé and akotó drums that accompany prayers and chants in the Dahomey tradition.

Yunior does not play those drums—they are played by musician-priests of the tradition. But as a bassist, what he is able to do, like very few in today’s music, is accompany the drummers, anchoring them solidly as they lead the musical and communal groups in song, dance and prayer. Masterful displays of this are best heard in the environs of Camagüey itself. However, Yunior and his brothers, led by their patriarch-father, also gave notice of their special endowments on 1996’s From Africa to Camagüey: Afro-Cuban Jazz (Round World Music). The breathtaking and viscerally energetic music showed, among other things, why Yunior is now one of the most sought-after bassists in Afro-Cuban jazz wherever it is played.

A melodic player, Yunior’s virtuosity shines in cascades of exquisite, voluptuous notes that echo from the belly of the contrabass. He is an inspiration to dancers and acts as a bridge between the long line of bassists playing in the Cuban and jazz traditions. His rhythmic sensibility also matches that of the great drummers. “I dedicate my gifts to God who gave them to me,” Yunior says shyly. These extraordinary gifts grace many recordings, including Yosvany’s New Throned King (5Passion) in 2014. Meanwhile, 2012’s landmark Mi Bajo Danzón (Palo Santo Music) defined his role as leader. With characteristic excitement he promises, “Brand-new music in the Afro-Cuban tradition is coming soon!”

Yunior Terry and Son de Altura and special guests headline Havana Jam at the Hostos Center for the Arts, Nov. 15 celebrating the 500th anniversary of Havana.

Photo Credit: Nicola Dracoulis

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Michelle Lordi

ANOTHER REASON TO CELEBRATE By Elzy Kolb

Silver lining

Not all breakups are bad. Just ask Michelle Lordi, who releases an end-of-a-relationship album of a different kind this month. Instead of the familiar—and often quite wonderful—collection of songs documenting a romantic split, on Break Up with the Sound (Cabinet of Wonder), the Philadelphia-based vocalist bids farewell to her attraction to sadness. In the process, she expands her repertoire beyond the Great American Songbook classics she focused on in her previous three CDs. On this outing she includes long-time favorites from various genres, and for the first time, several of her originals.

A catastrophic house fire almost two years ago was the catalyst for Michelle’s artistic change of direction. The blaze destroyed all of her possessions, including journals, poems, songs and original art. “The fire was incredibly disruptive, but creatively it was a great opportunity to start over,” the singer muses. “I was always about to put an original project together, but never did. I had lyrics and melodies in my head for 20-30 years, but I didn’t get them out. I was too scared; I worried that they were not good enough, that no one would like them. Now I don’t care. In grieving something I loved, I made this album happen.”

Break Up with the Sound includes a variety of tunes Michelle fell in love with during her early years, among them the Hank Williams classic “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.” She recalls getting to know the song while spending summers and vacations with her grandmother in Virginia, listening to country music on a shortwave radio. “That’s the saddest song ever written. It’s not, ‘I lost my truck, I lost my job, I lost my girl.’ It’s, ‘I’m alone in this pointless universe’.”

One phrase in particular made a lasting impression: the image of a bird that “sounds too blue to fly.”

“I thought about that a lot, after my personal experience. It’s one thing to be sad, but another to be so overwhelmed by it and fall in love with it. At some point you have to break that attachment to your own sadness: You can’t get so sad you can’t fly,” she says. Williams’ lonesome whippoorwill of the song inspired Michelle to pen the album opener, “Poor Bird,” one of four pieces she wrote or co-wrote for Break Up with the Sound.

“I wasn’t stuck in my unhappiness, that’s not the complete story. But after the fire, all the things I hadn’t done, the weight that kept me from getting things done, that was gone. Creatively, it has been very useful and inspirational,” she muses. “So much has come together for me since then, and the music is making me open to things I’ve always wanted to do. I don’t advocate setting your house on fire, but sometimes doing a little Marie Kondo doesn’t hurt.”

Michelle has high praise for her studio mates on the new album, including Tim Motzer on guitar and electronics, producer and arranger Matthew Parrish on bass and Rudy Royston on drums; tenor saxophonist Donny McCaslin appears on four tracks. “We’re all visual artists—painters or photographers—they’re all such all-encompassing artists, and that made this very organic,” she notes.

Matt and Rudy appear with Michelle at Smoke Nov. 27, to celebrate the release of Break Up with the Sound, along with Brandon McCune on piano and Jay Rodriquez on reeds. In addition to music from the new album, expect a few standards and likely some brand-new originals. Michelle also plays Jazz Forum Nov. 10, in a trio setting with Matt, pianist Jim Ridl and drummer Otis Brown III.

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