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Antonio Ciacca

Antonio Ciacca’s Inclusive Vibration By Stephanie Jones

Wood paneling on the bandstand, red upholstered seats and a painted mural complete the portrait of an uptown club reimagined. Particulars of the venue might be a few years old, but the legacy of the club has reverberated for generations. Pianist, composer, big band leader and educator Antonio Ciacca feels right at home performing Wednesday nights at Minton’s Playhouse, playing within the four walls that once housed the spontaneity of bebop legends.

He describes his evenings at Minton’s as the ultimate achievement as a jazz musician. And during those sets, among fellow artists and attentive listeners, Antonio fully embraces what he loves doing the most.

“I’m just trying to play music,” he says. “I’m not trying to intellectualize it too much or worry what the critics might think. When I play music, I want to play with other people and have a good time and swing; and make sure the audience likes what we’re doing. If that sounds like Benny Golson or Horace Silver, that’s fine. If that sounds like Steve Lacy or Johnny Griffin, fine.”

Internalizing the expressions of his peers and mentors has had an enduring impact on Antonio’s music. Perhaps the reason Antonio remains unmoved by critics’ perceptions of his sound is because he has pulled inspiration from all over the world—and he’s still pulling.

When he listens back to past recordings, Antonio hears a progression of sound that’s distinctive, a sound that developed because of his decision to leave Italy and move to New York. The German-born Italian artist became captivated by American music and culture for what he considers its inherent nature of inclusion.

Since traveling to New York decades ago, Antonio has enjoyed associations with myriad artists and world cultures, each contributing to his unique expression.

“The main element of me moving from Italy to New York was to be immersed in real American culture,” he says. “In Italy, I would watch a movie about New York; to move to New York, I became someone who actually steps into the movie and becomes part of the movie.”

Antonio has spent significant time in two of the music’s most fertile hubs: New York and Detroit. Beyond having the chance to study and play with certain architects of the music including Art Farmer, Kenny Barron, Jackie Byard and Lee Konitz, Antonio also took the opportunity to begin working within a denominational cross section of churches.

“Lutheran, Catholic, Baptist, Methodist—this is all music that contributed to the birth of jazz. So, I want to absorb that firsthand,” he says. “Outside the United States, you don’t really have that chance.”

Of all the artists and cultural influences Antonio has absorbed over the years, Duke Ellington has had the most resonating impact on his relationship to the piano. His interpretation of Duke’s sound reminds Antonio to be true to his instrument, to be true to his playing.

“Duke uses the peculiarities of the piano,” Antonio says. “He doesn’t want the piano to sound like something else—which is almost emblematic of the human being.”

The common tone among Antonio’s projects is inclusion. “While other musics, like classical music, are musics of exclusion, in jazz music, the ‘other’ is an element to actually enrich the art form. That’s the beauty,” Antonio explains. “If I have Francisco Mela in my band, who is Cuban, I want him to teach me some of the Cuban stuff. I don’t want him to learn my stuff; I want him to inform my music with his touch, his ideas.

“The beauty of jazz is that every new member of any band changes the alchemy of the band. It adds a new element that changes completely the chemical reaction.”

Whatever change his band happens to be reacting to, chemically, Antonio’s intention remains the same: “I’m just trying to swing and have a good time and make sure the people who are listening groove with us.”

Antonio Ciacca and Swing Society plays a residency Wednesdays at Minton’s Playhouse. 

Photo Credit:  Williams Brown

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Jon Lampley Huntertones

Another Reason To Celebrate By Elzy Kolb

Culture club

Multi-instrumentalist, composer and singer Jon Lampley has plenty of variety spicing up his musical life. Besides wielding his trumpet, flugelhorn and sousaphone in Jon Batiste’s Stay Human Band on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” he’s also right at home sharing a stage with Bobby Sanabria, Snarky Puppy, Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey, O.A.R., DJ Logic and Red Baraat.

Another way to catch Jon in action is with his mates in their long-running collective, the Huntertones, formed about eight years ago while they were at Ohio State University. Now based in Brooklyn, the Huntertones have traveled around the globe where they’ve performed and collaborated with local musicians on extensive State Department tours.

“We’ve immersed ourselves in the cultures, we see how people live and make music. For guys from small town Ohio, this has had a deep effect, personally and emotionally,” Jon explains.

The band’s new release, Passport, contains ten original compositions by Jon and fellow Huntertones Dan White (tenor, soprano, flute, clarinet, vocals), Chris Ott (trombone, beatbox, kalimba, vocals) and Joshua Hill (guitar). Also appearing on Passport are Justin Stanton, keyboards; Adam DeAscentis, bass; John Hubbell, Keita Ogawa, Magda Giannikou and Hope Masike on vocals and/or percussion; and Fergal Scahill, violin and mandolin. The new album reflects their experiences on the road with stops including Peru, Bolivia, Togo, Egypt, Zimbabwe and beyond.

“We all matured a lot through our travels,” Jon notes. “What evolved was a central idea of community—we’re all humans, we’re all the same. But we learned that cultures differ vastly around the world. People are very different, but it’s a beautiful difference. We wanted to combine what we saw and heard to create something new and beautiful to share with the world.”

In Africa Jon used his phone to record a “particularly melodic bird” which served as the inspiration for “Bird Song.” “The bird call served as the main melody for the chorus, with the groove and spirit inspired by the music we heard in Zimbabwe. It’s the first time I was inspired by nature to write something. I wanted to take that moment in a foreign place and turn it into a song. It took a couple of tries to get something that felt good and natural, I didn’t want to force it.”

At the Passport release gig at the Rockwood Music Hall Oct. 12, Jon expects the Huntertones to channel everything they experienced during their globetrotting adventures. “We’ll have leeway to stretch and interact and make the songs come alive. There’s a sense of joy in creating and playing that we want to share with the audience,” he says.

“Music can provide healing therapy. It’s hard to explain, but the power of music creates a place where you can feel whole, feel rejuvenated, no matter what’s going on around you.”

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Itai Kriss

The Latin Side Of Hot House By Raul da Gama

Itai Kriss: The Hybrid of Telavana

Think of Latin jazz flutists and Dave Valentin, Nestor Torres, Jane Bunnett and Andrea Brachfeld usually come to mind first. But that could change since a flutist named Itai Kriss has hit the road running. And that’s not because of his unusual name, but purely because of what he brings to the music.

Itai comes from faraway Jerusalem, but if you think that it’s hardly a place you would associate with Latin jazz, much less where it would flourish, think again. While the way ahead may have been paved for him by Israeli musicians of his and the earlier generation that includes Anat Cohen, no flutist of late, Israeli or not, has brought more new things to the realm of Latin jazz than Itai.

It’s wholly appropriate that Itai should invent a new word to describe his music: The word is Telavana which also happens to be the name of the group he formed to play his original new repertoire on his eponymously titled 2018 disc.

“The word Telavana is one I coined by mixing Tel Aviv, where my family comes from, and Havana, where my heart now resides,” he says during a break on tour where he was performing with the Dan Aran Quartet at The Red Sea Jazz Festival in Israel.

“I fell in love with the flute when I was 10 years old. But I think I discovered my true calling when I joined my first Afro-Cuban band where we played Cuban dance music like són and danzón,” he says.

Apparently, it did not end there. “If anything, it was long beginning of my love affair with Cuban music. Still, I knew that what I was hearing in my heart was something completely different. I am from Israel, after all. And don’t forget Israel is a country where many cultures collide. The Jewish people come from, literally, everywhere. But Israeli culture also includes the Palestinian diaspora, and Arabic culture bears the heavy influence from North Africa. It is really all this that inspires my music. It’s literally what makes Telavana unique,” he says.

Itai’s music undulates with Phrygian, Middle Eastern cadences melded into a molten mix that evokes the shimmering hot imagery of rippling Afro-Caribbean percussive grooves subsumed by the swagger and jiggle of ululating Bedouin North African rhythms laced with eloquent secular Israeli folk forms such as Klezmer, Sephardic and Mizrahi; all of which is expressed in Latin jazz idioms. Naturally it is the flute, Itai’s instrument of choice, that draws from him some of his freshest feats of imagination.

Itai Kriss brings the music of Telavana featuring the belly dancer Elena Nayiri, to Bar LunÀtico in Brooklyn on Oct. 12.

Photo Credit:  Justin W King

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Wendy Oxenhorn

Hot Flashes By Seton Hawkins

Double Hat: Wendy Oxenhon/Arts Advocate

Mention the name “Wendy Oxenhorn” to jazz veterans, and the outcome will always be stories of the tireless work she’s done to help them and their peers, of how she saved artists from evictions, enabled sick artists to access medical care, and ensured that out-of-work artists found quality paying work. The depth of Reverend Wendy’s impact through the Jazz Foundation of America and the tenacity she has brought to serving the jazz world almost defies belief.

“We're different from other helping organizations, as we take people on like family,” Wendy explains. To be sure, the assistance provided by this group has always gone with a personal touch, with support extending far beyond simply cutting a check. The impact and growth of the organization is amazing and speaks to the dedication of Wendy, who took on the role in 2000, initially without compensation. It’s grown an 11-person organization, including its dedicated executive director Joe Petrucelli, Alisa Hafkin, the director of social services, and the very generous and talented Steve Jordan, its new Director of Events. The Foundation is now serving approximately 30 individual musicians in crisis each day.

The foundation encountered one of its most trying crucibles, as well as a catalyst for growth, as it faced serving the needs of musicians following Hurricane Katrina. Operating with no fulltime staff, Wendy nevertheless managed to marshal aid to provide crucial support. With assistance from figures like Quincy Jones, Wendy helped bring musicians out of shelters and into stable housing and ultimately aided in bringing artists back to New Orleans and reuniting them as a community. Along the way, Wendy also formed an ad-hoc "family" of individuals ready to step up and assist.

“This is when I met Saint Agnes Varis—by the way, we named her ‘Saint Agnes,’ and now the world knows her as that,” she says of the late philanthropist. “We had a fundraiser and she came, and she was the miracle that started everything to help us with Katrina!”

Through Agnes’ support, the foundation’s transformational Jazz in the Schools program was able to vastly expand, bringing increasing work opportunities to artists who had found themselves out of work following the hurricane. The program remains to this day, serving the needs of artists for paying work and the need for students today to hear live jazz.

While the organization had initially found itself focused on providing support to elder musicians, recent years have expanded the need to an even broader range of issues. After 9/11, the New York economy meant that younger touring artists were unable to travel, while the standing restaurant and club gigs that local veterans had held dried up, resulting in a widespread and deeply troubling drought for creative artists. This situation inspired the foundation to expand its reach to serve musicians regardless of age.

While the question of how to financially support a large group of artists who need aid is a daunting one, the question of how to inspire a culture shift in society toward engagement with the arts and with one another is downright herculean. This question has inspired one of the foundation’s most beautiful events: The Loft Party. An annual event—described by Wendy as a “mini Montreux Festival all in one night”—the party raises both funds and awareness, but also aspires to heal, billing itself as “a night for the soul.”

This year, the event honors the legendary Roberta Flack, who has been both a supporter and a recipient of the foundation’s efforts. Previously coming to the Foundation’s aid in support of Odetta, Roberta recently found herself injured and unable to tour.

“You realize through twists and turns of lives of hardworking, world-enhancing people, people who made our lives rich with their music, that when their time comes to get help, they don't always have resources,” Wendy notes. For that reason, we can be grateful for the Jazz Foundation.

The Jazz Foundation of America hosts its 27th annual Loft Party at the Hudson Studio on Oct. 13. Honoring Roberta Flack, the evening includes performances by Joe Lovano, Marc Johnson, Andrew Cyrille, Randy Brecker, Bobby Sanabria, Eddie Palmieri and many more. Tickets start at $500 and are available by visiting jazzfoundation.org.

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Stefon Harris

Winning Spins By George Kanzler

Two musicians who are well-established as premier players on today’s jazz scene venture into more adventurous territory, as composer/arrangers and as auteurs of a distinctive collective ensemble sound in this month’s Winning Spins.

Stefon Harris has been in the forefront of vibraphone and marimba players since he burst on the scene in the 1990s. Christian Sands, Stefon’s junior by 16 years, has been a 20-something wunderkind for the last decade, first emerging as the pianist in bassist Christian McBride’s trio. The two front flexibly sized combos on their new albums: Stefon concentrating more on revisiting and reimagining jazz and (one) pop works; Christian showcasing his compositional as well as pianistic talents.

Sonic Creed, Stefon Harris & Blackout (Motéma), finds Stefon re-forming his expanded combo, Blackout, for the first time in a decade. Anchored by his rhythm section of drummer Terreon Gully, bassist Joshua Crumbly and pianist/keyboardist James Francies, the core band here also includes alto and soprano saxophonist and vocoder player Casey Benjamin; clarinetist and bass clarinetist Felix Peikli and guitarist Mike Moreno.

The ensemble sound is reminiscent of an updating of Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters. Stefon’s “Let’s Take a Trip to the Sky” and Bobby Hutcherson’s “Now” with lyrics by Gene McDaniels feature vocals from Jean Baylor, the latter tune adding flute, violin and cello to the mix.

Elena Pinderhughes’s flute also sparks the refrain of Horace Silver’s “The Cape Verdean Blues,” fitted with a catchy Afro-Latin rhythm in a chart by Stefon that drops the fast tempo with fractured, semi-rubato time for Casey’s alto sax solo, a stirring colloquy with Terreon and percussionist Pedrito Martinez, before the racing tempo returns for Stefon’s vibes solo. Horace isn’t the only jazz composer from the hard bop era remembered here; the album kicks off with Bobby Timmons’soul jazz classic, “Dat Dere,” rhythms updated with a hip-hop feel, Casey electrifying his sax and James adding electric keyboards.

Wayne Shorter’s pre-Weather Report “Go,” is propelled by jangly rhythms and Mike’s probing guitar, and a Stefon marimba solo over cheer-like ensemble figures. A repeating, slinky chant phrase from the reeds and vibes creates a steady undertow on Stefon’s “Chasin’ Kendall,” also highlighted by a marimba solo.

Another newer jazz standard, Abbey Lincoln’s “Throw It Away,” arrives in diaphanous washes of vibes over keyboards, guitar and soprano sax, the sax eventually settling into the familiar melody, then soloing over more waves of marimba and ensemble. Stefon ends the album with a sumptuous vibes and marimba (Joseph Doubleday on the latter) duet of “Gone Too Soon,” originally recorded by Michael Jackson as a memorial to AIDs activist Ryan White.

Stefon Harris appears at the BRIC Festival in Brooklyn, Oct. 18.

Photo Credit:  Deneka Peniston

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Julian Priester

Hear Julian Priester Play Unheard Herbie Nichols

By Elzy Kolb

A longtime Seattle resident, trombonist and composer Julian Priester last played the Big Apple about two years ago and he’s looking forward to returning this month to focus on the music of pianist Herbie Nichols.

“Herbie was a special personality in his music and composition,” Julian says. “One of my goals is to preserve this valuable art and promote it so the public can become aware of it. This will be a very good listening opportunity for those not exposed to his music.”

And it’s a great opportunity for anyone who hasn’t had a chance to hear Julian Priester in action.

Now 83, the Chicago-born trombonist was on the road with touring bands before he reached voting age. He played with blues great Muddy Waters and R&B pioneer Bo Diddley, and with a litany of jazz icons from hitmakers like Dinah Washington to groundbreakers such as Sam Rivers. His résumé encompasses stints with big bands from straight-ahead (Lionel Hampton) to interstellar (Sun Ra).

Julian parted ways with Duke Ellington’s orchestra to join Herbie Hancock’s Mwandishi band, and made his mark with Freddie Hubbard, Art Blakey, McCoy Tyner, Michele Rosewoman, Dave Holland, Joe Henderson, Jane Ira Bloom and Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra. Julian has appeared on scores of albums as a sideman including John Coltrane’s historic Africa/Brass and a dozen Max Roach recordings; he’s released a dozen titles as a leader, including the fusion album Love, Love, on ECM.

The Big Apple was home to the veteran trombonist from the late 1950s to the early 1970s, but he never crossed paths with lifelong New Yorker Herbie Nichols, who died at age 43.

“I never met Herbie but heard about him by word of mouth. The way my fellow artists spoke of his music drew me in,” Julian says. “He was of a mindset to keep the traditional values, but to keep expanding. As an artform, change has to happen to reflect the social environment and stay pertinent to our daily lives. We all change as we advance through life and we’re obligated to include those changes in our music, which represents our life.”

Born in 1919, Herbie was a composer and pianist who was on hand for the birth of the bebop era. A prolific writer, he recorded only a sampling of his estimated 170 compositions on a scant handful of albums—three of them on the venerable Blue Note label.

While he didn’t receive wide recognition during his lifetime, Herbie’s compositions have been recorded by such diverse artists as Mary Lou Williams, Billie Holiday, Steve Lacy, Duck Baker, Charlie Haden, Howard Alden, Buell Neidlinger, Kenny Werner, Roswell Rudd, and the Herbie Nichols Project co-led by Frank Kimbrough and Ben Allison. Vocalist Fay Victor wrote lyrics to his compositions for her project Herbie Nichols SUNG.

Herbie’s style is sometimes compared with that of his more-acclaimed contemporary Thelonious Monk, but Julian sees limited similarity. “Herbie Nichols and Thelonious Monk were only similar in that each was a step forward. Neither one was interested in duplicating Charlie Parker’s style, Dizzy Gillespie’s style. Each was unique and informative in terms of impact on the listener. Monk and Herbie are steps ahead of the musicians who have gone down the road of keeping up with the Jones—and I’m not talking about Thad and Elvin,” Julian declares with a chuckle.

Julian looks forward to sharing the bandstand in October with pianist David Haney, drummer Andrew Cyrille and bassist Adam Lane for Unheard Herbie Nichols.

“Andrew is like family, we created a bond of friendship and collaboration while I was living in New York. I love playing with him,” Julian notes. “David and I go back at least 20 years, we don’t get to play together often, but when we do it’s interesting and satisfying, musically and personally. He introduced me to Adam, and I’m looking forward to playing with them again.

“To play this music we have to draw on our creativity and spontaneity and strip ourselves of our ego. We have to avoid having predetermined ideas that we’re going to employ,” he continues. “I want to play the sound I’m hearing, listen to the band, to the collective sound. There’ll be information there I can draw upon with the goal to join in that sound to go wherever the sound goes and play off whatever the group is putting out. That creative effort is the magic.”

The elder trombonist hopes he’ll return to Manhattan soon. “Once people realize I’m still alive, I hope I can show my face more often in New York City,” Julian says with a laugh. “I don’t perform there very often, but it’s very satisfying when I do.”

Trombonist Julian Priester plays Unheard Herbie Nichols at Jazz at Kitano with pianist David Haney, bassist Adam Lane and drummer Andrew Cyrille on Oct. 20.

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Christian Sands

Winning Spins By George Kanzler

Two musicians who are well-established as premier players on today’s jazz scene venture into more adventurous territory, as composer/arrangers and as auteurs of a distinctive collective ensemble sound in this month’s Winning Spins.

Stefon Harris has been in the forefront of vibraphone and marimba players since he burst on the scene in the 1990s. Christian Sands, Stefon’s junior by 16 years, has been a 20-something wunderkind for the last decade, first emerging as the pianist in bassist Christian McBride’s trio. The two front flexibly sized combos on their new albums: Stefon concentrating more on revisiting and reimagining jazz and (one) pop works; Christian showcasing his compositional as well as pianistic talents.

Facing Dragons, Christian Sands (Mack Avenue), features eight originals by the leader, the only exception a rhapsodic, tour de force piano trio rendering of The Beatles’ “Yesterday.” Christian does most of his soloing on acoustic piano, although he uses Fender Rhodes on four tracks, electric keyboards (one) and Hammond B3 organ (one) for color and backgrounds. He ends the album with a Fender Rhodes solo track, helpfully titled “Rhodes to Meditation.”

Christian is joined on the rest of the album by bassist Yasushi Nakamura and drummer Jerome Jennings, augmented at times by guitarist Caio Afiune, trumpeter Keyon Harrold and tenor saxophonist Marcus Strickland, percussionist Cristian Rivera and Latin percussionist Roberto Quintero. Cristian and Roberto appear together on the most boisterous Afro-Latin track, “Sangeuo Soul,” a lively quick-step with winning piano and guitar solos.

“Samba de Vela” is delivered in two contrasting tempos in both the theme and solo (again, piano and guitar) sections. The horns provide the A sections of the hard bop, AABA form “Fight for Freedom,” with Caio skittering through the B (bridge), Christian’s piano bopping the main solo and the horns trading brisk licks over the closing vamp. “Frankenstein,” the other horns feature, is in a soul jazz 6/8 groove, with a roundelay of solos in quarter time from tenor sax, trumpet and piano.

The most programmatic piece is “Sunday Mornings,” impressions of that period both secular and spiritual with nice use of the B3 organ and some reggae thrown in the middle. The album is a varied and ambitious display of Christian’s copious talents, as both a player and composer/arranger.

Christian Sands Trio, with special guests Caio Afiune and Keyon Harrold, is at Jazz Standard Oct. 25-28.

Photo Credit:  Anna Webber

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