Wednesday, February 24, 2010


* With pianist Carlton Holmes, saxophonists Paulo Levi and Yosvany Terry, guitarists Romero Lubambo and Freddie Bryant, bassist Essiet Essiet, drummer Willard Dyson, percussionist Nanny Assis *

The superb and startlingly accomplished debut CD from vocalist Erika Matsuo, Obsession, (March 23, Erika Records) resolves the usual preconceptions about a “first voyage out” with a wholly positive and enthusiastic confirmation that a rare, magical talent has ventured forward for the world to hear. An enchanting singer with remarkable command and range, Matsuo leads her top-notch accompanists through a collection of fourteen love songs, more than half of them from Brazil’s greatest songwriters—Antonio Carlos Jobim, Dori Caymmi, Djavan, Ivan Lins, Milton Nascimento and Chico Buarque—and creates a world of heart-stirrings and sensuous joys.

Starting with a rousing, swing-happy encounter with Cole Porter on “Night and Day” and concluding with Erika’s own snappy samba, “I Close My Eyes,” Obsession is, indeed, a voyage full of genuine connections and memorable moments, an artistic triumph that can easily stand next to some of the finest jazz vocals recordings ever made. That it is a work of pure self-determination and true mastery of a musical gift makes Erika Matsuo’s Obsession even more extraordinary.

Seventy years ago, “jazz ambassadors” from the United States—namely Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington—were traveling around the globe and introducing America’s Great Musical Idiom to countless new fans, royalty and world leaders included. Now, in 2010, Japanese native Erika Matsuo is among yet another new generation of jazz artists from around the world who are honoring the traditions of the genre while embracing the new globalization of culture.

On Obsession, listeners can experience where jazz is today in this regard, as Matsuo sings five of the Brazilian songs (including Jobim’s “Chega de Saudade” and Djavan’s “Samurai”) in flawless Portuguese, a language she has been ardently studying. There are also subtle inflections of Japanese music throughout the CD, and Erika’s beautiful “Love for Life,” an original sung in her native language, finds common ground between the longing nostalgia of saudade and the equivalent feeling in Japan, called setsunai.

For Erika Matsuo, Obsession is both a culmination and a beginning in terms of artistic development and promise.

Entirely self-produced, Erika’s debut album succeeds because of her strong, personal vision of how to make her musical gifts flourish, and under which circumstances. The hand-picked rhythm section—veteran pianist Carlton Holmes joined by Essiet Essiet on both acoustic and electric bass, Willard Dyson on drums and Nanny Assis on percussion—provides drive, sensitive accentuation and loads of sparkle, allowing Erika’s vocals to bounce giddily along on tracks like Van Morrsion’s “Moondance” and Jobim’s “Someone to Light Up My Life” or glide through two pensive ballads, Billy Strayhorn’s “My Little Brown Book” and the Jimmy Van Heusen chestnut “I Could Have Told You” (in which she will bring to mind Diana Krall at her best).

Finding the right instrumentalists to balance and contrast the dynamics of vocalizations is a task usually best handled by a seasoned producer, but here Erika again shows her sterling instincts. Freddie Bryant’s nuanced guitar work on Nascimento’s plaintive “Bridges/Traverssia,” Djavan’s “Oceano” and the Dori Caymmi penned title track displays his deep understanding of Brazilian rhythms, and he measures up closely to Romero Lubambo, the famed six-string virtuoso from Rio de Janeiro, who delicately provides the classical guitar framework woven beneath Jobim’s landmark bossa nova composition “Chega de Saudade” and Buarque’s yearning “Atras da Porta” on Obsession. Saxophonists Yosvany Terry and Paulo Levi are featured separately on several tracks, intertwining with Erika’s strong vocals in places and taking the spotlight in others. Erika’s scatting alongside Levi’s soprano sax on “I Close My Eyes” gives ample evidence that a singer with enough confidence will match her instrument happily against another soloist.

Recorded in and around New York City, Obsession was released last fall in Japan. Unlike many of her contemporaries, Erika, now 33, did not rush to produce her first CD. She was born and raised in the Fukuoka, the same southern Japanese city that pop music megastar Ayumi Hamasaki hails from. Erika began piano lessons before grade school and was studying classical music until she was became enthralled with the effervescent sounds of Japanese pop music. Her all-girl rock band, Tear Drops—with Erika singing—won first prize at the Yamaha Teen Music Festival, but her parents convinced her to go to college in Nagasaki and study literature. While in college Erika met Quasimode pianist Yusuke Hirado, who hired her as a singer and later invited her to pursue jazz seriously in the United States once she had graduated.

In 2000, Erika Matsuo moved to New York City and began to study music and English at City College of New York. Her first singing gigs were with the college’s Latin jazz band, and soon she was learning all of the Brazilian songs in the band’s book by heart. Growing in confidence, she started taking vocal classes with Sheila Jordan, recognized as one of jazz’s most inventive singers. “Sheila taught me how to really sing, but also, and more importantly, how to live a life dedicated to music,” says Erika. Further study with pianist Barry Harris deepened her abilities to inhabit songs and bring forth performances that were genuine and uniquely interpretative. “My interest in music always comes back to how a song sounds, and how it makes me feel. Then it’s up to me to bring that feeling to others,” Erika says. On Obsession, she brings listeners to a musical paradise, a perfect destination for a first journey out.

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With bassist John Hebert and drummer Gerald Cleaver

With the release of Tivoli Trio, his remarkable new CD on the Red Piano Records label, pianist-composer Frank Carlberg has, with the incalculable support of his stellar accompanists, New Orleansian John Hebert on bass and the great Gerald Cleaver on drums, taken his place in the first rank of contemporary jazz masters, as both composer and performer.

The word “Tivoli” conjures up for many the mysteries and excitement, magic and otherworldliness of the carnival, the amusement park… be it the Tivoli Gardens in Mr. Carlberg’s native Helsinki, or the hurly-burly of the Mardi Gras in Mr. Hebert’s home town.

In these thirteen compositions Mr. Carlberg revisits the untrammeled precincts of innocence; reanimates the cusps of youthful anticipation of thrill and adventure; of facing our fears in order to discover the bittersweet perquisites of risk.

These songs are gifts from the edges of memory; intimations of “a world”, as the poet Robert Creeley wrote, “Underneath, or on top of this one- and that’s here, now.”

And it is into this world, where imagination trumps the so-called real, that Mr. Carlberg and his intensely simpatico collaborators, have provided us a glimpse and an access; frissions of the kaleidoscopic hurdy-gurdy that alternately delights and unnerves us.

The bass virtuoso John Hebert, whose unerring sense of mood and shading sets him apart from a generation of contra-bass colleagues, summons up the echoes of the Crescent City Boogaloo, from Marie Laveau to Eddie Blackwell, echoes that resonate in and around Mr. Carlberg’s compelling narratives.

Drummer Gerald Cleaver, magus of the motor city, has an uncanny ability to enter into, enhance and amplify, the compositional intentions of a range of band leaders from Ben Waltzer to Craig Taborn to, in this instance, Mr. Carlberg, against whose sonic architecture he provides a tantalizing underscore, exact and substantial.

In Tivoli Trio, Mr. Carlberg deciphers the mystique (and extents) of the Midway, from the romantic reveries of young love “on the stroll” past the barkers and shills, to the anxious, noiristic rigadoons of lost innocence and to the vast unknown onto which it opens, an unknown replete with all the possibilities and promises this remarkable music suggests and insinuates.

There are very few recordings being made these days (among many great records) of which in can be said they leave you wanting more… let’s hope this offering is the first of many by this extraordinary trio.


Jazz pianist and composer Frank Carlberg's most recent release on Red Piano Records, The American Dream (2009) has drawn critical acclaim including the Hartford Courant who called it "...melodic, challenging, intelligent, and fiercely original." The American Dream, a 12-part song cycle with settings of poetry by Robert Creeley was commissioned by Chamber Music America and was called "...a masterful feast of music that suggests a beautiful portrait of Creeley's poetry—joyous, reflective, plaintive, hopeful, and always radiating with great humanity" in All About Jazz.

Originally a native of Helsinki, Finland, Carlberg has carved himself quite a niche in the New York jazz community. As a leader, his groups include the Frank Carlberg Quintet (performing settings of a wide variety of texts including poems by poets), the Tivoli Trio (a classic jazz piano trio playing an eclectic mix of Carlberg’s compositions drawn from cinematic and circus inspirations) and the Frank Carlberg Big Band (performing original compositions as well as arrangements and re-compositions of standards and folk materials).

In addition to his own bands, the Brooklyn-based pianist has been involved in many crossover projects throughout the years. Some of his most notable collaborations have included performances and recordings with the likes of saxophonist Steve Lacy, trombonist Bob Brookmeyer and trumpeter Kenny Wheeler. He has been commissioned to write music for big bands, small ensembles, symphony orchestras as well as modern dance companies. In addition to his playing and composing activities Carlberg also serves on the faculty at both New England Conservatory and Berklee College of Music. He is also a member of the Douglass Street Music Collective and a partner in Red Piano Records, an artist run cooperative label.

After receiving his Bachelor’s degree from Berklee College of Music in Boston, Carlberg received a Master's degree from the New England Conservatory. While at the Conservatory, he came under the influence of jazz masters such as Paul Bley, Ran Blake, Geri Allen and Jimmy Giuffre. The music and thinking of these musicians had a profound impact on Carlberg and set him on a path in search of a personal expression.

Carlberg's first recording as a leader, Blind Drive, was a trio effort consisting of mostly original compositions. It was through this recording that Carlberg’s music initially caught the attention of the critics. Jon Andrews describes the CD in DownBeat as “sophisticated, approachable music played with both freedom and discipline”. Carlberg’s next recording, Ugly Beauty, was a duo recording with vocalist Christine Correa -- the first of many collaborations. Ugly Beauty featured a mix of folk music (Indian and Finnish) as well as free improvisations, original compositions and jazz repertoire reflecting the eclecticism and influence of Ran Blake. The next CD, The Crazy Woman, was of particular importance for Carlberg’s artistic development, as he began his extended quest in setting music to poetry. The material consisted of 11 original songs composed to texts by 20th century poets such as Jack Kerouac and Anna Akhmatova. The recording featured a quintet format, which was to become the core of several future projects. On his following recording, Variations on a Summer Day, Carlberg chose to highlight one poet and one extended poem. Out of Wallace Stevens’ poem, Carlberg created a song cycle consisting of 13 parts. For In the Land of Art, the music again featured settings to poetry, this time by Robert Creeley, Anselm Hollo, Kenneth Rexroth, and others.

One of Carlberg’s most fruitful collaborations has been the duo project with another Finnish ex-patriate New Yorker, drummer/composer Klaus Suonsaari. In rapid succession, the friends have recorded two duo albums, Offering and Fallingwater. In his Downbeat review for Offering, Bill Milkowski described the axis of the Carlberg-Suonsaari as “two kindred spirits that demonstrate an easy chemistry together, marked by a healthy blend of humor and fearlessness.”

In 2004 Carlberg was commissioned to write two pieces, "Heaven" and a re-composition of "I Got Rhythm", for a special release by Fresh Sound Records; The Sound of New York Jazz Underground – a double CD set featuring music by eight composers associated with the label. Mark Sabbatini described these pieces in All About Jazz in the following way: “Gershwin inherits a Hummer on Frank Carlberg’s tour of I Got Rhythm; a dark series of abruptly shifting free segments. 'Heaven' takes a poem by Robert Creeley and gives it an ‘Andrew-Lloyd-Webber-pens-acid-jazz-for-the-circus’ spin”.

The CD State of the Union made more pointed political statements and uses cut-up versions of The Bill of Rights as well as pre recorded looped parts. There is also a setting of an excerpt from Bill Clinton’s grand jury testimony during the Lewinsky episode.


* Tamura debuts new First Meeting group and produces fourth Gato Libre album. *

“Tamura develops his solos with smears and slurred phrases that lead up to eruptive outbursts on his horn.… he takes his instrument to precarious heights and to burrowing depths.”
— Frank Rubolino, Cadence

Trumpeter Natsuki Tamura swings from the most hard-edged abstraction to the most touching lyricism on his two latest releases. On Cut the Rope (Libra) with First Meeting — Tamura, pianist Satoko Fujii, guitarist Kelly Churko, and drummer Tatsuhisa Yamamoto — Tamura pursues some of the most rigorously abstract free improvisation he’s ever recorded. At the opposite end of the musical spectrum, Tamura’s acoustic band “Gato Libre” — with Fujii on accordion, Kazuhiko Tsumura on guitar, and Norikatsu Koreyasu on bass — creates music of melodic, if surreal beauty on their fourth album Shiro (Libra). There are very few trumpeters capable of inhabiting such widely different musical worlds, but Tamura sounds equally at home in both settings.

Cut the Rope sounds unlike any other album Tamura has made. Conventional melody and structure take a back seat to fragmentation, textural and timbral explorations, and rapid-fire juxtapositions that create kaleidoscopic sound collages. Each track on this completely improvised CD is complex, but purposeful. The improvisations sound complete and organic because the careful listening, expert judgment, and musicianship of the band members shapes the music. The title track, for instance opens with the metallic clangor of cymbals, piercing wails from the trumpet, electric staccato bursts from guitar, and prepared piano. At times it is difficult to tell who is making which sound. The tension builds as the music grows denser and the pace quickens. Then it opens into a quiet spacious area pierced by high ghostly trumpet and rumbling piano chords, before building to a crescendo again. The band makes amazing use of texture and tone color on “Headwaters.” Fujii’s prepared piano sounds like a warped recording of a gamelon, while Churko scratches and scrapes, and Tamura growls and moans. The piece unexpectedly resolves into a simple, folk-like melody with jazzy guitar chords. On “Flashback,” Churko’s guitar buzzes and howls like a power saw as Tamura bends red-hot notes into tortured patterns. Drummer Yamamoto seems to be everywhere at once, an inescapable presence in the music racing around his drum kit interjecting rhythm and color. On “Kaleidoscopic,” every sound is grist for this band’s mill, with references to the blues, art rock, Stockhausen, free jazz, European free improvisation, all swirling and colliding in one of the most surprising and thrilling tracks on an already startling album.

Gato Libre released their first album in 2004, and have been on a long, strange odyssey ever since. Drawing on folk musics from anywhere and everywhere on the globe, the music of Gato Libre sounds almost familiar, yet always remains elusive. Shiro is their most assured and subtle release to date. They are now so comfortable in Tamura’s musical parallel world that every track sounds relaxed, organic, and fully realized. They bring out unforeseen nuances and find unexpected areas to explore in each tune. On “Dune and Star” Fujii’s accordion offers hushed support for Tamura’s solitary contemplations. As Tsumura and Koreyasu strike up a haunting ostinato, Tamura sustains the mood of nocturnal reflection in his solo. “Waterside” opens with a beautifully articulated guitar solo that glows with Tsumura’s warm, translucent tone. Koreyasu outlines a stately dance beat, perhaps somewhat Greek in character, reinforced by Fujii and Tamura. On “Mountain, River, Sky,” the quartet wrings every bit of emotion from Tamura’s simple theme, and manages to maintain that feeling of emotional honesty and directness throughout their improvisations. Bassist Koreyasu’s solo is practically spontaneous song. “Falling Star” features a stop-start melody that shapes the improvisations that follow and features an especially lyrical statement from guitarist Tsumura. “Memory of a Journey” is a particularly joyful tune, with the band clapping between phrases of the melody. Tamura spins one of his best solos on the album, playing with sound and line with special verve and sensitivity.

A veteran of groups in both Japan and the United States, including quartets and big bands led by his wife, pianist Satoko Fujii, Tamura is a trumpet virtuoso praised by Derk Richardson in the San Francisco Bay Guardian for “Stylistically spanning a spectrum of musical history that includes trumpeters Clifford Brown, Miles Davis, Lester Bowie, and Toshinori Kondo…” As a leader, he has made 11 albums, including two unaccompanied solo discs, as well as four by Gato Libre, and two by his electric quartet. He and Satoko Fujii have also made several duet albums, and Tamura worked with Fujii and drummer John Hollenbeck in the collective Junk Box trio. “Tamura has worked to develop highly personal sound,” writes Jason Bivins in Cadence, “employing various new techniques and tonal resources, including growls, flutters, squirts and split tones… beautiful music, defined by its intelligence and risk.”

Tamura’s penchant for risk-taking has never been more obvious than on his two widely divergent new releases.


“Whether performing with her orchestra, combo, or playing solo piano, Satoko Fujii points
the listener towards the future of music itself rather than simply providing entertainment.”
— Junichi Konuma, Asahi Graph.

The versatility of pianist-composer Satoko Fujii is on display once more with two very different releases. Desert Ship (March 23, Nottwo Records) features the small-scale intimacy of her Japanese acoustic quartet, ma-do. Zakopane (March 23, Libra) is the fourth album by the powerhouse Satoko Fujii Orchestra Tokyo, and their first studio recording. No matter on what scale Fujii works, she remains one of the most original and provocative pianists and composers working in improvised music today.

Fujii formed ma-do in October 2007 to feature her small group compositions and the more quiet and subtle side of her acoustic music. The quartet includes long-time collaborator and husband Natsuki Tamura on trumpet, Norikatsu Koreyasu, bassist in Tamura’s Gato Libre band that also includes Fujii on accordion; and Akira Horikoshi, the drummer in Orchestra Tokyo. Their 2008 debut release, Heat Wave (Nottwo) was praised by “Unexpected twists and turns, in-your-face and pedal-to-the-metal wailing juxtapose with spare, mystical, pastoral beauty.” said, “Ma-do’s album is loaded with compositions that open up new sonic possibilities … Of course, once they conquer these new sound patterns, they never return, but go off into new lands of sonic exploration.”

Since then, the group has been an increasingly important focus for Fujii. “We recorded Heat Wave after we had been together only 6 months,” she says. “I was not sure how the band would sound and I composed without knowing the band sound. But between September 2008 and July 2009, we had three tours—one in North America, and two in Europe. We really developed a band sound and the pieces for Desert Ship were written with a better understanding of what the band can do.”

With Fujii’s compositions tailored for the band, their group interactions and concentration have only deepened. The album features some of Fujii’s most lyrical and tightly focused composing on record; each tune seems to tell a story. The title track is almost cinematic conjuring images of a caravan departing from loved ones, traveling over the desert, and arriving at their destination. It’s also a wonderful setting to hear the subtleties of Fujii’s chord voicings and the timbral manipulations of Tamura. “Nile River” also traces a coherent narrative arc from its opening stately march beat through ever increasing rhythmic freedom and more intense group interplay. On “Ripple Mark,” solos by Tamura and bassist Koreyasu’s flow over sun-dappled piano accompaniment and Horikoshi’s splashing cymbals. An explosive solo by Horikoshi launches a tumultuous “Sunset in the Desert” which features the drummer’s multi-directional playing throughout. Fujii’s piano figures and ostinatos often unify and propel the compositions, such as “Vapour Trail” and “February-Locomotive-February.”

Fujii confines herself to conductor duties only on Orchestra Tokyo’s Zakopane. Founded in 1999, the year after her more widely recorded New York Orchestra, Orchestra Tokyo “has really learnt these compositions and grasped what’s expected,” according to Duncan Heining of Jazzwise. Their last album, Live! (Libra) is a CD/DVD set that made Top 10 lists around the globe in 2006. “Fans of her highly personal, lyrical yet high-energy composition style will be in seventh heaven… highly recommended and a 2006 must-have,” enthused Francois Couture in All Music Guide.

Zakopane is destined to earn the same praise. Compositions and soloists are well matched and the music spans a wide range of styles and moods. “Negotiation Steps” hurls angular, punchy riffs over a funk-inflected odd meter, generating a frantic energy that propels trumpeter Takao Watanabe into a brilliant solo. “Zee” features a rocking melody to showcase the startling guitar of Kelly Churko, whose fuzz-toned, tortured-metal sound generates lots of excitement. “Tropical Fish” gives baritone saxophonist Ryuichi Yoshida a chance to rip holes in the fabric of space with his huge sound, then offers a contrastingly bemused and mellow trombonist Toshihiro Koike soloing over a tango beat. The title track and “Trout” are both inspired by a trip to the Polish mountain resort town of Zakopane and a marvelous fish lunch that Fujii enjoyed there. The towering chords of “Zakopane” and the melody’s rising step-wise phrases paint a vivid portrait of the town’s awe-inspiring surroundings. “Inori” features one of Fujii’s most elaborate melodies and sterling soloing from alto saxophonist Kunihiro Izumi.

Pianist-composer Satoko Fujii has been one of the most original voices in jazz in recent years. She is “a virtuoso piano improviser, an original composer and a band-leader who gets the best collaborators to deliver," says John Fordham in The Guardian (UK). Her innovative synthesis of jazz, contemporary classical, avant-rock and folk music is featured on more than 50 albums as a leader or co-leader. She has led some of the most consistently creative ensembles in modern improvised music, including her trio with bassist Mark Dresser and drummer Jim Black, and an avant-rock quartet featuring Takeharu Hayakawa, Tatsuya Yoshida, and Natsuki Tamura. Fujii has also established herself as one of the world’s leading composers for large jazz ensembles. In 2006 she simultaneously released four big band albums: one from her New York ensemble, and one each by three different Japanese bands. In addition to playing accordion in her husband trumpeter Natsuki Tamura’s Gato Libre quartet, she also performs in a duo with Tamura, as an unaccompanied soloist, and in the Larry Ochs Sax and Drumming Core. Other recent collaborators include violinist Carla Kihlstedt, pianist Myra Melford, percussionist John Hollenbeck, and guitarist Elliot Sharp.


* With George Garzone, Allan Chase, Jason Palmer, Michael Cain, John Lockwood, Bob Moses & Tupac Mantilla *

"A rare and welcome thing. Keep your eyes and ears peeled-he is worth it." — Bob Brookmeyer

"The first time I heard Brian, I knew he was a real player. What he does is so natural and organic that it always sounded magical to me. I am a fan." — Jerry Bergonzi

Multi-instrumentalist Brian Landrus is quickly becoming known as one of the hot new voices on baritone saxophone and bass clarinet. He landed in New York via Reno, Nevada (where he led a small big band), and Boston (where he earned two master’s of music degrees from New England Conservatory).

“Forward,” his new recording on Cadence Jazz Records, supports everything that people such as Brookmeyer and Bergonzi are saying about Brian's talents.

On “Forward” the leader plays bass clarinet and alto flute along with baritone sax, in the company of an all-star group: George Garzone (tenor sax), Allan Chase (alto sax), Jason Palmer (trumpet), Michael Cain (piano), John Lockwood (bass), and both Bob Moses and Tupac Mantilla (percussion). The CD includes a take of the Monk classic “Ask Me Now,” and the other nine tunes are Landrus originals including the solo baritone sax outing “Interpretations.” This recording offers a broad spectrum of style, from Bop to Free, but as producer Bob Rusch notes, “this is style with substance.”

After accepting this recording for release on Cadence Jazz Records, Rusch invited Landrus to the CIMP studio to record a follow-up this release will follow in a couple of months (CIMP 382).

With these two recordings, Brian Landrus takes an artistic stand as a serious and talented newcomer on the scene. It is a stand well supported.

# # #

Forward — Cadence Jazz Records 1218


Brian Landrus was born in Reno, NV in 1978. He starting playing saxophone at age 12 and quickly fell in love with music. His focus in life became music-listening, playing, and creating. Landrus kept experimenting with new instruments and began to grow a palette of sound through the various combinations of woodwinds. Doubling became an obvious strength and being able to play with different timbres and diversity helped to hone his compositional awareness.
At the age of 14 Landrus started playing professionally, subbing for his teacher Frank Perry. He started playing shows at the age of 16, when he was asked to play with both The Coasters and The Drifters. Brian continued to gig and record while he went to the University of Nevada Reno where he completed his bachelor’s degree in music performance. By this time Landrus had been focusing on baritone, tenor and soprano sax, flute, and clarinet. After leading his own small big band for six years, he moved to Boston to attend the New England Conservatory. At NEC, Brian received two masters of music degrees: jazz composition and jazz performance. He was also awarded the conservatory's highest individual award, the Gunther Schuller Medal. In 2007, while still in Boston, Brian recorded his debut CD "Forward,” just out on Cadence Jazz Records (CJR 1218). Brian moved to NYC in 2007, and since recorded "Everlasting" for CIMP records (CIMP 382) scheduled for release in summer 2010.
Landrus has played with and/or recorded with: Michael Cain, George Garzone, Jerry Bergonzi, Danilo Perez, Bob Brookmeyer, Frank Carlberg, John Lockwood, Allan Chase, Jason Palmer, Rudy Royston, Nir Felder, Roscoe Mitchell, Darryl Harper, Matthew Parish, Rakalam Bob Moses, Maria Schneider Orchestra, Ken Schaphorst Orchestra, Ayn Inserto Orchestra, Rob Mosher's Storytime, the Nicholas Urie Large Ensemble, The Temptations, The Coasters, The Four Tops, The Drifters, several NYC Broadway shows, Sensorioum Saxophone Orchestra, Martha Reeves, Mike Love, Peter Epstein, David Ake, Larry Engstrom, Hans Halt, Gerry Genaurio, Francis Vanek, Ed Corey, Michael Winograd, and Clint Strong.
He is on the faculty of the 92Y School of Music in Manhattan where he teaches saxophone and the jazz ensembles. He is also on faculty at the Lagond Music School where he teaches composition, saxophone, flute, and clarinet.

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Monday, February 15, 2010


Jim Guttmann takes on the Jewish and Klezmer repertory with abundant humor, passion, and a refreshing dose of over-the-top rowdiness.” — Dr. Hankus Netsky, Founder and Artistic Director, Klezmer Conservatory Band

Bessarabian Breakdown (Kleztone Records) has been a long time coming. For more than 30 years, bassist Jim Guttmann, best known as the anchor man in the Klezmer Conservatory Band, has played everything from klezmer to jazz to bluegrass to classical, but always in the bands of other people. Now he has stepped forward with his very first album as a leader. Working with an all-star cast that includes fellow KCB members pianist Art Bailey, drummer Grant Smith, and trumpeter Mark Berney; and a host of musicians whose careers, like Guttmann’s, defy easy categorization, including clarinetist Billy Novick, trumpeter Frank London, violinist Mimi Rabson, and guitarist/mandolinist Brandon Seabrook. Not surprisingly, the music reflects the wide-ranging talents of its leader. While firmly rooted in the klezmer tradition that Guttmann knows so well, the album branches out into intriguing jazz, funk, and world music fusions, too. “Basically, I wanted to include everything I like about what I’ve done over the past 30 years,” he says.

“Every style of music I play has it’s own time feeling,” Guttmann says. “Whether I’m playing bluegrass, or in a jazz quartet, or in the Klezmer Conservatory Band, it’s all about the time. The time propels everything else I do, harmony, melody—everything.

“So one thing I wanted to do on the album was showcase how I approach all these different kinds of music, both as an ensemble player and as a soloist. After 30 years, I felt like I really have something to say as a bandleader. I knew I could assemble a group of musicians who would play well together, and I felt like I could do something meaningful and personal with all this music I love. And I wanted to have fun—why play music if you’re not having fun?”

The album kicks off with “Philadelphia Sher,” a traditional Jewish dance played with raucous New Orleans Mardi Gras abandon by a horn-heavy 10-piece ensemble. It’s very much an ensemble performance, with clarinet, trumpets, and trombone all playing together and ornamenting the melody, but notice how skillfully Guttmann pilots the band from the bass. He keeps an unerring beat, and his choice of notes keeps an unbroken melodic thread running throughout all the collective merry mayhem around him.
Guttmann brings special insight and understanding and a warm, supportive sound to every setting he works in. Perhaps the best place to hear his self-effacing virtuosity in on his unaccompanied solo version of Naftule Brandwein’s “Firn Di Mekhutonim Aheym.” His firm, glowing tone wraps the song in a warm embrace and he keeps the tune moving forward at a relaxed tempo without ever hurrying the beat or letting it drag. It is so expertly judged that he makes it sound easy, but it is the kind of mature performance that only a master of his instrument and his idiom could make. On the Johnny Mercer-Ziggy Elman standard “And the Angels Sing,” he displays his equally firm grasp of jazz, playing the melody and soloing as if he were a horn player himself, and then melting back into the rhythm section for some flowing and sophisticated walking bass. Guttmann is attracted to just about any music with a danceable beat, and his bass lines move like a dancer’s feet on klezmer-meets-Cuban guajira “Descarga Gitano.”

Ingenious fusions of musical elements like those heard on “Descarga Gitano” abound on the album. “Cuando El Rey Nimrod” is a traditional Sephardic melody played in an odd meter with Grant Smith playing dubek for unusual percussive colors. The arrangement of the title track brings a dose of Tower of Power funk to a traditional bulgar. “Beregovski 90: Skocne” is a riotous group improvisation right out of the Charle Mingus playbook. “Sadegurer Chusidl” rocks out. In each case, there’s more than novelty involved. Guttmann’s choices bring out new aspects of the original song, and provide him and his band mates with interesting musical challenges that are also fun and entertaining for listeners.

The musicians on the disc, clearly relish the chance to work with Guttmann and to stretch the music in new directions. Violinist Mimi Rabson plays with sweet sadness on a marvelous version of klezmer fiddling legend Leon Schwartz’s “Doyne, Hora, Sirba.” Clarinetists Ted Casher and Billy Novick tread the line between klezmer and small band swing as they solo together with special élan on “Dark Eyes.” The brass players all solo to great effect on “Descarga Gitano.” Brandon Seabrook takes a virtuosic turn on mandolin on “Cuando El Rey Nimrod.” But more than the solos, it’s the collective spirit of fun and selfless dedication to the music — which all starts with Guttmann himself—that permeates the disc and makes it such a pleasure.

A native New Yorker, Guttmann took up string bass in 1973, after moving to Boston. From 1975 to 1979, he was a member of the eclectic bluegrass quartet Cheap Trills. He was a regular on the jazz scene, as well, and he also performed often with the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra until the mid-1980s. As a founding member of the Klezmer Conservatory Band, which almost single-handedly launched the modern klezmer music revival, he has appeared on all ten of their recordings; toured Europe, Australia, and America; and performed and recorded with Joel Grey and Itzhak Perlman. He also performs in klezmer ensembles with Andy Statman and Frank London, and in Alicia Svigals’ Klezmer Fiddle Express. In addition, he is a member of the Grammy-winning ensemble featured on Yehudi Wyner’s “The Mirror,” a klezmer influenced chamber work released on the Naxos label. Guttmann is a founding member of violinist Mimi Rabson’s Really Eclectic String Quartet (RESQ). He appears on their self-titled 1992 Northeastern Records debut CD and on their second release, To the RESQ (Meemz Music, 1998). He has performed with singers Eartha Kitt and Mark Murphy, blues masters Johnny Shines and James Cotton, Texas swing legend Tiny Moore, new acoustic music guitar virtuoso Russ Barenberg, the Artie Shaw Orchestra, Jaki Byard’s Apollo Stompers, and many others.

Guttmann brings a wealth of musical knowledge and wisdom to his debut as a leader and it shows on every track.

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“Oleg Kireyev, Keith Javors, Boris Kozlov, and E.J. Strickland have created a memorable modern mainstream jazz set that also mixes together aspects of Oleg’s Russian heritage, many adventurous moments, and subtle unpredictability. It is this type of forward-looking recording that grows in interest with each listen and is a perfect example of 21st century jazz.” — Scott Yanow, author and jazz critic

Inarhyme Records is pleased to announce the April 13, 2010 release of “Rhyme & Reason,” the extraordinary new CD featuring Russian saxophone player Oleg Kireyev and American pianist Keith Javors along with bassist Boris Kozlov (Charles Mingus Big Band) and drummer E. J. Strickland (Ravi Coltrane Band).

In September 2008, after a debut performance at the legendary “Blues Alley” in Washington D.C., Oleg and Keith formed a partnership that quickly inspired two American and two European tours. In addition to performances at numerous East Coast venues including “Chris Jazz Café” in Philadelphia and the “Iridium” in New York, their project was successfully presented at the International House of Music, one of the premiere concert venues in Russia. Kireyev and Javors also headlined the Jazz Festival in the historic Russian city of Yaroslavl as well as performing in countless towns in Poland. Even though their musical and symbiotic relationship has been brief in time, it has been deep in spirit.

This all-original music is played by a fully integrated, forward thinking, democratic collective. Balance and an even-keeled approach are the norm here. While Kireyev's clean and lean tenor sax is the lead instrument on the cool Getz-like mainstream themes of the title selection and “Sierra Nicole's Bossa,” he shows versatility stretching out in free form for the first half of “Springtime,” while at other times recalling the more exploratory side of Joe Henderson. Generally, parts are proportioned equally between the co-leaders and their formidable, well-heeled band mates, and this is particularly true for extended cuts like the bluesy “What Is Love” and hip, funky “Chinatown.” Kozlov and Strickland have played on several potent landmark sessions during their careers, and here they truly work together as one.

Then there's Keith Javors, whose recent critically-acclaimed projects have included “Coming Together” (a tribute to the late composer Brendan Romaneck) and the American Music Project’s “On the Bright Side.” You hear him in full bloom during the beautiful trio track “Happenstance,” with a personal voice of depth, substance and wit. Javors can expertly comp on chords, play dazzling arpeggiated lines, or flawlessly mesh with Kireyev on silvery unison melodies that refract in mirror-like reflections of prismatic color. As Scott Yanow says in his liner notes, it’s “a memorable modern mainstream jazz set… the type of forward-looking recording that grows in interest with each listen and is a perfect example of 21st century jazz.”

Oleg Kireyev is an internationally recognized musician, frequently on tour and playing to appreciative audiences in Europe and the U.S. The Express and Star, UK, says Kireyev is “a Russian sax player with a reputation for hard swing and high excitement.” Oleg has participated in many innovative and provocative international jazz projects in a recording/performing career spanning three decades. His creative ideas are vast, from mainstream and ethno to jazz rock and world music. “Incredibly good” “soft & enthusiastic” and “stylish and top notch” — are phrases music critics write about the voice of his saxophone. He has performed at the London Jazz Festival, the New York Jazz Improv Festival and the Montreux Jazz Festival, to name a few. As musician Bud Shank says: "Oleg's playing is a marvelous combination of styles, incorporating a whole lot of players. I hear echoes of the 1920’s and John Coltrane combined with unstructured jazz."

Keith Javors is an iconoclastic figure in today’s music scene. Known for his “technical virtuosity, a riveting compositional style, and constant creativity” (AllAboutJazz), Javors is a world-renowned educator as well as artist and producer. A true musicians’ musician, he prides himself on innovation, bringing to the surface many revolutionary ideas. A fully dedicated live performer, Keith has the rare gift of sounding like he is playing for each individual listener alone. His performance credits include numerous records and tours, including leading bands at the Montreux Jazz Festival, Chicago Jazz Festival, North Sea Jazz Festival, and many more. Bill Milkowski writes in Jazz Times, “Javors distinguishes himself as a bandleader intent on collective's full steam ahead.”

Inarhyme Records was founded in 2009 by veteran producer/pianist Dr. Keith Javors as a global indie label and music production agency featuring some of today’s greatest creative voices in music across genres from jazz to world to soul and rap. With a top-tier production staff impassioned by music’s power to reach across cultural and societal divides, the label’s mission is to produce creative projects that reach the everyday listener in a way that is artistic yet accessible.

Please find video, music, and informational links for the project below.

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Rhyme and Reason album clips

September 2009 – Live@Smalls, NYC

April 2009 – Live@Iridium, NYC

Rhyme and Reason EPK

Oleg Kireyev on Myspace

Keith Javors on Myspace


“The voice coming from The Ullmann/Swell Quartet is saying, ‘Listen, feel, and become. Don’t look back. This is MUSIC OF TODAY.’ ” — bassist William Parker

News? No News! (Jazzwerkstatt), the second release by the Gebhard Ullmann-Steve Swell quartet, charts the ongoing development of one of the most exciting working groups in jazz today. Reed player Ullmann, trombonist Swell, bassist Hilliard Greene, and drummer Barry Altschul play with go-for-broke energy, but they are far more than a free-jazz blowing band. The compositions and arrangements of the co-leaders are varied and make the most of the band’s potential. As bassist William Parker observes in the album’s liner notes, “The goal in these sonic excursions is to explore music in all of its moods, colors and shapes. There is also a strong investment in silence, space and

Each track on the album has it’s own character. “More Hello” kicks things off at a frenetic clip, but both Ullmann and Swell use the composition during their improvisations to give the performance a unified feeling. “New York 5:50” rumbles along at a medium tempo, capturing something of the energy and mystery of the Big Apple. The band pairs off in duo combinations to create sonic variety, paying close attention to one another as they improvise, and making use of space and texture, as well. Ullmann’s other city dedication, “Berlin 9:35,” makes similar use of the band’s resources, using different duo partners. Swell’s collage-like “Composite #1” moves in and out of different tempos, and through passages of fragmented time, and features instrumental combinations that change the color and density of the music. It’s a great place to appreciate veteran drummer Altschul’s master-of-all-trades virtuosity. He keeps swinging time at a medium groove, breaks up the meter into outbursts of percussive color, and during his solo, rotates among the trap-kit components in a beautifully orchestrated statement.

Ullmann’s moody “Kleine Figuren #2” is a dirge-like piece played at a subdued volume, but saturated with intense sounds. “Planet Hopping on a Thursday Afternoon” has a slight melancholy tinge to the melody but Greene and Altschul’s uplifting beat buoys the performance, as both Ullmann and Swell surge through their respective solos. The title track ventures into the blues, featuring some of Ullmann’s most urgent work on the album. Two group improvisations, “GPS #1” and “GPS #2,” have all the coherence of composition, thanks to the telepathic interactions that the group has sharpened since they came together in 2003. “Airtight” ends the disc on a high note, showcasing Greene’s ability to lend the music a sense of stability while keeping it free and fluid.

With close to 40 albums as a leader or co-leader of bands that include both European and American musicians, German reed player Gebhard Ullmann is one of the most prolific and creatively fertile composer-improvisers working on either side of the Atlantic. Besides the quartet he co-leads with Steve Swell, Ullmann also leads or co-leads the ten-piece woodwind-accordion project Ta Lam Zehn; the cooperative band Conference Call (with pianist Michael Jefry Stevens, bassist Joe Fonda and drummer George Schuller); the Clarinet Trio (with Juergen Kupke and Michael Thieke), and Basement Research (a sextet that also features Swell, along with British saxophonist Julian Arguelles). 
“Few improvising artists can boast the stream of creative ideas that seem to bubble from Gebhard Ullmann,” says Steven Loewy in Cadence Magazine. “Ullmann's performances are grounded in the past but plunge forward deliberately toward modernity”

Trombonist Steve Swell is one of the busiest musicians in the New York free jazz scene. He has more than 30 albums to his credit as a leader or co-leader and he appears on more than 90 other recordings as well. He leads or co-leads several bands, including Slammin’ the Infinite (with reed player Sabir Mateen, bassist Mat Heyner, and drummer Klaus Kogel), The N.O.W. big band, and Fire Into Music (with alto saxophonist Jemeel Moondoc, bassist William Parker, and drummer Hamid Drake), among others. He has also participated in the Cecil Taylor Orchestra Humane, Roswell Rudd’s Trombone Tribe, Ken Vandermark’s Resonance Ensemble, and William Parker’s Little Huey Creative Music Orchestra.

Swell and Ullmann may live on opposite sides of the Atlantic Ocean, but they and their quartet are definitely on the same musical wavelength.

Thursday, February 4, 2010



The Max D. Raiskin Center for the Arts at the Sixth Street Community Synagogue continues its monthly afternoon concert series of world and chamber music, on Sunday, February 15 with Con Vivo featuring violist Amelia Hollander Ames.

“6th Street Sundays” features the work of leading small ensembles exploring the nexus of chamber music and world music. The series highlights music that reflects Middle Eastern and Jewish influences on contemporary music, as well as traditional forms. Each concert will include new compositions either commissioned for or written by the artists. 6th Street Sundays also offers a master class or interactive workshop presented by the artists before each performance.

Each concert is at 3 p.m. with a free workshop for all ticket holders at 1:30 p.m. Admission is $18 ($15 with advance reservations), which includes refreshments. Students and under 21 are $8.

February 14 – Contemporary chamber music featuring violist Amelia Hollander Ames in solo, duo and trio. Compositions by Iva Bittova, Rebecca Clarke, Jean-Marie LeClair, and Gyorgy Ligeti.

Amelia Hollander Ames received her masters degree from the New England Conservatory and her bachelors in viola performance from the Eastman School of Music. From 2004-2007 she was the violist of the award-winning Israel Contemporary String Quartet, with whom she performed throughout Israel and in the U.S., Canada and Asia, collaborating with such composers as Josef Bardanashvili, Judd Greenstein and Steve Reich. She has performed at the IMS Prussia Cove Festival, the Singapore Arts Festival, Kneisel Hall and Schleswig-Holstein Festival, and toured Europe and Asia with the Verbier Festival Orchestra. Amelia is an active freelance violist in the New York City area, and is the founder and artistic director of Con Vivo. She has recorded for the Naïve, Nonesuch and Tzadik labels.

Other artists performing in the series include:

March 14 - String Nucleus - innovative string ensemble

String Nucleus is an acoustic/electric string trio, designed by nature to be expansive from the core. The core members include string players, Jon Weber, Earl Maneein and Jessie Reagen Mann, whose versatile, musical range spans multiple areas.

These three musicians began working together in 2003, collaborating in the genre-bending ensemble DBR & The Mission (Opus 3 Artists). Since then, they went on to serve as leaders of Jay Z’s Hustler Symphony Orchestra, which performed with Jay-Z, Beyonce Knowles and ?uestlove, live at Radio City Musical Hall in 2006. Additional projects include performing with and recording for Cole Gentles Symphonic Rock Revival, as well as being featured as improvisers with Albert Hammond Jr. (The Strokes), on his second album “¿Cómo Te Llama?”. In addition, String Nucleus has performed with Sonos Chamber Orchestra and Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Most recently, they performed as part of the Pioneers for a Cure project, a unique organization that raises money for cancer through musical downloads. String Nucleus is featured on several recorded tracks

Each of these players, classically trained by members of the renowned Orion String Quartet, views chamber music with a broad sense, respecting and integrating the core values of classical chamber music, while expanding those values to explore the uncharted, cutting edge territories that chamber music can offer audiences of all generations.

April 25 – Choral Blast featuring the Zamir Chorale of New York, Polyhymnia, Jewish People's Philharmonic Chorus

Come join us for a great afternoon of singing with an a cappella Choral Blast!

The Zamir Chorale was the first modern Hebrew-singing chorus in North America and is directed by Matthew Lazar. The choir has won international acclaim for its superior performances, encompassing the full spectrum of four centuries and more of Jewish choral repertoire. Zamir has been a major spark in creating a new generation of Jewish choral music, commissioning and premiering works by contemporary North American and Israeli composers. The Chorale has collaborated with Leonard Bernstein, Zubin Mehta, Daniel Barenboim and others in the choral/orchestral.

Polyhymnia is a small ensemble of singers and instrumentalists focusing on historically informed performance of sacred music from the courts and cathedrals of the Renaissance world. Since 2000, director John Bradley has been creating original editions of music for the ensemble, some of it secreted in manuscript collections since the 16th-century. Working in concert with libraries, liturgical historians and institutions, Polyhymnia hopes to both preserve and reintroduce choral masterworks of the Renaissance and early Baroque in ways that both entertain and elucidate.

The Jewish People’s Philharmonic Chorus is part of the modern Yiddish renaissance – more than forty members strong, ages 15 to 85, a good number of whom speak or are learning Yiddish. The JPPC has a century-spanning repertoire – exciting oratorios and operettas, labor anthems, folk songs, and popular tunes – all in Yiddish. Committed to strengthening Yiddish as a living language, the JPPC has commissioned and premiered new Yiddish choral works by composers Helen Medwedeff Greenberg, Robert Ross, Binyumen Schaechter, Josh Waletzky, and Mark Zuckerman.

Do you love to sing? Have you always wondered how the human voice can project across concert halls? Come learn some new and basic techniques for healthy singing including breathing exercises and hear the progress in your own voice. Note reading not necessary. A separate male and female vocal masterclass will be given preceding the concert by opera singers Jennifer Greene and Andrew Cummings.

May 10 – 2VC - new music for 2 cellos

This innovative series is sure to offer an enjoyable and complete learning experience for the listener in this vibrant community. 6th Street Sundays is curated by cellist Jessie Reagen Mann, with the artistic advice of saxophonist and Rabbi Greg Wall.


“Holly Hofmann possesses one of the most exquisite flute tones in jazz. She also demonstrates a sure technique, inventive ideas, a secure sense of swing and a broad emotional range.” — David Franklin, JazzTimes

“Hearing Bill Cunliffe on CD is always a major treat... his playing is inventive, melodic, and soulful.”

— Ernie Rideout, Keyboard Magazine

The acclaimed flutist Holly Hofmann celebrates the release of her new Capri CD “Three’s Company” with performances:

February 12 - 14 Newport Beach Jazz Party Newport Beach, CA

Holly Hofmann and Mike Wofford in various configurations,

including their Ellington with Strings program

• February 26 Torrance Cultural Arts Center, 3330 Civic Center Drive Torrance, CA

Holly Hofmann appearing with Frank Potenza Quartet.

7:30 p.m. Tickets $30

February 28 U of Chattanooga, Roland Hayes Concert Hall, Vine & Palmetto Chattanooga, TN

Holly Hofmann/Mike Wofford Quartet

7:30 p.m. Tickets $15 - $22.

• March 1 Middle Tennessee State University, Hinton Hall Murfreesboro, TN Holly Hofmann and Mike Wofford.

8 p.m.

• March 2 Jazz Flute Clinic at MTSU Murfreesboro, TN

March 5 The Mainstay, 5753 Main Street Rock Hall, MD

Holly Hofmann and Mike Wofford

8 p.m. Tickets $15

March 6 Chris' Jazz Cafe, 1421 Sansom Street Philadelphia, PA

Holly Hofmann/Mike Wofford Quartet

$15- $20

March 26 Yuma Jazz Series, Palms Regional Center, Yuma Yuma, AZ

Holly Hofmann and Bill Cunliffe

(928) 345-1534

• March 28 The Hamlet at Moonstone Gardens, Moonstone Beach Drive Cambria, CA

Holly Hofmann and Bill Cunliffe CD Release Concert

4 p.m. Tickets $25. (805) 927-0567

April 16 and 17 Texas Tech University Flute Fair and Jazz Festival Lubbock, TX

Holly Hofmann and Mike Wofford

8 p.m. Free.

Hofmann’s stellar new Capri Records CD “Three’s Company” with pianist, composer, and arranger Bill Cunliffe with whom she’s had a 20-year partnership. During this time they have recorded two duo discs (Just Duet, Vols. 1 and 2) as well as Live at Birdland, which featured them in a quartet with bassist Ray Brown and drummer Victor Lewis. Three’s Company features their incomparable duo but adds a fascinating new twist in the form of trios with special guests Regina Carter, violin; Terell Stafford, trumpet; Ken Peplowski, clarinet; and Alvester Garnett, drums. It’s a celebration of musical friendship and camaraderie, and throughout the disc, all the musicians are in constant dialog. Individually, Hofmann and Cunliffe are both at the top of their games.

Holly Hofmann, a native of the Cleveland area, has long been at the forefront of jazz flute playing. Andrew Gilbert of the San Francisco Chronicle declared her “A tough mainstream player who swings with authority, [and] brings a tonal heft to the instrument that it too often lacks in jazz settings.” Phil Woods says: “Along with Hubert Laws, Holly is frankly the best jazz flute player today.” As a child she began playing jazz standards with her father, who was a jazz guitarist. Her formal flute education included studies with Maurice Sharp, principal flutist of the Cleveland Orchestra, with whom she earned a B.M. from the Cleveland Institute of Music. She went on to get an M.M. from University of Northern Colorado, but eventually jazz won out. She began playing regularly with pianist Mike Wofford, and they formed a quartet with Bob Magnusson and Sherman Ferguson, with whom she recorded her first CD as a leader. At this time, Holly also began touring with pianist Bill Cunliffe, and the two toured festivals and chamber venues worldwide, presenting both jazz and classical compositions in brilliantly seamless arrangements. Hofmann has been named a “Rising Star” in DownBeat and was a frequent guest of the Ray Brown Trio, doing stints with them at the Village Vanguard, as well as touring with Brown throughout the US and Europe. She has also worked with jazz masters such as Slide Hampton, Frank Wess, Kenny Barron, Cedar Walton, John Clayton, Houston Person, Regina Carter, Kevin Mahogany, and Mike Wofford, among many others. Hofmann is Music Director for several series and festivals including Jazz in the City in New Brunswick, NJ and Jazz at Newport in Oregon. She’s recorded eleven CDs as a leader and has presented countless jazz workshops around the country. Hofmann is a Pearl Flutes Artist.

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MARCH 4 – 20 with stops in Cleveland and Cincinnati, OH; Winston-Salem & Ashville, NC; Richmond, VA; NYC; Chicago, New Orleans and Victoria, B.C.

Figarova to Return in August for Performance at the Main Stage of the Newport Jazz Festival

"…Above the Clouds confirms that Figarova is among the most important composers to come into jazz in the new millennium..." — Thomas Conrad, JazzTimes November 2008

"...Amina Figarova boasts a graceful and erudite piano style, but her second instrument is her band….A first rate jazz pianist, Amina Figarova - with September Suite, Come Escape With Me and now the excellent Above the Clouds - is staking out her ground as a top level composer-arranger...” — Dan McClenaghan, All About Jazz

Internationally acclaimed jazz composer/pianist Amina Figarova returns to the US and Canada for a 12-date March tour featuring her Sextet — Amina Figarova – piano; Bart Platteau – flutes; Ernie Hammes – trumpet (March 4 till 14); Alex Pope Norris – trumpet (March 16 till 20); Marc Mommaas – tenor sax; Jeroen Vierdag – bass; and Chris "Buckshot" Strik – drums.

They’ll perform:

Thursday, March 4 Nighttown, 12387 Cedar Road Clevelands Heights, OH

8 p.m. Tickets $20.

Reservations: 216-795-0550

Friday, March 5 The Blue Wisp, 318 E.8th at Sycamore Cincinnati, OH

8.30 p.m. Tickets $14 (513) 241-WISP (9477)

Saturday, March 6 Piedmont Jazz Alliance Winston-Salem, NC

Sunday, March 7 WNC Jazz Society, Diana Wortham Theatre at Pack Place Asheville, NC

7 p.m. Tickets $31/members $23/students $10

Tuesday, March 9 Richmond Jazz Society Richmond, VA

Capital Ale House, Downtown Music Hall

7 p.m. Tickets $12/15

(804) 643-1972 or

Wednesday, March 10 Jazz Standard, 116 East 27th Street New York, NY

7.30 & 9.30 p.m. Tickets $20 (212) 576-2232

Th – Sun, March 11 – 14 Jazz Showcase, 806 S. Plymouth Ct. Chicago, IL

Sets at 8 and 10 p.m.. Mon. – Sat.; 4, 8 and 10 p.m. on Sundays

Tues. March 16 Victoria Jazz Society Hermann’s Jazzclub, 753 View St. Victoria, B.C.

8 p.m. (250) 388-9166

Friday, March 19 University of New Orleans (workshop) New Orleans, LA

Saturday, March 20 Snug Harbor, 626 Frenchmen Street New Orleans, LA

8 & 10 p.m. Tickets $25

(504 )949-0696

One of the most cosmopolitan and accomplished artists in jazz today, Figarova is a globe-trotting Azerbaijan-born, Rotterdam-based composer-pianist-bandleader with more than a dozen recordings to her credit. Her most recent CD, Above the Clouds features original songs that refresh the classic post-bop idiom. Far from derivative or concept-conscious, though, Above the Clouds unfolds as a personal, vividly colored, confidently-propelled contemporary soundtrack, satisfying in and of itself. As Jazz Journalists Association President Howard Mandel says: "…I've been meaning to write you about how much I enjoyed Above the Clouds… Amina, your writing and arranging has such confidence and maturity, I thought this album belonged in the Blue Note catalog. Congrats on another fine one.”

Born in 1964 in Baku, Azerbaijan (then a republic of the Soviet Union) to a high-achieving, musically appreciative family, Amina enjoyed early exposure to her parents' records of Oscar Peterson, Ella Fitzgerald and Joe Pass. She was attracted to the piano at age two; her traditional keyboard training emphasized late 19th century European composition (she has recorded repertoire of Rachmaninoff and Scriabin). She was also interested in Azerbaijan's distinctive mix of ethnic folk music. "Rhythmically there are lots of influences, including elements from African and Arabic music," she told Franz A. Matzner for a recent interview in "It's basically kind of like in jazz, an improvisation with the scales and the lyrics."

Always writing music, initially in commercial pop formats, Amina attended Baku Conservatory and even while a student concertized professionally. Still intrigued by improvisation, she visited the Moscow Jazz Festival in 1988. Several weeks later she accepted an invitation to perform piano classics and study composition in the Netherlands, but quickly found herself dissatisfied with that path. As she tells it, "Within a month I changed to the jazz program, where I stayed for one year, then I went to the Berklee College of Music."

Amina made her recording debut with Attraction in 1994, and was accepted into the prestigious Thelonious Monk Jazz Colony in Aspen, Colorado in 1998. By then she had met her husband and together they initiated a routine of international touring. Leading a conventional piano trio or with Bart in her septet and sextet formations, Amina has appeared in the U.S. at clubs including New York's Jazz Standard and Blue Note, Washington, D.C.'s Blues Alley, Yoshi's in Oakland, at the Portland, Rochester and Tri-C (Cleveland) jazz festivals, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, the North Sea Jazz Festival, the Capetown International Jazzfestival (South Africa), Salvador Bahia Jazz Festival (Brazil), JakArt Festival (Indonesia), in Israel, the United Arab Emerates, in Mexico, Canada and throughout Europe.