From The Stacks: Pico's 2010 Stacks, Volume 6

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by S. Victor Aaron

Here we are at Volume 6, and while there’s still a few dozen CD’s that are worthy of mention sitting on my shelves or lying somewhere on the floor, this is likely going to be the last installment of “Pico’s 2010 Stacks.” A post-Thanksgiving version covering a few major 2010 jazz releases that we’ve missed here is possible, but aside from that, Volume 6 is my final Stab at the Stacks. As I was a little more biased this time toward getting the word out on emerging acts, this version is mostly about those under the radar musicians who need to be heard more. So for those looking for fresh, new sounds from fresh, new artists, listen up!

Erica Lindsay And Sumi Tonooka Initiation: Erica Lindsay is a tenor saxophonist with the brawn of Joe Henderson and the soulful speech of Joe Lovano, and currently works with Oliver Lake, Howard Johnson and Jeff Siegel. Sumi Tonooka is a pianist in the style of Mulgrew Miller and Kenny Barron, and gigs with Rufus Reid and violinist John Blake, Jr. The musical chemistry that has fermented between the two since their first meeting in 1994 has finally culminated in a studio collaboration, Initiation. Backed by the distinguished Reid on bass and the late, great Bob Braye on drums, Initiation is a no-nonsense straight jazz date full of solid performances, but it’s the compositions contributed equally by Lindsay and Tonooka that put this record a little above the crowded field of well-made post-bop records that come out every year. “Mari” has a strident, finger-snapping swing that Reid and Braye won’t let go of. “Mingus Mood,” a ballad that’s my favorite cut of the album, evokes “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat” without copying a single note from it; Lindsay’s sax sings with the right dose of melancholy. Tonooka’s solo on her tribute to her mother “The Gift” shows a great deal of emotion and virtuosity without having to mimic anyone in particular. Initiation is one of those co-led records where the total truly does exceed the sum of its parts.

Jason Adasiewicz Sun Rooms: Chicago-based vibes player Jason Adasiewicz takes a breather from his Rolldown band to make some music in a stripped down trio format with a different drummer and bass player (Mike Reed and Nate McBride, respectively). This is a mostly quieter affair, and not just because there’s no sax and cornet making a joyful racket in front of Adasiewicz; the three are playing softer and going for gentler moods and motifs. With Adasiewicz as the lone voice out front, he goes Milt Jackson and pours it out thick and rich like buttermilk, with many notes hanging for an eternity. Reed is a subtle drummer, adding more than just beats, but also discreet splashes and tonally adept fills…listen to “Stake” for attestation. McBride is a little further back in the mix than most bass players, but he keeps the harmony going and and you listen closely you’ll find he’s offering countering lead lines to Adasiewicz, as he does on “Off My Back Jack.” Once again, Jason Adasiewicz strolls in that no-mans land between advanced bop and avant garde and thrives.

Hilario Duran Trio Motion: When it comes to Afro-Cuban jazz, it’s often rendered in large ensembles that invariably includes horns and several percussionists, and goes right up to big band configurations. As a native of Cuba and a protégé of Cuban jazz legend German Piferrer, pianist and composer Hilario Duran knows about this inside and out. For his latest recording project Motion, however, the Canadian resident lovingly plays the music forms of his homeland with only Mark Kelso (drums) and Roberto Occhipinti (bass) accompanying him. Yet, somehow, nothing seems missing. This record is just as rhythmic and dynamic as the music of Piferrer, Cucho Vales and other Havana greats. Highlights, of which there are plenty, include the agile 7/4 rhumba “It’s Only Seven;” the commodious and elegant “Havana City,” lightly accompanied by strings and features a winsome bass solo by Occhipinti; and the tightly constructed and muscular “For Emiliano.” Through each song, Duran plays with fluidity and fluency that can only comes from first-hand knowledge of and extensive experience with this joyful, complex music. With just three, very talented players and one special composer and arranger, Motion captures the entire spirit of Cuban jazz.

Brian Landrus Forward: Holding two advanced music degrees from the New England Conservatory and having led a big band, the ba
ritone saxophonist and bass clarinetist Brian Landrus knows his way around music. The baritone sax and bass clarinet can often come off as husky, abrasive instruments, but in his hands, they sound effortless and polished. For Forward, he assembled an octet that included three more horns (George Garzone, tenor sax; Allan Chase, alto sax; Jason Palmer, trumpet; Michael Cain, piano; John Lockwood, bass; Bob Moses, drums; Tupac Mantilla, percussion). Though this is a showcase for his composing abilities, it starts with a lesser-used Monk piece that Joe Henderson loved to play, the gorgeous ballad “Ask Me Now,” From there, the jazz becomes more modern, from the urbane Latin moods of “The Stream” to the all out group improvisation of “Destinations” that isn’t noise-jazz but rather a sensual, naturally flowing tune where Mantilla and Moses dictate the concept with a percussion bed of placid, water-like sounds and a steel drum. On that track, as well as “To Love And Grow,” Landrus switches over to alto flute, presenting yet another side of his musicianship. Forward as a whole is a good way to get acquainted with Landrus’ vast musicianship.

Purchase: Brian Landrus – Forward

Colorado Conservatory For The Jazz Arts Fourteen Channels: This CD is a collection of fourteen modern jazz originals written by fourteen different individuals performed by either a seven-piece band (“The Dominant 7”) or a larger nine-piece band (“The Jazz Arts Messengers”). The songs run through different temperaments, harmonics and motifs but held together in the quietly tight and proficient way these fourteen tunes are performed. But that isn’t even half the story about this album. The performers and composers are by students of the Colorado Conservatory For The Jazz Arts, a non-profit jazz education organization our of Denver. Ranging in age from 16 to 24 years old, these young artists were given the opportunity to use their creativity in composition and performance and put it on a commercial CD, exposing them to the recording, promotion and music publishing side of the music business. One track, “Antics” by Cameron Hicks, has even won the 2010 Downbeat award for Best College Original Song (and deservedly so, I might add). Paul Romaine, the Artistic Director for the Conservatory, asserts that “I think you will find the music to be as professionally written and played as most major label projects” and his confidence is borne out on these tracks. This CD represents the future of jazz. Based on what I’m hearing on this record, the future is very promising indeed.

I’m going to go past my one paragraph limitation this one time to list these students’ names, because when you see some of these names appear again later as these young cats become jazz stars, you’ll know where you heard of them first:
The Dominant 7 – Noah Fulton-Beale, trumpet; Daniel Weidlein, alto, soprano, tenor, flute; Kyle Etges, baritone sax; Ryan Thrush, guitar; Stephen Thurston, piano; Lelah Simon, bass; Susan Richardson, drums; Kevin Miles, bass for one track.
The Jazz Arts Messengers – David Reid, alto, clarinet; Gregory Wahl, alto; Sam Crowe, tenor, flute; Evan White, tenor; Carly Meyers, trombone; Mike Robinson, guitar; Sam Yulsman, piano; Brian Wilson, bass; Cameron Hicks, drums.

Matt Stevens Ghost: Is it jazz? New age? Ambient? Instrumental rock? Does it matter? No, not in the least. Matt Stevens’ instrumental weapon of choice might be the common acoustic guitar, but like another acoustic guitarist Domina Catrina Lee, the real instrument being mastered here is the studio and the recording process. As a guitar player, he has a very precise, clear tone that’s pleasing to even the most untrained ear, and makes good use of the percussive aspects of the instrument. As a studio magician, Stevens carefully layers rich motifs and counteracting repeating figures to create soundscapes that might have a closer connection to Robert Fripp and Sigur Ros than, say, fellow Brit John McLaughlin. Indeed, Stevens is interested in putting his instrumental dexterity up front only whenever it enhances the harmonic quality of his songs. Stevens approaches each song with recording techniques both new and old, as when he tackles the long, lost art of playing the tape backwards at the end of “Big Sky,” and does so while maintaining the song’s groove. Matt Stevens’ Ghost doesn’t demand an involved listen to enjoy, and since these tracks don’t change chord progressions that much and the solos are discreet, it isn’t going to challenge the listener. Sometimes, though, that’s just what the ears need, and Matt Stevens is there to provide it. As this album is offered on Bandcamp (see link below), you can sample each track in full before purchasing it and name your price, a can’t lose proposition.

Purchase: Matt Stevens – Ghost

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on,, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at
S. Victor Aaron
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