Outspoken Italian

Pianist/Composer Simona Premazzi is Outspoken on her self-released quartet CD with tenor/soprano saxophonist Dayna Stephens, bassist Joe Martin and drummer Nasheet Waits. When she tackles Billy Strayhorn’s “Lush Life,” her band stays mute as her fingers do the talking. Her touch is feathery and wildly charismatic. As is she. This is a woman who isn’t afraid to record one of her ballads (“Euterpe’s Dance”) twice on the same CD; once just with her bassist as an atmospheric duo and once in traditional trio format (piano/bass/drums). Born and raised in Italy, but a resident of New York City for years in Harlem, Premazzi also has the verve to take the words of British playwright Harold Pinter [1930-2008] and put them to music (“It Is Here”) as sung by guest vocalist Sara Serpa.
Two tributes are arresting enough to be the highlights: “Up On A Hill” for Andrew Hill [1931-2007], the Chicago pianist, and “Later Ago” for avant-garde sax pioneer Ornette Coleman [1930-2015]. Co-producer Jeremy Pelt chips in with some sterling trumpet too, which, when combined with that fab sax, makes for an exquisite front line.


Clean Sax Man

Saxophonist Paul Jones is Clean (Outside In Music) on the follow-up to his promising 2015 Short History debut. The 14 tracks bring together his sextet (tenor, alto, guitar, piano, bass, drums), a woodwind octet (clarinet, oboe, bassoon, cello with The Snap Sax Quartet of soprano, alto, tenor and baritone) plus The Righteous Girls, a chamber duo of flute and piano. Jones thinks large. He produced and wrote it all with a flair for the dramatic. Influenced as much by the minimalist composers Steve Reich and Philip Glass as he is by rapper Kendrick Lamar, the music unfolds with nary a care for genre restrictions.
When chef Romulo Herrera was murdered at the restaurant where he cooked, Jones wrote “Romulo’s Raga,” dizzying in scope and entertaining to a fault. Literary allusions abound in the titles of the tunes from beat poet Allen Ginsberg’s Howl and George Orwell’s 1984 to Saul Bellow’s The Adventures Of Augie March. “Buckley vs. Vidal” is tense, nervous, just like the famous televised 1968 debate that defined a generation’s polarities. “Dirty Curty” is for a friend who didn’t bathe for three months.
There’s obviously no telling where Paul Jones will get his inspiration from. Here’s hoping he continues forever to be as wildly eccentric, eclectic and entertaining as he is on Clean.


World Beats

Far ranging, wildly inventive, with more beats per minute than a streetside jackhammer, percussionist/composer/bandleader Julian Gerstin will be The One Who Makes You Happy when you hear the incredible indelible self-released all original worldbeat jazz of the Julian Gerstin Sextet. The clarinet, trumpet, flugelhorn, piano, electronic keyboard, bass and drums all fall in line behind Gerstin’s glittering array of ear-popping, senses-sharpening snapping percussive toys. His tanbou bele is a West African drum played with both hands and one foot. Plus, he pounds those congas like nobody’s business. Then there’s his tupan, a large double-headed drum indigenous to Martinique and Cuba played with mallets. Rhythmic structures from Turkey and Bulgaria rear their dramatic worldbeat heads as do strains of folk cultures from Brazil, Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa and Egypt. This has to be in the conversation for world album of the year.


Jazz Waltz

Assimilation (HSH Records), the debut of L.A.-based trumpeter/composer Ron Francis Blake, is a keeper. His originals are gorgeous yet kinetic. His band of Hollywood session cats are right on time. Blake produced and also plays flugelhorn in an amalgam of sound that includes tenor sax (3), flute, bass clarinet, trombone, piano (2), bass (2), vibraphone, drums, timbales, congas (by the legendary Poncho Sanchez), all kinds of cool percussive sounds impossible to categorize, vocals (2), guitar and a full-fledged brass ensemble of two more flugelhorns, two French Horns, trombone and bass trombone all coalescing to create an absolutely — almost absurdly — seven-track jam-happy dream sequence of startling proportions. Blake’s been with the best and it’s rubbed off:  his Tinseltown career has had him recording and performing with everyone from Dr. Dre to Celia Cruz, with stops along the way to pepper up the sounds of Ziggy Marley, Santana and Brian Setzer. Call me irresponsible but my highlight has to be the closing sway of “You And Me Bess,” a waltz.


A Jazztopian Dream

Bob Ferrel’s Jazztopian Dream sequence on BFM Productions comes in 10 parts. It’s a wildly inventive program featuring the longtime trombone man who has — in a 40-year career — slithered that ‘bone back and forth in the orchestra of Mercer Ellington, the rock band of Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes and two late diva legends, Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald. Now, as leader, his Dream… includes the highly-charged 1946 Charlie Parker bebop of “Yardbird Suite,” and McCoy Tyner’s 1980 “Inner Glimpse” as well as the blues, his own sparkling “Soul Bop” original (which could be a frothy catchy radio hit if edited down from 6:24), and even some glittering Afro-Cuban (“We Began With A Kiss”). With a big 13-man band rumbling behind him like Mount Vesuvius ready to erupt and spew lava all over the place, Ferrel solos madly wildly emotionally in a passion play of Grammy-inducing proportions.


A Night at the Sherman

Stroudsburg, Penn.’s Sherman Theater recently hosted a stoned-out night of psychedelia when that laser beam Pink Floyd show made its Poconos debut. Main Street has restaurants, bars, a hookah haven, Carroll & Carroll (a great book store) and the Main Street Jukebox run by my man Tom where music nerds like myself can rummage stacks endlessly to find treasure after treasure.
The Sherman Theater’s booking policy is just hip enough to delve into the below-the-radar bands that you might not get to see elsewhere. After getting two pair of 3-D glasses (one pair for each half), listening and watching the action was a gas gas gas as my Pink Floyd box of every studio album only gets an annual listen and I was ripe for the occasion. When that heartbeat throb of “Speak To Me” opened the show, shouts of “Trippin’, Man!” and “Oh Wow” permeated the proceedings. During “Shine On You Crazy Diamond,” Syd Barrett and other fallen idols were shown on the big screen as each dead guy got a hand. My mental applause meter was in full swing to notice Cobain got the biggest hand of the night, just beating out Bowie.
I had heard how The Dark Side Of The Moon amazingly syncs up with the 1939 film, The Wizard Of Oz, but had never seen how. Taking one’s glasses off helped watch the film as you just had to marvel at the synchronicity of it all. It’s true! The sound was alive, electric and pulsing down deep into your bowels as the strobes, smoke, laser beams and myriad of lights danced in the air. It was a brave booking:  will folks come out to basically listen to records while watching a laser beam show? It was like being at a planetarium. I loved it.
The new year starts off at the Sherman with ECPW Rock & Wrestling Jan. 19; Pocono Winter Beerfest Jan. 20; Pocono Winter Wine, Food & Spirits Festival Jan. 21; Brooklyn Power-Funk Nonet Turkuaz Jan. 26; Killswitch Engage/Anthrax Jan. 27; Pigeons Playing Ping Pong/Broccoli Samurai Feb. 9 and Dropkick Murphys/Agnostic Front/Bim Skala Bim Mar. 12. More dates are sure to be added in the first quarter of 2017.