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Another nice piece on David Ake “Bridges”….

David Ake.  Bridges.

Posi-Tone, 2013.   

There’s a new jazz guy in town.  He’s not really new, but he’s got a job here now, so that makes him ours (“gooble gobble, one of us”), whether he wants to be considered a Northeast Ohio artist or not.  David Ake is the relatively new Chair of the Department of Music at Case Western Reserve University, having relocated from the University of Nevada, and before that, California.  He’s put out a half-dozen jazz albums, has authored or edited three books on the subject, and is trained as a musicologist.  I didn’t really notice that I had heard his work before looking him up, but he did an album with the trio EEA back in 2010 that I picked up somewhere, and liked a lot.  I thought I’d give this new one a try.


Here, the pianist has put together a stellar sextet.  It’s sort of odd that he is one of the less well-known member of the group.  These guys are all major players, and many have worked together on other projects (Alessi and Coltrane, Colley and Epstein), so it seems Ake is well-respected outside of academic circles.  If I had to characterize the music, I don’t think I would.  There’s too much variation–some postbop, some minimalism, some avant-garde, and even a touch of New Orleans now and then.  This makes it hard to pigeonhole, which is probably the point.


The title tracks starts off as a minimalist mixing up of instruments on a simple theme that reminds me of a traffic jam, with its insistent horn repetition; deceptively simple.  Ralph Alessi takes off on “Sonomads,” a lovely, balanced composition that, while still exhibiting some of the minimalist approach of the first track, takes off in a different direction, with the Ake and the rhythm section taking much of the foreground, and the entire group sounding like a big band at the end.  Epstein comes out front for “Story Table,” with some fiery sax work in a post-bop mode.  The interplay among the two saxophonists and Alessi is really grand throughout.  “We Do?” gets weird, moving from a bop beginning, picking up some Ornette Coleman-like stuff along the way, then moving back to bop for the finale.  Colley’s bass solo is sweet.  Ake’s melodic piano is out front for “Boats (exit),” with the horns sounding like a flock of Canada geese in the background, getting closer.  The nearly nine minute workout of “Year in Review” displays the talents of everyone, but I was especially taken by Alessi’s playing here, as well as Ake’s elaborate piano.  The other long piece is “Dodge,” which makes the sextet sound like a tight big band again, with excellent work by Coltrane.  It gets a bit far out in the middle, but comes back home, seemingly an exercise in order and chaos.  The more relaxed “Grand Colonial” precedes the closer, “Light Bright,” which acts as a bookend to the opener, seemingly simple, but maybe not so much as one delves in.

I hear a theme to the album, one that explores the relationships between structure and anti-structure, with some compositions in one camp, and some veering wildly between the two.  Ake’s piano and the rhythm section hold it all together.  This makes for considerable eclecticism, but the fine musicians Ake is working with are up to the task, and the result is a worthwhile album.

Personnel:  David Ake (piano, composer), Ralph Alessi (trumpet), Scott Colley (bass), Ravi Coltrane (tenor sax), Peter Epstein (alto sax), Mark Ferber (drums).

Tracks:  Bridges, Sonomads, Waterfront, Story Table, We Do?, Boats (exit), Year in Review, Open/Balance, Dodge, Grand Colonial, Light Bright.

Jeff Wanser

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Great interview with pianist David Ake about music and his new CD “Bridges”…

CLEVELAND, Ohio — David Ake’s album“Bridges’’ is showing up on a ton of year-end best-of lists.

You almost expect that from someone who’s been making music his whole life, and whose band includes some of the best in jazz – including tenor sax player Ravi Coltrane, trumpeter Ralph Alessi, as well as alto sax player Peter Epstein, bassist Scott Colley and drummer Mark Ferber.

All of them have pretty impressive pedigrees and resumes at least as strong as Coltrane, who, yes, is the son of the legendary John Coltrane.

Only one, however, is a professor and chairman of Case Western Reserve University’s Department of Music. That would be Ake.

“Case has traditionally been focused on early music,’’ said Ake in a call from the Shaker Heights home he and his family have shared since moving here from the University of Reno (Nev.) in July 2013.

“Over the last few years, they’ve started a center for the study of popular music,’’ Ake said. “When they did a search for a new chair about this time last year, I think they noticed I’m also a jazz scholar.’’

And that’s scholar with a capital P – and a lower case hd. Prof. Ake’s doctorate is in musicology, and his written a few books about music. But first and foremost, he’s a musician.

Clearly, musical scales aren’t his only dilemma.

“I’ve been trying to balance this [being a musician and an educator],’’ Ake said. “For a long time, I was just a jazz pianist. I lived in Munich, Los Angeles, New York. That’s all I did was play jazz piano.

“My knowledge of playing and composing feeds into my work on music history, and vice versa,’’ he said. “What I have found is that one of these interests comes to the fore at one time. I can’t do everything all at the same time.’’

With that in mind, Ake for the moment is focusing on being the chairman of Case’s music department.

But that’s not stopping him from enjoying the accolades that have been cast on “Bridges,’’ which was released on Posi-Tone records in May 2013.

Jazz records by their very nature are unusual, and “Bridges’’ raises that to new highs. One review talks about “the convergence of cacophony and structure’’ in the album, which probably is best described as dissonant jazz.

“It’s really the balance of freedom and order,’’ Ake said. “That’s what I’m going for. I set up these structures for these extraordinary improvisers, and we see what happens.’’

But for that to happen – and to come off as well as it does – there has to be an unbelievable amount of trust in each other.

“I’ve known these guys since the mid-1980s,’’ Ake said. “Ralph Alessi the trumpeter, Ravi Coltrane, Scott Colley — most of us went to the California Institute of the Arts.

“Trust in yourself, trust in the musicians and trust in the audience,’’ Ake said. “Things may get weirder than you’re used to, but hang in there and something wondrous might happen.’’

He’s right about that. “Bridges’’ has a feel and a sound all its own. “That’s because it’s something I’m calling dissonant jazz. Certain songs, like ‘Dodge’ and ‘Boats,’ seem to be almost sonic versions of a European roundabout, which goes off in different directions but begins with the same starting point.

“Sometimes, that’s written in,’’ Ake said. “At some point, ‘Let’s head back here, to Letter B or whatever.’ Other times, it could be suggested by whatever somebody’s playing.

“Again, it’s all about trust,’’ he said.

Ake hasn’t played out since moving to Cleveland, but that could change soon.

“Last time I played was the Reno Jazz Festival back in April,’’ he said. “I’m getting a little itchy. I don’t mind not being on the road anymore, but I miss having a band and playing, and I know there are some great players in Cleveland.’’

Sounds like another bridge is about to be crossed, eh?



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Critical Jazz reviews David Ake “Bridges”…

You can count the number of labels with a firm commitment to the more straight ahead scene in modern jazz on one hand with Posi-Tone perhaps leading the way with the most dynamic young talent that can easily be considered the future of modern jazz. David Ake and his new release Bridges is certainly proof positive of this point with a virtual all star line up of rising stars and artists that are achieving that special level of creativity that other labels seem intent on stifling. 

David Ake takes a giant leap forward with his new sextet and the inspired playing puts Bridges in that special category of the classic working band, the large ensemble sound of both Blue Note and Impulse from the mid 1960’s. The co-conspirators here include renowned bassist Scott Colley, alto sax fire ball Peter Epstein, under appreciated trumpet phenom Ralph Alessi, the ever evolving talent of Ravi Coltrane and steady rollin’ Mark Ferber on drums. A more modern riff on hard bop with a swing that permeates the soul while never losing the importantly lyrical flow of accessibility allows for the panache that most large ensembles struggle to find even after years of working together. 

The title track “Bridges” is a syncopated exploratory of haunting mystery as both the tune and the album begin to develop an incredibly organic pulse highlighted by the brilliant offerings of Ravi Coltrane and Peter Epstein, two saxophone playing in a delightful harmonious union as one voice. Both bassist Scott Colley and pianist David Ake provide the subtle nuances of textured simplicity while working the odd metered tightrope without a net. If you are not familiar with the work of Ake don’t worry, I wasn’t either. Ake clearly demonstrates the technical proficiency and artistic depth that allows him to play with the band, not over or around them. “Dodge” is a nine minute plus epitome of what “Swing hard or go home” is all about for this critic. Call it chemistry or call it sonic synergy, led by the walking bass line of Colley and the minimalist approach of Coltrane where no notes are wasted this is a tight unit any way you slice it. “Light Bright” is much like the title tune “Bridges”, an odd metered tune that is a wondrous hybrid of simplicity and complexity and Ralph Alessi on trumpet turns in a stellar performance. 

What allows Ake to shine and Bridges to work so well is a balanced approach. No voice is lost in the shuffle and no artist approaches the self indulgent cliff so as to allow the listener to experience a true group dynamic rarely presented on this high of a level in jazz today. 

An inspiring performance and one of the better large ensemble recordings today. 

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SomethingElseReviews on David Ake “Bridges”…

It’s clear from his latest recorded offering Bridges that the pianist and composer David Ake has a lot to say musically, but this being only his third record over a period of fifteen years, he hasn’t had much time to say it. That’s because Ake is also a scholar, author and member of the jazz ensemble EEA with Peter Epstein and Larry Engstrom. He’s made real good use of the limited time he’s had as a leader, though.

Ake amassed a sextet that’s about as impressive as they come: joining Ake is Epstein on alto sax, Ralph Alessi on trumpet, Ravi Coltrane on tenor sax, Scott Colley on standup bass and Mark Ferber on drums. Alessi, Coltrane and Colley go way back with Ake, who performed with all three while studying at Cal Arts (California Institute of the Arts) in the mid 80s.

Collectively, they pack a lot of power, but it’s more impressive that Ake utilizes that power judiciously. It’s a sextet that leaves a lithe footprint, running the brass on all cylinders only at selected times for better impact (as on the brash “Year In Review”). With exception of the Art Tatum-styled solo piano piece “Waterfront,” Ake himself is self effacing, getting more mileage out of making the gold plated parts of his band work with polished, imaginative arrangements. He also takes on the role of the instigating avant-gardist, pushing the band most of the way toward out-jazz on numbers such as on the otherwise old-fashioned bebop delight “We Do?” and that brassy “Year In Review.”

But more often than not, Ake makes the other guys the stars, and none more so than Alessi and Ferber. The trumpeter’s sublime articulations are a highlight on “Sonemads,” and he soon finds himself in an improvising summit with Colley and Ferber. Alessi takes command of Ake’s sophisticated ostinato “Story Table,” and Ferber ably navigates the impossible rhythmic pattern. Alessi is sassy on “Year In Review” and stately on “Grande Colonial.” Ferber, meanwhile, masterfully manages the in-song mood changes, such as the bebop/out-jazz/bebop sequence called for on “We Do?” and percolates like Elvin on “Dodge.” Ake’s EEA partner Epstein has a real, passionate flair on the alto sax, and he puts it on display for “Story Table” and “We Do?”, where he spars buoyantly with Coltrane. And this Coltrane guy, he isn’t so bad, either.

The performances are grand all over Bridges because Ake knows the strengths of every player he’s got at his disposal and lets them do their thing within his well-conceived compositions, resulting in performances that are as unpredictable as it is thoughtful. Connecting all these moods and styles as skillfully as Ake and his sextet does make this an album with the right title.