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“Humanities” has a shared sense of groove and interactivity

Humanities (PR8180)

The latest album from the esteemed jazz pianist and musicologist David Ake, Humanities swings buoyantly through a dozen tracks, mostly original compositions. The only cover on the album is a convincing translation of the Grateful Dead’s “Ripple” into a wistful, earnest ballad in the style of Brian Blade’s Fellowship Band. They showcase a wide range of emotion and timbre, from the calm, spacious “Drinking Song” to the playfully puckish “Rabble Rouser.”
Ake is joined by four stellar New York musicians, all close collaborators of his longtime colleague, trumpeter Ralph Alessi, who shines here alongside drummer Mark Ferber, guitarist Ben Monder, and bassist Drew Gress. The band makes the most out of Ake’s compositions through their shared sense of groove and powerful interactivity—the compositions afford this well, thanks to a melody-driven, improvisation-centered approach that draws from the well of Ornette Coleman’s harmolodic precedent. Each musician shines as a soloist at various points throughout the recording, as well—and Monder is full of surprises throughout, with Ferber’s versatile stylings contributing to a powerful sense of groove throughout the album.

In his role as composer and bandleader, Ake has accomplished the challenging task of creating a deeply engaging document of egalitarian collaboration. The pieces do not go out of their way to showcase his skillful pianism, although this is evident in his solo flights on pieces such as “Hoofer” and “The North.” Ake even tips his hat to this commitment to collective engagement on the last song, “Walter Cronkite,” in which the famed newscaster’s voice is mixed into a spacious improvisation, admonishing us that “Being a democracy, we the people are responsible for the actions of our leaders.”

Alex W. Rodriguez – Jazz Society Oregon

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Culture Jazz from France praises the new one from David Ake

September 17th was a beautiful day in New York. Around 7 pm, David Ake met the team he had gathered at the Acoustic Recording Studio in Brooklyn and less than six hours later, the contents of that disc had been recorded. The day before, the quintet had met a first time in order to quickly “fly over” the scores. And here is this jewel chiseled in a very short time by goldsmiths unparalleled! Humanities is again the magic of jazz that results from “the remarkable joy, the optimism that human beings can feel when they create in a spirit of mutual trust, respect and openness” writes David Ake ” despite all the difficulties, tragedies and political situation of the nation. A few days earlier, he had to evacuate Florida where he resides and take refuge with his family in North Carolina to escape Hurricane Irma. Let’s listen to what is happening here after the storm. A great lesson of jazz given in all modesty but with what fervor by magnificent musicians: David Ake, attentive and inventive pianist, Ralph Alessi, always relevant trumpet-poet, Drew Gress and Mark Ferber in a total rhythmic complicity and, the extra -terrestrial of this exceptional session, Ben Monder, quiet hurricane and stratospheric guitarist who enrubanne this music of electrifying volutes. Superb!

Culture Jazz France

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Grateful for David Ake’s New One “Humanities”



When Robert Hunter and Jerry Garcia wrote the Grateful Dead’s most beloved song, “Ripple,” as the B-side to their 1970 “Truckin’” single, they had no way of knowing that 48 years later, it would be the highlight — and only cover — on a terrific 2018 jazz album by pianist

David Ake’s Humanities is solid  throughout, especially considering his amazing quintet is populated by A-List players — guitarist Ben Monder, trumpeter Ralph Alessi, bassist Drew Gress and drummer Mark Ferber. Recorded in one long afternoon session last year in Brooklyn, the solos, the arrangements, the swoon-worthy melodic constructions, the meandering adventures that wind up satisfying even the most hardboiled heard-it-all listeners like me, add up to the kind of project that just keeps on getting better with each succeeding listen. I just wish I could figure out how to make David Ake’s “Ripple” my phone’s ring tone.

Mike Greenblatt – Aquarian Weekly – Rant & Roll

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David Ake delves deep into “Humanities”

Pianist, composer, and educator David Ake is a native of New Haven, CT, but spent his formative years in Chicago. He did his  undergraduate at the University of Miami before heading to the West Coast to do post-grad work at the California Institute of the Arts and UCLA.

Ake’s fifth album on Posi-Tone is titled “Humanities” and features the powerful musical voices of his fellow CalArts colleague Ralph Alessi (trumpet), Ben Monder (guitars), Drew Gress (bass), and Mark Ferber (drums).  If you have heard any of Ake’s earlier group albums, you’ll know he’s a powerful and thoughtful pianist while his music often has a powerful forward motion.

There are moments on the new album where the music leans towards Americana, not surprisingly on the quintet’s reading of The Grateful Dead’s “Ripple” (the only “cover” tune on the CD) – they don’t mess with the gentle bluesy quality of Jerry Garcia’s sweet melody. Alessi’s muted trumpet brings the sound of Ron Miles to mind and the piece would not be out of place on a Bill Frisell album (but note the alternate chords at various times throughout the piece). The piano introduction to “Drinking Song” has the feel of a Randy Newman ballad but there is a spare quality to the melody. The trumpet and guitar play the melody and counterpoint while the rhythm section tosses and turns beneath them, not disrupting the flow as much as creating dynamic differences.

What stands out throughout the program is how distinctive all five voices are.  On songs such as “The North“, one can hear the power of the guitar, the rich melodic sense of the trumpet, the “heavy” chords from  the piano, the counterpoint and melodies from the bass, and the driving force of the drums. Ferber is truly in the driver’s seat; listen to his strength on “Rabble Rouser“, how Gress helps him push the music forward, and then how the soloists are inspired by the rhythm section.  And, they can swing! “Hoofer” starts out with the drummer’s brush work creating his own sweet soft-shoe.  Ake picks up on that and dances right through his sly Monk-like solo.  The bassist leads the group through the beginning of “Stream” – much of the fun of the piece is how the dynamics change on the fly.  After the opening, the band moves into a harder-edged melody but drops back for the piano solo.  Ake build the tension as the trumpet and guitar play a unison counterpoint to his solo. A similar interaction takes place beneath Alessi’s solo, this time the pianist and guitarist playing chordal patterns as Ferber builds the tension with a fiery drum spotlight.

The program closes with “Walter Cronkite“: that’s the newsman’s voice you hear near the beginning saying “’s the ultimate question that being a democracy we the people are responsible for the actions of our leaders“.  Alessi’s keening, questioning, trumpet moves atop the rumbling piano, droning bass, quiet guitar fill, and active drums, giving the rubato piece the feel of an elegy, at times, a prayer.  There is a short section where the trumpet and piano sounds like a telegraph signaling an urgent question across the great divide before the music fades.

To do justice to the music on “Humanities” is truly to tell you to listen and listen deeply. David Ake composes music that asks questions, that plumbs the depth of the human spirit, and looks for the soul within the songs. And the musicians know how to transmit those questions and searches to an eager audience.  Give some time to this music; it will make you think and, perhaps, even move you to action in these often tense times.

Richard Kamins – Step Tempest

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David Ake “Lake Effect” review in JazzTimes Magazine…



Pianist David Ake’s Bridges was one of the best jazz outings of 2013, featuring a gentle kaleidoscope of taut yet off-kilter compositions for a sextet consisting of his fellow California Institute of the Arts alumni and associates, including Ravi Coltrane, Ralph Alessi and Scott Colley. Lake Effect is equally satisfying but in a much different, more emotionally penetrating fashion. Since Bridges, Ake has moved back to his Midwestern roots, becoming the chair of the department of music at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. And last summer, he was jolted by the death of Charlie Haden, his musical mentor and the founder of the jazz program at CalArts. Both events affect the shape and purpose of the music here.

An extended quote by Haden about immersion in the music is set over a photograph of a winter lake—it’s the only liner note beyond the recording details. The first composition, the stark and beautifully somber “Lone Pine,” is Ake’s solo piano tribute to Haden. For the other nine tracks, the ensemble is pared down to a quartet, with the aforementioned three members absent and bassist Sam Minaie replacing Colley alongside holdovers Mark Ferber on drums and Peter Epstein on saxophones. They provide the right intimacy for the tone poem “Silver Thaw,” with Ake’s dappled notes given further nuance by soft chimes to mimic the dripping water. “Hills” is another evocative soundscape, distant in its wistfulness and nonchalance. Even the more ingenious, piquant compositions, similar to the writing on Bridges, such as “Tricycle” and “Two Stones,” have an engaging sentimentality. From the Lake Michigan of his Chicago boyhood to the Lake Tahoe of his previous teaching position in Reno, Nev., to the Lake Erie in his current neighborhood, Ake knows the varieties of terrain and seasonal patterns along the waterfront.


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Dan Bilawsky reviews David Ake “Lake Effect”…



Pianist David Ake strikes a pensive pose on the back cover ofLake Effect, foreshadowing a good amount of the music that follows. With his previous album, Ake reveled in the opportunity to keep listener’s guessing from song to song and moment to moment. It was a musical gambit that paid off handsomely, making Bridges (Posi-Tone, 2013) one of the stand-out releases of 2013. Here, Ake takes a step forward by taking a step back. Gone is the striking uncertainty projected through Bridges. Through much of this album, Ake simplifies his surroundings, painting musical reveries with gentle hands and highlighting the simpatico sensibilities of his band mates when the temperature rises.

Ake perfectly connects this music to the title of the record, mixing cool and glacial forms with hotter surfaces. The mellow(er) tracks hew toward a wistful and mystical aesthetic. “Lone Pine (For Charlie Haden),” the brief and placid album opener, is the first number to fall into that category. Further down the line there’s “Tricycle,” a zen-jazz episode that builds into something bigger before returning to a meditative state; “Hills,” which finds saxophonist Peter Epstein and Ake floating atop a sea of serenity; “Silver Thaw,” presenting this quartet in a state of repose that involves metallic rustling, two slowly see-sawing chords, and simple utterances; and Egberto Gismonti‘s “Palhaco,” which pairs Epstein and Ake in a gorgeously heartbreaking setting.

The remaining tracks, interspersed between the spacious and introspective offerings, provide injections of energy. “The Cubs” is a choppy and gleeful piece; “Two Stones” is hip in an understated way; “Returning” is spry, whether swinging or stammering; and the rhythmically reconstituted take on Monk’s “Bye-Ya” is pure fun. And then there’s “Lake Effect,” a piece that runs the mellow-to-energetic gamut. Bassist Sam Minaie sets the scene there, gently moving over Ake’s piano. Then, it’s Epstein’s saxophone, Ake’s firm chordal support, and Mark Ferber‘s Brian Blade-ish drum work that help the song take flight. 

On every piece here, Ake proves to be a gifted communicator, performer, and composer. His simplest compositions are soothing, heart-on-sleeve expressions and his feistier feats are imaginative and accessible gems that get the heart racing.

Track Listing: Lone Pine (For Charlie Haden); The Cubs; Tricycle; Two Stones; Hills; Bye-Ya; Silver Thaw; Palhaco; Returning; Lake Effect.

Personnel: David Ake: piano; Peter Epstein: soprano saxophone, alto saxophone; Sam Minaie: bass; Mark Ferber: drums.


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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.