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Ralph Bowen, Dan Pratt, Brandon Wright: Posi-Tone strikes gold again

By J Hunter

Traditional jazz does not have to be boring. It does not have to be staid, or re-fried or adhere to a formula concocted in a New Orleans barroom over nine decades ago. A lot of the large labels don’t get that. Fortunately, the creative triumvirate at Posi-Tone Records not only understands this concept, but they practice it in a big way. The label closed out 2009 with solid efforts by saxman Wayne Escoffery with Uptown and drummer David Ashkenazy with Out With It, and they’ve hit the ground running in 2010 with three more great releases.

bowen album coverRalph Bowen
Due Reverence
Posi-Tone Records

Tribute discs have long been thick on the ground in jazz. Compatriots remember a colleague who has gone, and new generations give respect to the legends that showed them the way. But not all inspiration comes from giants; sometimes it’s a teacher, or even a fellow countryman who plays the same instrument but hasn’t got a wing in the hall of fame. The latter categories are the building blocks tenor man Ralph Bowen uses to construct Due Reverence.

The opener, “Less Is More,” begins with guitarist Adam Rogers in the clear, playing beautifully meditative lines that reflect the disc’s title. Bowen and bassist John Patitucci ease themselves into the picture, with Patitucci bowing underneath Bowen’s rich melody line. “Less” crystallizes into a bossa when drummer Antonio Sanchez completes the scene, but the bossa goes modern as Bowen slowly turns up the temperature. He doesn’t blow wild, but his passion for his subject is undeniable, as is the intention in his tenor. Rogers and the rhythm section inject some late-night groove into the final section, proving once again that Rogers can do a lot more than just blow people’s eardrums out with his electric wizardry.

There are only five tracks on Reverence, but when the subject is the people who helped form a career, five can be all that’s needed. Bowen’s finger-snapping blues, “Phil-Osophy,” is named for clarinetist Phil Nimmons, a 1930s bandleader and fellow Canadian, while the tasty “Mr. Scott” and the coda, “Points Encountered,” are respectively dedicated to two of Bowen’s instructors at Rutgers. “Less” was written for guitarist Ted Dunbar, one of the first jazz professors at that institution, and the high-flying “This One’s For Bob” goes out to one of Bowen’s many employers, tenor wizard Bob Mintzer. But once again, the fame of a subject is not what matters here.

What does matter (and what most definitely impresses) is Bowen’s love for each of his subjects. All five tracks are long-form pieces that exude purpose and commitment as each character is “fleshed out” by Bowen and his partners. Trumpeter Sean Jones joins the front line on “Scott,” goosing up the energy with his pure, clean tone as he offers Bowen a shining harmonic foil. The track shows the album might have been even livelier as a quintet date. But then, Due Reverence might not have been as personal—or as eloquent—as it is.

Dan Pratt Organ Quartet
Toe The Line
Posi-Tone Records

Reedman Dan Pratt may be a product of northern California’s wine country, but there’s nothing mellow about the music he’s making. Along with membership in about five New York City big bands, this alumnus of the Monterey Jazz Festival’s High School All-Star Band is also part of the mushrooming music scene on the Brooklyn side of the East River. There’s a real swagger to the jazz coming out of Brooklyn nowadays, and that swagger is one of the reasons why Toe The Line works like a charm.

The off-time boogie, “Houdini,” gives this album a beginning as unique as Pratt’s front-line sound. Trombonist Alan Ferber counters Pratt’s opening melody while Jared Gold’s organ lays the foundation even as it helps lift Pratt’s first solo to the next level. Gold’s fills are as solid as his last name, and Pratt’s lines are juicy, unvarnished and laced with a smoky R&B flavor that’s nothing but fun. Ferber’s following solo keeps the direction but changes the harmonic, making it deeper and rounder. When he and Pratt join up on the head, they launch dueling musical monologues that infuse the closing with a wonderful complexity.

Gold’s own Supersonic (Posi-Tone, 2009) showed potential, but suffered from a shortage of engaging material. Without the burden of leadership, Gold gets down and plays his tail off on Toe The Line. He slashes as he runs on the breakneck “Minor Procedure,” throws John Medeski-like color splashes onto “Wanderlust,” and changes the direction of Pratt’s take on Duke Ellington’s “Star-Crossed Lovers” by supplanting the initial romantic mood with a hopping urban vibe. Ferber’s exploration on “Doppelgänger” is both aggressive and off-kilter, adding to the skewed atmosphere of Pratt’s composition. Conversely, Ferber’s solo on the funked-out “Uncle Underpants” eschews introspection in favor of putting the pedal to the metal.

Put simply, Pratt and Ferber love to “fight,” and take multiple opportunities to throw musical punches at each other in a riveting variation of the Afro-Brazilian dance discipline capoeira. After all the battles and the boogie, the whole quartet comes together for the gospel-flavored blues coda, “After.” It’s a warm tribute to the late Bob Pratt, but while the music is certainly reverent, the passion that fuels the piece (and Pratt’s solo in particular) still shows the swagger that makes Toe The Line great on so many levels.

Brandon Wright
Boiling Point
Posi-Tone Records

Putting veteran musicians behind the subject of a maiden recording can actually attract negative questions. Can the rookie match the quality these heavy players are known for producing? More importantly, were the heavies brought in to mask the rookie’s deficiencies? Fortunately the answers are “Yes” and “No”—in that order—when it comes to Boiling Point, tenor man Brandon Wright’s recording debut.

The collective résumé of Wright’s backup band—(pianist David Kikoski, drummer Matt Wilson, bassist Hans Glawischnig and trumpeter Alex Sipiagin)—would fill several pages, but if Wright was intimidated, there’s no sign of it on the scorching opener, “Free Man.” After a quick call-and-answer with Sipiagin, Wright takes off like a bird for the high end of the tenor’s register. His lines are hot even as they maintain a linear direction, and his lyrical sense is spot-on as Kikoski’s comps and fills offer fine counterpoint. When it’s the pianist’s turn, there’s no transition point from support to soloist—Kikoski simply kicks the comp into a completely different gear and steps to the front like he owns it…which he does for the balance of his solo.

Wright’s chemistry with Kikoski is explosive, with a vibe that’s more colleague-to-colleague than teacher-to-student. Their duet on the first section of Jimmy van Heusen’s “Here’s That Rainy Day” is sensational, and is a logical extension of Kikoski’s pensive in-the-clear opening. Kikoski’s solos on the bossa-bopper, “Castaway,” and “Odd Man Out,” a track reminiscent of trumpeter Miles Davis, are both inspired and inspiring, and Kikoski lays the groundwork for almost every tune on Boiling Point, setting up vamps and foundation figures that are perfect outlet passes for Wright’s melodies. He even helps Wright morph Stone Temple Pilots’ “Interstate Love Song” into a waltz evoking pianist Bill Evans, and that’s a tall, tall order.

Wilson and Glawischnig stay primarily in the background, but that doesn’t mean they’re wallflowers. Wilson is one of the most mesmerizing drummers in jazz, and it’s worth wearing headphones to fully experience his dynamic fills. Glawischnig’s resonant lines snake around Wright on the forlorn “Drift,” and Glawischnig and Kikoski play dueling counters on “Rainy Day.” While Sipiagin provides a pure, bright tone and solid harmony on the melodies, his solos frequently fall short next to Kikoski’s bursting fills. On the other hand, Wright more than holds his own with the veterans, making Boiling Point a satisfying debut and setting a fine baseline for all of Wright’s future recordings.

Tracks and Personnel

Due Reverence

Tracks: Less Is More; This One’s For Bob; Phil-Osophy; Mr. Scott; Points Encountered.

Personnel: Ralph Bowen: tenor sax; Adam Rogers: guitar; John Patitucci: bass; Antonio Sanchez: drums; Sean Jones: trumpet (4).

Toe The Line

Tracks: Houdini; Minor Procedure; Wanderlust; Doppelgänger; Star-Crossed Lovers; Toe The Line; Stoic; Uncle Underpants; After.

Personnel: Dan Pratt: tenor sax; Alan Ferber; trombone; Jared Gold: organ; Mark Ferber: drums.

Boiling Point

Tracks: Free Man; Drift; Odd Man out; Boiling Point; Here’s That Rainy Day; Castaway; Interstate Love Song; You’re My Everything.

Personnel: Brandon Wright: tenor sax; Alex Sipiagin: trumpet; David Kikoski: piano; Hans Glawischnig: bass; Matt Wilson: drums.

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A nice AAJ piece featuring reviews of our latest Organ Jazz releases: Wayne Escoffery “Uptown” and the Dan Pratt Organ Quartet “Toe the Line”….

The State of Organ Jazz 2010, Part I: Wayne Escoffery, Dan Pratt and Matthew Kaminski
By C. Michael Bailey

Organ-based jazz inhabits a unique place as a sub-genre. The combination of the sacred churchy organ with the decadence of blues and bebop made for a heady brew after the introduction of the format by Wild Bill Davis and Bill Doggett in the 1950s. Qualitatively, the names that loom largest in organ jazz are Jimmy Smith, who put organ jazz on the map with his 1960s Blue Note and Verve recordings, and Larry Young, who picked up where Smith left off at Blue Note, propelling organ jazz into the fusion realm with drummer Tony Williams.

Besides being a firebrand, the organ rhythm section offers a grand alternative to piano and guitar setups. It provides an earthy sophistication, a hint of “soul jazz” as rich as bacon fat added to greens. In spring 2010, the market allows for several organ jazz releases of note. Here are three of them coming from Wayne Escoffery, Dan Pratt, and Matthew Kaminski.

Wayne Escoffery
Posi-Tone Records

Wayne Escoffery’s previous recordings, Times Change (Nagel Heyer Records, 2001), Intuition (Nagel Heyer Records, 2004), Veneration: Live at Smoke (Savant Records, 2007), Carolyn Leonhart & Wayne Escoffery—If Dreams Come True (Nagel- Heyer Records, 2007) and Wayne Escoffery & Veneration—Hopes & Dreams (Savant Records, 2008), established the saxophonist as a solid post bop musician with intelligent ideas and fine tonal form. His keen approach is sharpened in the organ trio format, where every edge and corner is visible.

This sharpness and precision in this format is made that much more keen by guitarist Avi Rothbard’s composing. “No Desert” and “Cross Bronx” are draftsman-angular pieces with accurate heads and orderly solos, all held together with the glue of Gary Versace’s organ. The real treat on the disc is a rollicking version of Duke Ellington’s “I Got it Bad,” where Escoffery swings so hard he changes the weather. Escoffery’s retro blues “Easy Now” is breezy with a gospel feel. “Nu Soul” breaks into adult contemporary terrain with a complex, assertive head. Escoffery is full-throated in his tenor tone and Versace all creamy warmth.

Uptown is an exciting release, a chance taken where the payoff is very finely performed music. Wayne Escoffery should return to this format in future recordings, but should not to over-do it, in case he makes the experience pedestrian.

Visit Wayne Escoffery on the web.

Dan Pratt Organ Quartet
Toe The Line
Posi-Tone Records

Saxophonist Dan Pratt likes to fray those precise edges established by Wayne Escoffery, adding a bit of funky freedom to the mix. He also adds the competing trombone of Alan Ferber, rounding out the horn tone of the combo. Toe The Line is Pratt’s second recording, following Spring Loaded (Sunny Sky, 2004). It is a collection of eight Pratt originals and one standard (Ellington’s “Star Crossed Lovers”).

Pratt’s compositional bent tends to smart and wordy post bop. “Houdini” and “Minor Procedure” both are up-tempo burners with winding introductions. “Doppelganger” is an off-time blues that allows Pratt’s tenor to have contrapuntal relations with Alan Ferber’s trombone. The two unite for some slick and mantra-like ensemble play that oddly recalls saxophonist John Coltrane’s spiritual spasms without imitating them.

“Star Crossed Lovers” bisects the recital with a bona fide ballad treatment that recalls baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan and valve trombonist Bob Brookmeyer in a very modern way. Jared Gold provides a most modern organ solo that mixes well with Pratt’s and Ferber’s subsequent soliloquies. The closing piece, “After,” opens with a Pentecostal call-and-response that flirts with a ballad before crossing the blues with sanctified gospel, producing 21st century New Orleans R & B. This broadly appealing album has much to offer listeners, its coda being a part of jazz fans’ collective DNA.

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Here’s another review for our new Dan Pratt Organ Quartet record “Toe the Line” featuring Alan Ferber, Jared Gold, and Mark Ferber…

Toe the Line is a phrase which signifies unwavering obedience to a doctrine, structure, or rule, but the Dan Pratt Organ Quartet defies such a rule. The group conforms to the rule of playing with flair, but little else.

Pratt, who plays tenor saxophone, was a member of the Monterey Jazz Festival High School All-Star Band, and his professional career includes work with Joe Lovano, the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, and the Christian McBride Big Band.

“Houdini,” the first of eight Pratt originals, opens with organ and drum laying down the rhythm. Pratt leads, echoed by Alan Ferber. The tenor and trombone harmonize, and at times they overlap each other. Shortly into the piece, Pratt takes off a bouncy, freestyle solo; Ferber solos as well. Throughout, organ and drums are in grooves of their own.

“Doppelganger” is aptly named. The term refers to the double of a living person—someone who bears a strong resemblance to another. The tenor begins a phrase and is joined by the trombone. At times, it’s difficult to tell which instrument is playing. Then the tenor plays the phrase at a higher tone. After the opening sequence, Alan Ferber and Pratt take turns with solos. Jared Gold’s organ serves not only as the rhythm instrument but also as the bass—a function it provides on all tracks. The horns revert to the opening phrase, playing without accompaniment at first. Then Mark Ferber joins in, skillfully playing snare, toms, and cymbals as if it were his solo. The song ends with sax and trombone harmonizing on the thematic phrase.

The lone cover, “The Star-Crossed Lovers,” is performed with as much vigor as Pratt’s compositions. The leads are solid, and the solos are engaging. In this sense, Toe the Line does conform to one rule: the musicians play from the heart.

Track listing: Houdini; Minor Procedure; Wanderlust; Doppelganger; The Star-Crossed Lovers; Toe the Line; Stoic; Uncle Underpants; After.

Personnel: Dan Pratt: tenor saxophone; Alan Ferber: trombone; Jared Gold: organ; Mark Ferber: drums.

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Another positive review for Dan Pratt Organ Quartet “Toe the Line”….

by Derek Taylor
The Hammond organ is a hardy instrument, having weathered waxing and waning popularity since pioneers like Fats Waller and Bill Doggett brought it prominence as a viable jazz voice. Still, the number of players who opt to apply it to adventurous settings remains relatively few compared to the legion content to toe the line of convention. Saxophonist Dan Pratt and organist Jared Gold choose the less traveled path on this second disc by Pratt’s working quartet. Gold is an important part of a recent release by guitarist Jeff Stryker also reviewed in these virtual pages. The difference in his playing in that context compared to here is instructive as to just how well Pratt is able to press the best from his partners by giving them plenty to work with.

Pratt’s writing for the band is its principal asset. Each of the nine originals brims with ideas and novel avenues for execution. “Houdini” and “Minor Procedure” work of tightly wound heads and bright, bustling rhythmic structures. Gold builds throbbing bass lines and whirring fills that make the most of his instrument’s variable tone settings. “Wanderlust” opens with syrup-thick sustain and weirdly warbling effects that instantly place the tune apart. On “Star Crossed Lovers” and the closing “After” Gold traffics in luminous, church-appropriate swells that resist tipping over into treacle. The Brothers Ferber, Alan on trombone and Mark on drums, complete the band and are equally essential to the constantly shifting sound that reflects the players in nearly all manner of component groupings. Alan works like the cooling balm preceding the burning heat of Pratt’s improvisation on “Dopplegänger”, his rounded lines transmitting with an almost tactile smoothness.

Other pieces in the program cover different bases from the rock-inflected patterns of the title piece that works off another monster snaking bass line from Gold and a string of dynamic drum breaks to the vaguely Latin groove of “Stoic”, which again features the unflappable ingenuity of the drummer’s textured stick play. Trading in humor and tradition, “Uncle Underpants” gains momentum as a spiraling Pratt-penned head irons out into a stomping funk vamp. Ferber’s malleable backbeats soon reach street band fervency and he virtually steals the track with a galloping extended break. Pratt and his colleagues have been gigging quite regularly and the multiple merits of this release are certain to extend that employment streak. It’s a set custom-designed for skeptics who consider organ dates strictly old hat.

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Jazz Journal Review of “Supersonic”

April 2010
Jazz Journal 63 No. 4,
Brian Morton

It takes some moxie to start with a John Sebastian tune and then to programme something by Coldplay, who are to jazz favourites Radiohead what Dr Peppers is to moonshine whiskey, but Jared Gold is a confident young man and a thoroughly musical fellow who knows a strong melody when he hears it. The organist has been making a splash on the New York scene for a while now and his debut Posi-Tone CD ‘Solids And Stripes’ was one of last year’s standout organ-jazz records. Here, though, Gold doesn’t have the support of saxophonist Seamus Blake. He’s very much featured on his own, though with Ed Cherry in the line-up, there’s additional interest. The Sebastian song probably won’t ring too many bells or sound too many alarms and no sooner has it wheezed out than Gold’s own Makin’ Do lifts the rating higher still. He’s not yet a fully confident composer, with something of the tyro’s habit of messing with a simple idea in order to make it more complicated. That doesn’t necessarily work and an older and more experienced craftsman might have ironed out the extraneous detail on Times Are Hard On The Boulevard, Battle Of Tokorozawa and Home Again. In the absence of liner notes on the promo, I can’t tell you what the middle one signifies to Jared Gold, but the scrap in question was back in the 14th century, so it’s not particularly personal. I thought Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You bordered on schmaltz, but loved the Beatles tune and the sen- sitive Angel Eyes, and didn’t baulk at the Coldplay cover, which was done before I realised what it was. Gold’s good and will get better still. The bonus here is Cherry, whose own recording career seems not to have built on the high promise of his early 90s stuff on Groovin’ High, but who always delivers intelligently and with feeling. Posi-Tone is on a bit of a roll.

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Dan Bilawsky’s poignant review of the new Dan Pratt Organ Quartet CD “Toe the Line” taken from ….

Dan Pratt Toe The Line Album CoverToe The Line
Dan Pratt | Posi-Tone Records (2010)

By Dan Bilawsky

Toe The Line does far more than its name implies. Saxophonist Dan Pratt has put together a record that, while loyal to the “small organ group” tradition, also manages to cover broad stylistic ground. Within this category, certain norms or standards seem to be expected in the music: Jimmy Smith’s records provide a grooving and intense blues-based sound; Larry Young’s albums have an adventurous streak; and modernists like Sam Yahel often create otherworldly aural collages. Organist Jared Gold takes from all of these ideals and creates his own sound, owing to everybody and nobody all at once, throughout this program.

Pratt penned eight of the album’s nine tracks, and the urgently energetic tunes seem to stand out. “Houdini” moves back and forth between a funky feel in seven and a straightforward swing section in four, with Pratt and trombonist Alan Ferber acting as a powerful tag team combination. The catchy, rhythmically-charged melodic motif on “Doppelgänger” sharply contrasts with Gold’s mellow organ work here and the enthusiastically choppy funk of “Uncle Underpants” is a musical delight.

Drummer Mark Ferber proves to be a tremendous asset to the band, as he helps to establish different feels for each song. His freely executed solo introduction on “Stoic”—set-up with some ominous cymbal and tom statements—helps to set the mood. Ferber also drives the band, whether simply swinging or trading solos, on “Minor Procedure.” The drummer even backs a Pratt solo—as the lone accompanist—on the title track, which includes some spectacularly sinister organ work from Gold.

Both horn players also excel on the more sensitive material. The opening of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn’s “Star Crossed Lovers” features some gorgeous saxophone work from Pratt, with a gently rising and falling trombone line behind him. Both Pratt and Alan Ferber, backed by Gold’s subdued and churchy organ work, also deliver the goods on the slow and soulful “After,” which ends the album in a mellow and satisfying way.

Track listing: Houdini; Minor Procedure; Wanderlust; Doppelgänger; Star Crossed Lovers; Toe The Line; Stoic; Uncle Underpants; After.

Personnel: Dan Pratt: saxophone; Alan Ferber: trombone; Jared Gold: organ; Mark Ferber: drums.

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Bill Milkowski’s JazzTimes review of “Supersonic”….

Jared Gold

By Bill Milkowski

The ubiquitous NYC organist Jared Gold steps out as a leader and gets funky with guitarist Ed Cherry and drummer McClenty Hunter on this super-charged groove project. Highlights include a revved-up rendition of “Welcome Back” (theme song for the ’70s TV show Welcome Back, Kotter, rendered here as a James Brown-inspired throwdown), a soulful “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You,” the uptempo burner “Battle of Tokorazawa,” the gospel-soaked “Home Again” (with Cherry channeling Eric Gale) and a “Poinciana”-ish take on “Angel Eyes.”


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Supersonic is the disc of the day at the jazz breakfast….

Disc of the day: 12-01-10

Disc of the day: 12-01-10

Jared Gold: Supersonic (Posi-Tone Records)
Ah, when you are looking for a solid-as-a-rock way of cheering yourself up, an organ trio can always be relied on. Jazz’s happy pills!

This is a new one to me, but Jared Gold is a young Hammond B-3 man who clearly loves Larry Young and Jack McDuff but is also bringing his own groove to this big bit of furniture.

There are originals here but it’s the fun choice of originals that initially grab the attention. Like the band’s (Ed Cherry is on guitar and McClenty Hunter on drums) groove-drenched take on that blue-eyed, Ivy League ballad Can’t Take My Eyes Off You and the equally greasy reworking of the Beatles’ In My Life.

They get a lot more far out on the originals, like Battle of Tokorazawa, for example. And their version of Sparks has made me think completely differently about Coldplay.

Gold has a fairly broad organ sound with rich overtones of the mahogany variety, and Cherry’s rich chord tones in accompaniment often sound very close to a comping organ left-hand giving some nice interaction between the two instruments. Hunter keeps it all fairly steady.

As pleasure filled and high carb as one of New York’s finest burgers.