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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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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