Posted on

“Interstellar Adventures” is focused keenly on tradition and searching beyond it

Interstellar Adventures (PR8183)

Interstellar Adventures makes good on the promise displayed on 2017’s Promethean, the young pianist’s debut for Posi-Tone, and 2015’s Live at Smalls, his first as a leader. It also far surpasses them in originality and pluck. Where the earlier outings, particularly Promethean, showed Hill to be an imaginative player with one eye focused keenly on tradition and the other eagerly searching beyond it, the new set finds Hill increasingly willing to burn bridges with his influences and carve out his own territory.

Like its predecessor, the new release is a trio recording, with Rashaan Carter playing basses and Rudy Royston drums. Half of its 10 tracks are penned solely by Hill, including the opening title track, which eases in cautiously, allowing the group to find its way around the melody before agreeing to embellish and discard as needed. Hill’s “Gyre” skitters, slashes and sways, leaving Carter and especially Royston to their own devices as the pianist, in an absorbing solo section, offers transitory single-note suggestions he may or may not choose to stick with very long. It’s almost giddy in its gleeful execution, balancing mathematical precision with frenzied abandon.

Of the covers, Tony Williams’ “Black Comedy” and Jan Hammer’s “Thorn of a White Rose” are corkers. Hill isn’t one to use velocity for its own sake; when he does, as in the former, he dazzles but his point isn’t so much to pat his own back as to keep the tune in constant forward motion. Royston, on the latter, nods to the megaton drumming of Elvin Jones, who cut the tune four decades earlier, but he never loses sight of the new places Hill and Carter opt to take it.

Jeff Tamarkin – JazzTimes

Posted on

Turn it up and feel the power of “Interstellar Adventures”

Pianist and composer Theo Hill, a native of Albany, New York, first studied jazz piano with the late (and, in her neck of the woods, legendary Lee Shaw (1926-2015). After graduating from the Jazz Conservatory at SUNY/Purchase, Hill moved to New York City.  Slowly yet steadily, he has built quite the resume working with drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts, trumpeter Wallace Roney, vocalist Gregory Porter, and many others. He has recorded with trombonists Frank Lacy and David Gibson; currently he holds down the piano chair in the Mingus Big Bang and with T. S. Monk. His debut album. “Live at Smalls“, came out on SmallsLIVE in 2014 and featured a quintet. Hill now records for Posi-Tone Records which released his label debut, a trio date titled “Promethean“, in May of 2017.

Hill’s new Posi-Tone recording, “Interstellar Adventures“, features the first-rate rhythm section of Rashaan Carter (acoustic and electric bass) and the sublime Rudy Royston (drums and percussion).  The ensemble alternately dances, roars, pounds, caresses, and glides its way through a program that includes five Hill originals plus five songs by composer/performers you could say are the pianist’s influences and musical mentors.  “Promethean” only had one original amidst the 11 tracks, with two composed by the late Kenny Kirkland.  You can hear the influence of that pianist’s appealing ballad “Revelations” as well as on Hill’s originals, such as the title track. It’s in the turn of a phrase or the attack at the beginning of the solo; not overt but there.  Hill also covers Marcus Miller’s “For Those Who Do” and one can hear how his flowing lines show that pianist’s influence.

Instead of looking and listening for influences, dig into the music itself.  The trio shines on Tony Willams’s “For Those Who Do“, a fiery number that flies forward on the propulsive bass lines and the thunderous drums.  Hill taps into those energy sources, builds on its intensity, and delivers a stunning performance. Sam Rivers’s “Cyclic Episode” may start in a gentler fashion but soon builds up its own head of steam. This time, it’s Royston responding to Hill’s flying fingers and matching him phrase for phrase, power to power. Carter’s bass is the foundation but he really captures the intensity. Hill moves to electric piano and Carter to electric bass for a romp through Jan Hammer’s “Thorn of a Wild Rose“, a tune the composer recorded with both Charlie Mariano and Elvin Jones.  The thick bass groove, the delightful cymbal work, and the leader’s strong piano work give the song a real lift.

Hill’s originals shine as well. After an introspective opening statement, “The Comet” thunders out on the power of the pianist’s left hand (a hint of McCoy Tyner here), Carter’s intelligent bass work, and Royston’s percussive storm. It’s breathtaking music at any volume but, played very loud, might just bring down walls. The album closes with “Enchanted Forest” with both Carter and the pianist going “electric.” The bassist gets the first solo, showing a melodic side to his obvious impressive technique.  Hill approaches the electric piano in a different manner, somewhat quieter, and enjoying the sonic capabilities of the instrument. It’s a placid finish to an imposing program.

The interaction of the three musicians, the intelligent compositions, and knowing the strengths of the rhythm section, all that and more makes “Interstellar Adventures” worth listening to again and again.   Theo Hill is making the most of his many and varied collaborations and sideman gigs, maturing before our very ears.  Going to be exciting to see and hear how he continues to grow.

Turn it up and feel the power:

Step Tempest

Posted on

Dusted Magazine has high praise for “Central Line” by Art Hirahara

A pithy observation from American naturalist Ralph Waldo Emerson graces the cardboard gatefold of Central Line, pianist Art Hirahara’s third project for the Positone label: “The ancestor of every action is a thought.” The importance of ancestry in a more historical sense folds indelibly into not only Hirahara’s audibly observable actions, but also his carefully considered approach to his instrument whether rooted in his Japanese American heritage or the diaphanous jazz lineage of which he is a modest, but consequential part.

A former student of the Oberlin Conservatory of Music and California Institute of the Arts, Hirahara traded left coast for right and settled into the New York City jazz scene some thirteen years ago. Several of the myriad creative connections made over that time span are evident in his chosen cast of colleagues for the date. Bassist Linda Oh and drummer Rudy Royston complete the vibrant core trio with sought-after saxophonist Donny McCaslin guesting on four tracks. Hirahara handles composerly commitments on a dozen of the fourteen pieces for a set that clocks to just shy of an hour.

A brisk opening title piece for trio contrasts with a lush solo reading of the traditional Japanese folk tune “Kuroda Bushi”. Hirahara’s touch and placement on the latter is particularly ruminative and insular, making the warm and inviting chords that comprise “Astray” all the moreso by comparison. McCaslin’s verdant presence matches the delicately languorous contributions of the rhythm section in terms of palpable allure and once again the leader’s unwillingness to rush the proceedings pays off. “Little Giant” reveals another side of the tenor/piano accord with the pair taking the opening minutes to playfully joust before their peers join in the fun.

Measured pacing also flavors the incremental architecture of “Drawing with Light” as Hirahara’s gilded progression gains heft from Oh’s cloaking bass line and carefully placed accents from Royston’s corner. A solo interlude of gently cascading chords resets the compass to a rising ballad tempo tinged with emotional shadow. If there’s a single criticism to apportion it’s a slight one and apparent in the passages where Hirahara’s effusiveness threatens to spill over into sentimental excess as on the concluding interpretation of “Yuyake Koyake”. Fortunately, those moments are few and a fine equilibrium between restraint and emotion remains the norm. The ancestors of the innumerable actions ensconced on this disc are honored in full.

Derek Taylor – Dusted Magazine

Posted on

Midwest Record gives us a look at “Central Line” by Art Hirahara

mindset2Here’s a piano man bold enough to make a modern, mainstream date and doing it while surrounding himself with hell raisers like Donny McCaslin, Rudy Royston and Linda Oh.  Swinging easy but to the left, you won’t mistake this
for cocktail jazz but Hirahara could do a killer job on that form if he every chose to take the easy way out.  Piano fans take note, this is a date not to be missed. Hot stuff.

Posted on

Something Else shows it’s Gratitude for Tom Tallitsch’s latest release

mindset2Last spring tenor sax ace Tom Tallitsch put forth his seventh album Gratitude, comprising mostly of songs gestated during a particularly reflective time in his life, a roughly yearlong span during which he lost his father and became one himself. Tallitsch has never been known as someone who composed or played without earnest emotion, so the extra motivation put his personal investment this time on another level….  S. Victor Aaron – Something Else Reviews

Posted on

New York City Jazz Record gives a great review of “Gratitude” by Tom Tallitsch

mindset2Tenor saxophonist Tom Tallitsch is an Illinois-bred,
New Jersey-based bandleader and Gratitude is his
seventh album a leader. Tallitsch plays Straightahead
postbop, tossing a few Curve balls to keep things
interesting. He is Of the generation(s) Of players that
doesn’t rely on the Great American Songbook for
material (9 Of the 11 tracks herein are Originals) and he
dips into the rock world for inspiration.
The album opens with “Terrain”, a surging, modal
midtempo tune evoking ’70s McCoy Tyner. Tallitsch
has a notable tone—burly approach of Rollins,
flow of Dexter Gordon and cool of Lester Young, etc.—
but no one influence dominates in a fascinating blend
Of robustness and yearning. Drummer Rudy Royston
kicks up as much dust (and propulsion) as Art Blakey and Jon Davis’ piano is spare, slightly percussive (that
Tyner influence) and possessed of an easy lyricism, He and Tallitsch share a very measured approach. taking
an almost leisurely tack in constructing their solos. Fleetwood Mac’s “Gold Dust Woman” might not
seem the kind Of fare a jazz combo might tackle, but Tallitsch shows its majesty. The saxophonist invests
some elegant blues feeling into the proceedings while Davis, Royston and bassist Peter Brendler slyly add a
soul-jazz groove more implied than overt and guest Brian Charette deftly adds slightly gothic-sounding
organ. These lads close out the program with another seemingly unlikely tune, Led Zeppelin’s “Thank You”,
essayed with a gospel feel thanks to organ (especially) and Davis’ sparse, Slightly Thelonious Monk-like
Chords. Tallitsch gets to shine in a poignant manner without ever getting Cloying Or going Over the top.
Gratitude is an album that displays a rare and very engaging balance Of fervor and restraint, expressive
ace musicianship and terseness.

by Mark Keresman – New York City Jazz Record

Posted on

Step Tempest shows it’s own – “Gratitude” by Tom Tallitsch

mindset2From the opening seconds of the first track “Terrain”, it’s easy to understand why the new Tom Tallitsch CD, titled “Gratitude” (his 4th for PosiTone Records), is so enjoyable.  The music sounds like vintage John Coltrane, circa 1957, powerful yet accessible and played by a band that is on fire.  The tenor saxophonist surrounds himself with such great players including pianist Jon Davis, bassist Peter Brendler, and drummer Rudy Royston (organist Brian Charette shows up on 2 of the 11 cuts). My affection for the amazing work of Mr. Royston is no secret and the bassist, one of the more melodic and focussed musicians, is very impressive. Davis, who worked with bassist and composer Jaco Pastorius, is a two-fisted delight, supportive and adventurous.

Tallitsch provides his band with a number of strong vehicles, not only for his rich, blues-drenched, sax but also making sure to give everyone a chance to shine.  Listen to how Brendler and Royston drive “Refuge“, their acceleration pulling the sax and pain with them. As is his won’t, the leader does not overplay.  He tends to caress melodies instead of roaring through.  The group’s take on John Lennon’s “Because” starts slowly and sweetly, building during the saxophone solo and hitting its stride during Davis’s strong solo.  The bass counterpoint is also quite nice. Charrette shows up on the other 2 “covers”, “Gold Dust Woman” (by Stevie Nicks) and “Thank You“, one of the few slow tunes on “Led Zeppelin II” (composed by Robert Plant and Jimmy Page).  The folky quality of the original version can be felt on the latter track; with the addition of the organ, one hears the influence of The Band.  The tenor solo near the close of the tune hews closely to the melody and one can hear the gratitude from the lyrics.

Several of the cuts are really barn-burners.  Beside the CD opener, “Alternate Side” fires on all cylinders without overheating.  Tallitsch really digs into his solo, romping atop the active cymbal work and the fast-paced “walking” bass lines. A big dollop of funk is the basis for “Rust Belt” – Brendler’s thick foundation and Royston’s snappy snare work set the tone with the leader and pianist playing with great delight.  Turn it up and watch the speakers shake. More of that Coltrane/McCoy Tyner power enlivens “Oblivion“, the tension created by the rhythm section is thick but enjoyable.

The soulful sounds of the title track serve as a good reminder that the best music is about melody, rhythm, intelligent interplay, and emotion. Jon Davis’s splendid solo on “Gratitude” has so much soul as does the excellent bass work of Peter Brendler; when Tom Tallitsch enters, he plays with such ecstasy goosed on by the impeccable playing of Rudy Royston.  This music sounds so good – engineer Nick O’Toole has such a knack for capturing rhythm sections while not ignoring the front line – and it feels quite good as well. With “Gratitude“, Tom Tallitsch has, arguably, created the best recording of his career.  Keep them coming!

Step Tempest

Posted on

Midwest Record is pleased with “Gratitude” by Tom Tallitsch


Loaded with music borne of several personal situations that are life changing, Tallitsch finds his voice in a new place and takes his impressive past to a new level of the game.  With an up and coming murderer’s row of next gen jazz hitters behind him, this thoughtfully swinging set leaps off the disc and shows you just how much variety still lives in the spaces between the eight basic notes.  There is smoking jazz alive and well beyond the corporate world and this is a shining example of it.  Well done.

Posted on

Midwest Record chimes in on “Back East” by Doug Webb


Is the saxophonic bad boy simply playing with raging intensity or is he bringing the daddio in unabashed fine style? No matter, when you’ve been a pro for over 30 years and other pros have always called on you because they know you will not misfire with tape rolling, to maintain this kind of energy and drive gives you the right to call it whatever you want. With a crew that’s right in step behind him, this is sure to be one of those smoking jazzbo dates that gets handed down from generation to generation as an example of killer playing on the loose. Fine stuff throughout.

Posted on

“Back East” by Doug Webb gets Dusted

mindset2Doug Webb – Back East (Positone)

A germane quote from Herman Hesse graces the tray card of Back East, tenorist Doug Webb’s fourth album for the Positone imprint. The words codify the compass point not just as something concrete, but also as an intangible concept better suited to the province of the mind. Tenorist Doug Webb is steeped in the East Coast jazz vernacular of his instrument from Coltrane on down. That abiding and encyclopedic knowledge informs the date while also raising some provoking questions about the tenacity of tradition and how best to reconcile it with continued efforts at fresh artistic expression.

Webb’s crackerjack rhythm section is right in tune with his no-nonsense designs. Pianist Peter Zak practices a less-is-more economy, switching from sparse, but supportive, comping to porous, but brief, solos that rarely fail in cutting to the melodic quick. Bassist Ben Wolfe and drummer Rudy Royston lock regularly on a breathing groove, the former extracting elastic snaps on his down strokes while the latter stokes the beat with smoothly synched cymbal and snare activity and choicely situated fills. With these foundational bases covered Webb is free to fire off ripe tenor salvos at will as on the effusive title opener, an up-tempo sprint that gets the job done beautifully in three-minutes and change.

Next, the band downshifts to an ambrosial ballad “Sally’s Song” and it’s here where the album’s arguable predictability begins to take purchase. Webb’s waltzing improvisation dances across Zak’s gilded chords while Wolfe and Royston add embellishments from their respective stereo channels. Mid-tempo and lightly bluesy, “Spiral” shifts the mood again in expected fashion leading into “RDW Esq.” (a Webb relation?) which practically proclaims an Atlantic-era Coltrane influence in the leader’s burnished phrasing. Familiar features ensue, a Jobim tune, one from Mancini and tribute to another tenor titan answering to the surname Turrentine in “Stanley”. Mileage will vary as to what degree these familiar signposts and ingredients erode the album’s singularity, but the superlative playing by all four musicians largely resists and subverts comparable reproach.

Derek Taylor