Courage is the order of the times we live in, and these cats have it. Led by music educator and industry veteran Joe Pignato, the band composes while performing. There is a level of communication at play here that is both a lesson in music and a lesson in well, just being a human. Patience, mutual respect, and fierce collaboration is what the world needs, and Bright Dog Red are proving it possible simply by playing music together. In any great movement there is a great leader, and the best leaders know how to stay out of the way - another lesson that many of our political leaders would do well to understand. Pignato and Bright Dog Red released Means To The Ends this year, and we suspect the title is a subtle message to us all.
In keeping with today’s orchestral, cinematic theme, next up in the countdown is the 2018 release from composer David Cieri. His 2017 release - Notes From The Underscore - show his work on a variety of documentaries with Florentine Films. His previous work with Yusef Komunyakaa and Mike Brown captures the intersection of poetry and music just as if you were wandering by a downtown club and heard it live. This fall David returned with the soundtrack to the new documentary - The Mayo Clinic: Unity Of Forces. Here David composes for the unique film, with the great Bill Frisell on guitar. Cieri describes the project and the music:
‘This documentary is a 2 hour comprehensive dive into the history of a health care ideal as exemplified by The Mayo Clinic. The story traces the clinics origins - a pact - made by a visionary doctor named William Worel Mayo and the sisters of St Francis in Rochester Minnesota to set up a hospital which put the needs of the patient first. From this singular philosophy, a model of health care in the United States emerged with international influence and impact.
Talk surrounding our current health care crisis needs to step away from the divisive, un nuanced, and essentially useless binary modes of I’m right and your wrong. The Mayo Clinic model is actively shifting this conversation away from political gridlock and into the realms of discovery and earned possibility.
The music is striving to represent this ideal - historically and into the future - this perhaps is an uncommon story because it offers real hope and prescription rather than description of our ills which too often get inordinate attention. My intent was to bake the church pew and Wagner and Americana into the compositions. It’s the most moral music I’ve made to date. The sessions were challenging - it’s one thing to give the darkness due weight in music but it was another challenge altogether to make very positive gestures have real and earned gravity too. And the musicians! Listening back to Bill and Putnam dialoguing on a few of these cuts is to feel immense love and joy in being here to witness, to watch, to pry, to learn, to become something better than we have imagined.’ (David Cieri)
Brian Wolf and Tony Nozero are back; after a long recording hiatus the legendary Austin duo hit the studio with some friends adding percussion, flute, and guitar. While the lineup has expanded, the avant garde irreverence and focal point is in full effect. Triumph’s cover immediately reveals the posture; power to the people in this challenging time. Live samples weave in and out of rhythmic chants as the tuba marks the time with layers of swooping melody painting the scene. Triumph continues to intrigue and delight us, at once reminiscent of an old art film and a futuristic landscape. While the complexity might seem daunting, Triumph is suprisingly accessible.
Putting the Gritty in Infinity Gritty, label head Adam Ahuja cued up the second full length album from E Scott Lindner in September. Composed, recorded, mixed, and mastered in three days, Port Of Dreams is an adventure into a self-described style dubbed ‘Orchestral Psych’, featuring a string quartet, woodwinds, piano, drums, bass, synths, and more. Gathering in groups at Lindner’s Pinch Recording studio, ideas were conveyed, arrangements were developed on the spot, and recorded to two track. By the end of day three the album was complete, a spontaneous and collaborative creative endeavor that influenced all of the musicians in a powerful way simply by the challenge of making it.
The album is titled Dred Scott Rides Alone, and it is an accurate statement. Written during an artist residency at the Ucross foundation in rural Wyoming, dred returned to the studio and played all the instruments - drums, bass, and piano. The songs are reflective, comfortably lonely, and reminiscent of the pastoral West. The album marks an interesting change in scott’s style, as he settles into a downright positive mindset throughout. There is something indescribable in dred scott’s touch; just like hearing a trumpeter’s breath, you can feel the humanity in his fingertips and fully understand that the piano is simply an extension of his expression. We are thankful for this exquisite nod to humanity, finding comfort and hope with each listen.
We’ve been on the Jonathan Scales tip for some time now, and we have witnessed his truly remarkable ascendence in the music world. While he’s not the only one who has been a pioneer of the steel pan in a Jazz context, Jonathan persistently brings diverse and complex compositions to life while connecting with some of the top musicians of the day. His new album, Pillar, brings his path into full focus as he is joined by fierce young guns MonoNeon, Mason Guidry, and E’Lon Jordan Dunlap as well as seasoned greats Victor Wootten, Oteil Burbridge, Shaun Martin, Weedie Braimah, Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah, Jeff Coffin, and his hero Bela Fleck. The presence of these great musicians speaks volumes about the man and his music. This is history in the making, all brought together by a vision, a mission, and a whole lot of hard work. Dig in here for the podcast that explains it all.
Tony Adamo is a character - he’s been a rock drummer, a billboard guy, a TV set tech - but his true calling hit him while hanging with Mic Gillette and Skip Mesquite from Tower Of Power and mixing it up with drummer Mike Clark. Tony creates spoken word pieces, writing them out before recording, and then out comes a completely different riff as he hits the mic. he speaks of the greats, of a time past for most but still vibrant for some. His tone evokes a feeling of freewheeling abandon, of true independence as his band cooks with gas. His 2018 release, Was Out Jazz Zone Mad feature Mike Clark in peak form with special guest Roger Smith. The album is funky, and Tony’s poetry references not just the Jazz greats but the lyrical blues tradition.
When a band that records from different locations finally gets the chance to be in the same physical space at the same time, something extraordinary is bound to happen. Light Blue Movers found themselves in that situation in Los Angeles last year and hit the studio; no songs, no charts, just common experiences after a challenging year and a desire to document the feeling. The result is Teleological Devolution (The Venice Sessions Pt. 1), a solemn reflection on the times we live in and the common desire to find, to make something beautiful to provide sustenance for all. Deron Johnson, Jonatan Levy, Gabe Gordon, and Adrian Harpham are serious cats, and Light Blue Movers is the common vehicle.
Three cats with a deep sense of purpose, serious chops, and a desire to mix it up live - that’s Yak Attack. Staples on the PDX scene, Dave Dernovsek, Rowan Cobb, and Nick Werth take their Classical and Jazz backgrounds and flip the whole thing into a live looping session with real instrumentation. Their 2018 release Safety Third is a hugely addictive, groove based excursion into the late hours. These are the days when electronic music comes of age and sheds its futuristic stereotype, becoming a unique form of expression that fits into any mix. Yak Attack, please lead the way!
We always love when the music comes home to Philly, and this time its a solid hometown banger. Ill Doots transcends the term collective in an open source, dynamic community of artists, educators, and musicians. They are from many places, assembled in the great city of Philadelphia, with a shared emphasis on the value of the process rather than the product. With an open flow like this, it is natural that the output takes varied forms. If we had to define it, we’d call it conscious and soulful Hip-Hop. Their self titled LP was praised by many, with the great curators over at WYEP adding it to their top albums of 2018 at # 3. Well played all around.
We’ve watched Jim Stephens path over the last few years, and his steadfast commitment to the roots of music are clear. His first two albums prepared us for this moment - Songs Of Healing: Philassippiola Soul is the definitive Jim Stephens experience. The album brings Stephens full vision into view, with classics like Down By The Riverside and Baby Please Don’t Go interspersed with his soulful gospel-tinged compositions. The process is one of inclusion, with a solid cast of stellar and inspiring musicians from Chuck Treece (Bad Brains) Doug Grisby (Teena Marie, Michael Jackson), Lucky Thompson (Nina Simone) Stan Davis (Teena Marie, Lauren Hill), Pablo Batista (Phyllis Hyman, Eddie Palmieri), BoyWonder, and introducing Ja-Tun Thomas and others contributing their unique styles in the arranging and recording process.
DB3 is the brainchild of guitarist and bassist David Bailis, who after touring internationally with renowned artists for many years including the Pimps of Joytime and John Forte of the Fugees, started his own trio in 2017. What started as a residency in NYC has become an exciting creative outlet for Bailis; his debut album Firebrand was released via Infinity Gritty in July 2018. Bailis’s skilled guitar playing and diverse sonic background shine through in his live shows with influences ranging from jazz, afrobeat, funk and rock. His adventurous compositions and the band’s synergy take listeners on a memorable ride.
Eddie Palmieri’s influence on the world of modern music is often celebrated, but just as often underestimated. As he completes his 82nd year with us, his energy and commitment seem to be increasing, as if to fully emphasize the power of not just the music but also the cross-cultural importance of the process. With no sign of slowing, Mr. Palmieri is the elder of a global culture of musicians, actively teaching young students and leading the way for the next generation.
2017 marked the release of Sabiduria, a Latin Jazz masterwork featuring Donald Harrison Jr, Marcus Miller, Alfredo de la Fe, Joe Locke, Johnny Rivero, Ronnie Cuber, and David Spinnoza alongside Mr. Palmieri’s core band of established elders and young guns.
In 2018 Mr. Palmieri returned to his roots in different ways; the summer release of his Salsa classics album Full Circle stunned players and students alike with finely tuned renditions of songs that Mr. Palmieri recorded in the past. The project was also released on the PalmieriSalsaJams App, the world’s first interactive Salsa music app on Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah’s Stretch Music App platform. The App allows students to manipulate and 'remix' all of the tracks, as a practice tool and as an interactive way to understand the arrangements.
To further emphasize this extremely prolific time in his life, Eddie Palmieri delivers yet another Salsa classic album - Mi Luz Mayor, set for release in December 2018. A tribute to his late wife, Iraida, Mi Luz Mayor revisits Salsa classics that the pair enjoyed in their youth. From the timeless Azúcar to a searing arrangement and performance of Mi Congo featuring Carlos Santana, the album sets the listener contextually in the era of the great ballrooms with modern performance and production.
Some legends become just that; but Mr. Eddie Palmieri is clearly on a mission for perfection in this time.
Yes, Shaun Martin has a natural gift that has been evident since he began playing drums in church at the age of 4. Yes, his mother had the vision to arrange piano instruction from Carolyn Campbell and guide him on his path. Yes, he has several Grammys from his work with Kirk Franklin and the gospel powerhouse God’s Property and yes, he has several more Grammys that crown his years with jazz fusion phenomenon Snarky Puppy. But you will not find this information in discussion with this gently powerful man because he wears none of this on his sleeve.
Shaun Martin has been playing, creating, and collaborating for most of his life, yet his contributions go much further than just playing. When you move through the projects that Shaun has been a part of you can feel his style and influence; you can sense his presence throughout the compositions. Shaun’s willingness and ability to be a subtle part of each band has allowed him to be part of the very foundation.
After the acclaimed release of Shaun Martin’s debut - Seven Summers - Martin returns to the studio for a simpler project - A Jazz Trio recording entitled Focus, with frequent collaborators AJ Brown and Jamil Byron, with special guests Keith Taylor and Robert ’Sput’ Searight.
'i wanted to sit down and fall back in love with the piano - to dance with the one that brought you.' - shaun martin
The trio format lends plenty of inspiration for Shaun, he counts Bill Evans, Oscar Peterson, Keith Jarrett, and Gary Peacock as influences and standards for the trio vibe, with the magnetic interplay between the instruments as the foundation. Yet as always, Shaun Martin makes the trio his own, comfortably expressing himself as though he is in fact dancing with the one that brought him. A couple of standards from Joe Henderson and Billie Holiday set the frame, with five original compositions that bring the story into Focus, and the interplay between these lifelong friends is indeed magnetic and seemingly effortless.
Just when we thought things were about to slow down, we got the call from the great Russell Gunn. Mysterious yet seemingly present at all the important moments in history, Gunn grew up in the Jazz world but kept his love of Hip-Hop right up front. He’d show up al Lincoln Center to play with Wynton, sans the suit and tie with Hip-Hop swagger. He speaks highly of the historic tradition of Jazz, referencing Charlie Parker as a piece of the foundation, while charting his own way forward. His latest is The Royal Krunk Jazz Orkestra , a natural mashup of the traditional Jazz Big Band, with Rhythm & Blues and Southern Hip-Hop sensibility. The band played live weekly for over a year, with Gunn providing the vision and inspiration for the band to embrace and follow willingly. Once the natural language was fully mature, they headed into the studio to record Get It How You Live, a powerful album with guest features from Theo Croker and Dionne Farris.
‘Get It How You Live is about explaining yourself in an honest way – when you open your mouth it has to be genuine’ (Russell Gunn)
The Ropeadope mission is to connect people - musicians, fans, and tastemakers worldwide, so it was a great pleasure to see two kindred souls connect for the first time in the 2018 release Wood/Water. Aaron Dolton of HUW took the solo piano works of Richard X Bennett and sought to create something that transmitted the essence of Bennett’s work in a new way. The result is deep yet transcendent; Bennett’s recordings came from a place of introspection, which Dolton intuitively understood and extended through sampling and modular synthesis into new sound. The final recordings end up carrying the essence of both artists, and by extension the the beauty and sadness of this thing called life.
We’ve heard from the great Phil Lassiter before, with two of his projects appearing on the fledgling GroundUp label when it began here at Ropeadope. Phil grew up in the pentecostal tradition in Mobile Alabama; his father was a preacher so Phil was exposed to Gospel and Jazz music and musicians as his own path on piano began. Finding his way to Dallas Texas, Phil hung with the cats - Bernard Wright, Bobby Sparks, Keith Anderson, and Jason Thomas - and developed his trumpet playing as well as major arranging talents. As luck (or should we say hard work) would have it, Phil went on to arrange horns for the late great Prince Rogers Nelson, further establishing himself as a force in the game.
In 2018 Phil’s love of funk and soul led him to a pairing with vocalist Elliott Yamin, and together they made one of the most fun (and funky) records of the year. Party Crashers sets the one from note 1, so it’s easy to categorize it as a party album, but further careful listens bring out soulful ballads like Our Love Is Gold , highlighting both the depth of Yamin’s voice and understanding of the root, and Lassiter’s lush arrangements. So, we’re saying to play it again and again for maximum enjoyment.
Introduced to us through the renegade, yet pedigreed, cat from (U)nity - Axel Tosca and Amaury Acosta, Javier Santiago is a pianist from Minneapolis was selected by the great Dave Brubeck and a panel of judges to study music at the Brubeck Institute in Stockton, CA - where he studied with some of the greatest musicians in the world such as Christian McBride, Robert Glasper, Nicholas Payton and Joshua Redman. While it is a challenge to be noticed in the digital age, Santiago’s debut album, Phoenix, caught the eyes and ears of many, including being named the top Jazz album of 2018 on the curator’s site Vinyl Me Please.
"It's really too bad that Javier Santiago didn't have a music career in the '70s. He would have filled theaters in every major city with a band like this.” — PopMatters
Phoenix features some badass musicians - Dayna Stephens, Nir Felder, Nicholas Payton, Corey Fonville, Zach Brown, J Hoard and more as Javier takes his place in the vanguard of progressive Jaz players who are reinvigorating the genre with sheer will and fearless creativity.
Once upon a time we released an album of irish traditional music mixed with Jazz; the band was Notify, led by composer and esteemed concertina virtuoso Padraig Rynne. The album revealed an adventurous mind, so it was no surprise when Padraig introduced us to another well known and accomplished musician from Ireland. Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh is an award-winning traditional singer and musician from Corca Dhuibhne, West Kerry. A leading exponent of the traditional sean nós style, her repertoire also includes songs from a wide variety of folk and contemporary sources. Together Padraig and Muireann are known as Aeons, a vehicle to experiment with traditional Irish music in a progressive setting. The vocals are sublime, the mood is haunting and beautiful, as if one were flying over the countryside in a retro-futuristic dream. Layers of sound drift in and out of the mix, marking time as if to introduce new scenes and characters. Put this one one when you are alone, and fly away.
After his solo project Free As The Birds , Jay Phelps returned this year with a duo album under the moniker NBOC (Newborn Outcry). The project developed as Phelps and trombonist Courtney Brown (AKA Neeyz) hit the studio to experiment with their common passions of electronic music and Hip-Hop. Using many elements of both genres, the pair kept a sensibility of Jazz and world music as they created a distinct sound. You can feel the edgy desire to make something new, to assemble their unique and their common experiences in music into a cohesive statement.