Jazz music, news and views

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Richie Barshay: Homework

Percussionist Richie Barshay has a lot of experience for his 23 years -- and a lot of different colors on his sonic palette. He's a funky trap drummer and fluent all-around percussionist, employing tabla, cajon, congas, bells, etc. into his performances with a handful of diverse talents. He's worked with vocalist Sofia Koutsovitis, the Klezmatics, and an Afro-Caribbean group sponsored by the US State Department called Insight. He joined Herbie Hancock back in 2003. Secret Society ringleader Darcy James Argue has also called on Barshay, having met the young drummer as a teenager. Recently, he's been tapped for Kenny Werner's European tour. Barshay was 21 when he recorded his debut Homework, and it fulfills every bit of promise a young player could show.

In a press release, Barshay notes that Homework is not so much a jazz date with Indian influences as the other way around: "Instead of using the mother tongue of jazz as the foundation, we're putting the foreign influence first." And the songs aren't mere vehicles for blowing but pieces of a well-crafted aesthetic. One of the music's most important characteristics is rhythmic structure:
These songs are odd meter-infused pieces but they are very long rhythmic cycles, not just 'Let's play a tune in five or seven.' It was more, 'Let's take this composition that lasts 32 or 64 beats and you have a bar of four, a bar of five or seven within it… Most of these rhythms take a very long time for the cycle to come around, and they serve a bigger picture. That is the Indian influence, and it's predominant on the record.
This quote probably only means something to musicians, but it's definitely meaningful to the music. On "Peacock," Barshay's approach is detectable even before he begins speaking the syllables that accompany Indian drumming, and he gives a similar treatment to the sax-tabla duet version of Monk's "Trinkle Tinkle." The rhythmic pattern (tukra) is the foundation for their improvisations.

"Return Voyage" sounds a bit more overtly exotic with Josh Feinberg's sitar and the leader's tabla, but Daniel Blake's gentle, husky tenor suits the piece just as well. He's also pure-toned and flexible on his soprano features. The eerie, airy minor-key "Clouds" is a high point for Blake's dexterous, fluttery tenor and Herbie as well, who plays on several tracks throughout. He also lends some Headhunters-era keyboard presence on the album's title cut along with a typically lyrical, thoughtful piano solo. And in case anyone thinks young players are too eclectic to swing, "The Last Gasp" should put that notion to rest. Bassist Jorge Roeder and Barshay have a spirited conversation, and the leader's fiery dialogue with Blake shows some clear chemistry.

And for the drum purist/enthusiast, there's a seven-minute bonus track of a live 2005 drum solo. Barshay himself, though, is proudly not a purist. His setup has the standard pieces as well as Indian drums and percussion -- perhaps an apt metaphor for his overall concept. He draws influences from a number of musical worlds and marries them in new ways with creativity, virtuosity and great taste.

Homework (Ayva)
Richie Barshay (drums, percussion)
Aoife O'Donovan (vocals)
Daniel Blake (soprano sax, tenor sax)
Michael Winograd (clarinet)
Josh Feinberg (sitar)
Carmen Staaf (accordion)
Herbie Hancock (piano, keyboards)
Jorge Roeder (bass)
Reinaldo de Jesus (percussion)

The World (great interview focusing on his tabla background)
YouTube (some jam session footage and cajon work with Sofia Koutsovitis)

D:O Loves the '90s!

Apologies yet again for the unannounced hiatus. A trip to Walla Walla, Washington and project deadline (which I'll draw more attention to when we have a more functional website and presence) sidelined my posting. But recently, Destination: Out reached out to their friends, writers, critics, bloggers and other jazz minds for their top ten albums from the 1990s. They graciously printed my picks, complete with my fatuous annotations. My list is definitely a bit narrow -- and is definitely "American-centric" as they suggest. I suppose my tastes have always leaned that way.

Check out all the lists to influence your album purchases for the next year. Some familiar names of ears we trust include Etnobofin, Soundslope, Steve Smith, Gary Giddins and Nate Chinen. Also see the musicians' picks from Darcy James Argue, Taylor Ho Bynum and Vijay Iyer. Make new friends! And drop by D:O often.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

A Few Distractions

- One of my fave new organist-keyboardists, Sam Yahel, will be releasing a new disc in June. Joshua Redman and Brian Blade (from the Elastic Band and Yaya3) join forces with Yahel again for Truth and Beauty, but there's a cast change for Yahel's East Coast tour (guitarist Peter Bernstein and drummer Gregory Hutchinson) as they open for... Steely Dan. Info here. The Elastic Band with Blade is a well-oiled groove machine, but after seeing them with Hutchinson in the drum chair last year, I have to say Yahel's chemistry with him is just as thrilling.

- Daniel Melnick of Soundslope lays out some keen points on Ornette's recent Pulitzer and some arguments put forth by Terry Teachout and Frank Oteri. The comments there (Ornette's visibility, the jazz award "bandwagon") are definitely food for thought. Also see his guest post on Malachi Favors at Destination: Out.

- The soulful Funky16Corners gives us some fabulous Philly sounds.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Now Playing (05.05.07)

Kenny Barron: Live at Bradley's
Brian Blade: Perceptual
Wayne Escoffery: Veneration
Robert Glasper: In My Element
Aaron Goldberg: Unfolding
Andrew Hill: Judgment!
Ahmad Jamal: The Awakening
Frank LoCrasto: When You're There
Gary McFarland Orchestra: Special Guest Soloist: Bill Evans
Sam Rivers: Fuchsia Swing Song
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