Wadada Leo Smith / Vijay Iyer Duo

Tuesday, September 27, 2016 8:30pm

General admission: $15; Five College, GCC, and 17 & Under: $7

Seventy-five year old trumpeter and composer Wadada Leo Smith is one of the most influential musicians of our time. Pianist Vijay Iyer describes Smith as his “hero, friend and teacher.” Iyer, a professor in the Department of Music at Harvard University, was named DownBeat Magazine’s 2015 Artist of the Year and 2014 Pianist of the Year. Iyer has played extensively in Smith’s Golden Quartet, but 2016’s A Cosmic Rhythm with Each Stroke is the first documentation of their duo work.

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Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs

Saturday, September 24 at 8:00p.m., Fine Arts Center Concert Hall

$75, $70, $30; Five College Student and Youth 17 and Under: $30, $25, $20; Five College Faculty & Staff: Please call the Box Office

Actor, singer, author and activist Alan Cumming brings his smash hit stage show, Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs, to the Fine Arts Center. An iconic performer on stage and screen, Cumming played Eli Gold on CBS’s The Good Wife, stole the show as the Tony Award-winning Emcee in Cabaret, and currently hosts PBS’s Masterpiece Mystery. Backed by a duo of musicians, he’ll perform his favorite covers along with some pretty amazing stories. Join us in the lobby at 6:30 p.m. for our opening party with desserts and cash bar.

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Allison Miller Wows SRO Crowd at IMA

by Glenn Siegel

Allison Miller’s Boom Tic Boom, expanded to a sextet for a six-week tour, stopped at June Millington and Ann Hackler’s magical oasis known as the Institute for the Musical Arts in Goshen for a transcendent Mother’s Day evening of music. It was a Jazz Shares joint.

The material, all written and wonderfully introduced by Miller during the concert, had a pop music knack for simple declarative melody. Her heads became stuck in our heads. It occurred to me that Boom Tic Boom shares that quality with Chris Lightcap’s Bigmouth, who wowed us last month in Greenfield. After both shows, a number of folks who do not listen to a lot of jazz told me how much they enjoyed both bands, and bought the record. Of course, both bands employ the music’s best improvisers, who imbue the written material with the mystery that comes from mastery.

Miller has long had a foot in what we call the music industry. Years of essential service with Ani DiFranco, Natalie Merchant, Brandi Carlile, Toshi Reagon, the Meredith Vieira Show and Late Night with Seth Meyers, have given her a good idea of best practices. She has a professional tour manager, and a real tour. These things are rare in the jazz world I inhabit. It’s cool. It’s the difference between selling CDs and having a merch table. There was flair everywhere: in Miller’s look, in the ease of engagement with the standing room only audience, in the music.

What an evening of music. The musicianship was through the barn’s roof. Kirk Knuffke, cornet, Ben Goldberg, clarinet and the exotic, serpentine contra alto clarinet, Jenny Scheinman, violin, Myra Melford, piano, Todd Sickafoose, bass and the leader on drums, formed a formidable ensemble. At this point in the tour (21 down, 3 to go), they were a well-oiled machine, down with the material and in sync. They drew from their new record, Otis Was a Polar Bear (Royal Potato Family.)

That Miller was at IMA, one of the premier women centered spaces in western Massachusetts, with her partner Rachel and their almost two year old daughter, Josie, on Mother’s Day, felt right. The band dinner, lovingly prepared by Priscilla Page, (“our first home cooked meal on the tour,” Miller told the assembled), left us satisfied and in a happy frame of mind. The energy in the room was high, and the band responded.

Half the band stayed over night in Goshen, half at our place. After Myra went to bed, Priscilla and I sipped our way into the wee hours with Ben and Kirk. Ben told us that the person who first put a clarinet in his hand was Willie Hill, who taught in the Denver public schools in the late 1960’s and 1970s. Goldberg called him the most influential person in his musical life. (Ben also mentioned a thrown music stand, and Hill’s insistence on learning to read music.) Dr. Hill, now Director of the UMass Fine Arts Center, was in attendance, making Ben more than a little nervous before the gig.

Knuffke, 20 years Ben’s junior, is also from Colorado and moved to Denver as a 20 year old. They did not meet in Colorado, but have become fast musical friends. Kirk also had a demanding and pivotal public school music teacher, Mike Smith from Ft. Collins High School, who yelled at him to improve until his senior year, when he would call him into his office and hand him records like John Zorn’s Naked City and Henry Threadgill’s Where’s Your Cup. Knuffke also told an amazing story about Denver guru Ron Miles. If you are a promising trumpeter in the Denver area, you study with Ron Miles (who has long associations with Myra Melford and Bill Frissell.) After it became clear that the limitations of his instrument was holding him back, Miles gave Knuffke his $14,000, custom-made Monette cornet, on condition that he play it and not have it collect dust. He’s used it non-stop since.

Thanks to Ann and June, who cut short a trip to Hawaii, for hosting. The great vibe and rustic charm of IMA, combined with the superb musicianship in egoless service of dynamic compositions, made for a special evening of music and fellowship.









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Jane Ira Bloom Enters Emily’s World

by Glenn Siegel

To paraphrase Emily Dickinson, on Wednesday and Thursday I tasted life. It was a vast morsel. It wasn’t the circus that rolled past, it was Jane Ira Bloom and her ensemble that came to Amherst to interact with the enduring legacy of the great poet. Bloom, the remarkable soprano saxophonist and composer, was at the center of three events culminating in the April 28th world premiere of Wild Lines: Jane Ira Bloom Plays Emily Dickinson, performed at Bezanson Recital Hall at UMass. It was the concluding concert of this year’s Magic Triangle Jazz Series, produced by the Fine Arts Center.

The day before Thursday’s spellbinding performance, Bloom, actor Deborah Rush and pianist Dawn Clement spent the afternoon at the Dickinson Museum and Homestead, soaking in the spirit of the Belle of Amherst. Along with Bloom’s husband, the celebrated actor and director Joe Grifasi (The Deer Hunter, Ironweed, The Bronx is Burning) and Rush’s husband Chip Cronkite, a videographer of note, our entourage was given an exclusive tour by Executive Director Jane Wald. A lovely reception was followed by a short musical performance in The Evergreens, Austin Dickinson’s home. With Clement playing the family piano, Bloom on saxophone and Rush speaking Emily’s words, 35 invited guests were transported on this “bright Wednesday afternoon.” It was clear Bloom and company understood the profound poetics of visiting and performing in Emily’s space.

The next morning at Amherst Media, Bloom, Rush and Wald joined me for an engaging conversation about Dickinson and her deep effect on generations of readers. The discussion will be available on channel 12 in Amherst and on line, at amherstmedia.org. Bloom’s aha! moment concerning the poet came during a New York Public Library presentation by scholar George Boziwick, Chief of the Music Division of the Library’s Performing Arts branch, who was at the UMass concert. When Bloom learned Dickinson liked to make things up on the piano, it confirmed for her the felt improvisatory nature of Dickinson’s poetry and started her to writing Wild Lines.

A Chamber Music America New Works grant allowed Bloom to bring Clement from Seattle, where she teaches along side Tom Varner and Wayne Horvitz at Cornish College of the Arts, and hire Rush, whose extensive credits include Broadway productions of Noel Coward and Wendy Wasserstein, films of John Schlesinger, Woody Allen and Sidney Lumet, and the TV shows The Good Wife, Law and Order and Orange is the New Black.

Grifasi, an extremely affable and focused guy, “directed” the concert, setting up the stage with a hanging lace curtain, much like the one that hung on Dickinson’s famous window. On the opposite side of the stage were a vintage table, rug, hurricane lamp and chair. Rush, dressed in a flowing white dress much like the one Emily often wore, moved through the space, even sitting at the piano next to Clement. Rush was such a professional, so convincing with every gesture, expression and utterance. That professionalism was tested when the lavalier mic she wore came loose about half way through the program. While behind the curtain, she discreetly removed it from her dress and held the unit in her hand the rest of the way.

The pace of the 80-minute performance was brilliant, with just the right amount of words and music. Having long-time collaborators Mark Helias on bass and Bobby Previte on drums must have been of enormous comfort to the composer. Not only blessed with rock solid time and temperament, both are extremely compelling soloists and possess gorgeous tone variety on their instruments.

Jane Ira Bloom is one of the top saxophonists in jazz and the premiere soprano saxophonist of our time. Constantly moving as she played, making large arcs with her instrument to provide dynamic range, her vitality on stage was a thing to behold. The writing was gorgeous, full of slowly spooling, deeply grooved lines.

As if there was not enough star power in the room, Meryl Streep was in the house. A friend of Bloom and Grifasi from their days at Yale University, Streep made the trip from her home in Salisbury, Connecticut. While news of her siting prompted about 30 young people to congregate outside the Hall, my partner Priscilla Page was as impressed with the presence of Anne Catteneo, dramaturg at the Lincoln Center Theater and an authority in the field. I was equally excited to meet Steve Elman, the veteran WBUR jazz host, who in the late 1970s, gave me my first taste of what jazz really sounded like.

Wild Lines will next be performed at The Kennedy Center in October and then at the NY Library’s Lincoln Center space. We were thrilled that the premiere of this work took place in Amherst and that we could play a role in making it happen.

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Jane Ira Bloom Quartet

Thursday, April 28 at 8 p.m., Bezanson Recital Hall
General Admission: $12; $7 students

Soprano saxophonist/composer Jane Ira Bloom has been developing her unique voice on the soprano saxophone for over 30 years. She is a pioneer in the use of live electronics and movement in jazz, as well as the possessor of “one of the most gorgeous tones and hauntingly lyrical ballad conceptions of any soprano saxophonist,” writes Pulse. Bill Milkowski has called her “A true jazz original…a restlessly creative spirit and a modern day role model for any aspiring musician who dares to follow his or her own vision.”

William Parker




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Bigmouth Spotted in Greenfield

by Glenn Siegel

How does music reach people? I’ve been asking myself that question since Chris Lightcap and his quintet, Bigmouth, connected with 100 people at the Arts Block in Greenfield on Thursday. It was the ninth concert in Pioneer Valley Jazz Shares’ fourth season.

Playing music from their two most recent Clean Feed releases, Deluxe (2010) and Epicenter (2015), the band had the rapt attention of all present. The audience reaction, which included lots of yelps, applause, unsolicited clapping (in clave) and a standing ovation, was one indication of approval. Post-show reaction and CD sales provided other gauges of success.

What was it about the music that so captivated us? The high level of musicianship was certainly one factor. All four sidemen are potent improvisers, first-call veterans who also compose and lead ensembles. The band: Tony Malaby and Chris Cheek, tenor saxophones, Craig Taborn, keyboards, Gerald Cleaver, drums, and the leader on bass, has developed an uncanny rapport after more than six years together. Their familiarity with the material helped and Lightcap’s repartee with the audience was relaxed and unforced.

But lots of the ensembles we present meet those criteria. What made this concert so memorable was the material. With the exception of the encore, Lou Reed’s All Tomorrow’s Parties, the compositions were penned by Lightcap. Though varied, the pieces all featured strong melodies, hooks that enabled us to follow and anticipate the contours of each song. Sometimes the melody was full blown; other times it was merely a repeated phrase or motif. The pieces were often anthemic and had this bursting quality, a full flowering that had a spiritual dimension. On more than one occasion I had the sensation of flying and felt a sense of becoming.

Another secret to their success was a kind of pop sensibility that is irresistible when stretched so creatively. It was interesting to note how closely the live performance adhered to the recording.

The two tenors interacted in delicious ways, finishing each other’s thoughts, twining around the compositional pole, engaged in harmony, sweet and tart. The sturdiness of each song allowed the soloists to stretch without having to worry about breaking the song structure. In fact, Malaby, who was masterful throughout, got the loudest reactions as he rose through the stratosphere.

The 46-year old Taborn is a modern master, regarded as one of the top pianists in jazz. His work on both acoustic piano and Rhodes provided color and rhythmic propulsion throughout the 80-minute performance. My one regret was the lack of solo space for drummer Gerald Cleaver, who has powered many of the best small groups of the past 15 years. His only solo turn was a brief foray with keyboard ostinato during the encore.

The band had performed the night before at Williams College, Lightcap’s alma mater. He told us that as an undergrad his mentor, Andy Jaffe (who was in attendance), took a van full of students to the very first Magic Triangle Series concert at UMass in 1990 featuring Steve Turre, Bob Stewart, Mulgrew Miller and returned two years later to see Ed Blackwell with Dewey Redman and Cameron Brown. Those early jazz experiences had a major impact on the young bassist.

Lightcap has absorbed the history and is giving us his version of the story, doing what the greats do.

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Allos Musica Brings the World to Hampshire College

by Glenn Siegel

Between the shruti box, the harmonium, the accordion and circular breathing through the clarinet, James Falzone’s Allos Musica Ensemble had the drone down. Their concert, produced by Pioneer Valley Jazz Shares, filled Hampshire College’s Music Recital Hall with deep resonance on Thursday. On the shruti box travel case was the sticker “Drone Not Drones.” I liked that.

The shruti box, a small, bellowed drone instrument, is usually played with hands Falzone explained to Jason Robinson’s Amherst College students the next day, but since he needs both to play the clarinet, he conceived and commissioned someone to fashion a bike lock and foot pedal into a system that allows him to play it with his foot.

The 75-minute concert, attended by about 50, was super sonorous, filled with material from the Ensemble’s brand new recording, Gnossienne (on Falzone’s Allos Documents imprint.) The quartet performed three of Erik Satie’s Gnossienne, a series of traditional dance melodies from Brittany (far-west France, where Celtic influence is strong), music from the Balkans, West Africa and the Middle East, and originals by Falzone. The music, like Falzone’s lovely composition, A Shadow for Thomas Merton, is clearly derived from specific musical traditions that have been mixed into a wonderfully complex casserole of distinct yet fully blended sound.

The extraordinary percussionist Tim Mulvenna, whose ‘kit’ included djembe, talking drum, (West Africa), bodhrán (Ireland), riq (Middle East), bendir (North Africa), bells and cymbals, approaches these traditional drums his own way. He has rigged snares on his bendir and he plays the instruments unconventionally. All evening I marveled at the pianistic dexterity of his fingers, and other unconventional ways Mulvenna made contact with his drums. Once you have the tradition under your fingers, you are free to serve the music in creative ways.

Ronnie Malley, who grew up playing the considerable store of percussion instruments in his home before moving to electric guitar and finally the oud, shared his belief that all music instruction should begin with rhythm. I love this idea; it’s true there can be no great music without rhythmic surety. Malley’s performance on oud and vocals had a deep and melodious charisma about it.

Accordionist Jeremiah McLane lives in Sutton, Vermont, the only member of the band not from Chicago. His New England roots extend into extensive study of Celtic and French music (where he met Falzone) and of course the accordion itself. McLane told stories of dealing by Skype with a master Italian craftsman who was making an instrument for him, without benefit of a shared language. When the conversation turned to Myron Floren, the legendary accordionist of the Lawrence Welk Show, Mulvenna said that he toured with Floren as a teenager. Then in his seventies, Floren would dust the youngsters by playing at impossible tempos. The accordion, which McLane reminded us, is a wind instrument, joined naturally in the family of sustained sound.

Falzone exists easily in multiple musical worlds. Last year he visited with the Renga Ensemble, his new music clarinet sextet. Allos Musica had a very different sound and effect. Falzone is actively involved with liturgical music, jazz, contemporary classical, pure improvisation and folk music from many places, and works often with artists from other disciplines. He blurs, smudges, uses sfumato to make distinct elements meld into one arresting body of work.

“Allos means ‘otherly’”, Falzone writes in the liner notes, “and the ensemble which bears its name has always been a medium through which I synthesize and amalgamate seemingly disparate musical worlds.”

The band’s deep study of traditional practice, combined with its crazy level of musicianship and erudition, meant that we got to have a true multicultural experience at Hampshire College. Thanks to Professor Marty Ehrlich (a long-time hero of Falzone’s) for making it happen.

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Tuesday, April 12 and Wednesday, April 13 at 7:30p.m., Fine Arts Center Concert Hall
$50, $45, $15; Five College, GCC and 17 & under $30, $20, $15

STOMP is explosive, provocative, sophisticated, sexy, utterly unique and appeals to audiences of all ages. The international percussion sensation has garnered an armful of awards and rave reviews, and has appeared on numerous national television shows. The eight-member troupe uses everything but conventional percussion instruments – matchboxes, wooden poles, brooms, garbage cans, Zippo lighters, hubcaps – to fill the stage with magnificent rhythms. The return of the percussive hit also brings some new surprises, with some sections of the show now updated and restructured and the addition of two new full-scale routines, utilizing props like tractor tire inner tubes and paint cans. As USA Today says, “STOMP finds beautiful noises in the strangest places.” STOMP. See what all the noise is about.


Artist Website

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Maria Schneider Orchestra

Saturday, April 9 at 8 p.m., Fine Arts Center Concert Hall, Chamber Seating
General Admission: $12; $7 students

A big-band group led by composer-pianist Maria Schneider blends the freedom of jazz and the structure of classical music. Schneider has garnered nine Grammy nominations and two Grammy wins, and her music has been hailed by critics as “evocative, majestic, magical, heart-stoppingly gorgeous, and beyond categorization.” Since 1994 Schneider has honed her compositions and conducting to highlight the uniquely creative voices of the group, made up of many of the finest musicians in jazz today.

William Parker

Artist website


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Magic Triangle Jazz Series hosts Hafez Modirzadeh and Bobby Bradford Quartet

by Glenn Siegel

The spirit of Ornette Coleman and Ed Blackwell was in the air throughout Hafez Modirzadeh and Bobby Bradford’s two-day Amherst residency. Their visit culminated with a Magic Triangle Series concert on Thursday, where tenor saxophonist Modirzadeh, cornetist Bradford, along with bassist Ken Filiano and drummer royal hartigan, transfixed 100 people in Bezanson Recital Hall with a transcendent 80 minute performance. Bradford, the 81-year old Los Angeles-based patriarch, was a dear friend and musical colleague of Ornette and Blackwell. Modirzadeh spent lots of quality time with Ornette, picking his brain and getting valuable feedback from the alto master. hartigan studied extensively with Blackwell at Wesleyan University.

So there was reverence for Ornette’s indomitable spirit and wonder at the elliptical nature of his thinking, and stories about the time he left his horn at an Italian airport with $50,000 dollars stuffed into the bell (returned safely), and the time Ornette followed someone’s smoking sax solo during a cutting contest by playing his horn with his right hand in his pocket.

The concepts of spirit and reverence were omnipresent during the visit, which also included a well-received class visit and concert at Amherst College, sponsored by Professor Jason Robinson.

During the Magic Triangle concert, hartigan, a 1981 UMass graduate, paid tribute to one of his mentors, Fred Tillis, with a touching speech. Dr. Tillis, responsible for much of the flowering of multicultural arts on campus and now 86, came to the stage to greet each musician. hartigan is a master of West African drumming traditions and began his composition, “Wadsworth Falls”, with an Asante rhythm and praise song, with Tillis’ name inserted. I teared up.

When I first contacted Modirzadeh at his Bay-area home about bringing a band to Amherst, he said he wanted to invite Bobby Bradford. I was thrilled because: of his historical importance to the music; he has never been to our area; he has strong ties to two of my local heroes, Terry Jenoure and Marty Ehrlich; his reputation for having enriched his Los Angeles jazz community for so long; he can really play.

Over the two days, Modirzadeh displayed heartfelt deference, born not only out of health and energy concerns, but by the sheer thrill of spending an extended period of time with a respected elder. He peppered Bradford with lots of questions about Ornette among other subjects, and understood the significance of the occasion enough to professionally record both concerts. Dennis Steiner’s Archive Project also preserved Thursday’s concert for posterity.

At a dinner in their honor at the home I share with Priscilla Page, we had the opportunity to introduce the musicians to members of our music-loving community. Jenoure and Ehrlich got to catch up with their old friend (there’s now a photo of the three of them floating somewhere on the inter-web), while they reminisced about the extraordinary series of John Carter records they made together in the 1980s. When scheduling a Thursday band rehearsal at UMass or Amherst proved daunting, my home became the woodshed. I loved seeing how the music comes together.

Ping Chong, the great theater artist, who along with Talvin Wilks, is in residence with the UMass Theater Department preparing their new work, “Collidescope 2.0”, is a friend of Hafez and a long-time colleague of his sister, Leila. We all met up at the Hangar on Thursday after the performance and the theater rehearsal for one more celebration.

As the A-Team’s ‘Hannibal’ Smith used to say, “I love it when a plan comes together.” It’s not often that one’s expectations, fueled by months of anticipation and preparation, are fully realized. Yes, the music was sublime, but being close to the spirit that informs the music, that exceeded my wildest dreams. Another peak experience.

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