Jorge Sylvester’s ACE Collective plays the Parlor Room

by Glenn Siegel

My jazz loving friends and I often play the “whatever happened to?” game, where we trade information about musicians whom we haven’t heard from in some time. Where is Anthony Cox, for instance? (Marty Ehrlich informs me that the great bassist moved back to Detroit, has his real estate license and still plays locally.) Until he resurfaced in 2003 after a 35-year hiatus, Henry Grimes was a popular “whatever happened to?” subject. Does anyone know the whereabouts of the outstanding cellist, Abdul Wadud?

Matt Merewitz, the well-respected jazz publicist, asked me what happened to Jorge Sylvester. I’m here to report the alto saxophonist and composer is alive, well and playing at a very high level. His ACE (Afro-Caribbean Experimental) Collective performed a two-hour concert at a sold out Parlor Room in Northampton on December 11 as part of Pioneer Valley Jazz Shares.

Since moving to the States from Panama in 1980, the 61-year old Sylvester has released four recordings under his own name, been a member of the World Saxophone Quartet, Joe Bowie’s Defunkt Big Band, Frank Lacy’s Vibe Tribe and worked with poet Sekou Sundiata, Karl Berger, and David Murray, among others. But the creative music business being what it is, those high profile gigs are often not enough to keep one in the public eye. There is very little room on the head of the jazz pin. So highly skilled musicians like Sylvester keep plugging away, keeping faith that the music will provide.

That positivity was on full display on Friday as the Collective played many of the selections found on the band’s most recent release, “Spirit Driven.” The lyrics, written and sung by the evocative, highly musical vocalist Nora McCarthy, spoke often about truth, justice and beauty. Her dynamics, stage presence and varied vocal techniques (including some very inventive scatting), kept our attention despite the program’s length.

The electric bassist Gene Torres, a regular sub for Donald Nicks, was wonderful, easily negotiating the tricky contours of Sylvester’s shifting originals and soloing with a relaxed virtuosity. Torres, a long-time colleague of the Valley’s Terry Jenoure, appeared with Craig Harris’ 10-piece ensemble in the 2013 Magic Triangle Series at UMASS Amherst. Much of the music Torres makes these days tends towards funk, soul and other commercial music. He was thrilled to be able to stretch his skills playing music that demanded a different kind of attention.

Drummer Kenny Grohowski, a full generation younger than his bandmates, can be found making music with John Zorn, Andy Milne’s Dapp Theory, Haitian singer Emeline Michel, the black metal band Imperial Triumphant and the avant rock band, Secret Chiefs 3. That one instrumentalist can be effective in such varied settings shows that the industry’s tendency to box, label and compartmentalize, is irrelevant to creative musicians. His riveting drum solo closed the show and made me wish for more.

Sylvester was masterful throughout, judiciously using extended techniques to ratchet up the intensity, while wowing with fluid runs and stop-on-a-dime precision. His gorgeous tone at all registers was remarkable given that during sound check he had to replace the cork seal on one of his saxophone keys with rolled paper.

Here’s to indomitable, spirit driven musicians who uplift and provoke, even when the material rewards are meager and uncertain.

Cherish the Ladies | Celtic Christmas

Thursday, December 10 at 7:30 p.m., Fine Arts Center Concert Hall
$35, $30, $15; Five College, GCC and 17 & under $15, $12 and $10

One of the most engaging and successful ensembles in the history of Celtic music, Cherish the Ladies have shared timeless Irish traditions with audiences worldwide for over twenty-five years. In their Celtic Christmas program, the Ladies put their signature mark on classic carols, in arrangements that highlight the group’s unique Celtic instrumentation, beautiful harmonies and spectacular step dancing. “Passionate, tender and rambunctious.” – The New York Times

Cherish The Ladies


 Artist Website

Multiplicity (Harrison, Shobhakar, Takeishi) perform in Greenfield

by Glenn Siegel

It seems entirely appropriate that the recording by Multiplicity, the project of Joel Harrison and Anupam Shobhakar, is on a label called Whirlwind. Both of them, plus Satoshi Takeishi, piled in a car and made the trip from New York to Greenfield, Massachusetts to perform the third concert in Pioneer Valley Jazz Shares’ fourth season on Sunday, November 29. The trio not only braved the Thanksgiving traffic (a three-and-a-half hour trip turned into a five hour grind), but after the concert the group turned around and made the return trip to the Big Apple.

Harrison had to rehearse his 18-piece ensemble, which premiered two of his compositions at Roulette on December 1, Shobhakar was leaving early Tuesday for India and Takeishi had to deal with his car in the shop. Such is the life of working musicians.

The payoff for the band’s endured hardship was an appreciative audience that filled the Arts Block with love and rapt attention during a wonderful 75-minute performance.

I imagine most concertgoers were seeing and hearing the sarod for the first time. A large and beautiful, four-string fretless lute, the instrument was in a setting very different from the Hindustani classical music tradition for which it was originally intended. The 36 year-old Shobhakar, raised on both intense classical Indian studies and Megadeth, seemed equally at home performing original tunes based on raga cycles, and American blues. One of the evening’s highlights was a performance of “Devil Mountain Blues” (a piece that emerged from their initial musical encounter and cemented their musical friendship.) Harrison played it, and Willie Dixon’s “Spoonful”, on steel-bodied national guitar, joking (?) that his guitar and the sarod (which has a metal fingerboard) were distant cousins. Shobhakar’s slide technique (called meend) and the sound of Harrison’s slides did, in fact, feel like a deep conversation between strangely familiar strangers.

Shobhakar talks of years of doing music exercises, an intense training process known as “tayarri”, literally ‘technically great’. But its real meaning is ‘to be ready’, putting in the work so your fingers, your mind and your soul are ready when creativity strikes.

Percussionist Satoshi Takeishi, who has obviously undergone an intense training process of his own, filled in for Dan Weiss, who is featured on Multiplicity’s recording, “Leave the Door Open”. On April 2, Takeishi sat in for Samir Chatterjee in Ned Rothenberg’s “Inner Diaspora” ensemble at the UMass Magic Triangle Series. On both occasions, Takeishi showed how ready he was. Playing frame drum and other hand percussion, snare, and a varied assortment of cymbals and bells, Takeishi provided an evening’s worth of texture, color and drive. For him to be able to nail the complicated rhythms of the more overt Indian pieces is a testament to the massive technique he has at his disposal. In fact, I marveled at that very phenomenon when Dan Weiss sat in for Nasheet Waits for the first time in Amir ElSaffar’s Two Rivers Ensemble at the September Jazz Shares offering.

How do they do it? Fit in so seamlessly? Give the music just what it needs? They make it look easy; it’s anything but. It’s the result of years of rigorous study and years of demanding performing experience. And, we are the beneficiaries.