Sunday, December 23, 2018


Paul Winter’s 39th Annual Winter Solstice Celebration
December 22, 2018, Cathedral of St. John the Divine, NYC

Photos by John Pietaro

by John Pietaro

I couldn’t bring myself to dub this piece a review. Sure, I carried my journal and pen, but I wasn’t there to simply cover it. Getting to Paul Winter’s solstice event had been a goal for decades, but somehow always missed. Somehow, and I’ve lived in New York my entire life. This year was different.
Hurriedly walking east on 112th Street, still twisted up within from crawling in traffic since Brooklyn, the wife and I made our way to the Cathedral. I hadn’t gotten a good look at St. John the Divine since its scaffolding came down a few years back, repairs complete. By the time we hit Amsterdam Avenue, the grand façade pridefully displayed itself. A gothic haven, mystic but never beyond reproach.
We took the stairs and entered, trying to seek out general admission seats not tooooo far back. We were semi-successful (no, I was not there on assignment and wouldn’t use my press card to snare a closer view). No matter that, the room itself, with its ceiling of massive heights, sang to us just as personally as the front rows. As a firmly unreligious sort, somewhat unspiritual too, settling into this church with the warm welcome of candles flickering over plain wax, everything made more sense. I carefully scanned the stone walls, the breathtaking architecture, the large banners proclaiming messages of (actual) unity and unashamed social justice.
The lights dowsed, and Paul Winter’s soprano saxophone resonated suddenly across the Cathedral. A thin blue spotlight directed all eyes to the high, small balcony well behind us; there stood Winter offering his lyric call. It echoed through the house and every chest cavity within, clarion. This led to an all-encompassing solo statement by Jeff Holmes, the Winter Consort’s new pianist, from his perch onstage. Next, the presence of organist Tim Brumfield became dramatically evident as his deft touch on the church’s aeolian pipe organ usurped the space and the ground beneath.  By the time drummer-percussionist Jamey Haddad launched into his own solo segment—thunderous and whispering all at the same time—Winter had made his way to front and center, flanked by the Consort on varying levels of lifts. Above Haddad’s lift was that of cellist Eugene Friesen, long-term Consort member with his own amazing performance resume. Bassist Eliot Wadopian stood nearby Holmes’ keyboards and the celebrated woodwind master Paul McCandless sat to his left, armed with English horn, bass clarinet and a history that includes Oregon and the first Consort before that (it seems strangely unjust that this noted instrumentalist was not acknowledged by Winter until the close of the evening).
In the darkened space, lit only by the stage which glowed 2/3 of the long way across from us, and the golden-white sparkle of candles, taking notes become impossible. Before the 3-hour show’s intermission, Winter and company were joined by the gifted voice of Theresa Thomason, who encompassed a soulful blend of Mavis Staples, Aretha Franklin and Mariah Carey, probably others who don’t come to mind just now. One hears the church in Thomason as clear as it is in the best of R&B, but that only helped realize the mission of this particular house of worship, one welcoming every religion, as they all should. And then without warning, the sound of African drums, djembe and conga, mostly, craned up from the rear, accompanying and guiding the Forces of Nature Dance Theatre as the entire troupe glided toward the stage. The crowd, for the umpteenth time, erupted in a wild applause.
Other highlights included the emergence of the Solstice Tree, it cast of spiraling metal—the very imagery of the ancient Spiral Goddess--decorated by multiple gongs and bells. A traditional clog dancer, depicting a sprite, celebrated it’s being, borne of the oldest religion. For the first time in a long time, I experienced an utter spiritual welcoming. This was only made stronger by Matt Guyon’s striking of the giant sun gong, aloft in the tower. Each stroke of it, a quake. 
And during the nightfall epic, the solstice itself, the longest night of the year, was represented as the crowd faded into a mystical darkling. Very, very slowly we were coaxed into the imagery of daybreak, closing with a soaring crescendo over softened waves of melody.

Overall the sheer power of s o u n d was on display throughout the evening, both as a force of spirituality and as one unto itself. As the lighted globe made its way to the front and then rose above us all, Paul Winter reveled in the song of a forlorn wolf, offering responses through his horn which sang to the ages. 

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Interview: Shelley Hirsch

NYC Jazz Record, December 2018 – Artist Interview:


photo: the Brooklyn Rail
By John Pietaro

Shelley Hirsch is a downtown original. The vocalist was one of the framers, conjuring and creating with the renegades of New York’s ‘70s-‘90s arts underground. Though still centered in NYC, her career has consistently extended well beyond Houston Street through collaborations with John Zorn, Butch Morris, Elliot Sharp, Fred Frith, David Moss, Ikue Mori, Jin Hi Kim, Phill Niblock, David Weinstein and an expansive array of others. A November tour took her to Portugal and the UK, before heading home for gigs with old friends Christian Marclay and Anthony Coleman. She’s also preparing for series of literary projects that are putting a whole new spin on spoken word.

JP: Unlike so many artists who were drawn to New York City over the last century, Shelley, you’re a native.

SH: Yes, I was born in Brooklyn. My neighborhood was East New York but when I was 17, I left home and moved to the Lower East Side. Ludlow Street. This was 1969; rent was $60 per month. Moving to Manhattan was a big deal but I had traveled there during high school when I attended the High School of the Arts. I was majoring in Theatre but dropped out after a year when my teacher told me I had no talent for the stage.

JP: And you also lived on the West Coast for a while?

SH: At 18 I moved to San Francisco. I had joined an experimental theatre company not far from Haight-Ashbury. I moved into a kind of mansion with others in the company and some film students. It was in a fancy area and the neighbors started complaining about “hippies”, so we got busted and plans changed. I moved up to Napa for a while, and then in the Valley, where I’d yodel every morning into the mountainside. I was already experimenting with extended vocal techniques and the yodel became another part of that repertoire. The Napa Valley, with its great expanse, inspired it.

JP: But it was common for young people to do this in those years, to travel and experience life. And like other young Americans, this also took you to Europe.

SH: Yes, I moved to Europe to join a Dutch experimental theatre group, but that never worked out. I was living in a squatted loft and met some guys who were singing swing standards and I joined their group. They were actually journalists but sang very well together. I knew these songs from my parents’ records and I began to sing with them in a community space where we’d gather. It was a very political time to be in Europe, lots of activism and very exciting. But I returned to the East Village in 1972 or ‘73 before settling into TriBeCa. I’ve had my loft there since 1976.

JP: Downtown was beginning to brim over with a new kind of creativity by the middle ‘70s. Punk, free improv, new composition, electronics, minimalism, no wave. So much was happening and there was a mass confluence of the arts too. How did this affect your development?

SH: There were many things going on. A remarkable combination of music and art. That time was the best for crossover and so many of us came from one discipline—visual art, film, theatre--and got into music. There was a shifting into different worlds, rather fluidly. I was performing with experimental techniques, using abstract sounds, but then Kirk Nurock, Jay Clayton and I began performing among other improvising groups. A little later Jerome Cooper, Steve McCall and I started working together. We played the Kitchen. I was in awe of (vocalist and guitarist) Arto Lindsay and his work in DNA. Like him, I wanted to abandon notes and sing utterly raw. But I’m a singer, untrained, yes, but I’m a singer. I couldn’t go that route. I have always incorporated spoken word into my music and have had a strong connection to the other arts too. While modeling at the Parsons School of Design, I got to work with many visual artists. Galleries and museums always inspired me.

JP: Did you also maintain your theatre career?

SH: I had to audition for ‘Hair’ six times (laughs). And I was rejected for the lead in ‘Evita’! But theatrical aspects were in my performances, regardless. I was creating characters and portraying them in the songs: old ladies in East New York or Blanche DuBois (ie: “Blanche” by Hirsch and David Weinstein from the 1990 downtown anthology ‘Real Estate’).

JP: In the no wave genre, particularly, it was standard to trade off with other creatives, moving in and out of the disciplines. Free jazz artists were hanging out in the punk clubs, poets were making films…

SH: Lee Ranaldo studied film and came from that world. Lary Seven too. By day, we’d be working in our lofts and at night go out. We often saw James Chance and the Contortions perform, but he was also playing dance clubs with people like Hamiet Bluiett (Chance’s funk band James White & the Blacks included Joseph Bowie and others who’d form Defunkt). I’d been performing with the Public Servants, a rock band, very funky with experimental sounds. Phillip Johnston played soprano and alto saxophones and Dave Sewelson was on bari. Bill Horvitz, whom we recently lost, was the guitarist. Dave Hofstra on bass, Steve Moses was the drummer (later, Richard Dworkin). Others frequently sat in like Wayne Horvitz or John Zorn. We were together from ’79 through ’81, opening for the Slits at Irving Plaza but also playing underground spaces.

JP: Did the Public Servants record or was it just a performing band?

SH: In 1980, we recorded a single, “Jungle Hotel”, which is out of print, but I’m told it’s available on YouTube (it is:

JP: Can you speak about your first solo LP ‘Singing’?

SH: Samm Bennet (electronic drums, percussion) and David Simons (drums, percussion, prepared guitar, jaw harp, zither) are on this. We recorded it in 1987. A couple of labels have expressed an interest in re-releasing this. But my work is now going into the Downtown Archive of the NYU Fales Library: my recordings, writings, everything.

JP: You have a performance coming up with Anthony Coleman, another original of that downtown scene.

SH: Yes, at Arete Gallery on December 11. We haven’t played together in a long time, so I’m really looking forward to this. We have a long history. Anthony was in Glenn Branca’s group back then and I had a brief period performing with Branca’s band, Theoretical Girls. At one of those gigs, we shared the bill with Gong. Anthony and I were also in Zorn projects together and I had the good fortune to have him in my large-scale works. When this gig arose, I immediately knew I wanted him there. Anthony loved the idea.

JP: And this month you’re also performing with another old friend, Christian Marclay?

SH: We’ve been friends since 1984. Our new work is his conception: Christian doesn’t want to play turntables anymore, so for this UK gig he’s playing his photo images of onomatopoetics, projecting them onstage; he now makes his living as a visual artist, you know. I’m improvising voice and movement and in turn his projections are affected, so this is very interactive. It’s  thrilling to find new ways to use language and the voice, with movement generating the levels of consciousness: this then turns into an idea and a word.

JP: That’s quite fascinating. And I understand you’re also part of Issue Project Room’s end-of-season event?

SH: That’s December 15: improvisations with Marcia Bassett (electronics). I relish the opportunity to engage in these different sources. And some time in December will be the release of a new CD I’m looking forward to, “Peter Stampfel and the Atomic Meta Pagans featuring Shelley Hirsch”.

JP: But you’ve been busy in creative writing as well. Can you speak on that?

SH: My literary writing is coming to the forefront now—I was too shy to seek publication before. It’s all authentic as I try not to edit in the traditional sense. Words appear and suddenly take on a significance. Like prosopopoeia: a rhetorical communicative device.

JP: So, sitting down to write literature is not new to you?

SH: I’m currently working on a piece with large sheets of paper covered in my prose, attached to the wall. I read from these and use movement in performing it. To generate thoughts and stories, I listen to the minimal, drone music of Eliane Radigue -- she’s about 80 now; I wanted to collaborate with her, but she refused (laughs)! For stream of consciousness purposes, I’ll also do some live writing. I have a residency in Queens Lab where I’m completing the piece. But I’ve always used creative writing to craft characters for songs. That’s what my 1992 album ‘Oh, Little Town of East New York’ was all about. The characters were inspired by real people in the years I grew up there. I’m blessed to hear from as far away as Siberia, Italy, South America, with listeners telling me how important that record was for them. It reminded them of their own upbringing, the rooms they lived in. It’s autobiographical though I co-composed the music with David Weinstein.

JP: Brooklyn is hard to get out of the soul.

SH: Well, I actually moved to Greenpoint fifteen years ago. I’m very aware of the people who were living there before me. Coming from a blue-collar background, I’m very cognizant of this. People in gentrified neighborhoods often can’t afford to buy at the local stores. Suddenly, all the rules are different. But we need to honor people’s lives, culture, feelings, experiences—they’re here, stored in all of us. The human body is the greatest recorder of all.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

My "Best of Jazz, 2018" Picks

My "Best of Jazz, 2018" Picks

Smoke-rings, Shadows, Other Places and Fire Music
Below is my first contribution to the end-of-year polls. Previously, I tended to just avoid this kind of thing but it occurred to me that I stand (loudly) by my convictions in every other setting, so how can I avoid this crush when it comes to the primary object of my journalism? Various versions of the below list were sent in to writers' poll of "the NYC Jazz Record" as well as those of Francis Davis of NPR and the Jazz Journalists Association. This set of accolades comprises what is a rather alternative view of so-called jazz today. From the remaining dregs of downtown to points north and south, here is a "Best of" which celebrates the world famed and the little known, but in each case, artists, recordings and venues I hold in the highest regard. Recognizing that some of these picks may appear on no other critic's choices this year, I needed to make a serious go of it. 

Here's to social change, new visions and a hearty helping of Fire Music for the holidays!

Peace for 2019....
john pietaro


New Releases:
John Zorn, The Urmuz Epigrams (Tzadik)
Harriet Tubman, Araminta (Sunnyside)
Marty Ehrlich, Trio Exaltation (Clean Feed)
Ra Kalam Bob Moses and Bukky Leo, Spaceships Over Africa (Ra Kalam Records)
Benjamin Boone/Philip Levine, The Poetry of Jazz (Origin)
Yusef Komunyakaa/David Cieri/Mike Brown, White Dust (Ropeadopa)
Christine Correa and Ran Blake, Streaming (Red Piano)
Elliot Levin/Gabriel Lauber Duo, Yu (Dimensional Recordings)

 Coltrane, Both Directions at Once (Impulse)
Walt Dickerson/Richard Davis - Divine Gemini (SteepleChase)

Arturo O’Farrill, Fandango at the Wall (Resilience)

Christine Correa and Ran Blake, Streaming (Red Piano)

Benjamin Boone/Philip Levine, The Poetry of Jazz (Origin)

I Never Left and Now I’m Back: A Tribute to Roswell Rudd (Nov 17, 2018, Murmrr, Brooklyn)


Hall of Fame: 
Karl Berger

Ran Blake
Chris Forbes
Matt Shipp

Matthew Whitaker

Ken Filiano
Adam Lane

Milford Graves
Nasheet Waits
Kenny Wolleson

Brian Carrot
Bill Ware
Patricia Brennan

Warren Smith
Cyro Baptista
Ches Smith

Marc Ribot
Brandon Ross
Mary Halvorson
On' Kai Davis

Nicole Mitchell
Steve Gorn

soprano saxophone:
Lee Odom

Sonny Fortune
Gary Bartz
Avram Fefer

Joe Lovano
Ras Moshe
James Brandon Lewis

Dave Sewelson

Wadada Leo Smith
Tom Harrell

Steve Swell

Bob Stewart

Gwen Laster

Cassandra Wilson
Jay Clayton
Sheila Jordan

Steve Dalachinsky
Amina Baraka
Raymond Nat Turner
Larry Roland

Minton’s Playhouse (Harlem)
Village Vanguard (West Village)
Joe’s Pub (SoHo/East Village)
ShapeShifter Lab (Park Slope/Gowanus Bklyn)
Roulette (Boerum Hill Bklyn)
17 Frost (Williamsburg Bklyn)
Scholes Street Studio (Williamsburg Bklyn)
The Colony (Woodstock NY)

NYC Jazz Record
the Wire

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Concert review: Tiger Trio, NYC, 2018

Originally published in 
the NYC Jazz Record NY@Night column, Nov 2018

Oct. 8, 2018, Teatro Latea, Clemente Soto Velez Center, NYC

Performance review by John Pietaro

Tiger Trio, Teatro Latea, November 8, 2018 (photo by John Pietaro)

In this era of #MeToo and feminist fight-back, the obvious statement made by the banding of Myra Melford, piano, Nicole Mitchell, flutes, and Joelle Leandre, bass, may be one of gender alone. In this period of reactionary divisiveness, new music and jazz remain as male-dominated as ever, but these powerful soloists unified in the creation of something greater than the sum of themselves, cast a timeless lesson in equity, strength and art. Veterans all of the most expansive contemporary music, Melford, Leandre and Mitchell took the stage at Teatro Latea (10/8) without plans or outlines of what was to come, guided only by the highest level of performance practice and deepest, most communicative  listening. 

Refreshingly, there wasn’t any hogging of the spotlight or rushing toward a climax, but the Trio evoked enough energy, expression and force to justify the title and embark on jaw-dropping musical forays. Melford appeared at the top of her game this night. Perhaps hindered by the limitations of an upright piano, her technical prowess nonetheless shaped a spinning tapestry of sound. Mitchell’s flutes alternately draped gorgeous melodies over and cut searing lines into the atmosphere. And Leandre’s tireless pizzicato patterns, arco passages, vocalizations and humor brought it together. The Tiger Trio may be the counter to the ignorance, impatience and greed the nation’s daily fed. “We’re totally tuned in to each other”, Melford noted after the concert. But it was Mitchell’s comment that best describes what propels this vital music: “It’s a different kind of listening”.

Concert review: JOHN ZORN ANGELS QUARTET, Nov 2018

A slightly edited version of this review was published in 
the NYC Jazz Record NY@Night column, November 2018

Oct 7, 2017, Village Vanguard, New York NY

Performance review by John Pietaro

Village Vanguard steps (courtesy, NPR)

The Sunday afternoon sky burned bright over the West Village, but an informed portion of those on 7th Avenue South crowded readily into a certain darkened basement of note (10/7). The draw was the Angels Quartet and its masterful expansion of Zorn’s 2004 Masada Project, that already expansive fusion of Jewish musical traditions, free funk and new jazz. Throughout its compelling set, the Quartet’s interplay was marked with a celebratory, perhaps holiday, collegiality and laughter that belied the Vanguard’s noir-like décor. The downtown sound was alive, well and wielding klezmer-fueled collective improv, meter shifts, melodic minors, bouncing repetitions, hora accents and a bit of klangfarbenmelodie. Zorn’s artfully distressed alto wailed over the exquisite leads of guitarist Julian Lage who proved again why he’s first-call for so many of these gigs. Lage’s utter command of his ax and ability to tear into complex melodies as easily as reckless abandon is all the more admirable by his spy and surf guitar mastery. The rhythm section of fluid bassist Jorge Roeder and drummer Kenny Wolleson was on fire throughout. Wolleson can do anything behind a kit and here rolled out the hippest bossa novas (with samba bottoms) and coolest free jazz. Like butter. 

For all the warmth onstage, Zorn’s circumspect approach was on high guard afterward when we hoped for a brief interview, rejected soundly and none too kindly. But the sun continued shining in spite of this and, climbing up the Vanguard’s historic steps, we still grooved on the leftover good vibes.

CD & Concert review: SOFT MACHINE, Nov 2018

Originally published in the NYC Jazz Record, NY@Night column, November 2018

SOFT MACHINE, Hidden Details (MoonJune, 2018) 
–record release concert, Oct 13, the Iridium, NYC

CD and concert review by John Pietaro

Soft Machine, the Iridium, Oct 13, 2018 (photo by J Pietaro)

In the wake of social change, counter-culture, mind expansion, Eastern religions, ‘Sgt. Pepper’ and ‘In a Silent Way’, there came a convergence of artful rock and forward-looking jazz. Amidst this, Soft Machine released its first recording. The band has since survived personnel shifts, members’ deaths, breakups, spin-offs and metamorphoses. As a golden anniversary celebration, John Etheridge (guitars), John Marshall (drums), Roy Babbington (bass) and Theo Travis (saxophones and keyboards) released ‘Hidden Details’, topping it off with a world tour.

Soft Machine has not played New York since 1974, so the return was highly anticipated by the cheering loyalists cramming the Iridium on October 13. The iconic band, unfortunately, was twice beleaguered by technical difficulties. The evening kicked off with “Hidden Details”, a gripping fusion number which saw veteran drummer Marshall initially fumbling some over thriving riffs, meter changes and rapid tempo. It all came together with a searing guitar solo but as Soft Machine began another piece, Etheridge’s effects rig cut out. He handled it well, joking with the sympathetic audience, “Right, stand down a second!”, but sometime later, the guitar again fell tacit. As he tried to anxiously fix the problem, the others ultimately left the stage during a torturous 20-minute procedure (it frankly seemed ridiculous that a temporary trio couldn’t have played, stretching out on the planned song to save the moment!).

The concert material combined new works, older repertoire and some pieces as reimagined on the new record. The melodic pairing of Etheridge’s wailing guitar and Travis’ tenor or soprano saxophones creates, both live and on record, a vital, classic sound sometimes reminiscent of Weather Report, Traffic and the Mahavishnu Orchestra. When the band launched into free segments, rocketing over uptempo swing, as guitar and saxophone locked horns, Soft Machine was clearly in its element. Marshall, a bit of British jazz royalty, has collaborated with the Spontaneous Music Ensemble, John Surman, Eberhard Weber, Jack Bruce, Centipede and the Crazy World of Arthur Brown, among many others. One of the killer-dillers at the Iridium erupted into a lengthy drum feature which drove the crowd to cheering hysterics, encompassing the best of post-bop while giving a nod to the big band drummers who inspired him.

‘Hidden Details’, in any case, is a highly memorable album. Pristinely recorded by Jon Hiseman, who passed away shortly before the release, it captures the best of that fore-mentioned musical convergence. Suffice to say, fans of both electric Miles and King Crimson will welcome this into their collections. Etheridge is a living master class in guitar virtuosity. His distorted sound shreds the jazz/rock boundary on “Hidden Details” and “One Glove”, while on ballads “The Man Who Waved at Trains” and “Heart Off Guard”, featuring Travis’ nimble flute and sinewy soprano respectively, the counterpoint is elegant. Listen for the band’s subtle interplay on “Ground Lift” and compelling free improvisation, “Flight of the Jett”. But Soft Machine is at its collective best on the late Mike Ratledge’s “Out Bloody Rageous”, a wondrous 15/8 which conjures the vibe of Chico Hamilton, bits of Trane and something very much other. It’s the latter, however, that best describes the mythic spectrum of Soft Machine’s first 50 years.

Hidden Details – John Etheridge (gtr), Theor Travis (sax, flute, keyboards), Roy Babbington (bs), John Marshall (dr), guest Nick Utteridge (wind chimes, track 13)
1.     Hidden Details
2.     The Man Who Waved at Trains
3.     Ground Lift
4.     Heart Off Guard
5.     Broken Hill
6.     Flight of the Jett
7.     One Glove
8.     Out Bloody Rageous (intro)
9.     Out Bloody Rageous (part 1)
10.  Drifting White
11.  Life on Brodges
12.  Fourteen Hour Dream
13.  Breathe

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Album liner notes: Jesse Dulman Quartet

Jesse Dulman Quartet 

Downtown Music Gallery, Oct 7, 2018

Album liner notes

Jesse Dulman Quartet, Downtown Music Gallery (photo by John Pietaro)

A certain pall, a lucid grayness, fell over Downtown Music Gallery on the occasion of October 7, 2018. Earlier in the week, word had spread of the tragic passing of Mike Panico, a comrade of the downtown sound and veritable brother to so many of its artists. Brief hours before, many in the room had been at Mike’s funeral, so his memory lingered viscerally amidst the racks and aisles at 13 Monroe Street. The Jesse Dulman Quartet, an aggregation boasting saxophonic monsters Ras Moshe Burnett and Dave Sewelson, along with rising young lion Leonid Galaginov on drums, was set to record a live album in this hallowed new music ground. New Dulman compositions and adaptations of older works were slated for this disc, but upon learning of the loss, the leader deemed the evening a tribute; in the hours leading up to the gig, Jesse conjured a series of themes most appropriate to both Panico’s memory and the kind of free improvisation he loved.

Fittingly, the concert opened with heartfelt words from Bruce Gallanter, the owner of Downtown Music Gallery, who referred to Panico as a best friend over many years. “I was having brunch with him just the other day”, he said tearfully, “I don’t know how this could have happened”. Gallanter listed Panico’s many credits and attributes, offering his legend to the moved crowd. And then brought on the Jesse Dulman Quartet. The four stood tacitly as the opening strains of “Serenity” were stated in solo by Dulman. It’s rare that an instrument like the tuba, Jesse’s ax of choice, can emote so gently, so mournfully, but in this work, it painted the aural portrait of a friend finally at rest. And just as soon as he sounded the call for lament, Dulman embarked on a battle cry as the theme varied into a throbbing rumble, a trumpeting of emotion.

Throughout the performance, each of the four artists on stage demonstrated vision and sound, alternately bringing melodic phrases to the fore and erupting into primal screams as the moment, and the music, deemed necessary. Dave Sewelson and his formidable length of bristly beard have been staples on this scene since 1977. The baritone saxophonist is a veteran of the Microscopic Septet, Mofungo, William Parker’s Little Huey Creative Music Orchestra, and notable bands of Jemeel Moondoc, Sunny Murray, Billy Bang, Roy Campbell and a long list of others. In this band, his horn’s lower end serves as a proponent of Dulman’s own lines, creating biting cross-rhythms and gripping contrapuntal forays when not shrieking overdrive, bellowing sub-tones or simply taking flight in his inimitable fashion. In Dave’s hands, the bari is agile as a 90-pound barefoot dancer, even as it pummels the infernal range he revels in.

Likewise, Ras Moshe Burnett whose own astral leaps and bounds are consistently fluid and constantly creative. The native Brooklynite’s resume reads like a Downtown Who’s Who, his tenor and soprano saxophones a fixture on most every bandstand beneath 14th Street. Ras’ means of channeling forbears, particularly Coltrane among a phalanx of revolutionary forces, never compromises his unique voice, rapid-fire composing or probing musicality. In fact, the amalgam of political and artistic radicals informing Moshe are quite the singular combination. 
Young drummer Leonid Galaginov has been on the scene but several scant years, after relocating to New York from Estonia. However, he arrived brandishing both an inborn rhythmic gift and wise tutelage from an American jazz musicians in Eastern Europe. Perhaps his greatest asset—beyond the obvious impeccable technique, taste and swing--is his utter championing of dynamics, from a hushed whisper to an explosion.

And so, we arrive at the band leader, Jesse Dulman, who stands among the tuba players of the so-called avant garde. Wait, you’d thought this instrument had been replaced by the string bass in jazz long ago, didn’t you? But as the music grew freer in the 1960s, listeners recognized that in many ways it harkened back to the roots, collective improvisation. And with that, several prominent leaders began to look closer at some of the instruments that had fallen with the years, not the least of which was the tuba. It remains distinct but far from an anomaly. Jesse’s recording debut in 1999 brought him to the attention of Kalaprush Maurice McIntyre, another giant of the music whose demise came far too early. Jesse became a mainstay of his ensembles, traveling and recording with the saxophonist for powerful years. He also fronted his own bands in this period and worked with Anthony Braxton, among others. After a hiatus from the scene, with a careful return before moving markedly ahead with this new project, Jesse Dulman returns in a celebration of the life of a lost friend. In doing so, he also lauds the many lives of the music itself.
-john pietaro, 10/7/18

Saturday, September 29, 2018

concert review: Milford Graves and Shahzad Ismaily

Published in 'the NYC Jazz Record' NY@Night column, October 2018

Milford Graves and Shahzad Ismaily (photo by John Pietaro)


September 6, 2018, Unitarian Center/Issue Project Room

Performance review by John Pietaro

The atmosphere was understatedly thick; on the heels of a late summer heatwave, the remains of the strangely grey, painfully humid day lined the interior of the Unitarian Universalist Church (September 6) like a padded cell. Aurally mimicking the heat was the opening performance of airtight electronic soundscapes, leading to sweat-soaked near blackouts before the headliner emerged.
Milford Graves took the stage defiantly, tossing down his cane in marked protest of aging if not time itself. Launching into beautifully flowing vocalization drawing on African tradition, the veteran drummer soon added a blurring counterpoint over his historic, single-headed hand-decorated kit—that which he’s had since the days with Ayler, Bley, Sanders, Sun Ra and the New York Art Quartet, now expanded with hand drums and a single timbale. No cymbals outside of the hi-hats which typically chattered triplets, his use of this percussive combination precluded the need for anything else to ride on. Shahzad Ismaily’s electric bass matched Graves’ pulsations, blending into the high-ceilinged roar like an organic bassosaurus. During the course of this fascinating set, Ismaily also emoted on synthesizer, electric guitar and 5-string banjo tuned to mountain modal, simultaneously backing and challenging the master percussionist.

Graves’ drumming reflected no sign of the years as he rained polyrhythmic perpetual motion, sang and spoke to the crowd. When the volume came down, his drumsticks skittered lightly over slackened heads, occupying the sonic world of an African drum choir.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

CD review: William Hooker, " the Portal"

a modified version of this piece was published in the September 2018 issue of 
"The NYC Jazz Record"

William Hooker, Pillars…at the Portal (Mulatta, 2018)

CD review by John Pietaro

The storied career of William Hooker has traversed sounds, genres and ensembles, usually under his own direction, his drumset the undeniably principal voice. Hooker’s projects have often focused on cultural and political matters of import, conjuring a creative expanse along the way, but on Pillars…at the Portal, no other lure is necessary to hold you to your stereo.

Blakey-like, he leads another youthful band, another array drawn from the most creative of the moment, but Hooker has landed on something particularly special here. This ensemble picks up on where Weather Report left off—early Weather Report, that is—blended with equal parts AACM and downtown NYC. The drummer is no stranger to any of these schools of envelope-pushing and casts rolling, thunderous commentary throughout. Listeners will note Hooker’s trademark vocal direction from behind the kit, shouting uproariously to his young charges as the sounds build to a boil.
The electric guitar of Anthony Pirog is in the front line and stands out both independent of and orchestrally within the reeds of Jon Irabagon (soprano and tenor saxophones) and James Brandon Lewis (tenor). Any one of these monstrous improvisers could have carried the front alone so as a section (“Proving Ground” and “Committed” are notable examples), the thicket is stirring. Pirog opens the album on “Ray of Will” with a loudly growling effects-drenched soundscape that leads to dry, close-miked Reichian group hand-claps moving in and out of phase. This intriguing intro brings us into the piece proper with a driving quarter-note groove that evoked nostalgic memories of Miroslav Vitous and Eric Gravatt, constructed here by the leader and young, gifted bassist Luke Stewart. Pirog’s effects at points sound synth-like, dropping in isolated notes, until he unleashes a screaming, contorting solo. It calls out the saxophonists who create an explosive double-time free jazz foray. It seems clear that most of what we hear on this disc is wholly improvised, but far from mindless blowing, this is creativity of a truly advanced level. This is the shit.

Throughout, the front line is given ample space to speak and Lewis only verifies what people have been saying for years now: he stands tall among the best of the 30-something lions. Lewis consistently produces artful, Trane-inspired work, but in this setting seems pushed into another zone. Irabagon is already known as a “jazz subverter”, so must have been the first-call for this gig. While both are goaded to play harder, louder, faster, one can feel the deft touch and tone that is Lewis’ musical voice. Irabagon too has a marked inside voice (so to speak), but revels in the world of sub-tones. Pirog, noted for his experimental Cuneform albums, soars as comfortably in free-flight as in playing structured melodic unisons with horns. Hendrixian doesn’t begin to describe his ample repertoire. And so then, the drumset of William Hooker, aggressively maintaining the unity, the agitation and the sheer joy of free expression. Let’s call this music in spite of the Trump era.
1.     Ray of Will
2.     Ray of Purporse
3.     Comes into View
4.      Initiation of Decision
5.     Livingness
6.     To Be and Do
7.     Proving Ground
8.     Committed

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Dissident Arts Festival 2018 press release, art


Dissident Arts Festival benefits families of political prisoners, celebrates free expression

New York, NY/Brooklyn, NY (August 3, 2018) – The thirteenth annual Dissident Arts Festival, a showcase of revolutionary creativity, will occur on stages in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and Manhattan’s East Village on September 8 and 15, respectively. The Festival will raise funds for three organizations relevant to the movement for social justice and feature markedly outspoken statements against repression in a reactionary time.

SEPTEMBER 8’s edition at 17 Frost Theatre and Gallery, a premiere performance space in Williamsburg, is dubbed Cabaret of Dissent. It will benefit the Rosenberg Fund for Children, a non-profit public foundation that aids children of targeted, progressive activists. The event inspired by Weimar Berlin, New York’s Café Society and downtown arts, includes speaker Jenn Meeropol, granddaughter of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg and Director of the Rosenberg Fund, esteemed jazz singer Judi Silvano who adds voice to experimentalists the Beyond Group, pianist Chris Forbes presents “Harmolodic Weill”, liberation jazz and spoken word by the Red Microphone, celebrated bassist/poet Larry Roland debuts his new all-star band They Come With Gold, and noted poetry duo Raymond Nat Turner and Zigi Lowenberg. The closing act is rising star singer/songwriter Lindsey Wilson & the Human Hearts.

       On SEPTEMBER 15 the action moves to the 5C Café and Cultural Center, long-standing home of avant jazz and bold performance, where funds will be raised for the Alliance of Families for Justice and the NYC Jericho Movement. Both organizations advocate for the unjustly incarcerated and call for urgent prison reform. The evening opens with a solo performance by renowned drummer William Hooker, and includes 5C’s own pianist/composer Trudy Silver, Ras Moshe’s Music Now! and the Flames of Discontent duo of Festival director John Pietaro and Laurie Towers. The closing act is international songwriter Martina Fiserova.

Sept 8, 7pm-11pm, 17 Frost Theatre & Gallery, 17 Frost Street, Brooklyn NY - $15.

Sept 15, 7pm-11pm, 5C Cultural Center, E. 5 Street/ Ave C, New York NY - $15.

For more information and a complete Festival schedule see
Press Contact: New Masses Media    John Pietaro (646) 599-0060    

-Poetry, spoken word

Cheryl Pyle- C flute, alto flute
Michael Eaton- soprano saxophone
Larry Roland- bass
Judi Silvano- guest vocalist

SPEAKER: Jenn Meeropol, Director, Rosenberg Fund for Children

Larry Roland- bass, poetry, spoken word
Daniel Carter – reeds, brass
Michael Moss- reeds, winds
Steve Cohn- keyboard
Marvin Bugulu Smith- drums

John Pietaro- percussion, spoken word
Ras Moshe Burnett- saxophones, flute
Rocco John Iacovone- saxophones
Laurie Towers- electric bass

Chris Forbes- piano

Lindsey Wilson- vocals, guitar, spoken word
Reggie Sylvester- drums
Michael Trotman- electric bass

-solo drums

-vocals, guitar

SPEAKER: Soffiyah Elijah, Executive Director, Alliance of Families for Justice

-piano, voice

John Pietaro- spoken word, vocals, percussion, banjo,
Laurie Towers- electric bass
 with guest Rocco John Iacovone, alto saxophone

Ras Moshe- saxophones, flute
Jair-Rohm Parker Wells- bass
Leonid Galaganov- drums
John Pietaro- hand drums, percussion


Since its inception in 2006, the Dissident Arts Festival has been a powerful vehicle to bridge radical arts to progressive socio-political activism. Increasingly, the Festival has gained media attention over the course of its decade-long history as evidenced by press in TimeOut NY, the Indypendent, the Villager, the NYC Jazz Record, Downtown Express, Peoples World, Chronogram and others as well as an endorsement by noted jazz journalist Howard Mandel. Over the years the Dissident Arts Festival has been sponsored by the Rosenberg Fund for Children, the National Writers Union, the Len Ragozin Foundation, Local 802's Justice for Jazz Artists campaign, Occupy Musicians, the Howland Cultural Center and DooBeeDooBeeDoo music blog.

Originally based in the Hudson Valley and moving to New York City in 2010, the Festival’s performers and speakers over the years included folk music legend Pete Seeger, actor/raconteur Malachy McCourt, revolutionary poet Amina Baraka, late great trumpet player Roy Campbell, filmmaker Kevin Keating, spoken word artists Steve Dalachinsky and the late Louis Reyes Rivera, political satirist/activist Randy Credico, the late saxophonist/composer Will Connell, multi-instrumentalist Daniel Carter, Chilean guitarist Luis ToTo Alvarez, protest song maven Bev Grant, hip hop ensemble ReadNex Poetry Squad, labor leader Henry Foner, Anti-Folk founder Lach and many more. Films screened include ‘Giuliani Time’, ‘Cultures of Resistance’, ‘Salt of the Earth’, ‘Battleship Potemkin’ and ‘Metropolis’. Other special features were tributes to Paul Robeson, Bertolt Brecht, Woody Guthrie, and Phil Ochs. The Dissident Arts Festival has also offered a voice to progressive political candidates, the Occupy movement and radical labor organizations.

Festival Producer/Host: John Pietaro


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