July 2003 - After writing about the "Women in Jazz Festival" at St. Peter's Church last month, I thought that it might be nice to write separately about some women musicians, several of whom had CD release parties. Consequently, this month the theme of my article is "Jazz Women: Woodwind Players."
Laura Dreyer's CD Release Party at Sweet Rhythm. Laura's long-awaited CD, "Mysterious Encounter," was released at a party held at Sweet Rhythm in late June 2003. Sweet Rhythm (for many years was "Sweet Basil") has a great new look, and will be serving food from its own kitchen soon. Owner James Brown and manager Rich Okon have been diligent about getting a steady clientele and interesting musicians to perform.
In the band that evening, in addition to Laura Dreyer on alto sax, soprano and flute, there were: Dario Eskenazi, piano; Susan Pereira, voice and percussion; Gustavo Amarante, bass and Vanderlei Pereira, drums. On the CD itself, Laura Dreyer adds two guitarists and a different bass player: Romero Lubambo, Mark Lambert and Kip Reed, respectively. Mike Fahn plays valve trombone, and Todd Isler adds percussion.
Laura's group played mostly her own compositions from the CD. They also played a Lennon/McCartney piece, "Here, There & Everywhere" with a samba rhythm. The band was fluid, the music relaxing but also precise. The pianist, while staying within the Brazilian style, played melodic and simply throughout, though towards the end of his solos, there were no lack of flourishes. Laura arranged the pieces in authentic Brazilian style. The vocalist sang all the lines with her, in both unison and harmony. (She describes her fascination with Brazilian music in her liner notes.)
Laura Dreyer has found a niche with Brazilian Jazz, and it suits her. The music is easy to listen to, and generally appealing.
Jenny Hill and "Liquid Horn" at Joe's Pub. To get from Sweet Rhythm in the West Village to Joe's Pub, you go directly east about a mile. Named for Joseph Papp of the Public Theater, the nightclub is situated on Lafayette Street, near Astor Place. It's elegantly designed, and fits a lot of people without seeming crowded.
Jenny's music isn't always "strictly Jazz," but easily fits into this review. Filled with Jazz and Fusion influences, the music is fun and upbeat. She added a flamboyant Brazilian percussionist, Ze Mauricio, in addition to her drummer-playing husband, Todd Isler. Jenny played tenor and soprano sax, and also flute. Curtis Fowlkes was on trombone, Adam Kipple on keyboards, and Leo Traversa played bass.
The tunes Liquid Horn played have hard-driving rhythms, and a high energy. The first tune they played had a funky dance beat, and Jenny showed off her chops on tenor, running licks and scales, punctuated by rhythmic outbursts. After that came a samba tune, a remake of The Beatles' "In My Life." Most of the band members got to stretch out on this tune, and the keyboard player showed off his chops during the final vamp. I thought it was interesting that Jenny, like Laura, did a revamping of a Beatles tune. Check out Jenny Hill and Liquid Horn's recently released CD, entitled "Planet Sax."
Virginia Mayhew at Sweet Rhythm. CD Release Party of her CD, "Phantoms." This is Virginia's third album as a leader, and once again, the party took place at Sweet Rhythm. I caught the second set of the evening, one night in July. The musicians performing also played on the CD, and featured Virginia on tenor & soprano sax, as well as flute, Ingrid Jensen, trumpet and flugelhorn, Harvie Swartz, (now known as Harvie S.) bass and Allison Miller on drums.
"Phantoms" is not only the name of the CD, but also a tune written by pianist extraordinaire Kenny Barron, who was featured on Virginia's last album, "No Walls." The tune started out with a mysterious bass-heavy sound. The horns played the melody an octave apart at first, but when they went into harmony, the change was very striking, serious and moving. Suddenly, they were all improvising at the same time, but within the confines of a minor key.
Ingrid Jensen exhibited great chops and an amazing range on the trumpet, and she got a chance to stretch out here. She is a dedicated musician who "lives in" her horn. I also liked what the drummer was playing during this tune. She was very expressive, reminding me of Billy Higgins. Surprisingly, the entire piece was out-of-tempo.
The second tune of the set was called "Just a Blues." It's in an odd meter - 6 beats, then 5. The bass and drums were very solid behind a strong trumpet solo, after which Harvie dropped out, and Virginia soloed with just the drums. On cue, trumpet and bass entered with a soft background line. Virginia has a strong rhythmic sense, and easily swings during any type of time signature.
In "I'm a Fool to Want You," Virginia played soprano sax, with Harvie providing solid support on bass. During his solo, Harvie bowed the melody, this time with the horns playing a mournful background. With the drums giving it a bit of a Latin beat, the effect was very dark and sad.
For the rest of the set, the band performed compositions from Virginia's CD. Steve Swallow wrote "Babble On," an up-tempo swing. Dena DeRose (who was in the audience) composed "Fall," a waltz that featured Jensen on flugelhorn. They ended the set with Monk's "Rhythm-a-ning." Amazingly, a good deal of the music matched the picture on the cover of the CD: Virginia playing tenor in a dark alleyway.
Interview with Flutist Cheryl Pyle. Cheryl chose to play flute as her main instrument, rather than double on it, as the above musicians have done. She is a very creative woman, who composes, writes lyrics and performs her originals as often as she can.
Cheryl Pyle grew up in the Midwest, went to Mesa College in San Diego, received her BA in music from U.C. Berkeley, and taught in their Jazz Department from 1977- 1980. She moved to New York in 1980, and collaborated with a lot of great musicians throughout the years. A CD of her originals was recorded in 1996, called "Dalle Alle."
Pyle has led bands at such venues as Seventh Avenue South, The Knitting Factory, the Jazz Forum, Kavehaz and the Blue Note. Not only has she been at the helm, but also Cheryl has played and recorded with such greats as Tom Harell, Joe Lovano, Charlie Haden and Paul Motian. Her discography with Harrell includes "Passages," "Visions," "Form" and "Sail Away."
Without focusing so much on names and dates, what I wanted to know more about was her concept of music. I asked her, "You've written a lot of compositions, and then put a number of them on a CD. Is there a reason why you prefer playing your original music over standards?" She responded, "It's just because I get an opportunity to (play originals), and I think that composing is a natural process that comes from improvising. Standards will happen if people keep composing. We can't keep playing the same standards for a hundred years! Hopefully it will evolve."
I asked how she goes about composing a tune? "That usually happens in the middle of the night. The inspiration hits when insomnia is strong, and I'm awake. I just write down ideas."
Cheryl Pyle co-composed a number of tunes with trumpeter Tom Harrell, and she often plays these tunes on her gigs. She said, "Composing is very important to me, and if I get ideas I like to write them down, and then perform them as much as I can. I think it's really good to be organized, to learn how to get gigs, how to talk to club owners, how to compose your own songs, try to figure out what melodies are in your heart, and not always play someone else's ideas. It's (also) important to support other musicians and see what they're writing."
I asked her about being a lyricist. "I found that when I was working on other peoples tunes, I start hearing lyrics. I wrote lyrics for a lot of Tom Harrell's tunes, Fred Hersch, and Michael Cochrane." Some of the singers that have recorded her lyrics are Sheila Jordan, Roseanna Vitro, Janis Siegel (of Manhattan Transfer fame), and Judi Silvano.
Three out of the four Woodwind players featured in this article lived in the San Francisco Bay Area (Laura Dreyer, Virginia Mayhew and Cheryl Pyle). Let's hope that they all have continued success in New York City!
By Lucy Galliher
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