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One day Donald Trump was sitting at his office desk in Mar-a-Lago when he sensed a strange presence. He looked up to find a middle-aged man wearing a dull grey business suit and a fedora, holding an official-looking clipboard.

“Mr. Donald J Trump?”

“How the hell did you manage to get here?” Trump fumed. He had been sorting through dismal reports on yet another failed business venture and had no time for this nonsense.

“Sorry to disturb you, sir, but we have business to attend to.”

Trump looked the man up and down. What a loser, he thought.

 “What business would that be? And where did you get that cheap suit, from the rack at Men’s Wearhouse? Who are you anyway?”

“I am known by many names, sir. The Grim Reaper. Thanatos. Hades. But I prefer Death.”

“Now I’ve heard everything. Who the hell are you really?”

Death stuck out a bony finger and touched the only living thing (besides Donald Trump) in the room—a single white orchid in full bloom. The minute he touched its delicate petals, they withered.

“Nice trick, mister, but no more BS. Who the hell are you?”

“I already told you, sir. I am here to inform you that your time has run out.”

“No, that can’t be right. My doc just informed that I’m in excellent health. Of course I pay him a lot of money to tell me that.”

Death smiled and said, “It doesn’t matter, sir. When it’s your time, it’s your time. There’s really nothing you can do about it.”

Trump stared at the man in the grey suit and reached for his phone. “Hey security, we’ve got an intruder here. Get up here immediately and get him off my goddamn property.”

By the time the security men showed up, Death had vanished. “Did you guys see him? This creep barged into my office and threatened to kill me!”

“President Trump. Our people checked the perimeters of the property. Alarms and security cameras didn’t alert us of an intruder.”

“But he was just here! You idiots better double check.”

The security guards looked at one another, the same question in their eyes: Was the big guy finally losing it? 

“If you’d like, we’ll post two security officers in front of your office while we check this out.” Trump nodded and went back to his tasks.

The moment they left, Death reappeared. He was looking at his watch. “Mr. Trump, we really haven’t got all day. I’m on a pretty tight schedule here. I suggest you prepare yourself for your Great Transition.”

“Great Transition, my ass. I have things to do, elections to win, opponents to crush, deals to be made. How about leaving and coming back for me in, say, 20 years?”

 “It doesn’t work like that, sir. You see, each day I check my docket and there’s a list of those I need to take. You came up this morning. Yes, see.” Death turned his clipboard toward Trump and placed his index finger next to the heavy print: 8:47 a.m. Pick up Donald J. Trump. Cause of death: cardiac arrest.

 “What a crock. You’re a whack job. My heart is perfect.  It’s beautiful. You can’t just come barging into my office and tell me that’s it, that it’s all over.”

“I’m just doing my job, sir. I understand. It’s not always easy to accept.”

“Easy to accept? Are you kidding me? There’s nothing to accept! I have a lot to do here, so how about you just leave me to it?”

“I can’t do that, sir. This is my job. Indeed my very purpose.”

Death’s silent eyes fixed on Trump.

“Wait just a minute, won’t you?” Unruffled, Trump reached underneath his desk and unlocked a drawer. He rifled through a pile of documents, some labeled “Top Secret.”“Hmm,” he muttered to himself, “forgot about these…” Finally, after a few minutes he found what he was looking for.

“Ahem, Mr. um, Death, I have a legal document here I would like to show you. I think you’ll find it…very interesting.” He broke a red wax seal and unrolled a long scroll of yellowed parchment paper decorated with ornate calligraphy. Slowly standing up, he handed it over his desk to Death.

“You see, I have a contract, a prior agreement with Satan, to whom I had sold my soul in exchange for a 100-year lifespan. He’s a great friend of mine, so he kindly threw in lifetime legal protection.”

“Hmm, and how has that worked out?” asked Death, taking the scroll in his hand.

He took in a quick breath, his eyes widening, as he glanced down at the contract. This was certainly a first.

“I wonder why I wasn’t apprised of this prior agreement, “

“Bureaucracies,” said Trump, widening his stance. “It’s the same everywhere. Besides, we had an NDA.”

Death peered over the parchment. “You don’t say?”

“I had my people look over this document over first before I signed it. They said it appeared to be legal and binding. Before you think about refusing to honor it, you should know that I’ve got a team of the best lawyers in the world. And if necessary, I will sue you to hell and back again.”

Death reached into his pocket and drew out a monocle, placed it over his right eye and began to read the contract. By the time he had finished, he couldn’t help but giggle.

“What’s so funny?” Trump blurted out, his face twisted.

“Well, you see, this document wasn’t signed by Satan himself. It’s a forgery. I have a younger sibling, Pestilence. He likes to think of himself as Satan, but actually he’s only a low-ranking demon. He has always had a predilection for pulling pranks. I’m afraid you’ve been had, sir.”

Trump groaned. Then all at once, he brightened.

 “Let me ask you something.” He leaned towards Death. “You look like a man who could use a little R ‘n R. I have a beautiful ocean front property in Lantana, a luxury seaside villa that I would be willing to sell you cheap. It’s fantastic – it’s terrific.”

Death looked up, nonplussed.

Trump decided to sweeten the offer. “Hey, I’ll tell you what,” Trump pushed on,  “I’ll gift it to you. Just think: lying on a comfortable chaise lounge, while being lulled by the ocean waves. You could relax and just take it easy. No more reaping, sowing—whatever it is you do. No more having to break the bad news to another victim. Just a peaceful stress-free life with no hassles. And just because I like you, I’ll throw in a few beautiful women. You’ve never seen women like these, all of ’em beauty queens. You’ll have your own pool, a private chef, and an on-call massage therapist. She’s a great friend of mine. Totally gorgeous. I think you’ll like her. Her name is…”

“Sir,” Death interrupted, “I have no use for worldly things. This appearance you see before you is ethereal. I have no physical body and thus have no need for a villa, nor can I enjoy the earthly pleasures you so vividly describe.”

“Hey, buddy, that sounds like a horrible, terrible job. And what do they pay you to do this horrible job that no one else wants?”

“They don’t pay me anything, sir. It’s simply how I was made and what I do. My purpose and my existence are literally one and the same.”

Trump shrugged.

“Look, all I’m saying is you’ve got a bad deal there. I can offer you a much, much better one.”

Death let out a hiss of astral air. It was the closest he could come to a sigh. It sounded like an ancient steam heater about to give up the ghost. Suddenly, a chill came over the room.

“Sorry Mr. Trump, I’m afraid there is simply no wriggle room here.”

Trump furrowed his bushy brows. Then his face lit up.

“Ok, I get it. You have to take someone, but hey, couldn’t we exchange my soul for someone else’s? Look, I know this guy, Mike Pence. You’d like him. He’s a very pious guy, a nice guy, always going to church. A very religious man. Why not take him instead?”

Death was silent for a moment and then responded in an even tone: “Because it doesn’t work that way, sir. And besides, it’s not his time.”

“What about someone else? One of my sons maybe. What about Don Jr.? Almost the same name; no one would notice. And if your boss catches on, you can just say it was a clerical error. Blame it on your secretary, or maybe someone upstairs. That’s what I do all the time. It’s always worked for me.”

Death paused. He knew something of earthly affairs and was familiar enough with Don, Jr. to be tempted to take him, instead. But Death took his job seriously and knew he had to stick to protocol.

“Sorry, sir, but my assignment requires me to retrieve your soul and not your son’s, or anyone else’s for that matter.”

Trump began to feel a sense of dread. Up until now, there had always been a way out of a difficult situation, a deal that could be made, someone to pin the blame on. But this guy— he was impenetrable, incorruptible.

 “I’ll tell you what, and I don’t say this lightly. You may have heard I’m running for president again next year. How would you like to be my running mate? It’s quite an honor you know. Not much to the job really. Most of the time you have your days to yourself. And you can still keep your day job. Once in a while you have to make a public appearance or meet a few dignitaries. You sit behind me and nod in agreement when I give my State of the Union address. You get a lot of perks and free health care. What do you say to that?”

Death was tempted. He had always admired the earnestness of earthly politics, the winner-takes-all jousting and political theater, the human drama at its most excessive. After all, being an eternal entity dreaded by all he came in contact with was somewhat depressing at times. He could use a hobby.

 “Someone once said power is the ultimate aphrodisiac” Death mused out loud. “Perhaps we can work something out.”

Trump clasped his small hands together and gave death his most winning smile.

“So, we have a deal then?’ He extended his hand.

Death took Trump’s hand in his and shook it. Suddenly, Trump clutched his heart and gasping for air, he fell to the floor. Death took his True Form and swept Trump’s soul into a small wicker basket hidden beneath his dark cloak. Death’s empty, black eyes peered out of his skeletal face and looked into the basket, shutting the lid tightly. “What a tiny soul.” he muttered to himself.  And with that, he became transparent and wispy, and while still clutching the basket, his form grew indistinct, and in an ever-tightening vortex of whirling shadows, he disappeared.



Richie Beirach — Leaving

Jazzlines, 2023



Richie Beirach has been recording solo piano albums throughout his 50-year career. During the pandemic, he stated in a video blog post that he missed performing and, at times, didn’t much feel like being at the piano. Certainly for any musician, especially an improvising musician, live performance is the lifeblood of the art.

So it was with great anticipation that I awaited this new live solo piano album, Leaving. With the exception of the last track, a medley of two of Beirach’s most well-known compositions, the concert is entirely made up of standards.

In an email exchange with Beirach, I asked him why he made this choice for this live concert/recording:


“It took me years to develop my own concepts and apply them to these simple standards. I didn’t want to play too many of my originals…I feel that, if I can use well-known standards as a basis for my concerts, I already have a frame of reference there for the audience. And then I can really take advantage of that familiarity of the standard and actually go even further out in my interpretations.”


In this live concert, recorded in July 2022 in in front of a relatively small audience at the Château Fleur Cardinale in Saint-Etienne-de-Lisse, near Bordeaux, France, it is clear that 75-year-old Beirach is very much still at the peak of his powers, both technically and creatively.

Anyone familiar with Beirach’s recorded output will instantly recognize these tunes as core pieces in his standards repertoire. That being said, Beirach is totally committed to reinventing these tunes.

The opener, “Nardis,” is explored from several angles. At times it is reduced to barebones homophony, drawing from chorale-like neoclassical harmonies. Other times, it’s stretched to the edge of the harmonic nether regions. It is alternately swinging, contemplative, ebullient, and brooding.

There are several medleys presented. The first begins with a deep exploration of one of Beirach’s staple tunes, “What Is This Thing Called Love.” Under his able fingers, this tune offers a seemingly infinite vehicle for reinterpretation. He uses his signature pedal tones to construct an energetic modal tapestry that builds to a climax and fades away, eventually morphing into a spirited “Alone Together,” and then coming to rest with a wholly original take on “Blue in Green.” At first, the latter is the recognizable classic ballad, but then Beirach re-harmonizes it in a style that hints at classical romanticism. It then organically evolves into a couple of chords that he freely plays over before he finally returns to the familiar melody, which resolves to an unexpected major chord. It’s stunningly beautiful.

“Round Midnight” is played as a ballad, then goes uptempo for a short yet intense improvisation before relaxing back to ballad-land. This is a great example of Beirach’s technical ability to pull colors out of the piano that few jazz pianists can. The tune ends with a characteristically ambiguous chord, the kind of voicing that has earned Beirach his nickname, The Code.

Beirach has been playing “Green Dolphin Street” for a very long time. When I compare this version to the solo version on the Live at Maybeck album, I am struck by how much it has grown in concept over the years. While it’s structurally similar with its optimistic pedal tone intro/outro, there’s a fresh immediacy and precision here, a melodic surety that never falters. Faster than the Maybeck version, it’s swinging and propulsive, until surprisingly, halfway through, it goes up a notch into double time, before falling back to the original groove. There’s an upbeat good-heartedness that pervades the entire performance.

The Bernstein ballad “Some Other Time,” another chestnut Beirach has been mining for decades, is lovingly stated here with a nod to classical romanticism, especially on the lush bridge. He then segues into the two chords that comprise Bill Evans’s “Peace Piece,” freely quoting from standards such as  “Maria,” “I Loves You, Porgy,” “When I Fall in Love,” “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning,” “Lush Life,” and perhaps hinting at “If I Only Had a Heart. “Then, before diving back into the bridge, he re-harmonizes the opening section and extends the coda, throwing in a bit of  “It Might as Well Be Spring” and fading back into “Peace Piece.”

From the very outset, Beirach’s take on the Miles Davis classic “Solar” is relentlessly swinging. At one point his left hand swoops down into the lower registers and becomes a focus of  the melodic action. He proceeds to explosively dive into a wildly inventive, powerful two-handed rhythmic section. Beirach daringly drops out the left hand completely and lets the right hand drift off on its own, to near silence, before bringing both hands back in for the last statement of the tune. It’s a bravura performance.

The beautiful arrangement of “Spring Is Here” owes a great deal to the version on the album Elegy, Beirach’s brilliant homage to Bill Evans. However, this version is a medley that moves into a dynamic reading of “Maiden Voyage.” He amps it up into double-time with a Latin feel, before abruptly veering off into a slyly Monkish rendering of “Monk’s Dream.” Beirach cycles back to a return of  “You Don’t Know What Love Is.” At first haunted and dreamy, it soon ramps up into a full-tilt swing, ending on an introverted rubato coda.

On “Footprints,” Beirach dispenses with the usual 6/4 feel and instead plays it right out of the gate in a fast 4/4, the left hand anchoring the groove with a nod to the original bass line. It’s an uptempo burner with a rhythmic intensity that never lets up.

Beirach ends the set with perhaps his most well-known original piece, “Leaving.” He plays the tune through and then meanders into a free improvisation. Eventually he makes his way back to the familiar melody, which transitions into a sublimely beautiful extended improvisation before heading back to a rubato rendition of the source material. He then goes out with a very tender reading of his beloved “Sunday Song.” First recorded on the ECM album Hubris, this soft, understated version possesses the simplicity and elegance of a lullaby.

Musicians are storytellers. Richie Beirach has always intuitively understood the art of  good storytelling. He knows how to set the stage for the tale, employing the musical equivalent of  foreshadowing, when to deploy the element of surprise, how to build tensions, and when to release them in order to keep the listener engaged. On every tune one can hear the spontaneous, yet intentional shaping of story elements designed to sweep the listener into the musical narrative and keep them engaged.

Throughout this audiophile-quality recording, one can hear Beirach’s elegant, passionate, yet disciplined pianism. Over the course of his career, Richie Beirach has continually honed his concepts and his chops, clarifying and evolving his musical vision, always moving his art towards an ever more refined artistic sensibility and greater freedom of expression.

I enthusiastically give Leaving five well-deserved stars.

2023 19 Jan

Ryuichi Sakamoto – 12

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I’ve been listening to the new Sakamoto release all morning on repeat. It’s an ambient music release of the highest order. I understand that at first it wasn’t meant for release, but were intended as a series of diary entries which were made while he was undergoing cancer treatments between 2021 and 2022, part of his ongoing 10 year battle with the disease. He describes these recordings as a casual way to release himself into the peaceful worlds of his synthesizers and piano playing: “I had no intention of composing something; I just wanted to be showered in sound.” Lucky for us, in the process, an album was created.

12 is a series of pieces whose titles are dates. The first seven pieces are dronal, employing highly processed synthesizers and ambient piano to create peaceful sound sculptures that drip with gorgeous reverberant spaces. Indeed, space is one the main ingredients in these immersive sound baths. When I first put the album on, so convincing were the sonic dimensions that seem to hang in the air and fill the room, I almost thought it was in surround sound.

Some of the tracks remind me of Brian Eno – with their drifting ambient piano in gauzy washes of spacious synth pads, all drifting in cosmic trails of reverb, how could they not? Some of the tracks seem almost to have had a mic on the maestro and if one listens carefully, one can hear his actual breathing. It make sense, because these tracks are felt with the breath; most have no discernible pulse.

Something changes when we arrive at track 8. Out of the ambient world we been engulfed in, comes a Satie-like Sarabande. It’s a beautiful miniature solo piano piece, with more than a hint of Sakamoto’s long term love affair with the music of Tom Jobim. Satie meets Jobim – what a lovely marriage.

The album holds its gaze on a couple more piano pieces that feel more compositional than their predecessors, then goes out quietly in one minute of soft bells. And once again, this listener is called to take the journey again.


I haven’t listened to a lot of new music this year, instead opting to make more music and transcribe tunes and learn them. Here are just a few that have caught my ear and also a random short list of television shows that have gotten me thru a fraught year.


    1. Ruins and remains- Wolfert Brederode
    2. Isabela – Oded Tsur
    3. Benjamin Lackner- Last Decade
    4. Fossora – Bjork
    5. Steve Reich – Runner
    6. Julia Hulsman – The Next Door
    7. Vermillion – Kit Downes
    8. Charles Lloyd – Ocean trio (saw them a few months back – mesmerizing.)
    9. Aaron Parks – Volume 1 and Volume 2 (superb pair of trio albums)
    10. Esborn Svensson – Home S (short album of found files of Esborn improvising solo piano. An incomplete but compelling glimpse of another side of this underrated pianist and what could’ve been…)
    11. Daydream – Alan Pasqua (possibly released in 2021)  -Beautiful solo album of standards- gorgeous recording as well
    12. Jakob Bro/Joe Lovano – Once Around the Room




You Must Believe in Spring – Bill Evans (excellent remaster of a perfect album.)

Revolver -Beatles (a great remix that pays homage to the original mix but ,makes everything clearer and punchier. Extras are great too, but no surround mix, except streaming Dolby Atmos, which I don’t have access to yet.)


Severance (Apple TV) – strikes an incredible balance between sci fi thriller and social commentary while retaining a dark, sly sense of humor. Simply brilliant

Station 11 (HBO Max) – excellent good adaptation of the book. Differs greatly from the book in all the right ways. (Could be from 2121)

Ramy (Hulu) simply one of the most innovative, freshest shows on television. Whatever it is, it isn’t just a comedy, although there are plenty of laughs. Many episodes are purely dramatic. Takes the viewer into worlds most don’t have access to. Courageous writing. Reinvents itself almost in every episode. This year’s Season 3 was the best yet.

Handmaids Tale (Hulu) – Finally caught up thru the 5th Season. Slow moments but redeems itself towards the end of the season. Continues to be a Great show.


At 38, jazz pianist Gerald Clayton has been on the scene for a while and has already staked out his musical turf for what promises to be long and productive career. He is probably best known for his work with Charles Lloyd, who guests on this album. Clayton’s father, John Clayton is on bass and Justin Brown is on drums. A very breathy vocal stylist  MARO guests on a couple of beguiling tracks. All in all, Bells on Sand is a very intimate affair and really shows off a lot of Clayton’s many musical talents and facets.

I saw him perform solo last night at the 222 in Healdsburg CA. Also an art gallery, The 222 is a relatively new venue, having started of as an occasional stage for events relating to the Healdsburg Jazz Festival. 

Last night, surrounded by beautiful artwork, Clayton opened with a jazz waltz I know but couldn’t place the title for the life of me. He played just the most recognizable A section, and then veered off into modal improvisations that were quite stunning. He followed that with an abstract, Debussy-like version of Spring is Here, then a more traditional reading of Like Someone in Love. He also captured the wistful yet cautiously optimistic vibe of Monk’s Mood, evincing a deep understanding of Monk’s harmonic vocabulary without a hint of facile imitation. The reinvented standards were interspersed with some enticing originals and extemporaneous playing; the show was peppered with groove oriented ostinatos, soulful gospel tunes and even some American roots music. He ended one improvisation with Elizabeth Cotton’s Freight Train. He closed the show with a gorgeous reading of Martin Rojas’s En la Orilla del Mundo (At the Edge of the World,) the opening track on Charlie Haden’s essential Nocturne album. His reading was obviously inspired by Gonsalvo Rubalcaba’s fine contributions to that classic. 

Clayton is a resourceful pianist. Using the piano as an orchestra, he thinks like a composer/arranger and is sometimes all over the keyboard, adding in little counter lines or flourishes in the upper registers while keeping everything going in the bass and mid range of the instrument. Clayton has an extremely refined touch; it would seem his classical background serves him well. While he is also a beautiful line player, clearly his is a very pianistic musical vision. He plays as if he’s in love with the sound of the instrument, and it shows in his singing tone, extraordinarily wide dynamic range and ability to elicit myriad colors out of the instrument.

All of this is apparent on the new album, his second for Blue Note. The album features a duo with piano and bowed bass, duos with Charles Lloyd (that duo is coming to the 222 soon, a Bay Area exclusive,) trios and solo piano as well. It’s an intimate recording and one that I will be coming back to frequently. I just love Clayton’s concept, a tasteful blend of traditional and modern styles that seem to borrow from almost everything. His solo performance some   Nights ago belied an almost encyclopedic knowledge of the history of jazz piano and beyond to classical, gospel and American folk traditions. Listening to him, the first word that came to mind was “elegant”, the way Ellington was an elegant player, although in an entirely different and original way. Incidentally, Gerald Clayton is also a killer B3 player.


2022 15 Mai

Oded Tzur – Isabela

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On Oded Tzur’s second ECM album, the Israeli sax player has delved further into incorporating his study of raga along with his love of delta blues to create a concept album that almost feels like a ritual. All the pieces seem ordered to take the listener on a spiritual journey. The music is devotional, yearning, longing, at times tender – at other times growling, the dragon awakens and breathes a hint of fire.  With his covered tone on ballads like Noam, Tzur’s sound brings to mind the gentle side of Charles Lloyd, while structurally (and sometimes even sonically,) I am reminded of Andy Sheppard’s deceptively simple musings, especially on Romaria. At other times a  fierceness emerges out of the dusky light, which brings to mind Coltrane’s prayerful late albums, although the hushed spell is never completely broken; the band avoids catapulting the listener all the way into the far reaches of chaotic ecstasy Trane explored. Almost everything on the album feels internalized, ruminative and meditative, except for the album’s energetic closer, Love Song for the Rainy Season.

Most of the tunes are modal; for the most part, primary soloists Tzur and pianist Nitai Hershkovits stay melodically within the structures but certainly not always: occasionally they stray outside the lines of the modal universes they inhabit.  Hershkovitz is a very agile improviser – his inventive ideas, culled from the blues, European folk tunes, classical Impressionism, Bach and everything in-between, coupled with an incredibly sensitive touch at the piano, impart his solos with sense of freedom and constant discovery. His gorgeous solo on my favorite tune on the album, the odd metered The Lion Turtle, is a good example of how he effortlessly combines all of these diverse influences into an integrated whole. It’s not easy to play over a modal structure and keep it as compelling as these two do.

Bassist Petros Klampanis is supportive and so right on the money, we scarcely notice his intuitively supportive artistry until his single concise, subdued solo on the Lion Turtle. Drummer Jonathan Blake has a tough job – he has to disappear into the music for much of the recording, although when called for, as on the aforementioned album closer, Love Song for the Rainy Season, Blake ups the ante and mixes it up with the fired up soloists, encouraging them to further heights with powerful flurries of toms and cymbals, culminating with a drum solo that is nothing short of majestic.

So much of music making is about telling a story.  All great improvisers are great story tellers. Everyone in this band is a competent storyteller, telling their individual truth, while at the same time, staying in tune with the collective. Note this is the same lineup as on Here be Dragons. This too feels like a band album. There is no egoic grandstanding here, just a commitment to humbly serving the music. And what beautiful music is. 


Oded Tzur, Tenor Saxophone
Nitai Hershkovits, Piano
Petros Klampanis, Bass
Johnathan Blake, Drums



Kit Downes’ new trio album is a pure joy to listen to. Downes has a beautiful touch on piano and demonstrates he is quite capable of fresh invention, both compositionally and improvisationally. His playing here is lyrical and poetic, yet he’s not afraid to occasionally venture into darker tonalities, suddenly juxtaposing angular phrases to more conventionally melodic motifs. For the most part, these tunes are rather unpredictable –  not many melodies here one might find oneself singing in the shower, yet paradoxically, these evanescent pieces, even at their most abstract, are approachable, inviting the listener to revisit them for a deeper dive.

There is a sense of a keen, disciplined intellect at work here, imbued with purposeful passion, resulting in a high wire balancing act of head and heart. Downes has obviously studied Bach. He employs precise contrapuntal lines in his left hand, that when deployed, add extra layers of texture and musical depth.  

Although largely a dreamy affair, tunes like the upbeat Sandilands, or Waders, a medium tempo composition, evince plenty of muscular playing and show off the fine level of interaction that only a long standing trio can muster. Sister Sister is perhaps the most tender offering while Class Fails, a gospel tinged short ruminative piece, reveals the elegiac,  contemplative side of the trio. 

Special mention must be made of the brilliant cover of Jimi Hendrix tune, Castles Made of Sand. It’s an abstract version which barely references the original melody. This is the kind of cover I love – as opposed to the Wasilewski trio’s recent tepid and overly literal cover of The Doors Riders of the Storm, the trio here uses it as a jumping off point to explore nooks and crannies I believe Jimi would’ve been happily surpised to hear.

The writing chores were evenly split between Downes and bassist Petter Eldh. Eldh’s pieces tend to be the more energetic contributions, while Downes writing tends towards the introspective. James Maddren, drums, gives tasteful support throughout. He seems to know just what is required and leaves out the extraneous. Eldh’s playing is interactive and always in service to the whole sound – he has flawless intonation,  a deep round tone, and his melodic approach reminds me at times of a young Marc Johnson. 

There are many fine new trios popping up these days. Besides their superb musicianship, what distinguishes this trio from the others is their subtle (and sometimes extreme) use of dynamics, something one rarely hears used in such a startlingly effective, musical manner. The trio seems to know this material well – it sounds already lived in and comfortable, enabling the unit to explore and interact at a deep level; the music really breathes here. With his refined, classical touch and technical precision, married to a strong rhythmic and innate melodic sensibility, at times Downes reminds me of the late John Taylor, which is meant as the highest compliment. My favorite ECM release so far this year. 



When I think about my relationship to listening to new music, I remember that Gary Larsen cartoon in which a student raises his hand and says, “May I be excused? My brain is full.”

Between the stuff people have laid on me over the years in the form of burned CDs and files, plus my burgeoning CD collection, not to mention my vinyl, hi-def downloads etc., I have enough music to listen to for the rest of my life. I have to confess: There are CDs in my collection I have yet to break the plastic off of.

That being said, being a Mathias Eick fan, I had to listen to his new album, When We Leave. I like it so much I’ve listened to it a number of times, and I’ve bought the HD download (saves space and sounds magnificent).

When We Leave has a similar feel to Eick’s last albums, Ravensburg and Midwest, which in this case is not a bad thing at all. It features the same core members as Ravensburg. There is a cohesion here, a genuine band sound, that only occurs with a working, touring band. Eick is an excellent composer of almost—dare I say it—hooky jazz infused with folk elements. It’s easy-to-digest comfort food for the spirit. The melodies are often memorable, even singable, yet somehow he avoids triteness and sentimentality. There’s a universal quality to his music. His burnished trumpet sound, while far from incendiary, has a kind of power and warmth that really imbues the instrument with his humanity. What comes out is often reflective, sometimes ruminative and sad, sometimes hopeful and at times, epically triumphant. There is an optimism to Mathias’ writing and playing that I find uplifting in these troubling times.

This album is a series of tone poems with simple titles like “Loving,” “Caring,” and “Turning” that seem to suggest that everything is going to be alright. Yet for all his melodicism and seeming simplicity, there is hidden complexity in these graceful arrangements and a level of detail that invites the listener to revisit them again and again.

As in the last release, Ravensburg, violin and Hardanger player Hakon Aase continues to add his special magic to the proceedings. Who would’ve thought trumpet and violin could blend so seamlessly? In a way, Aase is really the secret sauce in this group. Personally, I believe Eick’s musical identity really began to coalesce when he brought in Aase and crystallized the current lineup. Aase is a very original improviser; often his playing evokes the stark winter landscapes of northern Norway. While he evinces a strong understanding of Norwegian folk traditions, he’s also an out-of-the-box player who is capable of surprising the listener, sometimes taking sonic journeys through other musical landscapes. But it’s his rootsy-ness that I find so attractive and which brings a certain depth and mystery to the mix.

Besides the usual trumpet, violin, piano, and drums, the album has pedal steel guitar, played by guest artist Stian Carstensen. Usually associated with country music, the pedal steel is far more versatile and can fit into other genres, conjuring a feeling of keening longing, and sometimes evoking otherworldly atmospheres. I remember once seeing Harold Budd conduct a choir that was accompanied by pedal steel, Fender Rhodes, and harp. I had never heard anything like that before. The pedal steel lavishly slid from one beautiful sonority to another, chords hanging in the air like ripe apricots. Such is the way the pedal steel is used here, as a color, a kind of organic pad for the music to rest on.

My only criticism of this album (and indeed the last couple of Eick’s releases) is that at 37 minutes, it seems a bit short. But it’s all good stuff. Perhaps the thinnest track is “Flying”—it’s certainly the least structured piece on the album. But there’s a lot of deep listening going on and it is growing on this listener, as indeed the whole album continues to do. Eick keeps on delivering albums that hearken back to ECM’s seventies glory days, and the world is better for it. 


Mathias Eick: trumpet, keyboard, vocals
Hakon Aase: violin, percussion
Andreas Ulvo: piano
Audun Erlien: bass
Torstein Lofthus: drums
Helge Andreas Norbakken: drums, percussion
Stian Carstensen: pedal steel guitar


The Chair, a new dramedy on Netflix, starring the wonderful Sandra Oh and a perfectly cast Jay Duplass, is an amazing balancing act of social satire, drama and wild, over the top, even at times physical comedy. Yet at its heart, the creators, Amanda Peet and Annie Julia Wyman have some serious things to say. It deals with many contemporary issues, the way social media is used to manipulate public perception, even among “woke Liberals,” and takes on the power structures of academia, ageism, racism, sexism, wokeism head on, shedding a knowing light on the dynamics of women in power, both in how they are viewed by their male counterparts, and also in how they are seen by other women aspiring to rise in a male-dominated field. It is clear the creators had something more than mere satire in mind, its main characters are far more nuanced than stereotypes, and it manages to insert moments of real pathos amidst the genuinely funny set pieces. Not to be missed.



I just finished the Rose Simpson memoir, Muse Odalisque Handmaiden, which I absolutely loved. What a gifted writer.She strikes this reader as someone I can trust; Rose’s intention was to report as honestly as possible her personal experience in The Incredible String Band, yet she achieves far more than that in this marvelous book. It’s both a joyous and a bit of a heartbreaking read, a fascinating fly on the wall account of her time in ISB. I loved the little stories and the bits of gossip, as when she recounts meeting Joan Baez, who seemed to have little regard for Robin Williamson and Mike Heron’s  „airy fairy“ music, and was especially dismissive of the ladies of ISB. Her meetings with other super stars such as Joni Mitchell, David Crosby etc, go quite a bit better.

The whole story starts off almost as a fairy tale, with Rose the young mountaineer bumping into the mysterious elf-like beings living upstairs at the boarding house where she is staying. And falling in love with Mike, this innocent girl is eventually recruited into the adventure of a lifetime. Of course, being an unflinchingly honest narrator, besides the ecstatic joy of performing and living semi-communally with a group of lovely, gifted people, she faithfully recounts the playing out of their freewheeling sexual attitudes, reflective of the times, as well as the tensions of touring, the occasional spats and petty misunderstandings and the band’s later obsession with Scientology, which she makes abundantly clear she didn’t share.

One thing stood out for me among many: The book seems far kinder to Mike than Robin, who is repeatedly portrayed as arrogant, dismissive, egocentric and stubborn. We all know our heroes aren’t perfect, but this book reveals some of the complexities of character that weren’t seen on stage, where everyone was always trying to be „their best selves.“ This comes as no surprise of course. Who among us is playful, charming, deeply spiritual and “happy happy happy all the time”?

The book gave me a perspective and insight into the band’s personal dynamics, and I came away still loving them all, but with a better understanding of what it must have been like on the road for this band of idealists who had to learn to grapple with the realities of celebrity and changing fortunes.

Rose also devotes an entire chapter to the elusive Licorice. While all mysteries aren’t revealed, Rose manages to paint a vivid portrait of someone she lived in close quarters with, yet never really got to know or fully understand. Simpson manages to humanize this ethereal woman, her many facets seeming almost like contradictions of character, yet somehow all of these aspects of her personality coexisted beneath her placid exterior, emerging when the occasion demanded it.

Another thing that surprised me was how naive the boys were regarding finances. They were true artists and were proud of the fact that they cared little for material wealth and possessions. Yet at some point when they were touring and playing large halls, it appears they still weren’t really getting paid in the conventional sense. They had all of their needs taken care of, and were eventually able to live in somewhat better digs, and yeah, a limo started showing up to pick them up for gigs, but there was no regular paycheck, only just enough to cover their living expenses and whims. It also irked me that even after the ladies were finally officially listed as members of the band, they still never received a dime. I also wonder if Robin or Mike get any residuals from the sales of their albums, which have been remastered and rereleased a number of times over the years. And do they still control the rights to their songs? I know many artists from that era were ripped off by record companies and management. Nonetheless it was sort of shocking to read that were living in a kind of hippie squalor even after the first few albums were released. And from what I can tell, they never lived in upscale places. I know they weren’t geared towards the posh lifestyle, but still, one would like to think they were able to put away a nest egg during that period they were packing those halls. (Of course, they must have spent a fortune on Scientology, an organization known for taking its followers to the cleaners.)

In a way, this book goes beyond the simple story of young love, the arc of musical dreams exultingly realized, the inevitable disillusionment and the eventual breakup of a band. At its core, it’s a glimpse into the idealistic values we were all trying to live by, and the spirit of the time – a unique constellation of hope, idealism and fragile naïveté is well drawn in these pages. Moreover, it’s a sort of time capsule that captures the ineffable vibe of this unique moment in history, as well or perhaps better than any other account of the era I have read.

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