Enter the Smalls Records Five CD Giveaway Contest


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All About Jazz members are invited to enter the Smalls Records FIVE CD giveaway contest starting today. We'll select FIVE winners at the conclusion of the contest on May 10th.

Click here to enter the contest

(Following Teddy Charles at AAJ automatically enters you in the contest.)

  1. Teddy Charles
    Dances With Bulls - SRCD-0038

  2. Zaid Nasser
    Off Minor - SRCD-0039

  3. Yaala Ballin
    Travelin' Alone - SRCD-0040

  4. Omer Klein
    Heart Beats - SRCD-0041

  5. Fat Cat Big Band
    Meditations On The War For Whose Great God Is Most High You Are God - SRCD-0042

Good luck!
Your Friends at Smalls Records

Teddy Charles
Dances With Bulls

Teddy Charles has had his two acts, first as a creative musician, and also a record producer, and then as a sea captain, chartering his ships off Long Island in the summer and the Florida Keys in the winter. Now, in his third act, he has re-entered the jazz world surrounded by a new generation of musicians at the head of a sextet and has also resurrected his fabled Tentet of 50 years ago. These projects come out of a collaboration with saxophonist-flautist Chris Byars whose quartet is the basis for the sextet and who also is an important component of the Tentet.

The repertoire of the sextet reflects many aspects of Charles' long journey through jazz: coming to New York from his native Massachusetts at the time of the flowering of bebop; his association with Charlie (as he puts it) Mingus; and the pushing the envelope with Jimmy Giuffre, Shorty Rogers and Shelly Manne in Los Angeles and, later, even further out with Hall Overton, Jimmy Raney and Ed Shaughnessy in New York. Excepting some of the recordings with Overton, which were not intended as jazz, he has always shown an avid allegiance to swinging, at all levels of his subtle ways of abstracting the harmonies in his solos, ability to create variations over the course of several choruses and swing harder, without raising the tempo, in building a solo.

Zaid Nasser
Off Minor

As a cultural ambassador, Zaid has more to teach us about than just diplomacy, and fans of music from hip-hop to bebop should equally take note. What ties these two seemingly disparate styles together is partly the beat, but at a deeper level, it is also the rhyme. Clearly, the rhyming nature in the poetry of hip-hop is apparent to all, producing a rich fabric of layered rhythm and accentuation that builds suspense and emotional fulfillment. What is less apparent is the extent to which this figures into the long tradition of bebop (extended into modern jazz) improvisation. While the human mind readily grasps similarities in word sounds deployed in a rhythmic context, it is important to note that these similarities are in reality just similarities in the properties of sound, and this can involve properties other than phonological properties. In music, the qualities of pitch, harmonic-degree, and thematic content all figure into the aesthetic picture, and the rhyming character of instrumental music emerges out of these sonic qualities. The perception of these qualities is partly innate (as perhaps the mind's way of cognitively coordinating events in time having a periodic nature), but is also enhanced dramatically with experience and with musical training. You simply have to walk before you can run. Perhaps it is the element of achievement that makes it so difficult for many to see the similarities between these two musics. But there is no denying in the end that bebop has produced one of the richest forms yet devised for conveying coded cultural meanings in a poetic context. In this regard, Zaid Nasser excels as virtually no one else has, and his rich improvisations, while obviously great from the first listening, typically reveal their real secrets increasingly over time.

Yaala Ballin
Travelin' Alone

Seeing Yaala Ballin the other day, dressed for the cold New York winter, the retro lines of her trenchcoat and hat lent her the air of a prewar femme fatale. In reality, while worldly and cosmopolitan, she is naturally open and engaging; nevertheless, the trenchcoat intimates of her journey.

Ballin was born in 1983 in Givat Shmuel, Israel, a suburb of Tel Aviv. She went to the prestigious Thelma Yellin national high school for the arts, attending class alongside a who's who in the recent wave of Israeli-born jazz musicians to emigrate to New York since the mid 1990s.

Of course it's no secret that Ballin is a great singer. But listen further, you'll find that Ballin's knowledge of harmony and music theory is commensurate with her band mates, a hard-core group that notoriously doesn't do 'lite.' This recording was made entirely with live full-band takes- there are no vocal retakes, overdubs, punch-ins, or 'fixes,' and there is no isolation. Very few vocalists record this way today. To be certain, the resulting interplay of the vocalist and musicians is a part of what brings this music to life.

Omer Klein
Heart Beats

Omer Klein was born in Israel May 15th, 1982 and grew up in the town of Netanya. He began to study music at age 7. He excelled and was accepted to Thelma Yellin High School of the Arts, a national arts academy that fostered a number of the talents that make up the Israeli-American jazz movement, including mentor and bandmate Omer Avital. Klein achieved recognition officially as an 'Outstanding Musician' by the Israeli Ministry of Culture. He later received a scholarship to attend the New England Conservatory in Boston and moved to the United States. Since 2006, he has been living and working in New York, and working with artists such as Joel Frahm, Clarence Penn, Ben Street, Meshell Ndgeocello, Jason Lindner, Avishai Cohen, Donny McCaslin, Joe Martin, Jaleel Shaw, and of course, Omer Avital.

Fat Cat Big Band
Meditations On The War For Whose Great God Is Most High You Are God

The basement of 75 Christopher Street was a jazz impresario's dream. The underutilized 10,000 square feet of the sleepy Fat Cat billiards had enough space to build an entire jazz club within it. For Mitch Borden, whose tiny Smalls club had people lining up down the street to get in, a spillover club seemed like just the thing. He struck a deal with Fat Cat's owners, got some acoustic panels and a bank of box fans, and took the “square" out of the square-feet by populating the space with some of the best tchochkes ever salvaged from a dumpster. The resulting club played host to some of the scene's greatest acts and some of our best recordings.

After years of observing the goings-on at Smalls, the entrepreneurial chess master Noah Sapir bought into Fat Cat. He had a vision for it that began where Mitchs left off, and added many innovative touches of his own. This now-thriving spot might just be the best hangout we've ever had- part by design and part by serendipity. When fire code demanded the wall enclosing Mitch's music room be torn down, Sapir elected to open up the music to the entire club. At first, it seemed crazy. Perform jazz for a boisterous crowd of pool and ping-pong players? But the seasoned cats never batted an eye. 'Cool,' they said. And damned if it wasn't cool. The energy from the band fed into the crowd, and the crowd fed it back to the band, and the result was an elusive alchemy. Wiser cats saw the advantage in it- where else could you play jazz for as many as a thousand people that might visit Fat Cat in a night? At Town Hall, maybe, or Lincoln Center. But where except Fat Cat could you stand to recruit so many people at one time into the cause of the music in vivo?

Through all of this evolution, there have been few constants. One is the adventuresome guitarist Jade Synstelien, who arrived in New York as a pilgrim to Smalls around the time that Fat Cat the jazz club was born. He was a young man out of America's heartland, a child at heart, but with the world already etched onto his face, he had a dream- and a mission. Now, the dream of running a big band is as close to the impossible dream as anything in New York. It's one of those paradoxical you-have-to-make-it-before-you-can-make-it endeavors. But this guy had the work ethic and would not give up. His band began life as the Staring Into The Sun Orchestra, the name perhaps an unwitting reference to his characteristic posture and to the dangers of daydreaming. 'Staring into the sun is fun- but not good for you,' or so goes the song. Mitch featured the band every Sunday, and when Noah bought the place, Jade stayed on and began to play an integral part of the new club. Rising star Nellie McKay sang for the band during a period, and eventually used Jade on her breakout album for Columbia, Get Away From Me. After seven steady years, the band has evolved into the Fat Cat Big Band, both in name, and as an institution in itself.

If this were only a story of one person's perseverance, that would be one thing. But this is a story of Jade's remarkable creative drive, his boundless love for music and humanity, and his ability to inspire the same in others. The book and feel of the band is entirely his. The band is packed with 11 top players, vital musicians each in their own right; but they all get it. Each of Jade's charts has some kind of off-kilter twist to it. Even the stuff that pays tribute to the tradition is knowing and gutsy. Not a trace of trite swing revivalism anywhere, nothing lite. Nor is he experimenting with mere eclecticism, a common crutch of modern music. He's trying to say something, and each piece adds something to the message. Unusual chromatic voices are offset against more traditional voicings. The guy can clearly write and play clean, but he knows how and when to toss it up. All that individuality is rooted in the right places, and I think he in fact understands one part of the Ellington-Strayhorn/Mingus connection that has eluded most everyone else. It's all tied up in having something to say, and saying it. Speaking of which, I think Jade has some of the most interesting vocal tunes going, reminding one a bit of later Tom Waits, but not in the least derived from it.

This story appears courtesy of All About Jazz.
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