• “One Way/Detour”, New York City-based pianist Bob Albanese’s debut trio recording for ZOHO is a masterpiece of intricate modern straightahead jazz in the Bill Evans tradition, featuring Five-time GRAMMY nominee, the brilliant, legendary Chicago multi-instrumentalist Ira Sullivan on sax and flute.
• On “One Way/Detour”, Albanese exploits the creative juxtaposition of opposites and oxymorons in his own compositions such as the title track, “Morning Nocturne”, “Midnight Sun”, “Friendly Fire” etc. and in a stunning version of Thelonius Monk’s “Ugly Beauty”.
• Bob Albanese’s working experience spans the categories of Jazz, Latin, World, Classical and Theater as sideman (Buddy Rich, Anita O’Day, Warne Marsh, The Duke Ellington Orchestra under the direction of Paul Ellington, Phil Woods, Freddie Hubbard, Bob Mover, Branford Marsalis); solo pianist (The Rainbow Room, New York); and player, composer / arranger, leader for more than 50 commercials.
• Bassist Tom Kennedy has played with James Moody, Stan Kenton, Barney Kessel and Freddie Hubbard to Al DiMeola, Michael Brecker, Steve Gadd and Dave Weckl. Drummer Willard Dyson, has played Michael Franks, Jimmy Scott, the Boys Choir of Harlem and Cassandra Wilson; worked extensively in late night TV; and performed as a percussionist in symphony orchestras.
• Multiple GRAMMY nominee Sullivan was a key part of the Chicago jazz scene of the 1950s, and, in 1956, spent some time with Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers. He moved to Florida in the early 60s. His most notable association since the 60s was with Red Rodney in a brilliant quintet.
Ira Gitler here. To many I’m known as a “Jazz Critic” (I’ve also been introduced as a “famous jazz cricket”—possibly coming behind Jiminy) but I prefer to think jazz journalist, historian and advocate. Any way you want to break it down, after nearly sixty years of writing about my beloved music, recordings for review arrive at my apartment almost daily, mostly by parcel post and UPS. I try to at least eventually spot-check all of them, but usually my first priority is to keep working with the disc for which I have already been assigned to write the notes. However, when sometimes one comes directly from a musician, looking for feedback about the music and/or advice on what labels I think might be interested, I’m apt to give it an audition more quickly.
Such as the case late in 2007 when I received a parcel from pianist Bob Albanese. I was not familiar with his name, but when I heard his playing, I immediately became aware of a talent with the bedrock verities of the mainstream expressed with his own personality, whether presenting his own compositions or interpreting standards.
I called him and after I gave him my praise, I offered some ideas as to where he might send the music to try and get a record date. After some general conversation about record business as relates to Jazz in particular, I told him I would try to come up with something and get back to him. At least he might come out of it with a tangible product to present to the jazz world, an essential publicity tool for a musician starting out with his own group.
In the fall, after settling down from my summer travels, I went down to Smalls Jazz club in Greenwich Village. Saxophonist Bob Mover’s combo was the opening group that night. I knew Mover well and was digging him after not hearing him for a long time, but his pianist, a new face to me, captured my attention with the way he shaped his solos, using idiosyncratic single-lines and contrasting two-handed chordal inventions. Imagine my surprise when at the end of the set, Mover announced his name, “Bob Albanese.” After the set, I went up and introduced myself, and he informed me that in January of 2008, while on a two week engagement with Ben Vereen in Palm Beach, Florida, he had self-produced a studio date with his trio and guest Ira Sullivan. Could he send it to me? Of course!
I soon learned that the guy I thought of as a “new, young pianist” back in 07’ was in reality a seasoned veteran who has an impressive background spanning three decades with personal ties to stalwarts of the trade. His resume, which spans the categories of Jazz, Latin, World, Classical and Theatre, too detailed too adequately summarize here, can be found on his website, www.bobalbanese.com.
It was during Vereen’s engagement at the Colony Hotel in Palm Beach that One Way/Detour was recorded on their two days off. Albanese’s trio is completed by bassist Tom Kennedy and drummer Willard Dyson, two pros who like their leader have extensive experience in many areas of music. Dyson, California-born, came on the New York scene in 1986 and has played with groups and individuals from Michael Franks and Jimmy Scott to the Boys Choir of Harlem and percussionist in symphony orchestras.
Kennedy, originally from St. Louis, is the brother of pianist Ray Kennedy. His dossier of luminous associations extends from James Moody, Michael Brecker, Mike Stern, and Dave Weckl.
Ira Sullivan, the brilliant multi-instrumentalist--Washington, D.C. born—made his reputation in Chicago. I heard him there at a Roosevelt College jam session in 1949 when, at 18, he floored me by playing trumpet ala the Miles Davis of the “Birth of he Cool” period and alto saxophone with the flavor of Sonny Stitt. In the ‘50s, he became an important part of the Chicago scene, as he developed into one of the masters, particularly on tenor sax and trumpet. He played with Art Blakey in New York in ’56, but returned to Chicago. In 1960, he and his wife moved to Florida. The only extensive touring that Ira has done since was when trumpeter Red Rodney convinced him to co-lead a group with him in the 1980-85 period. I did hear him at Dizzy’s Club in New York in November of 2006. On that night and in this 2008 recording, he is still the “real deal” he has always been. He has a genuine love of playing that is but one of the things that unites Bob Albanese with him as kindred spirits.
And speaking of Bob, who better to enlighten us on the nature of this CD’s repertoire and the history that goes with it. (I chime in from time to time.)
1. “Major Minority” Major Minority- this tune was initially a modal improvisation. I started noodling around in melodic minor, a scale made up of half minor and half major (for all you music theory enthusiasts). In a matter of a few minutes, it was a tune. It has a mood... a melodic minor mode mood.” Bob’s articulation and feel for the time changes stand out in this piece.
The Bob Albanese Trio with Ira Sullivan, at the recording session in Florida, January 2008. From left to right: Tom Kenedy, Willard Dyson, Bob Albanese, Ira Sullivan.
2. “Yesterday’s Gardenias” Ira brought the tune to the session and said, ‘This is a tune that Coltrane would have loved to play.’ Ira paraphrased the melody a bit ,and I really like what he did with it. The song was associated with Glenn Miller, but has not been recorded that often.” This version is notable for the mellow flow of Ira’s tenor in introducing the melody, Bob’s blithe forward motion and the “fours” between Sullivan and Kennedy that precede the final theme.
3. “One Way/Detour” “I wrote this tune a few years ago based on a One Way sign that I saw in Manhattan that had a Detour sign posted directly below pointing in the opposite direction (see on the inner tray card). My father-in-law, who was with me at the time, exclaimed, ‘man, that's an oxymoron if I ever saw one." It touched a nerve in regard to the inevitable dualities of life, which one could say is a continuing theme in my music... more or less.”
4. “Morning Nocturne” “Composing this tune was an all-night affair. It had me in a state of deep contemplation... the uncomfortable kind that has you picking apart past actions and habitual musical and social defaults. It went through a few keys before I settled on the present key. When I finally finished it, it was daylight. “ Dyson’s infectious samba rhythms may keep you dancing all night.
5. “Joyful Noise” “I wrote this tune for a band I put together called ‘Café Simpatico’ for a Jazz Ambassador tour sponsored by the U.S. State Department back in 2003. We did a six-week tour of war-torn former Yugoslavia and played it at almost every concert to the most appreciative audiences ever.”
6. “Ugly Beauty” “This is one of my favorite Thelonious Monk tunes. He wrote it in 3/4 time. Since we already had two tunes in 3, we decided to play it in 4/4. I play Monk’s three beginning chords from a transcription that outline a locrian natural 2 scale (once again for music theory buffs), but with a perfect 5th above the root in the left hand, which is uncharacteristic of the locrian mode. It creates an interesting extra major 7th interval in the lower register and a perfectly mirrored major seventh in relation to the top note in the upper register, creating a beautiful compounded dissonance. An interesting ‘detour’ off one symmetrical path that ends up being symmetrical on another. I wonder if his oxymoronic title might've been about those three terraced opening chords.” The timbre of Ira’s alto flute in delivering the theme is sheer sonic beauty.
7. “Waiting For Louis” “I wrote this tune while I was waiting for my son to be born. While some expectant fathers might pace and whistle, I paced and scat sang. At this time, the vehicle for my scat was a popular standard with a sentimental theme. I had plenty time to write down a contra fact chorus in my notebook since my wife's labor lasted almost two days. It helped to calm my nerves while I hurried and waited. This was the only take and there was some nice interplay in the trio.”
8. “Midnight Sun” “This Lionel Hampton classic was a logical pick for a duo with Ira, and conveniently in keeping with our oxymoronic theme. Ira and I got a few nice takes. Listening back to this take, we agree it was like we'd been playing together for years'.” The piano/soprano sax journey of Albanese and Sullivan is also one to remember.
9. “Friendly Fire” “I wrote this with Ira in mind on the day of the session. Again, I was scatting over a perennial standard jazz vehicle that asks a question about love. Judging by Ira's impassioned musing on this one, he has asked the said question before. The title "friendly Fire' seemed appropriate.
10. "More Friendly Fire” “This was the first take of the previous tune. Upon my request, the board remained in record mode throughout the entire session so as to catch all the ‘friendly musical fire’ going on. Unfortunately, the recording gear shut down toward the end. Steve, the engineer, was on the case and remedied the problem quickly, but the first half of this take was not recorded, but I felt the story it told was worth preserving. Both takes say volumes in their interplay. Ira is a master storyteller, which is once again evident here. Speaking of ‘evidence’, after the session, Ira and I sat with coffee, talking story and he, never wavering from things essential, laid a verse on me that sums it all up: “Faith is the promise of things hoped for, and the evidence of things unseen.”
For me, Bob Albanese, this recording is a result of that ‘promise’. I sincerely hope you dig the ‘evidence’. Thanks for listening”
In relating the story of his musical journey, Albanese says, “I went to Berklee in the mid-‘70s, but left after my second year. I went down to Cape May N.J. where I played a solo piano gig for two years. I then began studying with Dennis Sandole in Philadelphia ( a noted John Coltrane mentor). Dennis’ approach to music was essential. He was informative, mystical, inspiring and very supportive. Eventually, I migrated further up the shore to Atlantic City for the employment opportunities casino’s seemed to promise for working musicians, but soon found that having a deep emotional connection to music can be a liability in the music business. I had a realization that music is not only my livelihood, but my Dharma, a way of life.”
Despite all his successes as a performer and educator, the desire to become more fully involved in jazz is at the core of his soul. He told me, “I’ve got to find a way to play the music I want to play.” I feel that this document of a special talent will lead Bob Albanese on to the “one way” with fewer and fewer detour signs in the picture.
Ira Gitler, January 7, 2009