AMN Reviews: Arni Cheatham’s Thing – Thing [Porter Records PRCD 1507]

For decades, New York had generally been recognized as one of, if not the, most important centers for jazz in the world. But even during New York’s dominance the music flourished in creatively fertile regional centers such as Chicago, Los Angeles, St. Louis, New Haven, and Boston. This last city was home to the early fusion group Thing.

Thing, whose members met as students at the Berklee School of Music, was nominally led by alto and soprano saxophonist Arni Cheatham. Originally from Chicago, Cheatham became an influential figure in Boston’s jazz community not only as a musician, but as one of the founders of the city’s Jazz Coalition as well as a music educator and advocate.

The group’s self-titled, self-issued album, which came out in the early 1970s and has recently been reissued by Porter Records, was its only release. The album contains two lengthy live performances, each of which would have taken up one side of an LP, recorded live in Cambridge, Massachusetts in spring of 1972. Both are superior examples of the kind of early jazz-rock fusion that eschewed elaborate arrangements and chord progressions in favor of a more direct, modal improvisation grounded in a funk-rock rhythm. The rhythm section of electric bassist David Saltman, electric pianist Vagn Leick, drummer Kiah “T” Nowlin and conga player Dorian McGee set out infectious grooves and static harmonies that afford Cheatham—on flute as well as saxophones—and trumpeter Wil Letman the freedom to play in or out. The group’s rhythms are complex but intelligible, the solos tight but loose; the performance seems to capture a moment—short-lived, as we now know–that saw just the right balance struck between the conservation of jazz conventions and the importation of the instruments and pulses of rock.

Thing is just one installment in Porter’s continuing series of reissues of archival performances deserving of a second life. Two other releases in the series—Obugumba, the 1972 album by the Ugandan guitarist/vocalist Birigwa, and drummer Joe Chambers’ 1976 New World—are also worth hearing.

Daniel Barbiero

Claudia Quintet to play First Night

From the Boston Globe, the Claudia Quintet will play Boston’s First Night fest this week.

NEW YORK – When percussionist and composer John Hollenbeck, an eclectically minded veteran of the New York scene with a portfolio ranging from big band and klezmer to avant-garde “new music,’’ set out to form his own group, he didn’t necessarily expect to make something as unusual – nor as durable – as the Claudia Quintet.

Now nine years old and about to release its fourth CD, the quintet features a distinctive front line of clarinet, vibraphone, and accordion. Its distinctive sound and Hollenbeck’s ambitious yet accessible compositions have earned critical acclaim and fueled the emergence of Hollenbeck, 41, as a prominent composer, a Guggenheim fellowship recipient who is frequently solicited for adventurous new commissions.

At: First Church in Boston, Thursday, sets at 9 p.m. and 10:15 p.m.
Information and First Night buttons at

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BMOP Club Concert on December 8th

From the Boston Modern Orchestra Project:

WHEN: Tuesday, December 8th @ 7:00pm. Doors open @ 6:00pm. (Future dates include: Feb 2 / April 6)

WHERE: Moonshine Room at Club Café. 209 Columbus Avenue @ Berkeley Street, Boston. T: Orange Line to Back Bay. Green Line to Arlington.

HOW: General Admission $20/Students $15. For more info or to purchase tickets, call BMOP at 781.324.0396 or visit Space is limited.

PROGRAM DETAILS: This concert celebrates the genesis of The Score Board – a group of New England-based composers serving as BMOP’s vanguard of composer-advocates through volunteerism, direct support and activities, community-building and curating BMOP’s annual Club Concerts series. The Dec 8th concert marks the first Club Concert curated by members of The Score Board including Kati Agócs, Marti Epstein, Robert Kirzinger, Andy Vores, and Dalit Warshaw. Program includes: world premieres written for the occasion by Jonathan Bailey Holland (flute and cello) and Robert Kirzinger (solo viola), as well as pieces by John Mallia (flute and live electronics), Eric Moe (viola and cello), Elena Ruehr (viola and cello), and Jan Swafford (violin and cello).

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Avant Gardner Series in Boston

Details about this new classical series are available.

Home to the longest-running museum music program in the country, under the direction of esteemed violist Scott Nickrenz, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum further expands its musical offerings this fall with the launch of Avant Gardner: a new contemporary classical series set to shake up Boston’s new music scene with an edgy slate of musical offerings from modern composers—including the world premieres of three new works.

In three dynamic programs this season, Avant Gardner serves up music from the 20th and 21st centuries on Thursday evenings as part of Gardner After Hours, the museum’s popular series of evening events. All three concerts feature performances by the Callithumpian Consort, a Boston-based new music ensemble, under the leadership of Stephen Drury.

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Frisson of the New at Mass MoCA

The Boston Musical Intelligencer reviews Mass MocA.

Just who cares about new music these days? Classical music is so busy dying, hardly anyone checks in on its red-headed stepchild. I mean, I guess I care. I follow the news, learn the new names, listen to recordings. But I’m a connoisseur, and we’re horses of a different color. And at the marathon concert held at the Bang on a Can summer festival at MassMoCA in North Adams on August 1, my species was not the only one in attendance.

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New on Aum Fidelity

A new release from the combination of Morris, Cancura, and Gray is available.

Joe Morris: bass
Petr Cancura: tenor and alto saxophone
Luther Gray: drums

Wildlife is the debut recording of a new group concept from Jazz Master nonpareil Joe Morris. Within this trio anything is possible. Joe Morris is here featured on bass. Petr Cancura, a remarkably gifted young musician (featured here on tenor and alto sax, and as recording engineer!), is a Czech Republic native who now resides in Brooklyn (by way of Ottawa, then Boston). Petr’s name was new to us at AUM Fidelity when Joe first spoke of his great musical gifts, which are on gorgeous display here. Drummer Luther Gray developed from kicking it in punk rock bands in Washington DC in the late 80s to being a jazz drummer of great finesse and technique in the modern day. He has been working with Joe Morris since 2002.

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Microtonal marks 20 years with several premieres

Joe Maneri (4/3/04 at the 40 Watt Club in Athe...
Image via Wikipedia

A recent Boston Microtonal Society performance is reviewed.

The equal-tempered 12-note scale is near-universal in Western music; but within that qualifying “near,” the Boston Microtonal Society finds an expansive playground. Founded 20 years ago by composer and avant-garde jazz saxophonist Joseph Maneri, the BMS and its resident ensemble, NotaRiotous, threw a long, varied anniversary party on Sunday: 12 pieces, six premieres, countless divisions of the octave.

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AUM Fidelity To Release New CD From The Fully Celebrated May 26th

From Improvised Communications:

On May 26th, AUM Fidelity will release The Fully Celebrated’s seventh recording, and label debut, Drunk on the Blood of the Holy Ones (AUM054).

Led by saxophonist Jim Hobbs, and formerly known as The Fully Celebrated Orchestra, the group has been a fixture on Boston’s jazz scene for more than two decades. For its first release in four years, the founding line-up of Hobbs, bassist Timo Shanko and drummer Django Carranza returned to the studio to document eight new quintessentially eclectic compositions.

CD release concerts are scheduled for May 28th at Barbès in Brooklyn, New York and May 29th at Ryles Jazz Club in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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