Thanks to Ken Dryden for the kind words in his review in the October issue of New York City Jazz Record!
Thanks to Ken Dryden for the kind words in his review in the October issue of New York City Jazz Record!
So grateful to Paul Rauch and All About Jazz for about as good a review as anyone who does this could hope for!
A first encounter with saxophonist Michael Zilber in a live setting leaves a very large impression. Enshrouding the marvelous facility and deeply melodic approach to improvisation is “the sound” which allows the listener to receive the music in a soulful way. When that sound and imagination are driven by the post-bop mastery of drummer Mike Clark, illuminating things can and will take place.
Celebrating a ten-year friendship, Zilber and Clark laid down this session in Oakland in 2018 for Sunnyside, pairing them with Bay Area stalwarts Matt Clark on piano and bassist Peter Barshay. The quartet lays into two Zilber originals, and covers ranging from Wayne Shorter to Thelonious Monk and Lennon-McCartney.
No matter the vehicle of song, the session is another opportunity to hear Zilber work his way through the tunes with artistic precision, the objective of beauty clearly leading the way. Beginning with Zilber’s “Barshay Fly” and “Sonny Monk,” the quartet immediately comes off as a group of voices well familiar with each other. That intimacy is there for the listener, moving forward through an interpretation of McCoy Tyner‘s “Passion Dance” and Zilber’s emotive take on Shorter’s rare gem, “Miyako.” Clark’s lovely brush and cymbal work illuminates this rarely-heard Shorter masterpiece.
Clark is well known for his work with luminaries such as Herbie Hancock, Woody Shaw, and Bobby Hutcherson. Zilber, though in many ways underappreciated, is a talent of that stratosphere in jazz. Looking to the Duke Pearson ballad, “You Know I Care,” the master tenorist passes through the bones of the tune in melancholic, rich tones. Clark offers a lovely, articulate solo, playing through the delicate framework provided by Barshay and Clark. Ballads are the true test of melodic engagement in soloing,
Zilber’s beatific work on ballads in general speaks to his master status in modern jazz. Shifting to soprano, he plays in and through the melody of the Beatles’ “Blackbird,” with Clark’s spacious, musical cymbal and drum work. The piece features intuitive rhythmic dynamics which separate the piece from its traditional framing.
Zilber and Clark in turn have a musical and social dynamic which asks for more down the road. These are two names that can unjustly fly under the radar in the world of modern jazz. Both have the innate ability to elevate a piece of music into something welcoming and special. Mike Drop is a worthy vehicle to introduce you to both.
Paul Rauch/All About Jazz September 3, 2021
Very glad to get this for our new release, Mike Drop, on Sunnyside Records….
Hot off the presses, here we go. My new release, co-led with Drumming giant Mike Clark, on Sunnyside Records of New York, and featuring Bay Area stellar swingers Matt Clark and Peter Barshay. Done live in-studio in the same room (no punches or redos) at Oakland’s own 25th Street Recording. “Seriously swinging free-range jazz” is what we played and is what you get. As of July 16, the second most added Jazz Record in the country on Jazz Radio.
Really proud of this one, and what a nice way to re-enter the world after the pandemic!
You can check out and get all the tracks here: https://sunnysiderecords.bandcamp.com/album/mike-drop
Sometimes there are musicians who seem to be fated to collaborate. They can come from different places and, even different generations, but their connection will be immediate and deep. This is the type of relationship that has developed between legendary drummer Mike Clark and stellar saxophonist Michael Zilber. Their friendship and musical cohesiveness can be felt immediately upon hearing their new recording, Mike Drop.
Originally from Northern California, Mike Clark has been one of the most celebrated drummers of his generation. Having made a name through his tenure with Herbie Hancock and the Headhunters, Clark left his home base in the Bay Area in 1979 to pursue opportunities in New York City and beyond. It proved to be the best move of his life, as this allowed him to play with his heroes, the true New York City cats.
Michael Zilber grew up in Vancouver, Canada but always felt deeply connected to New York City, coming from three generations of New Yorkers, including his parents, who met and fell in love in Manhattan. Zilber pursued his musical path in Boston before settling in the Big Apple for almost a decade. In 1992, a teaching opportunity shifted the saxophonist’s attention to California, where he relocated and has been a fixture in the Bay Area jazz scene ever since.
New York City has a natural pull for jazz players and so it was for Zilber, who continued to visit the City regularly, playing gigs and sessions, immersed in that fierce and focused environment. It was during one of these trips that he was introduced to Clark by their mutual friend, Michael Barsimanto. Their appreciation for each other’s skill sets was immediate, as Zilber’s New York City hard driving style fit well with Clark’s impeccably swinging and focused drum approach. Their sessions were also conversational and fun, not to mention a good hang.
In early 2018, Clark was booked to play the San Jose Winter Jazz Festival and capitalized on the opportunity to return to his old stomping grounds in the Bay by finding a number of gigs and clinics. Zilber joined Clark on the San Jose gig and they received a tremendous response. In addition, the booked a week’s worth of gigs with a mutual friend bassist Peter Barshay and the talented pianist Matt Clark.
The situation was so opportune that Zilber suggested getting the quartet into 25th Street Recording in Oakland for an old school recording session, where they eschewed separation for a more live and relaxed feeling. The pieces that the group played were pieces they had played over the previous week, along with a couple of originals and arrangements by Zilber.
The recording begins with Zilber’s ode to their virtuoso bass player, “Barshay Fly,” which takes a bass line Barshay played on a gig as inspiration and creates a grooving piece for the ensembles’ solo flights. Zilber reimagines elements from Sonny Rollins’ iconic solo on “Tune Up” and a four-note motif from Thelonious Monk’s “If I Were a Bell” and a bit of the bridge from “Ruby My Dear” to create “Sonny Monk (If I Were A),” a hard swinging piece that allows for a bit of solo trading between Clark and Zilber. Clark introduces McCoy Tyner’s “Passion Dance” with an emphatic drum solo, setting the tone for a true quartet workout.
The quartet shows its romantic side on Duke Pearson’s “You Know I Care” with wistful solos from all and Clark’s warm, gauzy brush work. The Beatles are one of Zilber’s passions, as he even leads a Fab Four centered funk band called John & Paul Reimagined. Here Zilber presents his tremendous arrangements of “Blackbird” and “Norwegian Wood,” the former with a bouncing pulse, harmonic reworking and Zilber’s poignant soprano while the latter finds the meditative tune traversing through six keys. These prove to be Clark’s first attempts at playing the Beatles material and he owns them.
Wayne Shorter’s gorgeous “Miyako” is haunting with Zilber’s mournful soprano, Matt Clark’s thoughtful keys and Mike Clark’s sparkling cymbal work. Barshay’s playful arrangement of Monk’s “Monk’s Dream” makes clear the joyous feel the quartet could blossom and provides a showcase for the bassist’s outstanding solo voice. The recording concludes with Rodgers and Hart’s “Falling In Love with Love,” the well-loved standard taken at an infectious up-tempo swing only cementing the quartet’s effervescent character.
The moving performances on Mike Clark and Michael Zilber’s Mike Drop show that kindred spirits can be found no matter the distance. Though both Clark and Zilber came from the West Coast, they found their connection in a love of the serious soul of one of New York City’s distinctive styles: a seriously swinging, free range jazz.
released July 16, 2021
Mike Clark – drums
Michael Zilber – tenor & soprano saxophones
Matt Clark – piano
Peter Barshay – bass
Joel Bakan is a highly-lauded and brilliant legal scholar, author, and filmmaker, including the powerful books and movies The Corporation and The New Corporation: The Unfortunately Necessary Sequel. He is also a very good friend of many years, going back to our teen years in Vancouver, Canada, where we talked, laughed, discovered Vietnamese food, and most importantly played jazz. As Joel says, in his heart, what he really is? A jazz guitarist. I could write a lot of words about Joel and our 44 years (and counting) friendship. We have both experienced some true highs and lows, including some truly good music, from the joy of being ushers at each other’s first weddings in 1987, to bearing witness to the tragic loss later on in our personal lives, but I am delighted that he is happily remarried, and he and his wife Rebecca remain 2 of my favorite people to visit when I get back to Vancouver. He is very funny, easy to laugh, insightful, and incisive, but simplest just to say he is a mensch.
We got together over zoom for a wide-ranging conversation about everything from jazz to politics to his new film and book, not to mention maybe even a little basketball versus hockey. (Hoops is jazz, Joel!). Here it is, unedited.
So since I have been posting what I refer to as “free-range” recordings, maybe a brief statement of aesthetics is in order, in case you are wondering what does a term for poultry have to do with recordings? Let me try to clarify:
Simply, it means having all the musicians in the same room, with NO baffling, NO separaton, NO headphones, just some very good directional microphones in a room conducive to that (Not too live, not too dead) and we all play, just like we would on a gig. And then, as always, no studio “fixes” (punched in solos or pitch correction) or gating/compression surgery. Just a touch of reverb added and perhaps a little EQ to adjust for the room, but otherwise what you hear is what we did. I like this approach so much, since it is honest, and it confirms for me that the endless baffling, gating “fixes”, riding of solo levels, punching in, etc does not do much of anything for acoustic jazz, and can often kill the spontaneity and interaction that is the heart of the jazz I love.
Really, I have not heard modern acoustic jazz recordings that use separate rooms and punches and fixes sound any better, and in so many cases, relying on headphones and on the kindness of engineers to recreate what we did seems misguided to me. And I have never had a headphone mix feel as good to me as playing live, phoneless, in the room with my fellow musicians, when it comes to jazz. Obviously, there are many kinds of music where this makes sense, layered pop productions, situations where musicians can’t be in the same town or there at the same time, and more. And I love great engineers. Some of my best friends are engineers! However, I do think that, in a variation of “to a hammer everything looks like a nail”, to MOST engineers with all these tools and controls, every recording session looks like an opportunity to “fix and improve on” the original live performance. Frankly, I do not like separation, fixes and “improvements” to acoustic jazz, thinking it generally sounds more sterile and disconnected. (See Relaxing at Camarillo with Joe Henderson and Chick Corea as an example of overmanaging and separating truly great jazz musicians.) You should be able to hear your favorite jazz group live in performance and have it sound and have them play like what you heard on the recording. Also, when I play with kindred souls, the best performances we do in the studio are just like live gigs, in the same room, no phones, playing and hearing each other well and in the moment, and those are also many of my favorite jazz recordings (and others, such as Sinatra, etc). Just look at the photos of Coltrane recording Both Directions with his quartet at van Gelder’s…No baffling, no headphones, and somehow, between the room, the microphone and the musicians, it sounds amazing. NOT putting myself in that company, but just increasingly convinced that the best way to hear jazz, even on recording, is by letting them record naturally and unencumbered. Great engineers set a balance in consultation with the musicians, and essentially that is what you get. So that is a long version of expressing my feelings on free-range Jazz. It is the way I plan to record from now on, wherever possible. So whatever your take on it, you will know that what you hear is what we played!
So THAT is what I mean by Free Range Jazz…
Got your attention? Didn’t know the fiery Basketball heart and soul of the Warriors was a Jazz fan? Well, not exactly, but what he said about basketball applies EXACTLY to Jazz. I am going to print his quote word for word, with the exception of substituting Jazz for Basketball, Gig for Game, etc..and italicizing the words and phrases where I swapped jazz in for hoops. We who play and try to teach this music have conversations similar to this all the time, and bemoan that we have these absurdly highly prepared “hot house flowers” who do not get to (or do not choose to) learn on the bandstand. It is yet another way that great jazz and great basketball are such perfect analogs. Preach, Draymond:
“There’s no better teacher than playing Jazz,” Draymond Green said. “If you teach a guy to do a practice routine all the time and he never plays and then you throw him on the gig, he’s going to sound like somebody who practices all the time and never plays gigs. So the reality is him being on the bandstand, there’s no better teacher than that. You can’t simulate that pressure. You can go play in a pro-style jam session in the summer at summer jazz camps, with all pro players, and it still does not simulate the real-life experience of a gig with real players. So the only way to feel that is to get out on the bandstand.”*
“There’s no better teacher than playing basketball,” Draymond Green said. “If you take a guy to do a basketball workout all the time and he never plays and then you throw him in the game, he’s going to look like somebody who works out all the time and never plays basketball. So the reality is him being on the floor, there’s no better teacher than that. You can’t simulate that speed. You can go play in an NBA-style pickup game in the summer, with all NBA players, and it still does not simulate the speed of the game. So the only way to feel that is to get out on the floor.”
So here are 3 shed tunes done in the past week that I hope you will enjoy. A duo each with Jeff Marrs on drums and Peter Barshay on bass as well as a trio tune with the two of them. As always, first take, no edits, no surgery, no compression, no gating, just live in the room as we did it. I always dig playing with these characters, going on 28 years now!
Sax and Bass: Black Orpheus
Sax and Drums: Romburn (loosely inspired by Softly as in a…)
Sax, Bass and Drums: Never Let Me Go
And with love and gratitude to Chick Corea for six decades of beautiful music and amazing compositions. You changed the music we love for the better.
One of the prerogatives of the Mike Drop is it can be whatever strikes me that day. Today, I want to feature a beautiful bit of music from a friend of mine. So Jason Lewis is a wonderful drummer and a criminally under-acclaimed musician, even though he is beloved in the Bay. Under-acclaimed due to his genuine lack of interest in being involved in any part of the hype game, even to the point of having no Facebook, Instagram or even a dusty old Myspace as far as I know. Truly humble and also funny and insightful. Anyway, Jason sent me this lovely and heartfelt piece he wrote many years ago, and has gotten around to recording this past few months, a piece entitled Gone – but not forgotten, an elegy for some of our cherished friends and colleagues in jazz, including I am sure, the redoubtable and much missed bassist John Shifflett, Jason’s partner in crime on so many projects, including 3 CDs co-led by John Stowell and me., as well as my Billy Collins Project, among a number of other excellent playing situations, stretching back 25 years Jason is the essence of musicality, always playing the right thing for the right situation… and on this video, he plays drums, bass and piano, a video that also has his brother on flugelhorn and his son on cello – almost like it runs in the family. And he is also a mensch and fellow Warriors fanatic, so there is that. I asked Jason if I could Mike Drop his piece, and he agreed. Please enjoy Gone, written and performed by Jason and his family.
I watched and have many thoughts about the Pixar release “Soul”. It was a mixed bag for me, as are almost all movies about jazz. The music felt more “jazzy” than jazz to me, although the musicians are excellent at what they do. But I am not writing about that or the plausibility of a middle school teacher being a complete unknown in his 40s in NYC but being at a level where a true jazz great hires him on the spot to join the band. (And people called Lord of the Rings a fantasy!)
In this case I thought there was an added complication. The main auteur, Pete Docter, decided he needed to make sure Soul was authentic to the jazz and African-American experience. OK…. it is somewhat ironic that an animated film insists on authenticity in a story where one main character, played by Jamie Foxx, ends up inhabiting a cat for a while, and an amorphous “soul to be” (Tina Fey) inhabits the body of the Jamie Foxx character for a while, but that’s another discussion. So Docter and Pixar brought on new creative partners to write/co-direct with him in search of authenticity. It makes sense, in a way, although if we start restricting writers, actors, composers, etc to only do art from their specific and particular background we may as well just throw out any and everything creative folks do and did that doesn’t check their specific history. “excuse me, Jane Austen, you have no penis, what business do you have writing male characters?” “Pardon me, Mark Twain, how DARE you depict Merlin the wizard? You sir, are NO wizard!” Anyway, like I said, no issue with that if that was Docter’s choice. But it gets much stranger.
There was, I kid you not, about a 100 person committee so to speak, a cultural phalanx, so to speak, brought in to vet and pass a stamp of approval on the finished film. (watch the credits if you don’t believe me.) That did not work in the Soviet Union or Mao’s China, and it does not work here. No disrespect to the carefully curated committee, made up of some real leading lights in arts and culture. However! Anyone who has ever composed, written, etc, knows that past a very short number, there is subtraction by addition, whether it be a symphony, a play, a film a painting, a song, etc…usually when you see 7 or 8 folks attached to a script it is gonna be pretty bad. But when you have to run the gauntlet of 100 or so big-name celebs to get your stamp of authenticity? Well! You know the saying about too many cooks spoiling the broth? Try having 100 different chefs having to taste and approve the bouillabaisse! That is what Soul felt like to me. Trying to satisfy so many extra-musical, extra-artistic concerns and agendas that all of the afterlife got sucked out of it. The film was so overly vetted and micro-managed that whatever excellent script/idea may have originally been there lost all of its – wait for it – soul.
Speaking of, now THIS is some serious soul, NOT vetted by a committee!