Thursday, January 21, 2016

Lew Tabackin - Soundscapes

© -  Steven A. Cerra - copyright protected; all rights reserved.

On February 5, 2016, tenor saxophonist and flutist Lew Tabackin’s new, self-produced CD Soundscapes will be issued and the editorial staff at JazzProfiles thought you might like a little advanced notice in the form of Jim Eigo’s communique about the recording which incorporates Lew’s background notes and John Ross’ review of the CD from the January/2016 edition of Downbeat.

You can locate more about Lew and the forthcoming CD by visiting his website at

Soundscapes has eight tracks made up of two Jazz Standards - John Lewis’ Afternoon in Paris and Billy Strayhorn’s Day Dream, two tunes from The Great American Songbook - Yesterdays and Three Little Words, and one from Ellingtonia - Sunset and The Mockingbird. Interspersed among these familiar melodies are three of Lou’s original compositions.

Lew tenor saxophone style is laced with references to Coleman Hawkins, Lucky Thompson and Sonny Rollins [checkout his homage to Sonny on Three Little Words] both in terms of tone and his preference for vertical, harmonically oriented improvisations.

But make no mistake, Lew’s his own man and this nowhere-to-hide approach using only bass and drums makes his individuality very evident. Lew plays and plays and plays; one fresh, inventive idea after another. He has become a - for lack of a better expression - Force of Jazz.

Lew’s maturity as a soloist is inspirational and Boris Kozlov on bass and Mark Taylor on drums are a perfect tandem to power things along because they are both equally strong players who can hold their own with the persuasiveness and passion of Lew’s playing.

Here’s how the project came about.

At the urging of noted jazz photographer Jimmy Katz,I agreed to !let him record my trio with Boris Kozlov, bass and Mark Taylor, drums. The concept was to create a kind of organic, unpretentious approach. Recording at Steve Maxwell’s drum shop in Manhattan, we set up in very close proximity. Sometimes you can actually hear the sympathetic vibrations from the many drum sets in the shop —
good vibrations.

We played as if "live”in a club, with no real editing. As my old friend, the great Zoot Sims would say, "You turn on the tape and gets what you get". Playing the flute in this space and in that system, however, was a bit problematic since the room is quite "dead". I had to try to play without over compensating and remembered a Jean Pierre Rampal masterclass several years ago where he discussed trying to overcome a dead acoustical hall, with unsatisfactory results, Lessons learned. Ultimately, with help from [Recording Engineer] David Darlington's magic, the results are transcendent.

Most of the tunes require little explanation; I was just trying to retain some of the more traditional jazz values in an open, communicative way. Not much was pre-set. The three originals are a kind of Japan trilogy. Garden at Life Time was inspired by the garden of Yoshinobu, the last shogun of the Edo era. The garden is adjacent to a wonderful jazz club, Life Time, owned by Mr. Yutaka Kubota, who loves to play bebop piano and is a great supporter of jazz and other arts. I arn so proud of the way Mark and Boris captured the kind of "Gagaku" free improvisation throughout this piece. Bb Where It's At, is a light-hearted tune written for Bb, a wonderful venue in [the] Akasaka [district of Tokyo], where Mr. Akira Suzuki has given us unconditional support for several years. Our performances there are like playing for old friends.

Minoru was written for one of the last great, old school saxophone technicians, Minoru Ishimori, who literally saved the musical lives of so many of us through the years when we encountered instrument problems during tours in Japan. His passing was a great loss and he is dearly missed. Playing at Ishimori Gakkrs performance space during our yearly tours rekindles memories of this special individual. It's always great to connect with his sons Tomo and Shinji and the wonderful staff at this special oasis in Tokyo.

A little explanation of my "derangement" of Sunset and the Mocking Bird is in order. I tried to incorporate as much Bird shit as I could, even quoting a little Yard Bird in my opening solo, i hope Duke purists are not too offended. Finally, I would like to acknowledge the amazing contributions of Boris and Mark and look forward to continuing on our path.”

“Tabackin Gets Creative in Unique Space”
Downbeat, January, 2016
John Ross

“Saxophonist and flutist Lew Tabackin creates miniature compositions inside each piece of music on his new album, Soundscapes.

The self-released CD is Tabackin's first recorded session with his longtime trio of bassist Boris Kozlov and drummer Mark Taylor in seven years. The multi-instrumentalist packs 70-plus years of playing into each tune, creating an album that is complex yet straightforward.

Tabackin has been a trio player for decades, but he's best known for his time spent in the big bands of his wife, Toshiko Akiyoshi, from the early 1970s to 2003. Tabackin's attention to narrative playing may have been heightened by the band's Japanese-leaning compositions; he later expanded this concept with study of the programmatic ideas in Japanese music and the shakuhachi, a type of wooden flute. But Tabackin said he's always concentrated on playing more than just the notes.

"I'm trying to tell a story, paint a visual," he said. "There's always a story on my originals, and I try to be faithful to the story and expand the narrative when I play. I like to have some kind of context to it and some meaning."

His latest project was recorded after hours at the Steve Maxwell Vintage and Custom Drums shop in New York City. The band played as they would in a concert setting, minimizing the number of takes and recording without the luxury of extensive editing.

It all began with some persistent needling by an old friend. Photographer Jimmy Katz, who has known Tabackin for 25 years, approached the saxophonist numerous times to get him to lay down another album. As Katz sees it, the new album, which he co-produced, is a document of Tabackin's playing at a particular point in time. Katz allowed, however, that the recording process makes some musicians anxious.

"What I'm interested in is trying to make it as easy and casual as possible so that people can give the best performance possible," Katz said. "That's really what history and lovers of the music are going to remember; they're going to remember the great performance."

Katz talked with Tabackin about various recording options. After settling on the live approach,  Katz and Tabackin tested out a variety of spaces before landing on the drum shop. Katz then recorded the trio, completed the rough mixes and shot all the photographs.

"I always ask, 'What is the situation that we could go into with you and your group and have you play at the highest possible level?'" Katz said.

While the space had originally been a recording studio, the store's current setup led to some creative arrangements of the musicians.

"We were huddled together," Tabackin said.

"At one point, we had to reorganize a little bit so [Boris] had room to play his bow. We were closer [together] than when we usually play at clubs."

The recording was not without its musical challenges, as well. Tabackin noted that the office where he played his flute wasn't acoustically bright and lively. Before getting used to the room, Tabackin said he was overplaying, pushing to bring his flute tone up to his high standards.

"Playing flute in a dead room is really quite difficult," Tabackin said. "When you play a note, nothing happens. There's no romance in the note."

He did, however, enjoy an unanticipated musical side effect created by the space. Due to the retail merchandise setting, Tabackin's tenor saxophone tones caused sympathetic vibrations in the surrounding drums, adding "another little perspective," he noted.

While Soundscapes is an appropriate record of where Tabackin is as a musician in 2015, the reedist said he really doesn't like to go through the recording process.

"Some people really love to record. I don't. That's why the two CDs before Soundscapes were live recordings," he said, noting that regular album releases are a necessity for most artists. "At my age, if you don't [record], people forget about you. You're not on their mind, so you have to represent yourself."              —Jon Ross

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