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"Jazz daGama" blog

Throughout her life with her legendary husband Amiri Baraka, Amina Baraka has never received quite the same degree of recognition as he did and the field probably only became more levelled with the appearance of her work in many anthologies of revolutionary American poetry. the publication of her first collection of poems Blues in All Hues (2014) seems to have cemented that reputation. Still, Amina Baraka has been a voice no less fiery and lyrical than Amiri Baraka and the eloquent recitations of her work throughout her literary career has been marked by many a memorable performance. Amina Baraka & the Red Microphone will surely build on this reputation.
The poetry of Amina Baraka is nothing if not marked by her embrace of the visceral splendour of life in all its naked humanity and the recitation of it behind this quartet of two saxophones, bass and drums (with the occasional introduction of piano) is the very personification of vibrancy. Still, nothing can prepare you for the dramatic intensity of verse that is both lyrical and didactic, and despite pouring vitriol on the Fascist elements of American society it is completely bereft of posturing. The two saxophones not only sound the battle charge along with the roar of the electric bass to create the provocative atmosphere of “Time Step” and “The Fascist”, the bookends of this album. However, between those two theatrical recitations there is much subtlety, refined naturalness of delivery and even a soft, exquisite simplicity of line and poetry. “The Spirit of Billy Bang” and “The Things I Love” are exquisite examples of Amina Baraka’s verse.

The latter poem “The Things I Love” is an epic ballad of the African-American woman unfolding with velvet ease with lightly worn sophistication. Three other ballads: “Jayne Cortez”, “Afro American Child” and “For Margaret Walker Alexander” pay tribute to significant artists, while “Afro American Child” ponders the desolate landscape into which new life appears not only for the child born to a black mother. But its Jazz lyric is also a glorious intimation of the birth and rebirth of the Blues People from the earliest Blues shouters to the contemporary Jazz child. It is also a sensuous rallying call for the real African American Woman as opposed to the one glorified in todat’s hip-hop culture. With “Real Dreams” and “Talking Drum” Amina Baraka joins the continuum of African griots who have existed since language and speech was first used to tell of Human History as it evolved from its beginnings in the womb of Mother Africa. It is here, more than anywhere else on this record, that we experience the immaculate sound world of Amina Baraka.

Track list – 1: Time Step; 2: The Spirit of Billy Bang; 3: The Things I Love; 4: Jayne Cortez; 5: Afro American Child; 6: For Margaret Walker Alexander; 7: Real Dreams; 8: Talking Drum; 9: The Fascist

Personnel – Amina Baraka: words, lead vocals with the Red Microphone: Ras Moshe Burnett: tenor saxophone, flute and percussion; Rocco John Iacovone: curved soprano saxophone, alto saxophone and piano; John Pietaro: musical direction, drums and percussion; Laurie Towers: bass guitar; ‘amen’ chorus on “Talking Drum”: Ras, Rocco and John

Released – 2017
Label – ESP Disk
Runtime – 1:10:58
Amina Baraka & the Red Microphone (ESP-Disc) ...Every anti-racist could use a shot of Amiri's widow naming our enemies and celebrating her history ("Afro American Child," "The Things I Love," "The Fascist") **
If you want fiery poetry reminiscent of Jayne Cortez and Amiri Baraka pick up Amina Baraka & the Red Microphone on ESP and get your mind blown by their strength of conviction to poetry, music, justice, and life. Amina also performed in August as part of another socially and politically inspiring Dissidents Arts Festival
JAZZ RIGHT NOW, Aug 22, 2017

review by John Morrison

Celebrated poet, organizer, activist and actress Amina Baraka is a central figure in the living history of the Black Arts Movement, along with her late husband Amiri. On her latest project, Baraka digs deep into that poetic and political history, unearthing a bittersweet, timeless Blues for the working class. Backed by a tight, intuitive ensemble of instrumentalists (known as the Red Microphone), Baraka delivers an ambitious full-length project that feels like a love letter to the struggles, poetry, politics, and culture of Black people.

The album opens with “Time Step” a swinging Blues abstraction, Baraka’s vocal delivery ringing with passion and immediacy as she leads a clarion call of dancers, musicians, fighters, workers and revolutionaries around the world: “if they could hear us coming … meeeean and cleeean. Slow-dragging, purple BLUES … PRINCE … signfying … riding HIGH …” “The Spirit of Billy Bang” is a thoughtful and creative tribute to the late violinist. Baraka’s delivery is delightfully charming and playful, drawling and dancing on top of Laurie Towers’ dramatic, rolling bassline: “Billy the violinist was a dangerous man … Bang showed up, pulled out his bow … eeevvverybody know.” “Things I Love” finds Baraka running down a laundry list of people, places and things that bring her joy. “I love the full moon, I love a summer at midnight … I love a Duke Ellington song …” Baraka declares “I love Albert Ayler’s ghost!” and the band immediately responds by launching into a firey Ayler-esque crescendo of sax and clustered piano chords. “I looooove Charlie Parker … I love birds and I loooooooooove toooooo flllllyyyyyy”, the entire tune beaming with warmth and authority.

The intro to “Afro American Child” reveals Baraka’s voice emerging to intertwine sweetly with Rocco John Iacovone’s dreamy, lyrical playing. The song of a young child’s experiences growing up, the sights, the sounds, the people, the culture. Like so much of Baraka’s poetry on this album, “Afro American Child” calls upon both the subjective memory of the individual as well as the deep collective memory of the people. With her vivid description of Black cultural life, Baraka sets up a duality, exploring the ways in which our cultural creativity thrives through contradiction. “… People who could create both the Gospel and the Blues … and did. People who could pray AND cuss … and did!” Her tone here is bitter and sweet, determined but loving.

“Talking Drum” drum and vocal piece in which John Pietaro solos brilliantly as Baraka, lacovone, Pietaro and saxophonist Ras Moshe Burnett evoke the names of some of music’s rhythm masters: Tony Williams, Philly Joe Jones, Olatunji, Max Roach and many more. Tracks like “Talking Drum”, “Jayne Cortez” and the gorgeous ballad-like “Real Dreams” are standouts on an album that beautifully mines the deep well of memory while playing tribute to the beauty of our shared cultural ancestry.
Amina Baraka's holding a megaphone on the cover, but she hardly needs it at all – given the righteous power of her voice on this album – still completely amazing after all these years! The album follows in the best tradition of work started by Amiri Baraka back in the 60s – a mixture of spoken knowledge and avant jazz, with backing by a group that includes Ras Moshe Burnett on tenor and flute, Rocco John Iacavone on curved soprano sax and piano, John Pietaro on drums and percussion, and Laurie Towers on bass. The approach is wonderful – and the record really feels like some lost underground relic of the 70s, the sort that the ESP label might have issued back in the day. Titles include "The Fascist", "Time Step", "The Spirit Of Billy BAng", "For Margaret Walker Alexander", and "Afro American Child". © 1996-2017, Dusty Groove, Inc.
Amina Baraka & the Red Microphone (ESP-Disk’)
by Clifford Allen

Because it is an inherently generative music, creative
improvisation has a bond with activism, revolutionary
politics and the potential to improve people’s lives.
The top-down power structures that have attempted to
stymie people of color, women, queer people, the
destitute and children have no place in a creative
environment. But these structures do give both
ammunition and reflective opportunity to the artistsoldiers
who have spent decades in the trenches.
Somewhat obscured by the notoriety of her late
husband, the poet and activist Amiri Baraka (1934-
2014), Amina Baraka took on a similar role in her
homebase of Newark, publishing her first volume of
poetry the year of Amiri’s death and now performing
and recording with improvising musicians.
On this first full-length recording of her work,
Baraka is joined by The Red Microphone, a quartet of
drummer John Pietaro, reed players Ras Moshe Burnett
and Rocco John Iacovone (doubling on piano) and
electric bassist Laurie Towers, surrounding and feeding
her vocal delivery on nine original compositions.
Baraka’s poetic exhortations stride reverential history,
black experience, political adversaries (the more things
change…) and reflections on being and identity (“The
Things I Love”—quality meals out, Communism and
Coltrane all share space). “Afro American Child” is the
disc’s centerpiece, just shy of 20 minutes in length, and
begins wistful and sharp over a rolling bass, brushes
and bluesy piano filigree, Baraka setting images of
rural simplicity against the collective muscle of the
Civil Rights Movement. The ensemble is liquid and
vast, Burnett’s tenor shouting, purring and squealing
as a constant nudge to gravelly, bright depictions of
a life in music, art and the unionized working class,
Pietaro switching to sticks and filling out a snappy
rhythmic pulse, the entire piece exuberant but deadly
serious. “Talking Drum” is a dialogue with Pietaro,
charging through a list of jazz percussion forebears
while “For Margaret Walker Alexander” is crackling
and scruffy, loosely-nattering horns atop a rubbery
walk as Baraka stitches together a fiery hymn to the
late writer and thinker.
With a deeply personal sense of caterwaul, Baraka
and The Red Microphone create an invigorating
addition to the landscape of musical culture.
AMINA BARAKA & THE RED MICROPHONE by Amina Baraka & the Red Microphone

If you want fiery poetry reminiscent of Jayne Cortez (there’s a tribute piece on this CD to her) and Amiri Baraka pick up Amina Baraka & the Red Microphone on ESP records and get your mind blown by their strength of conviction to poetry, music, justice and life. The group consists of five stellar musicians including John Pietaro on percussion, Ras Moshe Burnett and Rocco Iacovone on reeds and Laurie Towers on bass. The music fits perfectly with the vocals as Amina sings, chants and performs strong positive poetry and rants. The poems include other tributes such as "The Spirit of Billy Bang" for the late great violinist and "For Margaret Walker Alexander" and poems such as "The Things I Love" which lists just that. Other heavy, engrossing and rhytmic pieces include "Talking Drums" and "Real Dreams." And if you want to delve even further into what has happened to America just turn up the volume on the final track which says it all "The Fascist."

My only regret is that the words to all these pieces are not on the CD.
Amina Baraka & the Red Microphone (ESP-Disk, 2017) ****
Thursday, July 20, 2017 Poetry In Jazz

By Paul Acquaro

Poet and activist Amina Baraka, has just released, I believe, her first recording on the storied ESP-Disk label. Her album of spoken word and inside/outside jazz is a spot-on debut, drawing deeply on her life, culture, and politics. Baraka is the widow of writer, activist, and music critic, Amiri Baraka, mother of current Newark, NJ mayor Ras Baraka, and has a lot to talk about.

It starts with a simple melody on piano, then sax, propelled by a straight-ahead drum beat, Baraka lets out a blood curdling scream matched tonally by the flute and sax, who help her land on the phrase 'Mama cries time step’. He words are sharp and clear, and her tone somewhere between scolding and excited. I still haven't figured out what all the words mean on this one, but I don't mind, the words fly by, syllables to be savored, and meanings to mull. The gun-slinger metaphor for Billy Bang’s playing in 'The Spirit of Billy Bang’, however, I get. Along with the spare accompaniment from bassist Laurie Towers, it's a parable about the late violinist - or maybe it is about the woman playing the bass - or maybe again its about the free associations and sumptuous imagery that end up meaning more that way, anyway.

The rest of the band re-joins on 'Things I Like', woodwindists Ras Moshe Burnett and Rocco John Iacovone (also on piano), drummer John Pietaro and Towers start in on a relaxed lounge number as Baraka cites things that she likes: a Monk tune, Albert Ayler's Ghost, Henry Fonda, a People's War, a Revolution, and sushi, among life's other pleasures. Later, over a caressing blues, Baraka reminisces about growing up on 'Afro American Child'. It's a tribute to the past and the hard truths of growing up, going from memories of “men in striped suits and big country hats” to “women standing over the stove frying chicken, one hand on the small of they back” but as time moves on, the music grows wilder, and memories turn to “growing up, taking rides in rich people’s neighborhoods” and then to “we grew up without civil rights … marching with Dr. King … knowing we couldn’t turn the other cheek”. This is a twenty minute free associative tour de force of American history, through the words of someone who lived it. It’s a reminder of where we have come from, and how much further there is to go. The music and words mix and feed off each other, reflecting each other's intensity and meaning, a quote from a Monk tune or the C-Jam blues may suddenly appear, and so may a passage as free as it comes.

While I’ve only made it about halfway through the album here, perhaps a little more, there's more to take in, especially later as the past turns to the present on 'Fascists'. With her sometimes acidic, sometimes sweet, but always on point lyrics, Baraka and her band of like minded travelers have delivered an unexpected gem.
CD Review: HARMOLODIC MONK, "Sound Guardian " magazine (Croatia).
The title says it all! It reminds us of two jazz musicians who have marked the genre musical with innovation and distinctive authoritative work: saxophonist Ornette Coleman and pianist Thelonious Monk. While both early career met with incomprehension, even neglect, today they are celebrated as giants. Monk is one of the greatest composers in history of jazz, an author of a wealth of songs that have become jazz standards. His creativity is still an inspiration for new generations of jazz - and not only jazz musicians. Many of them are recorded themed albums with his compositions, among others the famous soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy, who was a great admirer of his work.

One of the most important representatives of free-jazz, Coleman founded his own musical concept - philosophy - which he called Harmolodics, and based it on his own composition/improvisation principles. Multi-instrumentalists Matt Lavelle and John Pietaro decided to record a theme album that honors both. The Monk's works are processed in a manner close to Coleman harmolodics concept. The template for improvisation are found in some of Monk's most famous songs: "Epistrophy", "Pannonica", "'Round Midnight", "Crepescule With Nellie", "Ruby My Dear", "Blue Monk", "Monk's Mood" and "In Walked Bud ", but also those less known to a wider circle of listeners, such as" Green Chimneys "and" Let's Cool One ".

In addition to the musical setting, Lavelle, who plays cornet, flugelhorn and alto clarinet, and Pietaro, who plays the vibraphone, bodhran (Irish drum similar to the Arabic instruments related defu), congas and percussion, their approach is based on the philosophy of a grand music. For example, there is the significant Coleman's story about his appearance at the psychiatric ward of a hospital when, looking at the audience, he could not distinguish between physicians from patients, as well as Bartok's belief that new music has to be deeply rooted in folk music, the world's musical heritage. All these experiences and consolidate completely in their vision of contemporary improvised music.

Although they are virtuosos who play musical instruments, that aspect is secondary. Primary is a new approach to standards, sound research, communication and interaction. This is music that we would be happy to listen to at the upcoming Zagreb Biennial.

- Davor Hrvoj, Sound Guardian
Davor Hrvoj - CD Review: "Sound Guardian" (Croatia) (Mar 20, 2015)
CD Review: HARMOLODIC MONK, "Highland Magazine" (Belgium)

Emblematic of bebop , growing out of stride piano playing including ragtime styles, Thelonious Monk is a jazz legend, a prolific composer and improviser of the highest level . He remains, in fact, a continual source of inspiration.

How do we then distinguish from the various tributes to his glory? Lavelle and Pietaro have the solution, applying Ornette Coleman 's Harmolodic theory to this music.

Explaining this seeming arcane musical vision is the challenge. It consists of a fusion of harmony and melody in a polyphony sans the usual constrictions. In a free jazz approach, this allows for more than one musician playing the same melody but starting at different pitches, so tonality per-se doesn't govern the music but instead tones, rhythm, melody, tempo are all equal, which Ornette calls unison.

And what could be more natural than to see multi-instrumentalist Matt Lavelle present in this project? It is indeed his time with Ornette Coleman, which makes him all the more legitimate to carry this adventure. Playing in turn cornet , flugelhorn, pocket trumpet and alto clarinet, Lavelle is joined by John Pietaro on vibes, congas, percussion and the Irish drum known as the bodhran.

Ambitious and promising ...

Epistrophy: The spooky atmosphere gives us a glimpse of this concept as Lavelle holds the melody from the top of his clarinet and Pietaro digresses nicely with percussion, together forming an inseparable whole . Captivating, enhanced by mic'ing closer to the instrumentalists. This complex piece is
tamed for us and all its subtlety is revealed.

Pannonica follows this line, with a more digressive Lavelle, though again in a harmonious musical symbiosis. Green Chimneys brings color to the music, thanks to almost tribal percussion followed by a warm flugelhorn at every turn.

Round Midnight is also fascinating with the first vibraphone alone,
suspending the time for three minutes, seemingly more traditional yet still so ethereal. A no less excellent version of a Monk title is Crepuscule With Nellie featuring a break in improvisation that is close enough to the original to be sobering . Lavelle grants himself the right to play solo, shattering everything with musical brilliance. If Monk fans are skeptical of the ownership
of these titles, this should settle them!

Ruby My Dear has the same relevance to original melody, but this time it's Pietaro's vibraphone. Equally adept, he repeats the feat by remaining close to the original while applying the theory of harmolodics solo! The result is even more convincing! Let's Cool One is somewhat less powerful in its rendering, needing a more striking arrival.

Due to its length (nearly 10 minutes), Blue Monk is the most difficult of pieces to grasp. With Lavelle resolutely putting free jazz forward, some listeners may want to leave it on the side of the road on the way. However, if one perseveres , the experience is truly rich and powerful.

The most whimsical moment arrives with Monk's Mood. With his famous bodhran, Pietaro breathes a different atmosphere into the proceedings, a world music approach, differently from Lavelle is doing. Pietaro plays his instrument fiercely, playing each breath to emit sounds that are amazingly refreshing and gratifying! In Walked Bud closes the album as it began, a harmolodic replica. A beautiful finale.

The bet was risky but it pays off: The formation of a charismatic duo - Lavelle and Pietaro keep their original commitment.

Sublimely produced by Jack DeSalvo, HARMOLODIC MONK is a beautiful album. Monk fans may not appreciate everything, but that's what makes it so much than just a tribute

Since it may be difficult to approach for the uninitiated it deserves a good
listening because the effort is worth the reward. Though a tad long it lacks nothing in inspiration to keep us constantly surprised . You'll enjoy a great experience finding out!
- Axel Scheyder
Axel Scheyder - cd review: "Highland Magazine" (Belgium) (Mar 17, 2015)
CD Review: Harmolodic Monk (Unseen Rain Records)

by Mark S. Tucker
Unlike so many past masters tributes which feature some of the subject writer's work, then a smattering of tunes cherished by the deceased mainman, and finally cuts written by the tributees, Matt Lavelle and John Pietaro's Harmolodic Monk is 100% Thelonius cuts stretched and refabricated by a horn player and percussionist stripping everything down to bare essentials before getting melodically and environmentally inventive. The baseline is Monk's mind and work, the rest is a matter of their own chops and cerebrations. The ultra-moody and atmospheric Epistrophy kicks the slab off, giving a clear indication of just what the listener is in for…and I'll warn right now that if you can't tune, de-tune, and re-tune your brain and ears, this is not the disc for you.

In the tradition of the more outside Enja, Ogun, and other labels' works, then the spirit of Lol Coxhill, Anthony Braxton, and of course Ornette Coleman, whose unorthodox talents continue to pervade and open up the extremities of aesthetics, this duo adeptly embraces what a promo sheet writer cited as "the dichotomy of ancient pre-Western approaches and extreme modernism". I tried my best to upend or at least modify that appraisal but couldn't. Whoever that cat was, he nailed it to the wall, then put a frame around it. There is indeed a wide time-span of prototypes, influences, and expansions present, sometimes bewilderingly so as things morph and bend. Pannonica is particularly apt, at one moment sounding like the bell music of Alain Kremski (Pietaro and his wondrous vibes), then a boozy Louis Armstrong (Lavelle's ever-changing horns) leading into a stream-of-consciousness section.

All the cuts flow in that fashion, the listener not for a moment let to wander but instead led from one intriguing section to the next, never knowing what will come but alive and alert for whatever may arise. Harmolodic, if I haven't made it clear, is free jazz, improvisational to a fault but based in previously set work. I suspect that if Lester Bowie and his Art Ensemble were forced to pare down to a duet, the result would be very much like this. produced the disc but his brother Jim is the engineer, and Jim's capture of everything is arresting: clear, lucid, adroitly attuned to shifting focal depths, never at a loss, providing everything this work needed to entablature itself with zero ambivalence. The holidays are over, y'all: heave the tabernacle choirs and E-Z jazz fluff and get back to deepening the crenellations in your grey matter.
CD REVIEW: Russian jazz blog "JAZZ QUAD"-
Matt Lavelle / John Pietaro - Harmolodic Monk

This great album may well claim the title of “disc of the year”. Formally it belongs in the category tribute album, but it was too different from the usual work of this kind. Especially because we have a double tribute here. One character of this tribute is quite obvious: his name is on the cover. Interest in the work of Thelonious Monk and his ideas over the years, like a noble wine, gaining momentum.I usually don’t point out in my reviews an album’s tracklist, but in this case I want to bring it out fully. So, a program of the album made the following pieces of the famous pianist and composer: Epistrophy; Pannonica; Green Chimneys; ‘Round Midnight; Crepuscule with Nellie; Nutty; Ruby, My Dear; Let’s Cool One; Blue Monk; Monk’s Mood, In Walked Bud – almost all of the most famous and regularly performed Monk tunes .And now for the second hero tribute, whose name is immediately identifiable if not to the ordinary jazz fan, certainly to the advanced one. He, of course, linked the definition of “harmolodics” with his philosophical concept of music, Ornette Coleman. The man, whom many consider the father of free jazz (and only this term in any case originated in the title of his album), created his, frankly, somewhat confusing and vague theory harmolodics (in this word he combined the concept of “harmony”, “movement “and” melody “, of course, in their English sound). In a nutshell, it is based on the same principles as in the free jazz – atonality, polymodality, rhythmic freedom and so on, but also focused on the crucial role of the individual musician.
So, a collection of great Monk music performed in this project from the standpoint of Coleman’s harmolodic theory.

Well, now it’s time to move on to the creators of the project. There’s two of them, so that we are dealing with a difficult to execute and not always easy to grasp duo. By the way, Monk – pianist, Coleman – saxophonist, but these are not the tools you’ll hear on the Harmolodic Monk album. Tools for this duo did are quite formidable. Matt Lavelle plays the cornet, flugelhorn and alto clarinet, and his colleague John Pietaro – vibraphone, congas and other percussion, including an Irish drum bodhrán (according to experts Gaelic word correctly transcribe it that way). Trumpeter Matt Lavelle’s (b.1970) work has been through a series of metamorphoses: he began to swing, then played the mainstream, but at the end of the last century became friendly with the Downtown Music in New York, became inveterate avant-garde. In 2005, Matt then took lessons from Ornette Coleman. Apparently, it was then that he was filled with harmolodic ideas, and certainly since then introduced into their arsenal of tools the alto clarinet, to evaluate the sound in his performance you will be able to hear it on the first track Epistrophy. John Pietaro not only a musician, but is also a publicist. In both guises the Brooklyn native professes the most radical views on art and also belongs to the circle of brilliant masters of avant-garde jazz.
I will not go into the details of the presentation Monk’s music in duet in terms of theories of Coleman, and advise you not to dwell on it. Better to just listen to the exquisite sounding (wind + vibraphone and percussion), to the original creative interpretation and this just extraordinarily interesting music. I can only say that the version of ‘Round Midnight by the duo Lavelle- Pietaro seemed to me one of the best ever heard before. I strongly advise not to miss this album!

© & (p) 2014 Unseen Rain Records
10 tks / 73 mins
(Matt Lavelle - cornet, flg, alto cl; John Pietaro - vibe, bodhrán, congas, perc;)
The disc is provided Jazz Promo Services

Leonid Auskern
CD REVIEW: Matt Lavelle And John Pietaro: Harmolodic Monk (Unseen Rain, 2014)

Every time it looks like all the gold has been mined from Thelonious Monk's music, somebody comes along to prove otherwise.

Harmolodic Monk finds multi-instrumentalist Matt Lavelle and percussionist John Pietaroapplying saxophone icon(oclast) Ornette Coleman's freeing philosophical ideal(s) to Monk's oft-performed music. To some, the resultant performances may seem far more complex than the originals, complete with mind-expanding abstractions, reductions, and alterations. To others, this music may be very simple to grasp. In truth, both viewpoints are correct. The album-opening "Epistrophy," painted with molasses and (de)constructed in unique fashion, and the penultimately-placed "Monk's Mood," built on a foundation of brooding uncertainty, make the argument for those who may tend to see the radical side of this music. Those same people, however, may feel differently when "Pannonica" begins. Lavelle's alto clarinet glides through the start of that number with extreme directness.

With each track, Lavelle and Pietaro manage to find something new to say, moving away from Monk's viewpoint and shifting gears from the previous number(s). Primal modernism wins out on "Green Chimneys," the gentler side of Monk is taken to the outer limits in solo features for Lavelle ("Crepuscule With Nellie") and Pietaro ("Ruby, My Dear"), and "Let's Cool One," bookended with Monk-ish stability, features a stunning brass cadenza at its core. Some classics still exude the charms they were born with ("Round Midnight"), but others lurk in the shadows, shrouded in mystery and veiled with individual expression.

Those who like their Monk straight, with no musical chasers, may have a hard time swallowing this music, but that's a shame. There's tremendous ingenuity and skill behind Harmolodic Monk. Matt Lavelle and John Pietaro deserve a lot of credit for finding a new entryway into the oft-visited world of Thelonious Monk.

Track Listing: Epistrophy; Pannonica; Green Chimneys/52nd Street Theme; ’Round Midnight; Crepuscule with Nellie; Nutty; Ruby, My Dear; Let’s Cool One; Blue Monk/Straight No Chaser; Monk’s Mood; In Walked Bud; Light Blue.

Personnel: Matt Lavelle: cornet, flugelhorn, alto clarinet; John Pietaro: vibraphone, bodhrán, congas, percussion.
CD REVIEW: "Harmolodic Monk" (Unseen Rain)

MATT LAVELLE-JOHN PIETARO/Harmolodic Monk: They used to tell me Monk’s music was difficult because he wanted to trick Charley. They also told me his music was difficult because his fingers were to fat to hit’s the keys. In any case, this improvising duo of horn and percussion have succeeding in making Monk’s music even more difficult. This is as art’s councilly as improv jazz gets.

CHRIS SPECTOR, Editor and Publisher
CD Review, "All About Jazz": Matt Lavelle and John Pietaro: Harmolodic Monk (2014)
By FLORENCE WETZEL, Published: August 10, 2014 |

In multi-instrumentalist Matt Lavelle's insightful blog, "That Fat Eb Feels Mahogany to Me," he discusses a challenge shared by many jazz musicians: "With people doing more and more repertoire projects to get work and for sheer love of that artist, I have been thinking about ways to explore the relationships between the kings without doing a straight cop. Playing obscure tunes is one thing, but there must be a way to look at their work from a new perspective."

Happily Lavelle and John Pietaro have found the answer in their excellent release Harmolodic Monk, where they infuse Thelonious Monk's compositions with Ornette Coleman's harmolodic philosophy. It's a natural combination for both Lavelle and Pietaro, who have long enjoyed a fascination with Monk's music, and now find themselves in mid-career increasingly intrigued by Monk's distinctive melodies and wide-interval blues-swing. Lavelle has also studied with Coleman for many years, both formally and informally, a relationship that has initiated Lavelle in the harmolodic universe as well as allowed him to find his own voice. In addition, Lavelle plays with the grand master Bern Nix, the guitarist in Coleman's groundbreaking group Prime Time, providing a hands-on education in the art of free swing.

The combination of Monk and Coleman is delectable enough, but the duo adds other elements that invigorate the music. Monk used tenor sax and occasionally trumpet in his groups, so Lavelle's alto clarinet, cornet, and flugelhorn saturate the tunes in a wider array of colors. They also dispense with piano and instead Pietaro plays vibraphone, which adds a pleasing dimension to the music, an airy openness that sets up beautiful resonances throughout. In addition to his vibraphone chops, Pietaro is a fine percussionist, adding tasteful accents on a range of instruments including the congas and the bodhrán (Irish frame drum). The duet format is also refreshing, allowing the brilliant corners of these melodies plenty of light to shine without unnecessary embellishment.

The resulting album is a pleasure from start to finish, an hour-and-a-half of fourteen classic Monk tunes, approached with joy and loving care. The album is full of old friends, including "Ruby, My Dear," "Blue Monk," "Epistrophy," "Pannonica," "Crepuscule with Nellie," "Nutty"—the cream of the cream. All the songs are strong, including a spirited version of "In Walked Bud," bolstered by Lavelle's fat, warm cornet and Pietaro's nimble chiming. "Monk's Mood," the album's lone overdub, has a lively arrangement where the alto and cornet play hide-and-seek, with nice percussive accents by Pietaro throughout. And the duet's version of "'Round Midnight" is just sublime, with Lavelle's alto perfectly capturing the song's wistful poignancy, telling a story of lost loves and haunted places, both internal and external.

Judging from the luminous results on Harmolodic Monk, Lavelle and Pietaro have found—nay, invented—a fertile musical vein that's ripe for exploration. Plans are afoot for Harmolodic Duke, Harmolodic Hot Five, and beyond. And why not? As Monk himself said: "All musicians stimulate each other. The vibrations get scattered around."

Track Listing: Epistrophy; Pannonica; Green Chimneys/52nd Street Theme; ’Round Midnight; Crepuscule with Nellie; Nutty; Ruby, My Dear; Let’s Cool One; Blue Monk/Straight No Chaser; Monk’s Mood; In Walked Bud; Light Blue.
Personnel: Matt Lavelle: cornet, flugelhorn, alto clarinet; John Pietaro: vibraphone, bodhrán, congas, percussion.
Record Label: UNSEEN RAIN
Style: Modern Jazz
Matt Lavelle & John Pietaro, 'Harmolodic Monk'

Curious recording from the duo of Lavelle and Pietaro, in which they apply the Harmolodic approach of Ornette Coleman to the music of Thelonious Monk. The experimentalism of the theory leads to some strangely warm and intimate tunes. There’s a casualness to this music that is very appealing, and the enjoyment of it doesn’t hinge at all on any pre-knowledge of either Coleman’s or Monk’s approach to music. Lavelle is on a variety of wind instruments, including alto clarinet, trumpet, cornet, and flugelhorn. Pietaro contributes vibraphone, hand drums, and percussion to the session. That alto clarinet is all kinds of resonant, and I would have loved to have heard more from Pietaro on vibes… something inspired about the way they react to the compositions in duet with just a wind instrument.
- Wondering Sounds (Jul 3, 2014)
Howard Mandel's Urban Improvisation

'Attn Time-Travelers: Dolphy & Ayler This Week in NY/NJ'
May 28, 2014 by HowardMandel

If saxophonists Eric Dolphy and Albert Ayler, icons of bust-loose and beautiful improvisation, were alive today . . .they’d be pleased by and maybe attending the festival and concert in their honor this week in Montclair, NJ and Brooklyn. Dolphy died of undiagnosed diabetes in 1964, and Ayler either jumped or was pushed into the East River in 1970, however their music is imbued with immortal spirit.
Eric Dolphy: The Freedom of Sound Festival is an extraordinary convening of musical survivors and admirers of the flutist/bass clarinetist/alto saxophonist who enriched the explorations of Coltrane, Mingus and Ornette Coleman among other free thinkers of the early 1960s, and led several of his own brilliant sessions, such as JazzBeyondJazz favorite Out to Lunch. The fest, featuring previously unheard Dolphy compositions and unique collaborations runs Friday 5/30 and Saturday 5/31 at Montclair State University’s Memorial Auditorium— a quick NJ Transit ride from Manhattan (and I hear a bus goes there too).

Sunday 6/2 Dissident Arts is staging A Tribute to Eye and Ear Control at The Firehouse Space in Brooklyn, recalling one of most unbridled and fast-flowing of ’60s blowouts, instigated by Ayler with heroic personnel (see album cover) as a soundtrack for Canadian filmmaker Michael Snow.

Coming on the heels of the planet’s acknowledgement of Sun Ra’s 100th year and Miles Davis’ 88th birthday, the Dolphy and Ayler programs as well suggest there’s desire in the air (at least in some spheres) for red-blooded, high energy, deeply committed, subversively non-pop and indeed transcendent (mostly) acoustic improvisation fed by urban modernism, rooted in folk song, standards, sounds of nature and the blues. Yes, that’s what I like.

The Freedom Sound Festival, produced by the non-profit Seed Artists (founded by drummer Pheeroan ak Laff and his wife Luz Marina Bueno) has among its scheduled highlights on Friday night a drum duet of ak Laff and Andrew Cyrille, reedist Henry Threadgill with pianist David Virelles, a solo appearance by bassist Richard Davis, trumpeter Russ Johnson’s Still Out to Lunch with Roy Nathanson on alto, andpianist Diane Moser’s Quintet with reedist Marty Ehrlich, who will also be in a bass clarinet quintet. Saturday begins with a symposium starring Pulitzer Prize-winning composer, author and academician Gunther Schuller (a major Dolphy proponent) and flutist-composer James Newton, proceeds to the trio Tarbaby with guest artist Oliver Lake, drummer ak Laff and electric guitarist Vernon Reid plus guests, and concluding all-stars. The Freedom of Sound fest has been raising funds as an Indiegogo campaign; contributions are promised to the Jazz Foundation of America (JFA) and the Montclair Academy of Dance and Laboratory of Music (MADLOM).

The New York Eye & Ear Control celebrants include The Veterans of Free (Daniel Carter, saxes and trumpet; Karl Berger, vibes and piano; Warren Smith, drums and percussion; multi-reedist Will Connell, vocalist Ingrid Sertso and bassist Ken Filiano); poet Steve Dalachinsky, sax and flutist Ras Moshe’s Unit and trumpeter/alto clarinetist Matt Lavelle’s 12 Houses Orchestra, a 14-tet. Vibraphonist and percussionist John Pietaro has more than a little to do with setting up this concert, which starts at 3:30 pm and will run into the Game of Thrones hour. Catch the dragons later –monstrous music to hear.

Slam Records SLAMCD 546

Erika Dagnino, poetry, voice; Ras Moshe, flute, soprano sax, tenor sax; Ken Filiano, double bass, effects; John Pietaro, vibraphone, glockenspiel, snare drum, tom-tom, various bells, suspended cymbals, triangle, wind chimes, shaker
Recorded in New York in November 2012


This is a bilingual, music/poetry production in which the words are spoken first of all in Italian then narrated again in English, all in an air of free jazz dialogue. The words are leached into the music, just as the musical expression bleeds its way into the obdurate meaning of the words: the whole is disquieting. Even in the Italian, which I do not speak, a sense of their dark meaning is evoked by Erika's annunciation. Both words and music are free-flowing, yet grave and the balance between
the voice-sound and use of instruments is inspired and sublime.

Erika Dagnino uses her words and voice as elegant tools with which to interrelate with the musicians as an equal player in the quartet. This is not new, of course, words and music, words and jazz have long been seen together, but it seems less common (perhaps less acceptable) in Europe than in the States. I recall suggesting to friends that we go to a David Murray concert in Birmingham. They were not aware until we got to the theatre that he was to be accompanied by a poet and a whistler and they were horrified – until they heard the performance. Europeans' minimal interest in such forms of free expression in music and poetry possibly explains why such an obviously Italian Italian should find her artistic home in the US, where her work was received with much enthusiasm.

The artist contributes regularly to arts journals such as New York First Literary Review East, French/Italian Littéraire Quaderni d'Altri Tempi and Suona Sonda. She has worked with saxophonists Anthony Braxton and George Haslam and in New York with The Dissident Arts Orchestra and The Front Extreme Arts. Erika writes and recites protracted, ingenious and inventive passages, passionately describing emotions in words, which she declaims plainly and stridently in her beautiful voice.

The album is beautifully recorded and all participants deliver a commanding and haunted performance, an exceptionally gratifying experience. Given the nature of this artwork, I have heard nothing so good, so exciting, since Meredith Monk in the 70s and 80s.

Reviewed by Ken Cheetham
CHRONOGRAM, December 2013:

Harmolodic Monk- Monday Jazz Sessions
When: Mon., Dec. 16, 8 p.m.

HARMOLODIC MONK was the brainchild of noted cornet player Matt Lavelle after years of study with Ornette Coleman and ongoing performance and recording with the Bern Nix Quartet. Matt came across radical vibraphonist/percussionist John Pietaro during their mutual performance with the Ras Moshe Unit and the two quickly realized that their influences weighed heavily on the brilliant compositions of Thelonious Monk and the revolutionary philosophy of Ornette Coleman. Both are also anti-purists who revel in the amalgamation of sounds, genres and styles. Harmolodic Monk debuted on the bill of the Music Now! series at the Brecht Forum in NYC during 2013, featuring blurred harmonies, stinging accents, crushes, soaring melodic lines, burning improvisations and maybe just a little bit of the shock of the new. Subsequent NY performances included ABC No Rio (Aug 4) and the Firehouse Space (Oct 19). They will be taking their soundscape to Beacon NY's Quinn's nighclub as a part of the Monday night new jazz series (Dec 16) and hitting the recording studio Jan 6 to create their first collection for Unseen Rain Records.

330 Main Street Beacon
- Chronogram magazine (Dec 13, 2013)
BOOK REVIEW: 'Political Affairs Magazine', Dec 2013
Anthony Mangos

by John Pietaro

Night People and Other Tales of Working New York is a new collection of short stories and poems reflecting the struggles of average citizens and workers in New York City and beyond. Author John Pietaro draws from his personal city experiences and presents some very human characters that readers are sure to connect with. With an easily flowing style throughout the 121 pages, he reveals the daily grind of workers, empathizes with souls who are in need, and also confronts the city itself and what it means to live there.

Pietaro is a professional musician, writer, activist and union organizer, and has been on the front lines where his stories take place. These tales put the readers directly onto the streets of New York City. The daily experience of riding the subway to work is a recurring theme. From the mid-winter stillness of Coney Island and its Wonder Wheel, you actually feel as if you boarded the train and are holding onto the pole as you rumble towards Manhattan. The city may come across as cold and harsh, but definitely home. From afar, the writer proclaims, "New York City is not a collection of people and things, but one massive, wriggling organism." Up close though, these people and their struggles are very real. Pietaro explores the love/hate attitudes residents often have with their familiar surroundings, wherever home may be.

The individual stories are intense glimpses into personal lives. In a subtle noir fashion, you feel as if you eavesdropping on their dilemmas before they disappear around a city corner towards an unknown fate. A small slice of daily existence, but a powerful one. Pietaro's straightforward urban style is reminiscent of beat literature, with a clear progressive view. Readers walk along with a struggling writer who won't give up, a night waitress and her co-workers, and an overnight security guard who goes through the motions. "The Right Side of The Road" is about an African American woman who seems to question her faith in a fast-paced, unjust world. "On The Lost Boulevard" is a heartfelt tale of a homeless man attempting to stay warm on a bitter New York City night, as his mind recalls the failings of his past and how he got to this point. The story will cause some readers to pause, realizing that on any given evening this fate is reality for many. One story, "The Old Neighborhood," explores the prejudices that arise when the cultural and ethnic makeup of a residential area undergoes major shifts, sometimes with tragic results.

Pietaro's experience includes time spent as a social worker and an HIV/AIDS case manager. This is reflected in his poetry. "Outside," a short poem, cuts to the heart of anyone who has been personally affected by HIV/AIDS. A few words deliver enormous emotion. The author also captures nuances such as an unemployed man noticing another worker's photo ID tag, and recalling how he once thought his own was a nuisance until he no longer had it. Although the inner city is well represented, a few stories take place in upstate New York. A young jazz musician leaves Brooklyn for Woodstock, and a psychologist gets unexpected results from an act of kindness on Christmas Day. This is an eclectic collection that reflects the author's many experiences.

Night People and Other Tales of Working New York carries on the strong tradition of proletarian literature. The "proletariat" are the everyday workers of the world who must offer their labor as a means of sustenance. They are our neighbors, friends, and family. They are us. Leftist historian Paul Buhle contributes an informative preface that explores the long line of working class fiction. He notes that 19th century literature, at its most popular, was about working people, such as the novels of Charles Dickens. This tradition carried on into the 20th century with writers such as Richard Wright and Nelson Algren. Buhle praises John Pietaro for continuing the stories of working class folks into the new century.

Most everyone who reads this collection will relate to one or more characters and their struggles. Equally important, this book helps open eyes a little wider about our fellow human beings. It may change the way you observe people the next time you walk down a city street. A little book can do wondrous things.

Book information:
Night People and Other Tales of Working New York
By John Pietaro
2013, paperback, 121 pages, $11.67

CD REVIEW: Erika Dagnino Quartet: "Signs" (SLAM)
-António Branco

{NOTE: this is a rough internet translation from the original Portuguese}

The word – not necessarily Sung – is present in the history of jazz from its earliest days. Or, perhaps, even before they can speak in jazz, when the African-American storytellers combined the word with various rhythms and variations of vocal intonation imitating animal sounds and noises of trains and other machines.

Maintains LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka to the blues before being a musical genre, are a form of poetry. Also the use of "scat", vocal approach so typical of jazz, is no more than a manipulation of words transforming them into onomatopeias with intense rhythmic aftertaste.

In fact, the very concept of "word" is multidimensional: it coexist meaning, sound, rhythm and timbre. The word has been, well, fundamental ingredient in jazz, predominantly Sung, but recited. In this particular context, earn artistic relevance developments that this relationship has known in the New York scene, with Amiri Baraka and a set of important "diseurs", avultando the name of Steve Dalachinsky. The European panorama, however, seems oblivious to this kind of symbiosis music-Word.

One of the exceptions is the writer, poet and artist "intermediate" Italian Erika Dagnino, who however is best known in the United States – particularly in the buzzing scene of the Big Apple – than on this side of the Atlantic, where he found relatively little space.

Dagnino has a resume full of contributions to literary and musical publications, most notably the New Yorker First Literary Review-East, the French and the Italian journalism quarterly Littéraire Levure d'altri Tempi and SuonoSonda. In the musical plan are to highlight the collaboration with the Italian Quartet of Anthony Braxton, who wrote the cover notes of "Standards" (2006), Italian violinist Stefano Pastor, the British saxophonist George Haslam, the American pianist and composer Chris Brown and the Japanese percussionist Satoshi Takeishi (which integrates your trio, along with bassist Ken Filiano), among others. In New York also includes the Dissident Arts Orchestra and the Radical Arts Front.

Dagnino develops a very own approach, using the voice and the words as an instrument which interacts on equal terms with others. Accompany in saxophonist Ras Moshe, the aforementioned Filiano (well-known of Portuguese, especially for music lovers via its many recordings for the Clean Feed) and percussionist John Pietaro.

Despite his verses were written (in Italian and in English), incorporate themselves particularly well in a context of improvisation, musical discourses to contribute to accentuate the intensity of the words, so often a raw loneliness and tortured (' Saliva, eye, larva/Upward footprint of clouds. /Downward wounded footprints. /Saliva, puddle, dream. /Downward stripped feet/Upward nailed feet. /From bit to bit blank. /From bit to bit the seam splinters/Saliva. Eye. Larva. /Saliva. /Puddle. /Dream.»).

Moshe adopts a speech pós-colteaneana array (saxophones and flute), Filiano is a contrabassist with an interventional always voice (in pizzicato wants, above all, on your outstanding work with ARC), but is the biggest surprise Pietaro, assuming a central role in the construction of environments and textures, either on the vibraphone or percussions, emphasising and contrasting with discretion and good taste.

An unusual and challenging recording, which reeks of New York.

Interview with John Pietaro, The Red Microphone
September 2013
by Marco Buttafuoco

(Until a proper translation from the Italian text is available, below is a pretty crude e-translation which I have attempted to clea up a bit)

In 1969, Charlie Haden released, with the Liberation Music Orchestra, a disc that would be entered into free jazz legend. It was based on purely "political" material (songs of the Spanish civil war, music by composer Hanns Eisler, German Communist songs dedicated to Che Guevara). Those were tumultuous times, times of real or envisioned cultural revolution. Haden was probably the first and the only jazz musician to use so directly the revolutionary canon. Some other jazzman (Archie Shepp, Charlie Mingus, Max Roach) gave voice to their anger and their "engagement", but Liberation Music remained a unicum. Haden took the idea to other discs: often with significantly lower artistic results. The disc we are going to talk about is particularly interesting, because it refers, unusual to our time, the example of freedom and radicalism, but also for other elements: the use of voice in the first place.

"The Red Microphone Speaks", contains in addition to two versions of 'The Internationale', Eisler's 'Song of the United Front'--which was the second track on the album of Haden--plus words by Langston Hughes (poet associated with the black movements for civil rights), tributes to Paul Robeson, and Eisler, an improvisation with sonic backdrop to the speech by writer John Howard Lawson in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee during those high McCarthy years.

We talked about this project with John Pietaro, vibraphonist and percussionist of the Red Microphone (other elements are the Ras Moshe saxophonists and Rocco John Jacovone and bass player Nicolas Letman-Burtinovic). Pietaro is also a scholar of social commitment music, and curator of The Dissident Art Festival which has taken place in Manhattan or Brooklyn over the past 8 years.

"There are several roots in my music. I started with rock and I got interested early in American folksong and its political value. In this context, I also had the privilege of working with a master like Pete Seeger. But I had already discovered jazz as a teenager and engaged in all facets of the music (Ornette and Eric Dolphy in particular). I've always felt like the expression of a people enslaved, uprooted and marginalized is just so powerful. However, I've also been interested in the works of Bertolt Brecht with music by Kurt Weill or Hanns Eisler. Innovative artists and refined, immersed in the hot climate of politics of their times. True masters. Returning to the United States cannot forget how in the years ' 30, during the great depression, the artists of the Left (all remember Woody Guthrie and the Almanac Singers) were real journalists, authentic Street speakers commenting on current affairs and intervened in conflicts with their ballads, their talking blues. Charlie Haden, with that wonderful disc you mentioned, has taken that great tradition of direct commitment by the artist. In the late 60 's it was fighting against the Viet Nam war, standing with the Black Power and women's movements, solidarity with the liberation struggles of third world nations. I have always found these artistic experiences rich in passion, innovation and revolution. Why shouldn't they still inspire us in these times of wild capitalism, of growing social crisis?"

As addressed themes so much known as the anthem of Eisler or even as the universal international?
"We turned the 'Song of the United Front' into an ABA structure in which B is a long free improvisation section--that was not part of the version of the LMO. There we kept emphasizing the "subversive" nature of this hymn. I would like to point out that the B-sequence is wholly improvised and that we did not use overdubs. In the first version of 'The International' we played as a fictional 1940s jazz Quartet, adding just a little to the harmonies. But in the seventh track we have converted the old anthem, trying to make it sound a large container of memory of the revolutionary movement. That's why I posted to the piece the voices of Lenin, Malcom X, Angela Davis and a self-defense story of Dalton Trumbo in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee. We left the original French text of the Internationale, read and sang by Nora Mc Carthy, almost minimalist, with sequences of sax. We wanted to give the piece a sense of battle cry, scream, and at the same time make the effort of all the fights represented. Hence the title of the song, 'the International Reconstruct'."

A provocative question. Don't you think that free jazz is an unsuitable proposal to a social mass communication as what are you proposing?

"There was a big discussion on this topic but my answer is no. In this music, as recognized scholars like Amiri Baraka, there is the spirit of the ghetto, of real fight-back. Free Jazz had ties with the black radical movements of the 1960s and has its musical roots in New Orleans collective improvisations of the early 1900s. This first cast of Free Jazz musicians, in the early 1960s, were marginalized by the artistic community and treated like pariahs, struggling to make ends meet. I believe that art, today more than ever, needs radicalism, speaking directly and harshly, and without mediation. Must be revolutionary."

Beyond the example of Charlie Haden or individual commitment of great jazzmen like Max Roach, Billie Holiday, Leo Smith, jazz doesn't seem nevertheless to have been the soundtrack of social struggles in the United States.

"It is true, for many decades the art of protest was represented by Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger, not by African-American musicians. You have to go back to the 1930s, when the culture of the American left was heavily influenced by the Communist Party. CPUSA gravitated around then a large group of musicians heavily influenced by avant-garde German experience, the Composers Collective of New York. Among them I will remember Aaron Copland and Charles Seeger, Pete's father. The Party estimated that their proposal was too elitist and pointed to folk singers who resumed the white tradition of folk songs and Church hymns (but also a great musician of color as Leadbelly). Jazz certainly was not recognized as a minority art, it was oppressed and mistrusted by the status quo. The great orchestras that played in the Cotton Club were certainly not guarantees of revolutionary purity. The jazz was valued primarily as entertainment, commercial music. This is not to say that it has remained on the fringes of political life in the United States: Count Basie and Lester Young, for example, participated very actively in the election campaigns of F.D. Roosevelt and traveled with progressive campaigns. Newer musicians, it can be said that the most directly involved was McCoy Tyner, who spoke at various events sponsored by the CPUSA in the cause of Angela Davis. But this commitment is perhaps from the influence of his brother, Jarvis, a prominent leader of the Party. These individual cases aside, it is true that the US Left is committed to music almost entirely with the great tradition of white folk."

How do you see the USA today, also from the musical point of view?

"My country has always been contradictory. It is still largely dominant some idea of cowboy capitalism, boundless and without restriction. Reaganism is still in vogue, but something is changing. Occupy Wall Street is a movement of great interest and potential developments. From my point of view I can say that there are good signs of rescue. Our Dissident Arts Festival is getting more and more popular among several generations of New Yorkers. In Brooklyn there is developing a new jazz movement that attracts more and more young people who are progressive. We live in terribly interesting times.
Marco Buttafuoco - JAZZITALIA (Nov 17, 2013)
Erika Dagnino Quartet – SIGNS (Slam Productions, UK)
Another great indie improv effort from Erika (poetry & voice); Ras Moshe (flute, soprano/tenor sax); Ken Filiano (doublebass/effects), and John Pietaro (vibraphone, glockenspiel, snare drum, tom-tom, bells, cymbals). As you listen to “Prima Improvvisazione“, you’ll be as amazed as I was… this is the music dreams are made of, and this one will have you dreaming over & over again – the players are truly together on this one! It was the bass/bell/reed combo on “Intermezzo” that made it my favorite of the eight offered up… Erika’s words are in another language, but I understood (clearly) everything she was saying – & you will too. I give Erika & crew a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, especially for listeners who crave adventure in their aural experiences. “EQ” (energy quotient) is 4.98. Get more information at the SLAM Productions website. Rotcod Zzaj

THE RED MICROPHONE SPEAKS! The Red Microphone (s/r)
Review by Sam Spokony

Anyone interested in buying this album should understand that it seems to have been created, at least in part, for the purpose of inspiring listeners to engage in subversive activism in the name of some forthcoming socialist revolution. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

The Red Microphone’s Speaks! is a structurally adventurous, socially conscious and quite serious debut album from a piano-less quartet that owes much to the urgent, fiery spirit of ‘60s-70s-era free jazz. The group is led by the excellent vibraphonist John Pietaro, who sets an intense, politically infused scene for the record, with arrangements of two pieces by the German Marxist composer Hanns Eisler (“Song of the United Front” and “And the Times are Dark and Fearful”) as well as two different takes on the socialist anthem “L’Internationale”. Pietaro’s agility and expressiveness fit nicely alongside the frequently interwoven saxophones of Ras Moshe (tenor and soprano and flute) and Rocco John Iacovone (alto and soprano). On bass, Nicolas Letman-Burtinovic serves at times as the only person playing in the pocket and others as a superstorm of percussive, shrieking bowing. It all combines to form a pretty well-executed - if not always focused - effort to test the boundaries of spontaneous, acoustic improvisation, especially over the more basic harmonic foundations of the modified Eisler tunes. That out playing also reaches a particularly fruitful peak in an entirely free improvisation entitled “One for Robeson”, in honor of Paul Robeson.

The political elements of the record surface not only in the aforementioned repertoire, but also two interesting pieces that feature spoken word. First, Moshe gives a stirring reading of the Langston Hughes poem “God to the Hungry Child” - invoking images of capitalist greed and its resulting societal ills - over soberingly sparse instrumental accompaniment. Then, in “The Proof Is Overwhelming”, Pietaro performs an equally impassioned recitation of a defiant protest speech given by John Howard Lawson, an American writer and communist, to the infamous House Un-American Activities Committee in 1947. In addition, vocalist Nora McCarthy makes a spirited appearance on the album’s second version of “L’Internationale”, fitting in effortlessly with jumping, jarring phrases and flights of improvisation.

For more information, visit This group is at The Firehouse Space Oct. 19th. See Calendar.
ALL ABOUT JAZZ, CD Review: Erika Dagnino Quartet: Signs (2013)


Italian poet Erika Dagnino runs a transatlantic- bilingual career. In Europe she works with avant-garde and free jazz musicians as Italian violinist Stefano Pastor, in the States she recorded with avant-garde composer and pianist Chris Brown and leads her own New-York based free jazz quartet comprised of reed player Ras Moshe, double bassist Ken Filiano and percussionist John Pietaro.

The setting of fiery free jazz fits the uncompromising temper of Dagnino's poetry and her bilingual delivery of lines, first in Italian, than reprised in English. As if only the intense and rough emotional turmoil of free jazz discourse and the musical flexibility of seasoned improvisers can envelope Dagnino's unsettling tales of fever, wounds and dry solitude. Her somber, almost militant reciting is part of the free-flowing musical texture, balancing the interplay, contributing to the suspense and leaving enough room for improvisations that add emotional depth to the suggestive spoken words.

Dagnino poems attempt to encompass momentary experiences of fleeting natural scenes, acknowledging its passing, the passing of time, of life. The chamber, free improvisation mirror these dark visions as both are sonic utterances of the moment. This bleak ambiance is best captured on "Terza Improvvisazione" and "Quinta Improvvisazione," with the recognition that: "Upward footprints of clouds. Downward wounded footprints...," abstracted with dissonant electronic sounds, fractured rhythms and tensed bowing on the double bass on the former, and a powerful, possessed performance on the latter by the quartet.

Dagnino poetry and music demand careful listening before the multifaceted images and sounds are grasped. Still this is a highly rewarding experience.

Track Listing: Preludio; Prima Improvvisazione; Seconda Improvvisazione; Terza Improvvisazione; Quarta Improvvisazione; Intermezzo; Quinta Improvvisazione; Improvvisazione Finale.

Personnel: Erika Dagnino: poetry, voice; Ras Moshe: flute, soprano sax, tenor sax; Ken Filiano: double bass, effects; John Pietaro: vibraphone, glockenspiel, snare drum, tom-tom, various bells, suspended cymbals, triangle, wind chimes, shaker.

Record Label: Slam Records
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