Normally, lightning striking twice in the Berkeley Hills would be a cause for concern, but when trumpeter Erik Jekabson is the force responsible for the conflagration, it’s an invitation to let the good times roll.
The Berkeley High alum wasn’t expecting to record a live album when he brought his talent-laden quintet featuring percussion star John Santos to the Hillside Club back in 2011. Thrilled at the opportunity to collaborate with Santos, he wrote and arranged a passel of new music, and when he listened to the recording of the concert months later he was so pleased that decided to make it available on the CD Live at the Hillside Club.
Featuring bassist John Wiitala, drummer Smith Dobson V, and pianist Grant Levin, Jekabson’s quintet returns to the intimate venue Saturday to celebrate the new album’s release (the group also plays the Jazzschool on April 18).
A grant from San Francisco Friends of Chamber Music helped Jekabson pay the musicians a recording session rate, but he hails the Hillside Club’s music director Bruce Koball with making the CD possible by putting in many hours of post-production work. … Continue reading »
Allmusic Review 3/2014
San Francisco-based jazz trumpeter/composer Erik Jekabson reaches new heights on his superb 2012 album, Anti-Mass, a collection of tunes he wrote specifically for his String-tet, a small chamber jazz ensemble featuring his own trumpet plus tenor sax, violin, viola, bass, and percussion. Inspired by Jekabson‘s visits to San Francisco’s DeYoung Museum, the thoughtful, layered tracks on Anti-Mass are meant to reflect Jekabson‘s love for art and architecture — an admittedly high-concept aspiration. But while the nature of a string-based ensemble naturally encourages a ruminative, classically oriented sound, Anti-Mass is at its core a jazz album. Jekabson, who earned his graduate degree in classical composition at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, has an ear for both bluesy, syncopated jazz and cinematic, impressionistic sounds. In that sense, the tracks on Anti-Mass, while holding together well as a unified body of work, also showcase Jekabson‘s appreciation for a broad variety of compositional styles. To these ends, the expansive “Silence” and the equally languid “A New Beginning” bring to mind the exactness of Philip Glass, while more rollicking compositions such as “Strontium” and “Park Stroll” mix the sweeping Americana of Aaron Copeland with the urbane, large-ensemble works of Duke Ellington. While nothing on Anti-Mass would register as particularly avant-garde, a few songs — including the lengthy blues-inflected title track, which moves from a muscular, brooding initial statement to a more fractured midsection, ending in a gospel-infused New Orleans jam — showcase the ensemble’s knack for complex, extended group interplay. Much like a smaller version of the Gil Evans Orchestra with Miles Davis, Jekabson seamlessly interweaves his string arrangements with the rhythm section to create a kind of harmonic bed over which he and saxophonist Dayna Stephens can lay down their precise improvisational lines. The results blur the lines between jazz and classical in the most pleasing way, turning fans of either into fans of both.
What began originally as the inspiration from a single piece of art blossomed into an entire album. After receiving a comission from San Fran’s de Young Museum and Intersection for the Artsto write a composition based on a piece showing at the de Young Museum, trumpeter Erik Jekabson was drawn to the installation art of Cornelia Parker, specifically her piece “Anti-Mass”… a collection of burnt timbers, the result of criminal arson, that seem to defy gravity by floating in place, the individual pieces giving the collective impression of wanting to reunite as a church once again. It’s a powerful piece, even viewed via computer screen.
Jekabson, also affected by the artwork, used it as the inspiration for his commissioned piece, which was later performed live at the museum. But that wasn’t enough. In the wake of his completed project, he set out on another, similar goal… to record an album of compositions based on individual pieces in the de Young Museum. That endeavor became Anti-Mass, an album both inventive and evocative, and one to deserve some recognition at year end when rounding up the best the year had to offer.
Album personnel: Erik Jekabson (trumpet), Dayna Stephens(tenor sax), Mads Tolling (violin), Charith Premawardhana (viola),John Wiitala (bass), and Smith Dobson ( drums & vibes).
“Silence” opens the album with the low hum of strings, the siren call of trumpet, and the soft chime of vibes. It’s an enchanting tune, and it’s the kind of track that really hooks me, gets me excited for what the rest of the album has in store. As far as opening statements go, it’s a brilliant one.
It immediately transitions to an up-tempo piece. On “Strontium”, trumpet and violin and sax take turns calling out to the choir. When trumpet and sax weave strings of notes together as violin crackles like electricity… these are exhilarating passages.
The music goes in a jazz-folk direction with “Park Stroll.” A lively ballad with a bit of gravity to its sway, back and forth with a feathery lightness, but with a rhythmic punch that can ding you all the same. Tolling’s violin is the driving force behind the spirit of this tune, even when he steps into the background.
“A New Beginning” has violin on tiptoes, and sax and trumpet slow and lovely. Wiitala gets a tone on bass that shouldn’t be overlooked on this track. It has that throaty resonance of sounds from beneath the water’s surface, and also possesses the oddly calming warmth of underwater acoustics. Pretty neat.
The fifth track is accurately titled “Interlude.” Just over a minute in length, it features strings repeating a melancholic phrase while vibes dart in and out between the strings and bass takes short bursts of quick steps. It’s a pretty tune, and I’m a sucker for substantive interludes between primary album tracks. They can add such a delicious element to an album. This is especially true when they lead into a track like “Anti-Mass,” which begins as a torrential downpour, notes crashing to the floor, whipping sideways. But the storm recedes, and the tune becomes the sound of rain dripping off the eaves of rooftops. And when the clouds part and the sunlight shines through, the song is transformed into a New Orleans celebration of the storm now passed.
The seventh track is another interlude, a duo of violin twitches and butterfly vibes. And much like the previous interlude, this one leads into an up-tempo track, “Portrait of Miss D,” a jaunty stroll with some nice call and response between trumpet, sax, and violin. Bass gurgles happily through all of this, and when it gets in a brief solo, it makes its time in the spotlight count.
“The Cello Player” is sax and strings swaying to and fro. There’s a solemn tone to this composition, but in as much as this would imply an element of sadness, it’s an emotion that also typically recognizes a majestic beauty that exists even in dour times.
The pattern of transitioning between the lush elegance of string-heavy shorter tracks and longer upbeat ones is an album positive. There’s all types of benefits to the different ways to weave an album’s tracks together into one satisfying whole, as well as an equal number of pitfalls. Jekabson got it right when he dispersed his tracks the way he did.
And continuing on that subject, the softness of “The Cello Player” leads into the get-started-on-your-day urgency of “To Be DeYoung Again,” Staccato notes from violin and trumpet with plenty of chipper joie de vivre. Stephen’s sax is alive-and-kicking, and Dobson just sounds like he’s having a ball on drums. It’s a tune that makes it increasingly simple to buy into its cheerfulness the longer it goes on.
The album ends with “Afternoon on the Sea, Monhegan.” It sounds a bit freer than the rest of the album. Sax bisects the rhythms, vibes peek out intermittently, the soft patter of percussion chatters nervously, and there is a sense of man-alone-on-the-open-sea that inspired the composition.
Really, just a wonderful album.
The album is Self-Produced, released under Jekab’s Music.
Jazz from the San Francisco scene.
Here’s a photo of the piece “Anti-Mass” that started the ball rolling on this project:
I am constantly searching for new sounds, pushing the sonic envelope as it were. The idea or concept of a unique sub genre referred to as chamber jazz is essentially nothing new. Most jazz aficionado’s have experienced chamber jazz but Erik Jekabson’s Anti-Mass may be the first time you hear the stylistic concept played flawlessly with a slightly ambient texture and a true organic pulse.
As a trumpet player Jekabson is based in the Bay area and falls into that jazz triple threat category with ease. As a virtuoso instrumentalist, critical thinking composer and educator we find a new shooter to the conceptual world that is finding a musical happy place somewhere between the post modern jazz and neo-classical hybrids that are floating around in cyber space. Inspiration is often from personal experiences, life changing events, or in tribute to the masters that have come before. Jekabson takes a more direct approach allowing art to inspire his art and his recently formed String-tet. The back story on this release is that Jekabson received a grant to write a composition inspired by a piece of artwork in the DeYoung Museum. The title track Anti-Mass was widely accepted in his area and from one tune and a few more trips to the museum Jekabson scored yet another grant from the San Francisco Friends of Chamber Music to begin work with his string-tet in July of 2011 with the end results a textured sonic exploratory of eleven tunes titled Anti-Mass.
Opening with the spatial slightly post modern “Silence” Jekabson commands your undivided attention as this open ended piece moves with a wondrous emotive quality somewhere between introspective and the melancholy. The subtle nuance of the vibraphone adds a zen like texture that is captivating. “Strontium” is a syncopated assault on both the cerebral and visceral while remaining incredibly accessible and highlight with the violin titan Mads Toling. The instrumentation of trumpet, tenor sax, violin, viola, string bass and drums allow the group to shift dynamics on the fly with this particular tune bordering on the more free jazz meets hard bop approach. Layers of texture begin to inspire as the organic pulse seems to pick up steam. The title track “Anti-Mass” which comes in at 15:37 is certainly the longest piece. The dynamic tension created by Jekabson allows the ensemble to move and shift dynamics with a smoldering free flow approach. The string section acts as threads in a beautiful sonic mosaic holding the harmonic synergy together while Jekabson displays his own sense of sonic fury.
The hybridization of jazz seems to have been on the rise over the last two years. Erik Jekabson is taking the sonic road less traveled. Some might ask for a musical frame of reference, while they are at times inherently unfair think Miles Davis meets Enrico Rava. Jekabson is his own voice and by finding his own sound Anti-Mass takes flight.
An absolutely stunning recording and quite possibly the direction the straight ahead scene has needed for some time. This is a no brainer…I found that new sound I was looking for!
The music of trumpeter/flugelhornist Erik Jekabson’s Anti-Mass (Jekab’s Music) is a bit more abstract than most of my picks this week, but it packs enormous creative punch. There are modern classical elements here fused with jazz reeds and tight brass—think Freddie Hubbard’s Red Clay. But it’s the independent mingling of strings with brass that makes this album special. The strings operate on their own terms, weaving in and out with arrangements meant to unite the instruments and at other times set them at odds. Sample Interlude 1 and see what I mean. Or The Cello Player. This is truly magnificent music.
East Bay Express
by Rachel Swan
Erik Jekabson, Anti-Mass
Even in a jazz scene as strong as this one, you seldom see a band as good as Erik Jekabson’s new sextet; equal parts horn, rhythm, and string sections, it’s as much a chamber group as it is a combo. And the songs, all original compositions inspired by artwork at the de Young Museum, are quietly, cunningly beautiful, layered with warm harmonies and insightful solos. (Jekab’s Music)
Allmusic Guide, 2010
by Matt Collar
“Trumpeter Erik Jekabson’s 2010 effort Crescent Boulevard is a thoughtful, cerebral post-bop affair that is a perfect balance between melodic artistry and probing, knotty jazz improvisation. Similar to Jekabson’s previous recordings including his stellar 2004 debut,Intersection, Crescent Boulevard finds Jekabson delivering his burnished, warm trumpet tone and fluid improvisational lines that bring to mind such influences as Kenny Dorham,Blue Mitchell, and Miles Davis. Moving from the catchy and melodic bossa nova album opener to the muted and atmospheric title track ballad, all of the songs here are Jekabson originals save for his sprightly take on Harold Arlen’s “My Shining Hour,” which he impressively performs with only drums behind him.”
East Bay Express, 2010
“East Bay trumpeter Erik Jekabson girded himself with a powerful band for Crescent Boulevard, but he sounds best without the extra ammo. On “My Shining Hour” — conveniently placed at the end of this nine-track disc — Jekabson solos over a bustling swing beat by drummer Smith Dobson. The combination of raw trumpet and traps is something one seldom hears on a modern jazz record, and in this case, it sounds almost like an aria. For four minutes, Jekabson soars. He issues a few fat tones and slippery chromatic runs, never strays from the chord changes, does that half-valve technique thing that makes the trumpet sound like a singer moaning in a stairwell. The original “My Shining Hour” was a puppy-love ballad by Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer. On Jekabson’s record, the piece glistens.
That’s definitely the payoff, but it’s not the only highlight on Crescent. Comprising eight original tunes, the album starts with a light-weight bossa (“Parisian Jaunt”) and builds to a wail. Dobson paints the canvas, along with bassist John Wiitala and guitarist Michael Abraham; Dayna Stephens guest-stars on tenor. The title track is another burner, soft and balletic, with a long bass-guitar vamp at the beginning. Stephens and Jekabson play the head mostly in tandem. Abraham thrums insistently behind them. Soloing on “Silver Fox,” Jekabson shows his chops, letting go a series of rapid thirds. The head of that piece is fairly detailed, with a lot of careful call-and-response between band members. As a composer, Jekabson shows promise. He’s straight-ahead without a real wandering palette. As a bandleader, he’s judicious, knowing when to lean and when to shine.”
All-Music Guide, 2005
by Matt Collar
“Intersection, trumpeter Erik Jekabson’s debut album as a leader, is an impressive post-bop affair that showcases the California native’s softly cerebral improvisation style. With a trumpet sound not unlike his similarly minded contemporary Ryan Kisor, Jekabson has a crafted a stylistically varied album that ranges from the world fusion of the title track to the driving and angular swing/funk of “A Night on the Town.” Interestingly, Jekabson displays a knack for writing unique, forward-thinking, and cliché-free compositions that nonetheless reveal a thorough understanding of jazz tradition. Backing the trumpeter are the adept rhythm section talents of guitarist Ben Monder — calling to mind a young Pat Martino — as well as bassist Alexis Cuadrado and drummer Mark Ferber. Similarly deep are tenor saxophonists Matt Otto and John Ellis summoning the spirits of Joe Henderson and Wayne Shorter as they spar a bit on the melancholy chamber piece “The Rising.” A moody and introspective album, Intersection is a must-hear for fans of serious modern improvisation.”
Take Five With Erik Jekabson – All About Jazz
All About Jazz
By Phil Dipietro
October 6, 2003
by David R. Adler
All Music Guide, 2006
Jazz quartet Vista deliver a solid set of mainstream post-bop on The Arrival. Lead by trumpeter Erik Jekabson and tenor saxophonist Dan Pratt, Vista focus on original compositions by the two native Californians. Jekabson is a deft and thoughtfully cerebral musician whose style brings to mind a softer Black Codes-era Wynton Marsalis. Similarly, Pratt’s Dexter Gordon meets Charles Lloyd sax aesthetic is a perfect frontline balance. Rounding out the ensemble are pianist Andrew Adair, bassist Matt Pavolka, and drummer Scott McLemore. This is a solid, cliché-free debut that should please fans of serious modern jazz.
Allaboutjazz.com, November 2002
“Anyone whos heard Erik Jekabsons melodic and rhythmic acuity as a member of the Howard Fishman Quartet ought to hear him lead his own quintet, usually at Detour early in the week. During a recent set with tenorist Matt Otto, guitarist Ben Monder, bassist Alexis Cuadrado, and drummer Diego Voglino, Jekabson presented a laid-back, modern mainstream concept, replete with sophisticated harmonies and tight, compelling arrangements. We dont yet have a recording by this group, although clips are available at the site. As a composer, Jekabson has serious aspirations: he has collaborated on chamber works with the Tapfusion Dance Company and plans to study composition on the graduate level.”
New World Funk Ensemble
(October OffBeat feature) (Summer 1998)
by Tom McDermott
photo: Carl LeBoeuf
Walking into Cafe Brasil one night last spring, I was taken aback by what I witnessed: ten guys playing adventurous charts with great soloists and a crankin’ groove. The New World Funk Ensemble was doing its second or third gig and the room was full of musicians savoring the buzz of a fine new product.
Six months later, without a CD to spread its message, the band is still relatively unknown, familiar mainly to habitues of the Mermaid Lounge. Because of this, and because stylistically they remind me in a lot of ways of a band I’m involved with, the New Orleans Nightcrawlers, I feel compelled to write about them.
While having coffee recently with the band’s head honchos, Todd Duke and Erik Jekabsen, I decided to play devil’s advocate. “Is it New World Funk,” I asked them, “as opposed to Asian or European Funk?”
“No,” Todd laughed. “The name is a composite which represents the types of music we’re interested in. ‘New’ because we hope to achieve something original. ‘World’ because we’re drawn to African, Cuban and other world musics, not just ‘American’ sources. ‘Funk’ is in there ‘cuz we love that too, though it’s a little misleading because we’re not exclusively groove-oriented. And ‘ensemble,’ well, it sounds classy but not snooty like ‘nonet,’ which would apply now that we’ve dropped to nine pieces.”
Guitarist Duke was exposed to African music under the best possible circumstances: a six-week US government-sponsored tour in the fall of l996 with saxophonist John Ellis, the marvelously spry tenor (and NWFE founding member) who moved to NYC earlier this year. “That really opened my eyes,” he explains, “especially the rumba bands in the southern countries, which play a kind of Portugese music filtered through African rhythm. I was also knocked out by a pop band named Andy Brown and the Storm, a group that uses traditional instruments like the mbira, but whose records you can’t find over here.”
The most tangible evidence of the continent’s influence on Duke is the vahlia, a 16-string instrument purchased in Madagascar, which sounds vaguely Indian to these Western ears. “I’d use it more often,” he notes, “But it can only be tuned to play in one key at a time, and it’s impossible to retune on the gig.”
The Cuban influence is more than anyone courtesy of Michael Skinkus, a terrific conguero who also hits the skins for Michael Ray and the Cosmic Krewe, Mas Mamones and Taino Folklorico. Skinkus, who plays timbales and assorted percussion in addition to the congas for the NWFE, is fanatical enough about his craft to have visited Cuba twice in the last year for musical instruction.
New Orleans these days is breeding a cornucopia of gifted young twenty-something trumpet players. The best-known is Nicholas Payton, but among those also worth mentioning are Irvin Mayfield, Derrick Shezbie, and the NWFE’s 24-year-old co-founder, Erik Jekabson. Raised in the Bay Area and educated at Oberlin Conservatory, Erik’s playing has a strong Clifford Brown tinge, while as a composer and arranger he feels most beholden to Ellington.
“Those two are my biggest inspirations,” he adds, “But I also really dig Weather Report, Miles, and Peter Apfelbaum and the Hieroglyphics Ensemble, a 14-piece Bay Area big band that uses the African two-guitar concept we had when Brian Seeger was in the group.”
The best example of Jekabsen and the NWFE’s adventuresome music-making is probably their self-titled, multi-sectional tune, “New World.” While many local bands are content to trot out the old “play the head, then jam forever on a two-chord vamp” formula, “New World’s” arrangement is Byzantine in comparison. It opens with an airy, out-of-tempo intro for horns (Jekabsen, trumpeter Grant Harris, tenor Scott Bourgeois alto saxman Loren Pickford), wah-wah guitar and vaguely African percussion. Next comes a shuffle in two sections, the first a two-chord vamp with rock guitar muttering over lines by bassist Sam Price and drummer Karl Budo, then a brief 16-bar head played once. This segues into a straight funk groove, then a spacey section for the aforementioned vahlia, Jekabsen on didgeridoo (an aboriginal flute) and percussion. Eventually this evolves into a 12/8 feel (the African meter), with the melody carried by Pickford on flute. The piece closes with a more conventional funk rhythm underneath Middle Eastern harmonies carried over from the previous segment — in fact, the whole work seems very much of a piece, well-constructed with a logical flow.
Timbales, vahlia, didgeridoo: this is not the arsenal of your average New Orleans band. Add to this the talents of Charlie Denard, a newly-arrived keyboardist whom Duke says is “capable of incredible sounds.” New Orleans seems to be — perhaps because of its roots music orientation — somewhat technophobic. I haven’t seen, for instance, a local band that mixed really good jazz or rock playing with the keyboard technology (sampling and all that) which is available today. Perhaps NWFE with the help of Denard will be the first.
At the end of our meeting I told Duke and Jekabsen something they already knew: “Your demo tapes are good, but a lot of music industry heads won’t bother with tapes — you need a CD.” “Well, it’s a catch-22,” Duke responded. “We don’t have the money to record. If we got more people to come to our gigs, we could take the door money and invest in a recording. But one way to get people to come to your gigs is if they hear your CD, on the radio or whatever. Yeah, it’s a problem, but we hope to have some product out there soon.” In the meantime, put on your world-music dancing shoes and check out the NWFE at the Dream Palace (Oct. 11) and Tipitina’s (Oct. l8)
– Geraldine Wyckoff, New Orleans Gambit Weekly, March 28, 2000
“New Orleans jazz fans will recognize two of the members of Vista- trumpeter Erik Jekabson and pianist Andrew Adair. These players, who once made the big easy their home, were regulars on the scene. Now living in New York, last year they teamed up with co-leader/saxophonist Dan Pratt, bassist Matt Pavolka and drummer Scott McLemore. This self-produced disc marks the band’s debut release.
The album features all original material from Jekabson and Pratt, tunes that in form and approach display a certain sense of classic jazz. The disc opens with Jekabson’s title track, a warm tune on which the trumpeter’s clear tones meet Pratt’s flowing sax. By the end, the temperature is turned up a degree, egged on in part by Adair’s piano. Adair, who many might recognize for his work with saxophonist Donald Harrison Jr., brings his light touch to Pratt’s ballad “Moment of Change”, which, as the title suggests, goes through a metamorphisis from contemplative to dynamically stated.
Jekabson and Pratt teamed up to write “Kiredan”, which brings an element of funk and fun to the arena with same playful trumpet smears and a danceable groove. It’s sense of humor and staccato feel makes for a nice change of direction on the disc. Everyone seems to be enjoying the beat, taking off in a more spontaneous mood.
If there is a complaint here, it would be that the musical form occasionally becomes a bit too predictable. More risk-taking by these fine players could bring the session to yet another level. Still, “The Arrival” is an excellent showcase for these talents and a strong jumping-off point for things to come.”