July 2012 update

Hi there, I hope everyone is doing well. I have a lot of things to share so I’ll try to be brief.

* Maybe the biggest piece of news is that I have been awarded one of the 2012 Pew Arts Fellowships. Twelve of these are given to Philadelphia-area artists every year. You can read about the specifics of the awards, as well as learn about my fellow 2012 Fellows, here:


* Also, I will be debuting my new trio on August 9. I am excited to have Chris Tordini and Dan Weiss joining me on bass and drums. We will play some brand new music and some less new music which still hasn’t been played that often. We will be playing at the Greenwich House in New York City:


* I’m no less excited to share that I’m now selling some of my music online. For couple years I’ve been chipping away at a composing project consisting of a large number of short piano etudes, a project which is now roughly halfway to completion. If you’ve seen me play in duo with Ches Smith in the past year then you’ve heard us play several of those pieces. I’m presenting them in groups of 9 pieces per volume or “books”, and the first four books are available as .pdf downloads on the Screwgun Records website:


We will be recording many of these pieces later this year, btw.

* I have several other performances happening over the course of the next month:

July 7-14 I will be in Warsaw, Poland, with the School for Improvisational Music. I’ll be teaching and performing with Ralph Alessi, Mark Helias, and Jim Black

July 16 I’m playing at Sycamore with Peter Hess and Jeff Davis

July 17 I’m playing at Cornelia St Cafe in NYC with Michael Attias’ Renku + 2, along with Mat Maneri, John Hebert, and Satoshi Takeishi


July 21 I’m playing two sets at Shapeshifter Lab in Brooklyn. The first set is with Fourth Floor, my duo with Dan Weiss – we’ll play music from our soon-to-be-mixed record. The second set Dan and I will be part of a septet led my Tim Berne, along with Oscar Noriega, Ches Smith, Ryan Ferreira, and Michael Formanek.


to round out the month’s gigs: 3 performances with John Hollenbeck’s Claudia Quintet +1. We will play at Shapeshifter Lab on July 27 and 28, the second set each night, with Theo Bleckmann joining us. Then we will play the Newport Jazz Festival on August 5, with Theo AND Kurt Elling joining us.


* Finally, I played on several records this past spring, all of which I am excited about:

– I’m pleased to be the pianist in the new Dave Douglas Quintet. We recorded 2 albums worth of music over 2 days, and the first of these will be coming out before the end of the year. Other members of the group are Jon Irabagon, Linda Oh, and Rudy Royston, with vocalist/guitarist/songwriter Aoife O’Donovan joining us on several tunes.

– I’m also pleased to be part of Michael Attias’ Spun Tree, along with Ralph Alessi, Sean Conly, and Tom Rainey. That album is almost ready to go as well.

– I finished recording in May with Quinsin Nachoff’s Flux, with Dave Binney and Kenny Wolleson. I played a bunch of keyboards as well as piano on this, and it was some of the most challenging music I’ve ever played!

– Finally, I was one of many musicians to play on Dan Weiss’ record in May. This was an experience unlike any other I’ve had in many ways, partially because the music is amazing and also because I played more organ and glockenspiel than piano on it.

That about does it. Thanks very much for reading this, and please let me know if you’d like me to remove you from this list. best wishes, -m

Hello friends and family.

I have some news to share. Today marks the worldwide release on ECM records of Tim Berne’s Snakeoil, featuring Oscar Noriega – clarinet and bass clarinet, myself on piano, and Ches Smith playing drums, congas, timpani, gongs, and other percussion. In addition to playing piano I co-composed the tune “Yield” with Tim. This band is the exact same band that used to be called Los Totopos.

We are soon going to tour the US and Europe. You can find dates here:


Also at the Screwgun site, you can hear excerpts from the record, purchase the record, and also purchase scores of the tunes we play on the record:



The record has also been reviewed many times already. Here are several of the reviews:

[below the McCartney review]










Between the two Snakeoil tours, on March 7, I will be playing at Cornelia St Cafe. I’ll be playing two sets – one at 8:30 with my duo with Ches Smith, and one at 10 with Fourth Floor, my duo with Dan Weiss. I’ve wanted to play double shows with these two duos for a while now so I’m excited to finally do the first one.


That covers most of my activity for the next couple months. This past month I played several concerts with Quinsin Nachoff’s new group Flux, which also includes Dave Binney and Kenny Wolleson. This group recorded this past weekend as well.

Another exciting thing is that Fourth Floor just recorded our first album a couple weeks ago. We played 3 tunes by each of us. We’re really excited with how it turned out.

That should do it! Thanks for reading, and please let me know if you’d like to be removed from this list.

best wishes,


Hello everyone.

There are several new bits of information emanating from my particular corner of the music universe:

I did a lengthy interview with Jason Crane of The Jazz Session. You can listen to it here:


What is The Beautiful?, the album by John Hollenbeck’s Claudia Quintet +1 plus Kurt Elling and Theo Bleckmann, is receiving widespread positive reviews, including 4.5 stars in Down Beat magazine – this review is included at the bottom of this email.

Also, I have one final round of 2011 gigs about which to tell. All gigs are in NYC, and all are at the Stone unless otherwise indicated:

Nov 30 at SEEDS (617 Vanderbilt in Brooklyn)

10 pm
Duo with Ches Smith

DECEMBER 1—14 at The Stone

12/1 Thursday

10 pm
The Music of Marc Ducret
Tim Berne (sax) Marc Ducret (guitar) Ches Smith (drums) Matt Mitchell (piano)

12/2 Friday
10 pm
The Music of Tim Berne
Tim Berne (sax) Marc Ducret (guitar) Ches Smith (drums) Matt Mitchell (piano)

12/3 Saturday

10 pm
The Music of Tim Berne and Marc Ducret
Tim Berne (sax) Ralph Alessi (trumpet) Marc Ducret (guitar) Ches Smith (drums) Matt Mitchell (piano)

12/7 Wednesday at BARBES

duo with Dave King

12/8 Thursday

10 pm
Tim Berne (sax) Oscar Noriega (sax) Matt Mitchell (piano) Ches Smith (drums)

12/9 Friday

10 pm
Tim Berne (sax) Oscar Noriega (sax) Matt Mitchell (piano) Ches Smith (drums)

12/10 Saturday
10 pm
Tim Berne (sax) Oscar Noriega (sax) Matt Mitchell (piano) Ches Smith (drums) with special guest Trevor Dunn (bass)

12/11 Sunday

10 pm
Matt Mitchell—Central Chain
Tim Berne (saxophone) Oscar Noriega (bass clarinet) Mary Halvorson (guitar) John Hebert (bass) Tomas Fujiwara (drums) Matt Mitchell (piano)

12/13 Tuesday
8 pm
Matt Mitchell and Dan Weiss
Matt Mitchell (piano) Dan Weiss (drums)

10 pm
Herb Robertson with Ben Gerstein, Matt Mitchell, Dan Weiss and Tim Berne
Herb Robertson (trumpet) Ben Gerstein (trombone) Matt Mitchell (piano) Dan Weiss (drums) Tim Berne (sax)

and finally…

December 16 and 17

The Claudia Quintet +1 plus a very special guest @ CORNELIA STREET CAFE
9 and 10:30 pm both nights

Sure, telling you who the special guest is would be possible, but curtailing the urge is more appropriate at this juncture.

Thank you for reading. Lots of exciting things around the corner in 2012!

Happy Holidays,


November 7, 2011
The Claudia Quintet +1: What Is The Beautiful?

By John Murph, for DownBeat, December 2011

John Hollenbeck continues to astound as a composer, prone to value accessibility as much he does adventure, on the fascinating What Is The Beautiful? As on the previous Claudia Quintet disc, Royal Toast, Hollenbeck extends the lineup with a “+1.” But it’s sort of misleading; it should read “+3,” because in addition to Matt Mitchell, who takes over the piano chair left by Gary Versace, vocalists Theo Bleckmann and Kurt Elling contribute invaluably.

The singers play a crucial role on this album, becuase it’s Kenneth Patchen’s pioneering poetry that serves as its launching pad. Patchen’s legacy adds another level of intrigue, given his relative obscurity. But his prescient works paved the way for the Beat generation and of the fusion of jazz and poetry. Commissioned by the University of Rochester as part of an exhibition commemorating what would have been Patchen’s 100th birthday, Hollenbeck recruited Elling to read some of Patchen’s work before he composed the music. Hints of overdubs are remarkably absent, because the ensemble couches Elling’s recitations beautifully — as on the opening “Showtime/23rd Street Runs Into Heaven,” on which Drew Gress’ emphatic bass shadow dances in perfect unison to Elling’s effective reading. As Gress’ bass lines develop into a bouncy swing alongside Hollenbeck’s streamlined yet propulsive drumming, Mitchell and vibraphonist coalesce intertwining lines underneath the voice before saxophonist Speed then later accordionist Ted Reichman comes in to reprise the parallel dance as Grew, Mitchell and Moran did prior. The overall effect is mesmerizing.

Elling’s gift for interpreting spoken word is made all the more apparent in his ability to affect different characters. On “Showtime,” he genuinely sounds like an old-school television voiceover talent and on “Opening the Window,” his deliberate, slightly slurred delivery deftly evokes the craggy, inebriated shut in of the poem’s protagonist. His most gripping performance is on “The Bloodhounds” (originally titled “Nice Day For A Lynching”) on which he expresses the horrors of watching a black man being lynched amongst a gaggle of laughing white men.

On other occasions, Patchen’s prose comes to life via Bleckmann’s ethereal singing. Bleckmann is particularly bewitching on “The Snow Is Deep On The Ground” on which his otherworldly crooning is swept afloat by the rolling, counterpointing melodies and rhythms of piano, vibraphone, accordion and bass. Bleckmann finds an emotional gateway on “Do Me That Love” and on “Limpidity Of Silences,” Bleckmann shows his flair for extreme dynamics as he whispers the words at an excruciating pianissimo without losing its rhythmic vitality.

While Hollenbeck employs virtuoso drumming in full service of his compositions, a closer listen reveals him to be a sparkling rhythmic engine, capable to driving the ensemble with supple grace. His drumming gets plenty spotlight however on “Mates for Life,” on which his shuffling brush work duets magically with Moran’s prancing improvisational lines.
Four and a half stars: * * * * 1/2