The Verve Jazz Ensemble | Night Mode

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Night Mode

by The Verve Jazz Ensemble

"Night Mode," from the chart-topping Verve Jazz Ensemble, delivers high-octane, fun, straight ahead jazz for everyone -- from new jazz listeners to aficionados!
Genre: Jazz: Bebop
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  Song Share Time Download
1. Night Mode
5:23 $0.99
2. Mox Nix
6:19 $0.99
3. Drumorello
4:12 $0.99
4. Vivo Sonhando
5:51 $0.99
5. Per Your Request
5:51 $0.99
6. Deluge
5:36 $0.99
7. Whisper Not
4:22 $0.99
8. Hypnosis
7:25 $0.99
9. Opus One
4:11 $0.99
10. Breezy
4:32 $0.99
Downloads are available as MP3-320 files.


Album Notes
From its beginnings as a proudly straight ahead unit, the Verve Jazz Ensemble has been motivated by a desire to address a common complaint among jazz followers: that too many jazz artists play music to which the mainstream audience can't relate. As VJE leader Josh Feldstein puts it, his band strives to appeal "to everyone from people in their twenties who know nothing about bebop to people in their '80s who grew up in the swing era."

Having raced to the number one spot on the JazzWeek chart with its previous album Connect the Dots, staying in the top 10 slot for nine amazing weeks, the VJE attains maximum liftoff in reaching a wide range of listeners with its new recording, Night Mode.

The group's 6th album is a heady, entertaining mix of original compositions by various members, jazz classics, and obscure, "under-served" gems of the sort “tune detective-gumshoe” Feldstein specializes in. Who else finds new magic in, much less finds, songs like the bumptious "Drumorello," which its composer, Joe Morello, played once, on a 1994 Buddy Rich memorial album? Marked by sassy stop time drum soloing, it's one of the highlights of Night Mode.

"There's so much amazing music that people haven't heard," said Feldstein, the VJE's rock-steady drummer, who studied under the legendary Morello as well as the legendary John Riley, another Morello mentee. "One of our jobs is to find music that is fresh, with melodies we love, and blow the dust off it."Having expanded from a quintet in recent times, the VJE has more power to blow – and more varied sensibilities with which to enrich the music. The core unit remains Feldstein, tenor saxophonist Jon Blanck (also a gifted arranger who has worked with artists ranging from Peter Bernstein to the P-Funk All Stars), trumpeter Tatum Greenblatt (a protégé of Wynton Marsalis), pianist Steve Einerson (part of the Eric Alexander-Jim Rotundi circle) and bassist Elias Bailey (Freddy Cole, Rene Marie).

The recent additions to the band are rising young alto saxophonist and flutist Alexa Tarantino, whose recently released album Winds of Change is one of the strongest debuts of the year, and trombonist Willie Applewhite.

The bulk of the writing on Night Mode is by Blanck. He contributes three originals: the title cut, co-composed with Feldstein, is a fetching Latin-accented swinger; "Hypnosis," a dark, spacious tune with smart counter-melodies; and "Breezy," which boasts a playful, disarming motif that Feldstein said Blanck "has been fussing around with for years."

Among the imaginatively renewed standards are Antonio Carlos Jobim's dreamy "Viva Sonhando," heard in a Tarantino arrangement juxtaposing her alto flute (a rarely heard instrument in this setting) and Greenblatt's flugelhorn; Benny Golson's "Whisper Not," which with its alternating 4/4 and 3/4 sections "almost tricks your ear," said Feldstein; and Wayne Shorter's "Deluge" (from JuJu), which introduces harmonic twists to the classic while honoring its perfection. It features Blanck, who did the arrangement, on soprano, an instrument he had resisted playing.

"I’ve been after him for five years to play soprano," said Feldstein. "I even had his instrument fixed to get him to play it! One listen to his soprano solos on the album and you can understand why."

Josh Feldstein was born in Manhattan. As a child, he studied music at a Dalcroze children's program and later, when his family moved to Queens, he began studying drums privately at age 11, later playing in the Queens all-borough orchestra during high school. "I was a kinetic kid, bouncing off the walls," he said. "I was cut out for drums."

After a drum instructor told him that his drumming style “reminded them of Gene Krupa,” whom Josh had never heard of at the time, he immersed himself in the recordings of the legendary "Sing, Sing, Sing" soloist. "I listened to all the big bands, to Benny Goodman and Count Basie and Duke Ellington. I sucked it all in."

At a time when most of his friends were listening to the Jackson 5, Elton John and other pop stars, Feldstein "withdrew into jazz. I was pretty snobby about it." But after he graduated from high school and enrolled in Queens College, it would be a while before he took his love for jazz to the next level.

Though he never stopped practicing, he didn't study music in college and, with friends of his "dying on the vine as jazz musicians," decided to become involved in non-music related work after graduation.

But the jazz bug wouldn't leave him alone. He began sitting in with bands at local clubs; while living in Maryland, he toured with a big band. A turning point came in the mid-2000's after he and his wife had moved back to the Danbury, CT area. He attended a performance by Jon Blanck and was so impressed, he introduced himself to the saxophonist and struck up a friendship with him.

They formed a trio with bassist Chris D'Angelo that became the core of the Verve Jazz Ensemble – a name Feldstein chose to express his love of the music associated with that storied label. The VJE were together for six years before they recorded an album of their own. "We were just a regular bunch of guys playing music we loved in restaurants and country clubs," Feldstein said. It took clubgoers asking them for several years whether they had any CDs for sale to get them off the schneid.

Their 2013 debut, It's About Time, including Matt Oestreicher on piano and Tatum Greenblatt on Trumpet, was a straight-ahead effort including standards such as "Softly as in a Morning Sunrise" and bop classics such as "Lady Bird." To the band's surprise, this "amazing debut" (All About Jazz) hit number 5 on the JazzWeek radio chart.

Their sophomore album, East End Sojourn "had more chutzpah than the debut," said Feldstein. "We took more chances." Named one of the top albums of 2015 by JazzWeek, it featured the great New York guitarist Peter Bernstein on three songs. Perimeter (2016), the first album to feature the working alignment of Feldstein, Greenblatt, Blanck, Bailey and Einerson, was a breakthrough in featuring five compositions by various members.

For most of Swing-A-Nova (2017), a scintillating blend of bop, postbop and Latin favorites that the Midwest Record called "a great roller coaster ride right down the middle," the VJE stripped down to a piano trio with assistance from Tatum Greenblatt on trumpet on a few tracks for added excitement. "Steve, Elias, and I had put in a lot of time as a rhythm section," said Feldstein. "We easily think and play as a single unit.”

Then came Connect the Dots, which introduced both Tarantino and Applewhite to the VJE and put the band on a new trajectory in terms of its stylistic reach. "Things really opened up for us as a band," said Feldstein. "We became freer, taking on forms and voicings we hadn't tried before." The appealing contrast between Blanck's funky, rough-around-the-edges sound and Greenblatt's sweeter, more open horn was one of the band's calling cards.

"Connect the Dots was a landmark for us," said Feldstein. "It established a sound, a musical organization and a structure that really defined the band's strengths and aptitudes. Everything clicked. We attained a combination of elegance and efficiency that pointed to where we were going and how we would evolve."

Another key factor that makes the VJE stand out is intuition. Just as the band can fly by the seat of its pants on the bandstand, so too does its leader go with the flow in choosing songs for it to record. In addition to "Drumorello," the cool re-discoveries on Night Mode include the shuffling, groove-rooted "Opus One," Sy Oliver's theme for the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, cleverly arranged by Applewhite to suggest a full big band sound.

Then there's Vienna transplant Art Farmer's bop-fueled "Mox Nix," the title of which is the English version of the German phrase macht nichts (meaning "it doesn't matter"). As rendered by the VJE, the song most definitely does matter. Its combination of poise, playfulness and upbeat purpose are hard to shake.

Looking to diversify the band's sound even more, Feldstein drafted original member Oestreicher, who has gone on to become an in-demand presence on Broadway and in TV studios, to write a tune for Night Mode – and play piano on it. Oestreicher came up with the aptly titled "Per Your Request," a cross between Latin and funk that plays Blanck and Greenblatt off one another in lively contrapuntal fashion.

Whether the VJE is swinging like crazy, coaxing the emotion out of a Latin tune, playing a ballad or the blues, exploring new original material, or getting down with Jazz Messengers-style hard bop, the band knows the value of economy. "The classic Sinatra tunes all ran around three minutes," said Feldstein. "We think about jazz from that perspective. There's generally too much self-indulgence in jazz today. We adopt a kind of pop music approach in keeping the tunes relatively short – most of the tracks on Night Mode run about five minutes – and emphasize the melody.

"We always try to bring something personal to bear on our songs. But our emphasis is on being fun and uplifting, and having universal appeal. That's our mission. There's an audience out there that's dying to hear great jazz. You just have to meet them halfway."



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