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Just for Fun: Some Performance Reviews

Everybody loves reviews! Following is a modest compilation of reviews of some of my performing/recording work. Due to the fact that most of my work throughout my playing career has been as a sideman, there are scarcely any reviews of me personally. The best I can provide in that regard are some comments made by musical “judges” from long ago. Those items will be presented last. Before that, I will share some internet reviews from albums on which I played piano (with the appearances of my name highlighted). But first, I will share the text from a couple newspaper articles that mention me (yes, I am old enough to have been around when newspaper reviews were written!). The first of these articles, from the Lancaster Intelligencer, is not exactly a “review,” but rather was meant to serve as a preview of a couple concerts I ended up doing with the great jazz saxophonist Tim Warfield. The second article is just a regular album review from the Philadelphia Inquirer...

Concert preview from the "Red Rose Jazz" series in the Lancaster Intelligencer, by Ray Grunnert

Tim Warfield is bona fide jazz royalty. Since placing third in the prestigious Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition in 1991, the York native has shot to the top of the jazz world, garnering additional awards along the way. Two recordings under his name, 1995's debut disc, “A Cool Blue,” and 1998's “Gentle Warrior” both made the New York Times jazz critics' annual Top 10 list. And in 1999, Warfield was selected as a “talent deserving wider recognition” in DownBeat Magazine's critics' poll, which sports the toughest, most industry-indifferent jazz critics anywhere. But Warfield has earned the bulk of his critical acclaim as a sideman and recording artist for his work with trumpeter Nicholas Payton's revered quartet. Warfield and drummer Adnis Rose survived Payton's purge of his band, and the saxophonist has since emerged as a budding star, both as a player and as a composer in a band that values contributions from all its members and enjoys major label production values and promotion for its recordings.

“The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD,” another of Warfield's enthusiastic promoters, notes the “high level challenges” the still youthful horn player faced while working on Philadelphia pianist Orrin Evans' first two studio efforts, “Justin Time” and “Captain Black.” Warfield also made an appearance on trumpeter Terell Stafford's great “Centripetal Force” recording. The saxophonist's most recent recording under his own name is “Jazz Is.” On the new disc, the all-star lineup of Warfield, Nicholas Payton, Stefon Harris, Cyrus Chesnut, Tarus Mateen and Clarence Penn dig into 70 minutes of music that supports the contention that Warfield is developing more with each session. The five Warfield originals and two standards feature the shifting harmonies, compound meters and improvised cues that are the familiar technique-dominated mainstays of mainstream postmodern jazz.

Tonight's show at Boscov's Greenery Restaurant will feature Warfield, pianist Matt Hochmiller, bassist Keith Mohler and drummer Dave Zygmunt playing the music of Matt Hochmiller, Lancaster's premiere young jazz piano talent. Warfield describes Hochmiller's music as “having a dance sensibility that's been missing from jazz for a long time.” The quartet put in an almost-undheard-of 10 practice sessions because of the challenging nature of the music, and tonight's performance is a rare chance to see and hear original repertoire being showcased. But if you prod the affable star into revealing which songs an audience will generally request, he will smile and tell you the big three are the “Pink Panther” theme, “Mr. Magic” and “Songbird.”

Tonight's show at the Greenery Restaurant at Park City will run from 7 to 9pm, and there will be a $5 cover charge. Also, Saturday from 1 to 3pm at the Greenery, Warfield will be joined by Amy Banks to kick off the new jazz season of Saturday afternoon jazz. There will be a $5 cover charge for the Saturday show, though the regular Saturday afternoon jazz shows are free.



Review of Peter Paulsen's “Change of Scenery” in the Phildapehia Inquirer, by Karl Stark

Bassist Peter Paulsen creates a quiet and sophisticated sextet recording that continually tweaks a listener's interest. The overall vibe can go from classical to jazz, but building to a climax is a constant.

An instructor in Jazz Studies at West Chester University who's also a regular in the Harrisburg and Allentown Symphony Orchestras, Paulsen writes tunes that are tightly composed and feature some fleet work from Greg Riley and Chis Bacas on reeds, Matt Hochmiller on piano, and Bob Meashey on trumpet. “Random Width” is a free tune that collectively composed that really moves, while “B's B” is a clever reworking of the Charlie Parker tune “Billie's Bounce” in an unexpected South African form. Wayne Shorter's “Nefertiti” also gets reworked and lengthened to give drummer Joe Mullen some steaming soloing to do.


Review of Peter Paulsen's “Change of Scenery,” by John Kelman at allaboutjazz.com

Building on the success of “Tri-Cycle” (Wahbo, 2005), Peter Paulsen expands from piano trio to multi-horn sextet. It's more ambitious, not just for the larger palette from which the bassist draws, but because, unlike Tri-Cycle's mix of originals and craftily arranged material by others, Change of Scenery consists entirely of Paulsen originals, with the exception of an innovative arrangement of Wayne Shorter's "Nefertiti" and the collectively composed/improvised "Random Width." Drummer Joe Mullen is back and, while he didn't play on Tri-Cycle, pianist Matt Hochmiller's multifaceted "Motion" was a featured tune, so there's clearly some shared history. It makes for a pliant rhythm section that extends beyond traditional expectations; equal components of a larger soundscape including Greg Riley (bass clarinet, soprano saxophone), Bob Meashey (trumpet, flugelhorn) and Chris Bacaas (soprano and tenor saxophones).

Paulsen's music, despite its detailed and heady nature, lives and breathes with plenty for the heart as well as the mind. The title track features horns layering long lines over Paulsen and Hochmiller's doubled counterpoint and Mullen's delicately interactive response. Despite spare and melody-centric piano and bass solos, Bacas' lithe soprano raises the temperature on this elegantly restrained piece of chamber jazz. The knotty and complex intro to "Tight Lipped," with its stops and starts, shifting bar lines and vivid dynamics, expands outward into a hard-swinging solo section for soprano, trumpet and piano. With more colors at Paulsen's disposal, a clear defining point is how much space there is for interaction, despite his predilection for long-form composition.


Paulsen makes great use of subset possibilities inherent within the ensemble. The balladic "In and Of Itself" begins with soprano sax and Paulsen's arco meshing seamlessly. As the group gradually enters, the cumulative and revealing effect feels uncannily inevitable. "Triple Pairs" extends the subset concept further, with Paulsen's robust pizzicato introducing a nearly fourteen-minute 7/4 tune that combines unison horn lines, jagged piano support and Riley's bottom-heavy bass clarinet. Written sections delineate a free exchange between bass clarinet and sax, and a more brooding duet for piano and flugelhorn, before Paulsen's second solo leads the sextet to an idiosyncratic conclusion.


"Random Width" may be collective spontaneous composition, but it's the hardest swinging track on the disc, at least at the start. Bacas' visceral tenor solo leads into an open-ended flugelhorn/piano/bass/drums quartet before moving into darker territory, with Mullen's malleted tom-toms and cymbals underscored by Paulsen's arco. The rest of the group gradually reenter with intertwining lines and harmonies that are all the more remarkable for their in-the-moment creation.


Paulsen's arrangement of "Nefertiti" draws a clear inspirational line between his own cerebralism and that of Shorter's. Still, like the legendary saxophonist, Paulsen's intellectual approach is never at the expense of approachability. Swinging fiercely during solos from Meashey, Bacas and Hochmiller, it's a fitting closer to an album that demonstrates a potent mix of compositional complexity and open-minded expression. Paulsen's obviously someone to watch, with the evolutionary Change of Scenery creating an even clearer view of this talented bassist/composer's musical personality.



Review of Peter Paulsen's “Change of Scenery,” by Brad Walseth at jazzchicago.net

Sometimes I could just kick myself. This recording by Philadelphia-area bassist Paulsen is one that I've had for quite some time this year and have been meaning to review, but it just kept falling through the cracks. Which is a shame, because this release is a true gem, filled with remarkable compositions and musicianship and deserving of a wider audience.


Paulsen says the opening title track was influenced by the music of Tomas Stanko and Christof Komeda, yet it has a distinctive American flavor to it. This wonderful composition includes a tasty solo from Paulsen on acoustic bass and makes stunning use of the reed and horn players. Greg Riley on bass clarinet and soprano sax, Chris Bacas on soprano and tenor sax and Bob Meashey on trumpet and flugelhorn produce a palette that is stunning in its beauty. Drummer Joe Mullen and pianist Matt Hochmiller add important elements to this shimmering display of chamber jazz.

The rousing, "Tight Lipped" is a blast, featuring ever-changing tempos, dynamics and lines of varying lengths, while "In and Of Itself" is a lovely ballad with haunting textures and extended lines. The nearly 14-minute "Triple Pairs" plays two against three in a delightful 7/4 polyrhythmic journey, while the group improvised "Random Width" is a kaleidoscopic adventure that lives up to its name -- starting as a burner before mutating. "B's B" is based on Coltrane, but given a South African "Township" treatment, while an incendiary take on Wayne Shorter's "Nefertiti" ends this stellar set on a high note.

Paulsen certainly rose to the opportunity of utilizing the expanded sonic possibilities inherent in the sextet format following 2005's interesting "Tri-Cycle" release, and he has made it clear that he is a new voice in the world of jazz who should be watched closely.



Review of Dave Wilson's “My Time,” by Michael Gladstone at allaboutjazz.com

Dave Wilson's debut album, Through The Time(2002), presented him as a post-Coltrane soprano and tenor saxophonist with a penchant for melody. On My Time, recorded with a Pennsylvania group, he retains bassisst Steve Meashey, adding pianist Matt Hochmiller and drummer Tony Deangelis.


Wilson opens the album with an unusual choice, Alec Wilder's "Moon and Sand," which he plays as a ballad on both soprano and tenor sax. The remaining ten selections include five originals, plus "Just Friends," Kenny Wheeler's "Smatter," Bill Evans' "Time Remembered" and an original arrangement of "Summertime." Wilson offers two versions of the Gershwin classic: first, a six-minute take on the third track, then the twelve-minute closer, with plenty of room to display his tenor sax technique.


Wilson does show a keen sense of melody, as well as the ability to turn the heat a notch up on the up-tempo tracks. His ballad "Song for Lisa," performed on soprano sax, is attractive. Pianist Matt Hochmiller provides several punchy solo statements, while Meashey and Deangelis supply a simmering cushion for the quartet.



Review of Dave Wilson's “My Time,” by Scott Yanow at allmusic.com

Tenor saxophonist Dave Wilson and his quartet are based in Philadelphia and, from the evidence of this CD, they are well worth catching. Wilson has an intense but friendly tone on tenor and soprano, and a style based in hard bop but open to undertaking more adventurous paths. Pianist Matt Hochmiller takes several impressive solos and the rhythm section is both supportive and stimulating. Whether it is an up-tempo romp or a brooding ballad, My Time has plenty of colorful moments and features the four musicians in top form.



Review of Dave Wilson's “My Time,” by Forrest Dylan Brynt at jazztimes.com

Dave Wilson’s second CD makes a subdued entrance, with a gently flowing ballad led by long, clear tones from Wilson’s soprano sax. But just when you think you’ve got him figured out, the tables are turned. It’s Wilson’s gruff, streetwise tenor that dominates this outing, with a merry band of Philadelphia musicians keeping the vibe straight-up and swinging. They hit their peak in a compelling version of “Summertime” (presented here in two versions), with Wilson’s passionate blowing going into overdrive above the riffing rhythm section. Five original tunes offer catchy hooks and warm moods, keeping the disc buzzing along nicely.



Review of Ryan Kauffman's “Three Little Words,” by the Review Team at cadencejazzmagazine.com

Ryan Kauffman plays fluid, sure-footed lines on his saxes with a fine tone on each track. The rhythm section is also solid, with pianist Matt Hochmiller revealing an interesting mainstream modern phraseology of his own. Drummer Chris Loser provides bright, crisp accompaniment while bassist Steve Meashey anchors the proceedings with a strong sound and a firm beat.



Review of “Jazz Piano at Uarts,” by Victor Shermer at allaboutjazz.com

On the whole, Jazz Piano at Uarts convinced me that, even during a time when the limelight is reserved for a precious few, there is still a helluva lot of great young jazz talent out there, and I can only wish them well in their budding careers. It's great that a school of jazz would produce a CD featuring its students. Thanks go to pianist Don Glanden, who is Division Head of Jazz Studies at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, for producing this album and writing the liner notes.


Jazz Piano at Uarts is indeed a fine display of listenable, intelligent and creative renditions of both standards and original compositions by pianists who are labeled "students," but in fact are emerging professionals on the East Coast jazz scene. For example, John Icaro has already appeared on Vivian Mulder's Tranquila disc The Loss of Me. Matt Hochmiller performs frequently in the Philadelphia area and appeared on the Dave Wilson Quartet's Dreambox Media disc My Time. Neil Shah, Mike Frank and Jason Brown also provide creative expositions that go well beyond the connotation of "student.” Technically, all are excellent, though at times they sound a bit awkward on fast runs. Conceptually, they are very advanced and imaginative, at the cutting edge, true to the intent of the music, and consistent in their playing. Each and every one of them is an emerging talent whose development we can look forward to with anticipation.


The most far out tracks on the album are Jason Brown's original solo piece "Free #2 and Neil Shah's rendition of Monk's "Well You Needn't. Both cuts show great improvisatory skill and a willingness to go out on a limb. Chick Corea's "Fiesta, performed by John Icaro, and Corea's "Spain, by Jason Brown, reflect a deep appreciation of Corea's style. Mike Frank's version of the Rodgers and Hart standard "Bewitched is romantic in the best sense, influenced by Keith Jarrett's introspective approach. All the tracks are highly listenable and could be recommended simply as fine jazz piano music which one could enjoy for the sake of its own pleasure.



Performance Evaluation of Matt Hochmiller's Senior Recital at Temple University:

The highest compliment for any performer is the request for an encore. I can truly say that not only did I want an encore but that I also did not want to see (or hear) the end of Matthew Hochmiller's senior recital.

This recital was the most creative student performance I have yet witnessed at Temple. Playing jazz standards is one thing. Crafting standards to flow both musically and stylistically from one to the next really takes consummate creative skills. If one were to view this program for its content, it might appear just another recital of jazz standards. However, Hochmiller's astute linkage of these tunes was ingenious. I knew that I was involved in a unique performance when I looked down at my notepad to see very little scrawled upon it. It was then that I realized that I had been taken in by the program and Hochmiller's almost total improvisational approach.

I do not mean to suggest that there were loose ends or that nothing was prepared. It was clear that there were some sketchings of the different tunes. But as I experienced this music I was taken by the pure jazz of it; by that I mean that this was a program dedicated completely to the art of improvisation. Taking chances is inherent in the art of jazz. It means the probability that the music will not “come out” the way one would want it to every time. Yet, Hochmiller and his ensemble fearlessly relished the opportunity to create, not letting the possibility of failure inhibit or prevent them from the very exciting interplay that was the hallmark of this performance.


Ed Flanagan – Director of Jazz Studies, Temple University



Note from the Performance Evaluation of Matt Hochmiller (at age 17) in the National Piano Playing Auditions:

“Bravo! It was a real pleasure to hear you play! I encourage you strongly to major in music...Superior Plus, Top-Talent Rating.”

Theresa Bogard – Judge, National Guild of Piano Teachers



Note from the Performance Evaluation of Matt Hochmiller (at age 16) in the National Piano Playing Auditions:

“What a talented, musical young man you are, Matt! You play beautifully. It was a joy to hear you. Keep up the good work. You must love your music...Superior Plus, Top-Talent Rating.”

Barbara Weller Crain – Judge, National Guild of Piano Teachers


Note from the Performance Evaluation of Matt Hochmiller (at age 13)in the National Piano Playing Auditions :

“What a pleasure to hear such a musical performance! All the more so from one so young. You have something very special to say with your music.”

Mary Theresa Soper – Judge, National Guild of Piano Teachers


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