CD reviews

facts and figures

FACTS + FIGURES 

Washington DC-based tenorman Fraize turned some heads on his recent visit to the UK’s South Coast, especially with his appearance at Love Supreme Festival, but his name may not elicit an immediate response from the wider jazz public in the UK. This fine recording illustrates the wealth of talent that’s to be found in the US, awaiting discovery.

Fraize is long-standing head of jazz studies at George Washington University, and has a wide-ranging discography encompassing everything from fusion to free, but at heart he’s a hard-blowing contemporary tenorist in the lineage that reaches back to Rollins and Trane, as brought to the present day via Brecker and his peers. ‘The Ides Of March” incorporates some very current rhythmic twists and turns, and fluid guitar work from Pieper - “A Step Towards Grace” is powered along by the kind of loping groove that Elvin Jones specialised in, providing a  background over which Fraize cuts loose with a solo of dazzling intensity. “Euclid House” uses cunningly planned stops and starts and latin interludes  to create a playful altered blues; ‘While He Sleeps” is a long-form waltz that constantly subverts expectations, and features an impressive Hancock-flavoured solo from Ozment. “Leo” is a ballad that demonstrates Fraize’s chops as a writer - “Freezer Full Of Math” shows how tight and swinging the band can sound over a fiendishly complex structure.

This is tough, powerful, hard-swinging music, with superb performances from the outstanding band and some memorable compositions and state-of-the-art arrangements showing how much vigour can still be found in the post-bop tradition. Seek it out.

- Eddie Myer, Jazz Views

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ORGANIC MATTER

Most latter-day soul jazz organ groups do their best to sound as if it is still 1960. Their organist pays constant homage to Jimmy Smith, the saxophonist hints strongly at Stanley Turrentine, the guitarist sounds a bit like Grant Green or Kenny Burrell, and the drummer swings in the background a la Grady Tate. The resulting music is fun but predictable.

Saxophonist Peter Fraize's quartet makes it clear throughout Organic Matter that this is the 21st rather than the 20th century. The leader, splitting his time between tenor and alto, often takes wailing solos that take the music almost over the edge. He is certainly aware of the avant-garde explorations of the past 40 years along with such sound innovators as Michael Brecker and David Sanborn, and he has carved out his own sound and style beyond his historical predecessors.

Organist Greg Hatza and guitarist Mike Pavone both also have developed their own musical identities, no mean feat considering the giants who have preceded them in playing soul jazz and hard bop. Hatza and Pavone have very complimentary sounds that blend together quite well, particularly when Fraize is soloing. Drummer Marty Morrison is more active than the soul jazz drummers of the past, and he is never shy to push the music forward with colorful outbursts.

The eight Peter Fraize originals on the Organic Matter are both traditional (particularly in some of their chord changes) and unpredictable in their themes. A good example is “Rhythm Schtick” which, during its melody statement, barely seems to use a chord structure at all before resolving into the changes of “I Got Rhythm” during the solos. While a couple of the other tunes are blues-based, most of the others use unusual structures, including the soulful ballad “Cradle Rocked.” And while the quartet sometimes gets a bit funky, the music is never predictable. The musicians consistently stimulate each other, and one can only imagine how exciting it would be to see this group in a club.

Organic Matter has plenty of exciting moments and is easily recommended.

- Scott Yanow, author of ten jazz books including Bebop, Jazz On Record 1917-76, and Jazz On Film

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Washington, D.C.-Based Saxophonist Peter Fraize Displays Extraordinary Command On Latest Album

In the ecosystem, organic matter is what dead plants and animals leave behind to help sustain life on the planet. Interpreted as art, such as with saxophonist Peter Fraize's new record Organic Matter, it can be viewed as a legacy. View Organic Matter as Fraize's gift to the jazz world, a timeless work that will assist in ensuring the genre's longevity.

For the Washington, D.C.-based Fraize, Organic Matter is merely the latest of his numerous accomplishments in jazz. His career extends back to the early '80s with the band Moment's Notice, which he formed at the age of 16. Nearly 30 years later, Fraize is still a fixture of the local jazz scene. In addition to his live performances and studio albums, Fraize has been teaching jazz at George Washington University since 1994.

Given his decades of experience and wealth of musical knowledge, that Organic Matter should sound like a defining statement is no shock. Fraize is keenly aware of the saxophone's possibilities and limitations; he displays extraordinary command of the instrument in cut after cut. On “Rawer Than Dinner," Fraize's searing sax can produce rug burns. However, Fraize is a team player as well. On “Rhythm Schtick," Fraize and his band—Hammond organ player Greg Hatza, guitarist Mike Pavone, and drummer Mark Morrison—groove with breathless determination.

Subsequent spins of Organic Matter further reveal its layers of eclectic flavors and sonic textures. It's the kind of album that simply improves the more times that it is heard.

- All About Jazz.com

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Explosive energy and pulsating creativity dominate new album from saxophonist Peter Fraize

The manic energy that fuels the chemistry of saxophonist Peter Fraize's Organic Matter is both uplifting and addictive. It seems to stimulate the senses, these beat-happy sounds; they spark with the active rhythms of everyday living, echoing the pulsating vibrations of the heart and the warm pumping of blood through the veins. 

Explosively supported by Hammond organ player Greg Hatza, guitarist Mike Pavone, and drummer Marty Morrison, Fraize utilizes his sax to give shape to his imagination. On the opening title track, Fraize's saxophone sings and soars like a liberated nightingale as Hatza's sultry organ and Morrison's robust pounding mesmerize with their crackling melodies. On "Rawer Than Dinner," Fraize and Hatza seem to exchange places in the spotlight; Fraize's saxophone sizzles like the heat from a late-afternoon summer sun while Hatza's organ cools with the icy breath of winter. The aptly named "Rhythm Schtick" finds the group caught in a sweltering jam.

It's no surprise that Fraize is a college instructor, teaching saxophone and other jazz courses at George Washington University since 1994. Organic Matter is left with the fingerprints of not only a student of the genre but a lifelong professor. It'll be nearly impossible to duplicate the wizardry on display here; flashes of brilliance can only happen once. Nevertheless, its craftsmanship and creativity will provide endless, glorious hours of study and discovery.

- Jazz Corner.com

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Peter Fraize's latest album is called "Organic Matter" and is an album that features a tight knit cast of players (Hammond organist, a guitarist, and a drummer) all playing with Fraize and his saxophone, on his original compositions that are of a wide variety of Jazz songs. "Soloman's House of Freaks" is an almost toe-tapping blues shuffle, in which the drums, organ, and guitar hold down the beat while the saxophone does the singing. "Brain's" is a unique jazzy number, with talented musical timing, that portrays a very modern take on using soulful sounds. "Fish (This Big)" is a song that incorporates a little bit of the jam-band sounds, in a song that is both jazz and rock like and really packs a punch. Overall, this is a distinctive album with its primary use of the Hammond organ as well as the saxophone to create songs that are an amalgam of both past and modern Jazz. If a collection of funky and truly talented jazz grooves sounds like something you would enjoy, then pick up "Organic Matter" by Peter Fraize.

- RadioIndy.com

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THIRD ATTENTION

Smooth jazz may well have been the farthest thing from Peter Fraize's mind when he and his trio mates recorded "Third Attention" (Union). The Washington-based tenor saxophonist is clearly more interested in music that incorporates elements of straight-ahead jazz and free improvisation. He wields his tenor with considerable authority, whether casually playing over a swing pulse or punctuating the noirish "Union Blues" with an urgent cry. Fraize's sense of humor is also evident on a jaunty reading of the Bee Gees' "How Deep Is Your Love," which opens with a bracing splash of Ellingtonia and easily ranks as the album's most accessible performance. If some of the tracks are a tad too long, all of them are fueled by the probing spirit Fraize shares with his band mates--bassist Steve Zerlin and drummer Leland Nakamura. Fraize performs Monday at State of the Union.

- Mike Joyce, the Washington Post

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This recording features tenor saxophonist Peter Fraize with his long standing colleagues, drummer Leland Nakamura and bassist Steve Zerlin. Fraize is indebted to Sonny Rollins for his rich, full sound, which is well documented here. But, the comparison stops there, as Fraize explores more radical harmonic structures. While Fraize toys with the avant-garde, his somewhat guarded approach never loses control or succumbs to unfettered emotion. Nakamura and Zerlin provide good support, each a tad more conservative than the leader. Most of the pieces were penned by Fraize, and sport a remarkable sophistication. The closing "How Deep Is Your Love" is a cute finale to a well-paced program, although the short recording time (44:58) leaves the listener wishing for more.

- Steve Loewy, All Music Guide

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YOU ST.

[Fraize] is a tenor saxophonist-composer based in the Washington, D.C. area and, over the past few years, has been playing a regular gig on Monday nights at a D.C. nightclub known as State Of The Union. From that steady engagement came the group that appears on this CD. The music is propelled by the fine rhythm sections; Leland Nakamura (on 5 of the 6 tracks) is a busy yet intuitive player - his snare work on Jessica underscores the urgency of the melody line. Francis Thompson appears only on Nana and shows he, too, can drive the band. Bassist Aaron Clay (on 4 of the 6 cuts) plays counterpoint to both the soloists and the drummer. Without a piano in the group, the bassist has to solidify the bottom. His replacement, Steve Zerlin, is just as good. Fraize scores his melodies for three horns and is not afraid to have long sections in his songs for ensemble playing. As a soloist his main axe is tenor - at times displaying the fire of John Coltrane (the fine drum and tenor interchange at the onset of Plain Folk). His rhythmic solo on You St. shows a grasp of gutbucket sax before he takes off into higher registers. His soprano work is fine, with a bluesy lilt. I like the way he lifts his lines above the trombone and tenor on Nana. His solo has a smooth lilting feel, even when he starts to wail. He flies during his break on Paul McCartney's Michelle. The other tenor player, Rob Holmes, also has a bluesy feel in his playing. His best moments occur on Michelle when his solo, rising from the ensemble reading of the theme, moves away from the melody in a most pleasing way. Trombonist Rick Lillard is a strong voice in the ensemble sections, holding down the lower notes - when he solos, he shows not only bluesy interpretations of the melodies but a good sense of the humor. You St. is filled with honest music and solid playing. The band pushes at its material, not content with cliches or pat readings of the themes. While this group does not create "new" sounds, this recording shows how creative Peter Fraize and his companions can be within the tradition. Recommended. 

- Richard B. Kamins, Cadence Magazine

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While a piano can conceal a multitude of sins committed by a jazz ensemble, it's absence, as Sonny Rollins and others have discovered, can lead to new paths and possibilities.

On You St: Live At State of the Union, the Peter Fraize Quintet prove worthy of the challenge. An outgrowth of Monday night jam sessions at the Washington, D.C. club, the music is consistently fresh and inspired by Fraize's colorful writing for reeds and brass and the improvisatory bent he shares with his bandmates, particularly fellow tenor saxophonist Rob Holmes and trombonist Rick Lillard. Fraize composed nearly all of the tunes, providing each with a distinctive theme, harmonic design and rhythmic momentum. "Jessica" boasts a languorous, warmly shaded melody, while the brashly harmonized theme for the title track grows out a simple bass ostinato. The relaxed gait and piquant harmonies that make "Nana" so appealing provides a sharp contrast to the tumultuous sax and drums duet that introduces "Plain Folk." Meanwhile, echoes of Charles Mingus, Eric Dolphy, John Coltrane and sundry sax ensembles occasionally filter through the mix.

- Mike Joyce, Jazz Times

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POST-DECONSTRUCTION (with Giancarlo Schiaffini)

Funny thing about jam sessions: they can either lead to unexpected meetings of minds from disparate musicians, or end up being frustrating exercises in misinterpretation. Mostly, though, they’re a combination of the two, made better or worse by the practice of allowing everyone present to have his say.

Since a distinguished visitor from abroad and some local ringers were involved, this CD, recorded a couple of years ago at a now defunct-Washington, D.C. night spot, is more than a version of the jam tenor saxophonist Peter Fraize and his trio had been hosting at the club for years. Yet, during the 72-plus minutes of the session, the saxophonist, plus bassist Steve Zerlin and drummer Leland Nakamura, joined by second bassist Vattel Cherry, soprano and alto saxophonist Jesse Meman and most notably veteran Italian trombonist Giancarlo Schiaffini tweak the musical fare only a bit.

One of the tunes is venerable “St. James Infirmary”, another a standard 12-bar blues and a third an original with a strongly (Thelonious) Monkish cast. The end result is a sound that’s more conventional than you would expect from someone like the self-taught trombonist and more outside than the Washingtonians usually play. Schiaffini, who has led a parallel career in jazz and New music since the late 1960s, is not only a member of the all-star improvising Italian Instabile Orchestra, but contemporary chamber ensembles, and has had solo pieces dedicated to him by composers such as Scelsi, Nono, and Guaccero.

A conservatory teacher, Schiaffini shares pedagogy with Fraize, who besides taking pop and jazz gigs, is director of George Washington University’s jazz program. Both would be familiar with Monk’s “Friday the 13th”, which gets saluted on the trombonist’s “Wednesday the 17th”. The accustomed theme even appears itself near the end, after the band’s rickety-tick version of the new line could be characterized as avant-Dixieland. Not only does the trombonist introduce multiphonics and oblique motion to his solo, but the tenor man wiggles inside and out in a solo that includes high-pitched, trills and overblowing. Bass solos played by Zerlin, who has since moved to California and Manhattan-resident Vattel Cherry, best-known for his membership in saxophonist Charles Gayle’s trio, work in parallel motion with one -- probably Cherry -- scratching away with his bow, while the other plucks out the beat. When he’s not trading smeary notes with Fraize, soprano and alto saxophonist Jesse Meman, who has worked on the Latin circuit and with Anthony Braxton, spends his time accelerating and retarding the tempo.

On the other hand, his “Everyman’s Blues” is a standard foot tapper where the altoist reaches into the tradition for his trills and runs. Before he literally introduces a two-beat shuffle at the end, Nakamura uses simple rat-tat-tat rhythms that are likely similar to what he uses on his fusion and rock gigs. Both bassists walk and the saxes honk throughout, while the trombonist goes into Tricky Sam Nanton mode for a deep-dish plunger solo.

More illustrative of the groups talents are Schiaffini’s nearly 19-minute “Come Se Fosse Autunno” and Fraize’s “Plain Folk”, which is only about a minute shorter. Built on a tarantella-like bouncy rhythm, the first gives the ‘bone man a chance to showcase his speedy slides and cavernous smears. Meanwhile Meman adds soprano lines on top, as if the two were playing Trad Jazz, while the tenor man’s outing includes tongue-flutters, double-timing and altissimo freak notes. As the horns hocket away in unison the tempo slows down and the tune dribbles away.

Unselfconsciously as down-home as Ornette Coleman’s “Folk Tale”, the second composition easily illustrates its title. Homespun as all get out when playing unaccompanied, Fraize begins running the changes at the top of his horn’s range then moves into aviary scream territory. Less inhibited, he sounds out sharpened semitones in his solo, charging up and down the keys as Nakamura rumbles along below him. Meman and Schiaffini soon get into the act, riffing then swaying back and forth with the theme, until all oral instruments join to take the piece out.

Much of POST-DECONSTRUCTION demonstrates all the good that can come out of a structured jam session, but there are disagreeable parts as well. Democracy in action means that every member of the band gets to solo on every number, and there are times when a tune staggers under the weight of one too many bass and/or drum solos.

Be warned about that. But if you’re interested in some good music from an unheralded band, plus a new setting for a seasoned improviser, this CD may be for you.

- Ken Waxman, jazzweekly.com

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This follow-up to the hard-to-find album Deconstruction, recorded on the Italian Pentaflowers label, is a splendid introduction to the enormous abilities of the unlikely combination of Washington-based saxophonist Peter Fraize and Italian trombonist Giancarlo Schiaffini. Boasting an unusual front line of two saxes and trombone, and a rhythm section on three of the tracks of two string basses and drums (bassist Vattel Cherry sits out of two numbers), there is a visceral energy that spans genres. The opening "St. James Infirmary" espouses that old-time religion, updated to incorporate the modern idiom of free jazz improvisation, while Schiaffini's take-off of "Wednesday the 17th" is clearly a variation on Monk's "Friday the Thirteenth." The remaining tunes, all of which are originals by members of the group, revel in their freewheeling exuberance. Surprises abound, as the little-known Fraize, for example, shows a sophistication and vocabulary that mark him as a player of the highest caliber. On his brilliant and highly accessible "Plain Folk," his extended improvisation is a virtual tour de force. The crowd-pleasing Jesse Meman, too, impressively incorporates a wildly emotional blues aesthetic with technical expertise, while the legendary Schiaffini alternates between plunger mute and an individual post-'60s avant-garde style. For a live performance, the sound is remarkably clear, and the lengthy tracks give plenty of space for all the players to strut their wares.

- Steve Loewy, All Music Guide

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