Portraits: Wind, Thunder and Love Reviews

A veteran of the adventurous music scene for over four decades, tubaist and composer Joseph Daley has rarely sought the spotlight for himself, but he has left his indelible mark on all projects with which he was involved. Daley, who spent most of his professional life as an educator, is the consummate artist as he balances an intrepid explorative spirit with a mature, wise temperament. His works defy narrow genre-ism and are sublime examples of the universality of the musical language.

His 2014 Portraits: Wind, Thunder and Love features four, modernistic concertos each coalescing around one or more soloists. The compositions are boldly innovative all the while remaining anchored in tradition. They are free flowing, flirting with dissonance yet maintain a strong melodic sense.

The multipart "Wispercussion" is a sweeping and simultaneously intimate tribute to versatile and unique percussionist Warren Smith. Smith, who has performed in such diverse settings as accessible soul-pop and uncompromising avant-garde, has not received his due recognition despite his enormous talent. His strangely captivating 1988 Dragon Dave Meets Prince Black Knight from the Darkside of the Moon for instance has attained cult status among jazz fans.

Smith matches the tonalities of his various instrumental monologues to each of the suite's five distinct moods. On the intriguing first movement, Smith's crystalline vibraphone transforms from darkly resonant to brightly shimmering as the piece evolves from crepuscular to acerbic and incandescent. Smith's mallets cascade on the marimba like cool spring water on the Coplandesque (composer Aaron Copland), cinematic second. The third showcases Smith's expectant tympani around which the orchestra coalesces in angst-ridden swirls of sound. On the fourth segment Smith's ethereal gongs chime over an otherworldly and hypnotic mélange of Asian folk influences and the strings' Western tinged bittersweet refrains. Smith lets loose his thunderous polyrhythmic drums that drive the fanciful and tzigane-ish rolling harmonies on the last part. The superb contrast between Smith's primal beats and the ensemble's elegantly undulating waltz simmers with understated passion.

Smith also propels the dramatic "Industria" with his buoyant tympani. Violinist Elektra Kurtis takes her turn in the spotlight in a boldly creative soliloquy that brims with Levantine mysticism. Kurtis, who has a pan-European background, brings an unmistakable subtlety and suave virtuosity to Daley's achingly gorgeous, poetic composition. The dual basses of Ben Brown and Ken Filiano add a delightfully arcane undercurrent with their thumps and thrums. The track closes with an angular and provocative conversation.

Another violinist Charles Burnham brings his characteristic fiery, genre-bending style to the indigo hued and lush "Dorothea and the Blues." The evocative tune written for Daley's wife of more than four decades opens with keyboardist Onaje Allan Gumbs' crackling and soulful lines over funky percussion. The romantic and easy orchestral sway gives way to Burnham's eloquent solo as he embellishes the main theme with unfettered imagination and sophisticated, ardent phraseology.

Daley's long time collaborator woodwind player Bill Cole displays the haunting tones of the Indian double reed Nagaswaram on the tense and atmospheric "Shadrack." Cole, a specialist in non-western aerophones and an ethnomusicologist, wails and drones in an intensely fervent and intelligent performance that has a futuristic flavor. Cellist Akua Dixon, an outstanding composer and arranger in her own right, enhances the organic feel of the track with her warm, emotive and agile song.

Hrayr Attarian — All About Jazz, August 2015
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Better known as a sideman for the likes of Sam Rivers, Gil Evans and Charlie Haden, Joseph Daley has lately turned to conducting and arranging, making some very intriguing and original sounding music.

This time around, he mixes strings and orchestra and uses percussionist Warren Smith as the star of a five piece “Wispercussion.” Smith gets allowed to display the range of vibes, marimba, tympany, gongs and drums in a variety of settings that range from bowed Bartokian to moody Hitchcock and even some clever playful pizzicato.

Some macabre sounds evoke dark images with Agu Dixon’s cello and Bill Cole’s reedy nagaswarm on “Shadrack” while in contrast you get a collection of lovely and exciting themes from Charles Burham’s violin during an extraordinary “Doretha and the Blues.” Very sophisticated and deeply thought out music, it’s a soundtrack begging for a movie to accompany.

— Jazz Weekly, January 2015
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Musician and composer Joseph Daley was born in New York City’s Harlem beginning his musical studies in elementary school and later studying at the High School of Music and Art, receiving high honours and recognition. He was a member of the most prestigious ensembles in the New York City school system where he began performing on the Latin music scene performing alongside such fine musicians as Rene McLean, Monquito Santamaria, Andy Gonzalez, Alex Blake and many others.

A scholarship to the Manhattan School of Music resulted in his Bachelor’s degree in Performance and a Master’s degree in Music Education and led to a career as an educator in the New York and New Jersey school systems from 1976 until his retirement in 2005. Daley balanced his extensive educational commitments with recording and performing in the ensembles of some of the most provocative musicians on the contemporary jazz scene including Muhal Richard Abrams, Makanda Ken McIntyre, Jason Hwang and Dave Douglas and was an original member of Howard Johnson’s ground breaking tuba ensemble, Gravity. He has also been a long-time collaborator with the highly respected composer/ethnomusicologist and master of non-Western instruments, Bill Cole.

As well as composition, Joseph Daley works with his Earth Tones Ensemble and Ebony Brass Quintet as well as performing as part of duo and trio collaborations and solo performances playing the tuba, euphonium and valve trombone. Daley is also currently a member of the highly eclectic ensemble Hazmat Modine, under the direction of musician and visual artist Wade Schuman.

After nearly 40 years of recognition as one of the most consummate musicians on the adventurous music scene with remarkable artists like Sam Rivers, Carla Bley, Gil Evans, Charlie Haden, Taj Mahal and many more, in 2011, Daley released his CD, The Seven Deadly Sins to enthusiastic reviews, making several Best of 2011 lists. It featured his Earth Tones Ensemble (a full Jazz orchestra augmented by six additional low-toned horns, and including a seven-member rhythm section and four special guests). This was followed up two years later by The Seven Heavenly Virtues for string orchestra.

JoDaMusic has recently released a new album of Daley’s compositions entitled Portraits: Wind, Thunder and Love featuring percussionist Warren Smith together with a full string orchestra comprising eight violins, four violas, four celli, two basses, piano and percussion conducted by Joseph Daley.

The main work on the disc is the five movement suite Wispercussion: Five Portraits of Warren Smith who recently celebrated his 80th birthday yet still maintains a demanding teaching and performing schedule. Here Daley has composed a homage, featuring Warren’s remarkable musicality on vibraphone, marimba, tympani, gongs and trap drums (drum kit) sequentially on each movement.

A small number of special guests join for the three remaining pieces, Shadrack: Portrait of Bill Cole, Doretha and the Blues:Portrait of Wanda Daley and Industria.

In Movement 1 of Wispercussion: Five Portraits of Warren Smith for String orchestra and percussion the string orchestra is soon joined by the vibraphone with 12 tone shifting harmonies. The music soon picks up the pace and becomes more rhythmic leading to a solo section for vibraphone which gently picks out and varies the theme. The orchestra soon re-join and move the music forward to the coda.

The marimba alone picks out a theme as Movement 2 begins. The piano joins as does the orchestra in a syncopated theme, very American in flavour and rhythm. Movement 3 opens with pizzicato strings and piano chords, continuing the rhythm of the second movement. Timpani join adding a rhythm before the strings rise up with the beat subtly changing as the drama increases. There is a solo timpani passage before the music becomes ever more menacing with the timpani bringing out the rhythm, Warren Smith providing some terrific playing.

A gong sounds deeply to open Movement 4 followed by lighter gong textures as Warren Smith achieves some fine textures and sonorities. The orchestra takes over in a dissonant yet melodic motif before more gong sounds are heard, full of colourful effects with Smith finding so many varieties of sound. The orchestra again takes over to develop the theme with a piano adding texture. Once again the lone gong sounds before the orchestra re-joins developing and enriching the theme, becoming ever more rich and beautiful. Evocative distant gongs change the atmosphere to one of mystery, the orchestra enters warming the atmosphere with its romantic texture before a gong can be heard within the orchestra for the sudden conclusion.

Movement 5 opens with a snare drum roll followed by a work out on the drum kit. A rhythm is settled on as the orchestra joins, complete with piano in staccato phrases before leading forward with an insistent drum rhythm. Soon there is a solo passage for Warren Smith to utilise all aspects of the drum kit with a terrific display from this percussionist before the orchestra joins again. Daley really lays out the orchestration well with little pauses for the soloist to add distractive touches. Eventually the rhythm and mood changes and becomes more upbeat with a jazz violin joining as the orchestra moves ahead in a Latin rhythm. Here Daley creates a sophisticated mood with a South American flavour whilst all the while Warren Smith adds sparkle and life, bringing an extended, ever developing, insistent solo passage right up to the end.

This is a varied, colourful and engaging work, full of unusual and distinctive ideas and bringing an amalgam of musical elements. The final three works bring guest artists Jerry Gonzalez (trumpet and percussion), Onaje Allan Gumbs (keyboards), Satoshi Takeishi (percussion) and Richard Huntley (percussion) as well as Gregory Williams (French horn) for the final work.

Shadrack: Portrait of Bill Cole is dedicated to the multi-instrumentalist in whose ensemble Daley has been preforming for over 40 years. Bill Cole is featured on this recording playing the double-reed Indian negaswaram.

Jazz is very much to the fore in this work though filtered through the prism of strange and dissonant writing with the strange sound of the reedy South Indian nagaswaram used in such a bluesy fashion despite its Asian flavour. This is a terrific virtuosic achievement for Bill Cole as he improvises some amazing passages. Eventually the cello of Akua Dixon brings a further Eastern sound as she weaves an exotic line with the nagaswaram joining for a wild and braying coda. A remarkable piece.

Doretha and the Blues: Portrait of Wanda Daley celebrates over 40 years of Joseph Daley’s marriage to Wanda Daley with the orchestra opening in a mellow jazz inspired theme that flows gently with keyboard of Lafayette Harris and percussion accompaniment. Soon a violin solo enters and really swings along with the orchestra. The violin of Charles Burham joins achieving some fine textures as he adds so many inventive phrases along the way showing him to be a fine soloist.

Industria takes as its theme Diligence from Daley’s composition The Seven Heavenly Virtues. Timpani open with pedalling before a regular rhythm is established. The drum kit joins as does the solo violin and keyboards, all keeping a regular rhythm as the strings of the orchestra join. The violin soloist Elektra Kurtis becomes increasingly free and florid, weaving around the orchestra in almost Eastern inflections as the music builds to a tremendous swirl of instruments, the two double basses of Benjamin Brown and Ken Filiano providing a darker yet always transparent texture. Midway there is a drop in intensity in a section where the players provide some unusual instrumental textures before slowly the music falls quieter with no basses and percussion. The orchestra rises up to bring about the coda, that nevertheless concludes on a sparser texture.

This is a fascinating and engaging release with some fine performances from all concerned. They are well recorded though a little more air around the players would have been welcome. There are brief but informative notes by the composer.

— The Classical Reviewer, January 2015
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The New Age front cover art to Portraits: Wind, Thunder, and Love is more than a little misleading, the reverse liner photo giving the best sense of expectations to this CD and its environment: a small symphony ensemble arrayed around composer-conductor Joseph Daley. Portraits is the kind of novo-jazz nu-classical amalgam written and performed all too rarely on these shores. Long-time FAME readers know my affinity for this sort of music as portrayed by Anthony Davis in the 80s, and every new slab in league is always more than welcome as each travels back in time to a wrinkle in the neo-jazz canvas that was too briefly etched. Well, take heart, y'all, 'cause this is only the third of a highly ambitious 10-CD series of works to be completed by the time Daley reaches 70 years of age, all of them crafted in his recent rather dramatic conversion to post-Impressionist neoclassicalism.

Did I say 'post-Impressionist'? Hm, I may have been a tad hasty, because the term, as with so much of the linguistic baggage applied to art, embraces a good deal more than my trusty 1954 edition of Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians is willing to grant. That marvelous but sometimes wanting mini-encyclopedia states that the "chief aim of impressionism is to capture a momentary glimpse of a subject under certain temporary conditions rather than its permanent qualities", and this quite nails a good deal of what the estimable Mr. Daley is accomplishing here in the very first movement of his five-section Wispercussion/Five Portraits of Warren Smith, at times searingly illustrative of the technique and its affective qualities.

Three of my all-time favorite CD box sets are obscure collections of rare sounds, all of performances taken from live recitals: New World Records' Music from the ONCE Festival: 1961 - 1966 (five discs); the Col Legno Leningrad 1988, Vols. 1-6 (six discs); and New World Records' Testament: A Conduction Collection (ten discs of Lawrence D. 'Butch' Morris' sessions with ensembles). What Daley is doing, and what Davis did and is still doing, is colliding the Classicalist and Romantic periods of classical music with what was sparked by Schoenberg and others, producing what I call 'incidentalism' (I've merely extended Grove's definition of 'incidental music' to its proper sphere): whole opuses, or elements within them, consisting of even briefer glances than Impressionism propounded, rendered serially, though not necessarily linearly, strung together either as an entire work or tossed in as garni. What this derived from, though, as shown in Cage and Stockhausen, was a historic expansion of consciousness and, after that, the artist's self-permission to create without necessity to adhere to stifling conventions.

However, the mid-ground within that (starting in utilizations of ancient hallowed traditions, moving to recent more peculiar rules, and then finally the expression of self as artist in a here-and-now granting far more anarchic space than ever before) is what Daley, Davis, and others occupy. This eradicates the too-often irresponsible avenues of free jazz (which is magnificent when done correctly—see, for instance, the new Frank Lowe issuance [here]), the vacuousness of the fruitier sidestreams of the avant-garde (can we say 'Laurie Anderson', boys 'n girls?), and so on. What I'm saying is: this is serious music ensuring the classicalist tradition does not slip into the 'dead music' realm Brian Eno accuses it of.

The long Wispercussion suite is segmented according to a quintet of expositions showcasing 80-year old Warren Smith's percussive excellences. Warren played with Miles, Aretha, Janis, Lena, Lennie Bernstein, and even one of the most maverick of all American musicians, the unclassifiable Harry Partch, among many many others. Daley, who knows from superlative, played with Sam Rivers, Gil Evans, Charlie Haden, Carla Bley, and others as well, all stellar names in jazz's various firmaments. The joining of the two men, then, is something of a major event in this rarefied sector. But also take note of Shadrack/Portrait of Bill Cole. Cole's the nagaswaram player in the piece, and his work is highly evocative of the late Elton Dean of Soft Machine, playing the distinctive double-reed in a stormy milieu.

Two more cuts appear, but I'll let you discover those for yourself. Again, though, this is music to listen to. There are so many colorations, images, emotions, and whatnots entablatured that experiencing the events requires one's full attentions lest so much be missed in work well beyond what Copland, Ives, Grofe, Gershwin, and other modern masters emitted. My favorite track is the closer, Industria, a moody chaotic 9-1/2 minute very progressive piece that could've erupted from Univers Zero or some of the highest caliber progrock bands, a grey wonderland of marvels, dangers, intrigues, and ceaseless fascination.

—Mark S. Tucker, Folk & Acoustic Music ExchangeDecember 2014
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The tumult of Joseph Daley’s albums, The Seven Deadly Sins (Jaro, 2010) and The Seven Heavenly Virtues (JoDaMusic, 2013) has abated, only to make way for another fine recording, this time a series of three profound sketches Portraits: Wind, Thunder and Love.

All three albums are musically rich, extravagant productions and serve to give notice that Joseph Daley is an astute composer and an exquisitely detailed arranger.

His methodology for composition and performance is the employment of an enormous palette which he wields like a painter set to create a most wondrous musical mural the likes of which will fill a room.

Here, his use of instrumentation that includes the use of an ocean of strings, orchestral percussion by the ineffable Warren Smith and two horns in the final selection of this recording provides further evidence of Mr. Daley’s complete mastery of his palette.

In fact the portraits that he creates are finely divined and bring to life not only masterly musical colours and textures, but also musical characters that the listener can hear and almost see them as if they were presented in a kind of dancing musical hologram.

The visual experience is heightened by a tremendously well-rehearsed string orchestra in which two great musicians Warren Smith and Bill Cole participate.

This is by no means intended to suggest that the third portrait—of Mr. Daley’s wife is any less interesting without a singular guest artist.

In fact all three portraits are engaging and involving because they are richly orchestrated. Orchestration is Joseph Daley’s other forte.

As an arranger he seems to have a deep and almost uncanny understanding of strings and the relationship that the various strings instruments have with one another. Melding the gradual depth of the family from violin to double bass is something Mr. Daley writes for exceedingly well.

Their colours and textures and the timbre of each is singularly pronounced in “Wispercussion.” The manner in which the string section intertwines in both bowed and plucked sequences is magical. And when Warren Smith employs his battery of percussion the effect is melodically, harmonically and rhythmically outstanding. In this miniature, Warren Smith has warmly turned the performance of this selection from Joseph Daley into an attractive and expressive musical excursion.

“Shadrack” begins with a wailing nageswaram, an Indian double reed that Bill Cole plays with rapturous beauty. The piercing ululations of the horn are interwoven with the strings that enter after Mr. Cole has had his say with thrilling abandon. A feature of his playing that is too often ignored is its spiritual quality. This was something that inspired Mr. Cole throughout his life as he made music of immense import.

The heartfelt nature of “Doretha and the Blues” is almost palpable and Mr. Daley cannot be blamed for being unable to distance himself with the love of his life: his wife Wanda. The languid warmth of the orchestral odyssey is punctuated by pithy statements that serve to give real shape to this extravagant blues. Whatever Joseph Daley comes up with it is going to be hard to top these three albums, but that future music is surely going to be interesting to say the least.

— RAUL D'GAMA, November 2014, JAZZ DA GAMA
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For more than 40 years, Joseph Daley has maintained a sterling reputation as a consummate sideman, bringing his exceptional low-brass talents to the music of a stellar array of heavyweight artists, including Sam Rivers, Gil Evans, Charlie Haden, Carla Bley and Taj Mahal. Three years ago Joseph celebrated his 60th birthday by taking an entirely different direction, revealing his extraordinary abilities as composer/arranger.

His first album, The Seven Deadly Sins (2011) for an extended jazz orchestra of 24 pieces, was followed by The Seven Heavenly Virtues for string orchestra in 2013. Both albums received overwhelming acclaim from both critics and musicians, establishing Joseph as a major force among contemporary composers. His newest album Portraits: Wind, Thunder and Love will only further extend that growing reputation which has compared him to immortals like Ellington, Strayhorn, George Russell and Charles Mingus.

Like Virtues– on the five movement suite that comprises more than half the album, WISPercussion/Five Portraits of Warren Smith, with a handful of special guests added for the three remaining pieces.

The focus of this major work, percussion master Warren Smith is the featured soloist throughout the suite, and also contributes mightily on the rest of the album. Smith, who recently celebrated his 80th birthday – and maintains a teaching and performing schedule that would be challenging for a person half his age – has built a reputation as one of the most creative, versatile and sensitive percussionists in his 60+ years of activity with a staggering range of artists including Miles Davis, Aretha Franklin, Janis Joplin, Lena Horne, Van Morrison, Harry Partch, Leonard Bernstein and scores of others. Here, Joseph has composed a stunning homage, featuring Warren’s remarkable musicality on vibraphone, marimba, tympani, gongs and trap drums sequentially on each movement.

There’s really no point in trying to describe the music by focusing on this melodic line or that solo. The music is a seamless whole – fiery, uplifting, exciting, stimulating, both vehemently rhythmic and evocatively atmospheric; startling at times, soothing at others….but always powerful, transcendent and breathtakingly beautiful. The music draws from an extended palette of influences and styles – 12-tone, Brazilian, African, Classical romanticism, impressionism, jazz from swing to avant-garde (and closes with a foray into Gypsy music that would bring both Django and Bartok to their knees). Despite the array of sources, the music is always cohesive and confluent, perfectly constructed and visualized into the singular focus of its creator.

This suite is as vast and powerful as an ocean, with Warren’s solos coloring, punctuating and highlighting; sometimes thrusting ahead like a relentless swimmer, and emerging at others like a dolphin soaring above the waves in joyous celebration of its life and essence. His statements are captivating in their lyricism, not only on melodic instruments like the vibes and marimba, but also on tympani, gongs and traps – partly due to the tuning, but even more so by the depths of Warren’s impeccable musicianship. The blending is seamless, whether Smith is playing parts within the orchestral context or improvising – essentially creating an astonishing duet between the two men on their respective instruments – Warren with his percussion and Joseph with his orchestral vision.

The remaining three pieces are fully realized orchestral compositions, brilliantly conceived and – like all of the music on this marvelous album – flawlessly executed by the ensemble. For these three pieces, the string orchestra is augmented by three diversely disciplined percussionists – Jerry Gonzalez, Satoshi Takeishi and Richard Huntley – while Onaje Allan Gumbs joins the album’s pianist Lafayette Harris, with both men adding electric piano to Harris’ acoustic.

Two of the pieces are, like Wispercussion, forged in the portrait mode that Joseph began on his Virtues album. Shadrack/Portrait of Bill Cole is a dedication to the remarkable multi-instrumentalist in whose ensemble Joseph has been performing for some 40 years. Bill is featured here on the Indian double-reed nagaswaram, whose sinuously penetrating sound swirls vividly throughout the exotic piece, providing the core element in its incandescent radiance. Akua Dixon’s cello adds a sarangi-like flavor, providing a delicious dissonance and highly compelling emotional impact to a piece that manages to be both explosive in its intensity, but exquisite in its beauty.

Doretha and the Blues/Portrait of Wanda Daley is a paean of love to Joseph’s beautiful wife of 43 years. Its winsomely gentle, melodic line flows lovingly in its development, strings atmospherically shadowing the center, before melding into a down home blues mode with Charles Burnham’s violin singing somewhere between Stuff Smith and Sugarcane Harris. Joseph’s orchestration is both densely sumptuous as Mingus and as lean and mean as Lightnin’ Hopkins.

The album closes with Industria, a variation on Diligence from The Seven Heavenly Virtues. Taken at a slower, strikingly deliberate pace, Smith’s tympani blends with Elektra Kurtis’ plaintive violin leading the organically evolving strings into a force of relentless motion. It moves like a spectacular lava flow – irresistible, mesmerizing, blazing, but oh, so incredibly beautiful. The twin basses of Ken Filiano and Ben Brown add viscerally to the darkly luminous texture.

A scintillating finale to a magnificent album. While Joseph Daley is truly a composer in the grandest Jazz tradition, his music could – and should – be gracing the concert stages of the world’s great orchestras. His music is utterly innovative, yet never abandons the composer’s quest for beauty. This is the third of a ten album series that Joseph plans to issue by his 70th birthday. With his first three, he has already forged a permanent place in the splendid orchestral legacy of Jazz.