Jerry Kalaf – Welcome to Earth (2015)

Composer, arranger and drummer Jerry Kalaf has delivered something special with his latest recording. Welcome to Earth features three different bands, a sextet and two trios, and has Kalaf’s melodic sense at the heart of everything.

At the core of the matter is his method.

My approach to composing can be termed absolute rather than programmatic," he says. “In other words, I usually don’t draw from sources outside the music. I don’t have a specific subject matter or imagery in mind; rather, I’m concerned with melody, harmony and rhythm. I often think of the names only after the piece is written.

Those musical concerns make Welcome to Earth a unique listen because the vibe comes from the notes on the page and the relationship between players. This is apparent from the outset, with Jerry Kalaf’s “Ambiguity" up first. One of three pieces for the sextet, this number kicks into vision with cymbals and Doug Walter’s strong alto saxophone lines. He pulls fluid phrases into the open, while Jeff Colella’s ivories play at space. When the space opens up to Scott Breadman’s percussion and a lovely and patient solo from guitarist Barry Coates, any opacity clears.

Kalaf’s compositions are charming because they’re allowed to be. Full-bodied music abounds in the other sextet pieces, like the swaying “Siyaya Samba." The song finds inspiration from the Zimbabwean group Siyaya (“on the move"), with Walter’s phrases weaving the story.

The first of two trios kicks in for “The Jazz Answer." Jerry Kalaf plays with the pianist Leonard Thompson and the bassist Ryan McGillicuddy and the result is a vibrant and intricate tune inspired by Bill Evans. The melody cranes through numerous keys, but this is no arbitrary addition. The rolling essence is conveyed with care, guided by Thompson’s clever playing and Kalaf’s stability on the kit.

The other trio assembles for “See You Next Year" and “Moving On," the latter of which closes Welcome to Earth. Here, it’s Kalaf, Rich Ruttenburg (piano) and Domenic Genova (bass). Evans’ spur is again at the core of “See You Next Year," a lovely waltz with stylish splashes from Ruttenburg’s ornate playing.

Jerry Kalaf’s compositions have been featured in movies and on television shows, but with Welcome to Earth he has the chance to strip things down to find the muse inside. He achieves this effortlessly, letting the music course from the heart and sharing his concepts through the conduit of three skilled and inspiring groups.

— February 6, 2015 - Jordan Richardson

Jerry Kalaf – Just Like Old Times (2005)

Drummer Jerry Kalaf has put together an extremely tasteful record that makes the rare juxtaposition of strings and piano trio. Reminiscent of Phineas Newborn’s “While My Lady Sleeps", this release is in fact superior in that Kalaf’s timekeeping and drumming keeps the music moving forward, leading without being overpowering. Likewise, the strings, arranged to perfection by Doug Walter, are perfectly framed, never overbearing and used most often as lighting to highlight the interplay between Kalaf, Tom Warrington (bass) and Rich Ruttenberg (piano).

At times the strings are used to create a dramatic contrast, as in “Monk and Mingus", where the bass and piano jab in and out of the minor chords. At other times, like cirrus clouds, they float over the crisp and succinct piano and drum work, as in “Like it Never Happened." Throughout the entire cd, the trio’s interplay is sympathetic, intimate and communicative. This is a disc that will take repeated listenings to fully appreciate on many different levels.

— George W. Harris