by Ian Mann
July 30, 2023
An excellent evening of music making that combined good humour with musical accessibility and superb musicianship. This is one Anglo-American relationship that really can be regarded as ‘Special’.
B.D. Lenz Trio with Kim & Mike Cypher, Smokey Joe’s Coffee Bar & Diner, Cheltenham, 27/07/2023.
B.D. Lenz -electric guitar, James Rosocha – electric bass, Joe Falcey – drums
Kim Cypher – tenor, alto & soprano saxophones, vocals, Mike Cypher – drums
Tonight’s event represented the penultimate show on a thirty date British and European tour undertaken by guitarist and composer B.D. Lenz and his trio that had visited Belgium and Germany as well as all corners of the UK, clocking up 5000 miles on the trio’s hire car in the process. It’s a tour that ha clearly been a huge success with B.D. having sold the entire stock of CDs that he had brought over with him.
Of course New Jersey based Lenz is no stranger to the UK, his summer tours with his trio have become annual events and he has developed a large and loyal British fan-base. I first encountered his music after checking him out at a live show at The Marr’s Bar in Worcester back in 2017, when he was again accompanied by bassist James Rosocha and drummer Joe Falcey. It was an excellent performance and I was suitably impressed.
After the Worcester gig, which I had attended as a ‘punter’, I introduced myself to B.D. who was kind enough to provide me with a copy of his then latest CD “Manifesto” for review purposes. My take on the album appears here;
James Rosocha subsequently forwarded me a copy of his solo album “Avalon”, a 2018 recording that features Lenz as part of a rotating cast of musicians. Review here;
My favourite Lenz recording actually remains “Live in the UK!”, a very enjoyable “official bootleg” that was recorded at another venue in Worcester (the Arts Workshop) in 2015 by the same trio line up. For me this acts as an excellent souvenir of the later Marr’s Bar gig, which included many of the same tunes, among them an inspired arrangement of Radiohead’s “Creep” and a jaw dropping segue of Billy Joel’s “She’s Always A Woman” and The Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood”. I actually prefer the rawness of the live album to the more polished productions of the guitarist’s studio recordings.
Lenz made his recording début in 1997 and has recorded a total of thirteen albums, all released on his own Jade Buddha record label. He has also written extensively for TV and film soundtracks, his credits including the acclaimed television series “Breaking Bad”. A glance at his website http://www.bdlenz.com reveals that he has played with some of the biggest names in contemporary jazz including fellow guitarist Mike Stern, trumpeter Randy Brecker and bassists Mark Egan and Will Lee.
Inspired by fellow guitarists Pat Metheny, Mike Stern, John Scofield, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Bill Frisell Lenz’s music mixes jazz, rock, blues, funk and Americana influences while managing to avoid the clichés of 70s style fusion. He’s a hugely talented musician, who has established something of a cult following, but he really deserves to be much more widely known.
The Cheltenham based husband and wife Mike Cypher (drums) and Kim Cypher (saxes, vocals) run regular jazz nights at Smokey Joe’s, an American style coffee house and diner quirkily decorated with historic artefacts from the 1950s era sourced from both the US and the UK. It all makes for a pleasantly eccentric and bohemian atmosphere and Smokey Joe’s represents a great place to enjoy live music.
The Cyphers have also forged close links with the Lenz Trio, the two parties first meeting when the Cyphers’ band and the guitarist’s trio were double booked for the same gig. Rather than quarrelling they comprised, with both groups playing a set each then coming together for a jam at the end. A rapport was immediately established and a lifetime friendship has ensued. Lenz has subsequently guested on a number of Kim Cypher’s recordings and thanks to the wonders of modern technology they were even able to continue the collaboration during lockdown.
In April 2023 during another visit to the UK Lenz guested with the Kim Cypher Quartet at another show at Smokey Joe’s. This was a hugely enjoyable night of music making that included material from Kim’s two albums “Make Believe” (2016) and “Love Kim x” (2019) plus some of Lenz’s original compositions. That performance is covered here, with that review representing the source for some of the above information;
Tonight represented the opportunity for Lenz to return the favour with Kim and Mike appearing as guests of the guitarist’s regular trio. As in April the venue was packed with the audience responding enthusiastically to the music. The first set featured the core trio of Lenz, Rosocha and Falcey while the second saw the three Americans joined first by Kim Cypher and later by Mike.
Lenz and the trio eased the audience in gently with an arrangement of the jazz standard “All The Things You Are” that introduced the musical voices of the band with Lenz taking the first solo on guitar followed by Rosocha on electric bass, with Falcey adding a series of colourful drum breaks.
The Lenz original “Slo Yer Roll”, from the “Manifesto” album, proved to be an audience favourite in April and was just as popular second time around. The title comes from a New Jersey expression meaning “calm down”, “cool it” or “back off”. Its lazy funk grooves, generated by Rosocha’s springy electric bass and Falcey’s economical drumming, provided the springboard for the composer’s fluent and incisive guitar soloing.
One of the Lenz Trio’s hallmarks is the way in which they place their own stamp on a wide range of cover material sourced from jazz, rock and pop. Lenz is an admirer of Pat Metheny’s music and has previously covered his fellow guitarist’s composition “Travels”. Tonight it was the turn of Pat’s “Song For Bilbao” to get the B.D. treatment with Lenz bringing his own range of effects to a tune that was also recorded by saxophonist Michael Brecker. Solos here came from the leader on guitar and Rosocha on agile electric bass, his playing sometimes reminiscent of former PMG member Mark Egan. Finally audience favourite Falcey was featured at the kit.
Next up was an instrumental version of one of Eric Clapton’s lesser known songs, “Change The World”, dating from 1996. A shuffling groove provided the framework for solos from Lenz and Rosocha. By ‘96 Clapton had largely dropped off my radar so I wasn’t previously familiar with this tune, nevertheless I liked the trio’s interpretation of it.
An extended solo guitar introduction that made effective use of live looping techniques ushered in a poignant and emotive arrangement of Paul Simon’s “The Sound Of Silence”. The performance subsequently featured Rosocha’s liquidly melodic electric bass soloing and Falcey’s sensitive brush work. This was a classic case of the trio taking full ownership of their chosen material. Stunning.
The last in a series of inspired covers was the Beatles classic “Norwegian Wood”, a song that had also been performed in April. Lenz’s arrangement brings a harsh, angry, clangorous quality to the music and his powerful solo again made judicious use of a variety of guitar effects. Rosocha and Falcey were also featured as the first set came to a dynamic close, eliciting a rapturous response from the Smokey Joe’s crowd. Once again – stunning. The Lenz Trio have a special ability to perform inspired covers of well chosen classic rock and pop material, really making the songs their own and genuinely stamping their own identity on them.
The second set saw Kim Cypher joining the Lenz Trio from the start and adding tenor sax to the guitarist’s original composition “Bridges”, another tune that had featured at the April show. Kim shared the solos with Lenz and Rosocha, her raunchy tenor adding a new dimension to the collective sound. A rousing drum feature from Falcey then set the seal on a powerful and energetic start to the second half.
Kim announced the next song as “a little swing number” as she contributed vocals and tenor sax to the standard “Cheek to Cheek”, sharing the instrumental soloing with Lenz.
Another Lenz original to have featured in April was “Honus”, a tune that opens his 2013 album “Ready Or Not”. Driving bass and drum grooves helped to fuel the solos from Lenz on guitar and Kim on soprano sax, the latter managing to insert a number of crowd pleasing quotes into her solo.
Another inspired rock cover came in the form of an instrumental arrangement of the Police song “Every Breath You Take”. This was introduced by the combination of guitar and tenor sax, with electric bass and brushed drums subsequently added. Gradually the music began to gain momentum, reflecting the insistent lyric, with solos from Lenz and Cypher.
The Lenz original “Uh-Huh”, the title best pronounced in a sardonic New Jersey accent, introduced a heavy funk groove that encouraged powerful solos from Kim on tenor and Lenz on guitar, these followed by another dynamic drum feature from Falcey.
The Bob Marley song “No Woman, No Cry” proved to be an unusual, but inspired choice with Kim singing and playing soprano sax. She coaxed the capacity audience at Smokey Joe’s to their feet to sing along with the chorus, with many remaining standing or dancing for the rest of the night.
With a second drum kit already set up on stage it was an open secret that Mike Cypher would be joining the band for a double drum workout. The first piece to feature two drummers was the Latin flavoured tune “Lucky Southern”, another piece that had been performed in April. This saw Falcey wielding shakers as Mike undertook the conventional kit work, the two sticks men supporting solos from Kim on tenor, Lenz on guitar and Rosocha on bass. Finally Mike was featured at the kit, much to the delight of the supportive home crowd. At the close of the tune Falcey admitted that playing the shakers was more exhausting than playing the whole kit!
The evening closed with a crowd pleasing performance of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” that had the whole audience on its feet, the party atmosphere encouraged by Kim Cypher, who took the first solo on incisive alto sax. Lenz followed on guitar, then Rosocha with another monster electric bass solo. Finally we had the much anticipated ‘drum battle’ between Falcey and Mike Cypher, a terrific way to round off an excellent evening of music making that combined good humour with musical accessibility and superb musicianship.
Both Kim Cypher and B.D. Lenz were keen to stress the enduring quality of the friendship that has been established between the Cyphers and the Lenz Trio. “These guys are like family” was a phrase that was used on more than one occasion. This is one Anglo-American relationship that really can be regarded as ‘Special’ and Lenz will doubtless be back at Smokey Joe’s in 2024 when he returns for his regular rounds of the UK and Europe. It’s a visit that will be keenly awaited.
I had intended that this live review would be combined with a look at Lenz’s latest album, “It’s Just A Dream”, which includes guest appearances from guitarist Mike Stern and trumpeter Randy Brecker. In the event Lenz wasn’t really promoting the new recording and none of the tunes appeared in tonight’s set list, so I’ll leave that for another time.
My thanks to Kim, Mike, B.D. and James for speaking with me. The next jazz event to be hosted by Kim and Mike at Smokey Joe’s will be the visit of saxophonist Alex Clarke and her quartet on Thursday 19th October 2023.
P.S. Facebook informs me that today (July 30th) is B.D.‘s birthday, so Many Happy Returns.Hope this review represents a satisfactory birthday present.
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