NUVO Jazz Quartet



where jazz & classical
meets international music


The NUVO Jazz Quartet features expansive
jazz re-interpretations of late-Romantic classics by
Faure, Gershwin and Rachmaninoff, Ladino folk music,
plus original Brazilian and Turkish style compositions.

Rounding out the repertoire is a vocal blues suite by Ornette Coleman,
Thelonius Monk, & McCoy Tyner.




Gershwin Suite
violin, piano, acoustic bass, drumset

What attracted me to George Gershwin's "Piano Prelude #1"
and "Rhapsody In Blue" is his ability to create wonderfully memorable
themes that have an undeveloped quality to them.
This gave me the freedom to stretch and embellish literally
every phrase, reharmonize, modulate keys, create counter-melodies,
add interludes, and add different kinds of improvisational sections.
An example of this arranging freedom can be seen during a recurring
solo piano interlude where two beats of Gershwin's music are slowed down
and massively reharmonized to create the feeling of a dream state.

Overall, the suite is in 3 movements, and like the "Cartography Of Desire"
suite, a solo instrument enables each transition to run smoothly:

1st movement — up-tempo New Orleans feel from the "Piano Prelude"
2nd movement — medium West-African style from the "Rhapsody"
3rd movement — slow gospel approach for the Coda which harkens back
                         to the original "Piano Prelude"




Faure "Claire du Lune"
viola/violin, piano, acoustic bass, drumset

When I first heard this song, I actually thought it was jazz pianist
Keith Jarrett improvising ! My intention was to reconstruct and develop
the piece very closely to the composer's original style,
and not create an obvious jazz overlay as I did
with the Rachmaninoff piece.
Although only one of the 9 variations imitates Faure's style exactly,
everything does spring directly from his material.
Oddly, very little was consciously drawn from the vocal melody
and some attention was paid to the opening piano melody.
But the majority of the variations derive from a single bar of piano
accompaniment that permeates the original song.
This motive caught my attention because it is so highly syncopated.

Our version is triple the length of the original song and consists of
Faure's A and B sections followed by 9 variations and an interlude.
(The final variation is a tip-of-the-hat to Led Zepplin's mega-hit . . .)




Blues Suite
violin, piano, acoustic bass, drumset

This suite features three of my favorite examples of the 12-bar blues form:

                   1) "The Turnaround" (1959) by Ornette Coleman
                   2) "Blue Monk" (1954) by Th. Monk
                   3) "Blues On The Corner" (1965) by McCoy Tyner

Ornette's piece was novel at its time for its unexpected whole-step
bass motion at the last four bars. So, I thought it would be consistent
with the spirit of the piece to repeat the melody of those four bars
and reharmonize them chromatically.
Keeping the piece in a vocal/upright bass format (without piano)
and creating some 1950's Beat Era-styled lyrics drives home
the quirkiness of the song.

                        This blues is a such a whack,
                        I want it painted black,
                        I didn't grow up with Jack Kerouac.

                        Mick Jagger had his thing,
                        Not like that Steve McQueen,
                        He didn't even know I could even sing.

                       Count my blessings, window dressings,
                       why the scurry, flavored curry,
                       here comes, The Turnaround.

                       In your rambling, hopeful gambling,
                       it's no brainer, lion tamer,
                       look out, The Turnaround.
(lyrics by M. Smolens & Fran Solomon)

Monk's "Blue Monk" typifies not only his wit and charm,
but also his extreme economy.  This version has been reharmonized
and is a bass feature, as the conveyer of the melody and the only soloist.  
After his solo, "Blue Monk" is mashed up with "The Turnaround"
(just two beats apart) to create an angular and humorous effect.

The suite moves on to McCoy Tyner's classic "Blues On The Corner"
in this most modern blues of the set, giving ample room for both
piano and violin improvising.  Finally, the suite is bookended
with a return of "The Turnaround", complete with the band
strategically shouting lyrics in Greek chorus style.




violin, piano, acoustic bass, drumset

The decision to arrange the lament from the second movement
of the composer's "2nd Piano Concerto"
into a fast jazz waltz is my personal response to the work's
sweeping melodic movement, rather than to its sense of melancholia.
(Rachmaninoff went into quite a writer's block after the poor reception
of his first symphony and enlisted the help of a noted
hypnotherapist/musician to get him out of it).
That longing is given credence, however, with the addition of
a new rubato introduction (which also closes the piece).
Owing to Rachmaninoff's rich harmonic sensibility, 
very little of his harmony was changed.  
The fact that the only real harmonic modifications happen 
in the solo section is an example of this piece being our most conservative 
adaptation of a classical work, harkening back to the earliest days of
'Third Stream' arrangements (classical-to-jazz) from the early 1960's.




Artza Alinu
violin, piano, fretless electric bass, drumset

This Israeli folk song is typically sung in a moderate 2-beat feel.
After playing it as a soloist for a number of years, a more syncopated
arrangement emerged that fused together elements of Afro-Cuban 
as well as Brazilian musics, though the oscillation between 3/4 and 4/4
is more typical of Eastern European dance-based folk music.
Much of the arrangement's final form was inspired by the fiery playing
     of our percussionist, as the setup for his solo is very different 
than the ones for the violinist and bassist.
The choice of using a fretless electric bass vs. an acoustic bass
is designed to heighten the contrast between the song's folk origins
and this Latin fusion style arrangement.



The Cartography Of Desire
violin, voice, melodica, gimbri, dumbek, shakers

Though I have listened to a fair amount Turkish music 
and enjoyed improvising in that style, in 2011
I felt it was time to compose a fully-developed piece. 
This excerpt is from the middle movement of a nearly 20-minute suite
that escalates not only in tempo, but also in complexity of scales
(b2 and b6 is used in this movement).

The Cartography Of Desire
 emerged as less asymmetric than
most of the classical Turkish music that I have heard, 
and was more influenced by the trance-like Sufi music 
of that country — much more repetition —
though not without its share of variation and odd-time   
signatures found in the opening movement. 
Some of the sections for solo improvisation area accompanied  
and in time, like most Western music, while others are    
unaccompanied with a rubato feel, and serve as a segue 
into a new movement, like much Middle-Eastern classical works.
The text for the final vocal movement is a made-up 
language that has no particular meaning, 
and is similar to the texts found on my first chamber CD, 
The Last Rendezvous (SSM002).




Chanson d'Amour
 muted violin, alto flute, nylon string guitar

My arrangement of Chanson d'Amour is by far the most conservative 
adaptation of all our classical works.  The decision to score the piece
for two melodic instruments (muted violin and alto flute)
and a harmonic instrument (acoustic guitar) without percussion reflects  
my desire to emulate the sound of the trio sonata from the     
baroque era.  The frequent imitative call-and-response phrasing 
of the melody also harkens back to that texture.

And yet, there are subtle updates to Faure's work.
From a rhythmic standpoint, the overall feel has been turned into 
a light samba by the rhythm of the guitar, 
while the contrasting section has been transformed into a sprightly 
6/8 jazz waltz feel with more frequent jazz harmonies. 
While the melody in the opening section of the song has been 
faithfully respected, the melody of the new section has been completely
stripped down to a vibrato-less plainchant-like utterance,
as if to cool down the temperament of the original impassioned lyrics.
From an improvisational standpoint, there are two spaces for the 
muted violin to be creative — first to create a new countermelody     
against a simpler version of the melody played by the alto flute, 
and the other is a freer section with just chordal accompaniment 
by the guitar.  As with all our works by Faure, the challenge for the   
violinist is to keep the improvisation in the style of the original 
and not blatantly 'jazzified'.




Hommage Gismonti
piano, cello, percussion
[excerpt from early trio version]

Written in 1987 (revised in 2000) Hommage a Gismonti is dedicated
to the great Brazilian jazz/new music composer Egberto Gismonti.
It was created immediately following a rare Bay Area appearance,
and was first recorded in a duo format with saxophonist/drummer 
Sheldon Brown on Michael's CD entitled Limbo Eruption.
Given that a number of Gismonti's most compelling recordings feature 
the cello (most notably Infancia on ECM), it's not a surprise that the next
version of  Hommage featured the cello.

The current quartet arrangement has been edited in terms of the length
of each section, while adding more specific rhythm figures to the bass part;
(previously the entire accompaniment, including the bass part,
was handled by the piano).  All three instruments that improvise 
on the work — violin, piano, and drumset — have their own unique setting,
notably the high background vocal part for the violins solo, 
            and the bass figures that open and close the piano solo. 




piano, cello, percussion
[excerpt from early trio version]

I was introduced to Y'vonim by a Hasidic temple which requested
that I perform it for one of its holiday celebrations.
It turns out that very little is known about the origins of this piece,
only that it came from a Hasidic music publisher, and that it is likely 
of Sephardic origin (secular Jewish music from medieval Spain).

Even with its modest length of just 16 bars, its insistent rhythm and melodic 
shape beckoned me to develop it into a more dramatic form.
Not only were phrases repeated, varied, and re-harmonized,
but entire new sections were created – the introduction/closing, 
drum solo set-up, and the Brazilian-flavored bridge presenting a significant
melodic departure; yet they all fit together.

The updated quartet version developed each section with more variety 
and scope, especially the use of viola as both a melodist and accompanist. 


upcoming performances





quotes from concert presenters


"The concert here at Wisteria Ways was fabulous — innovative,
exhilarating, haunting (especially the extended Turkish suite),
and uplifting. Terrific musicians, each and every one.  
It was a privilege to host you."
Anne E. Emerick, Host of Wisteria Ways 
House Concert Series

"The NUVO Jazz Quartet's concert was both intriguing
in its diversity of songs, and entrancing in its performance.
The jazz re-interpretations of classical works ranged from
lyrical to powerful, and your version of "Claire de Lune"
was especially noteworthy. Our audience loved the
performance and ended the evening with a standing
ovation. They even demanded an encore!"

Markus Fromherz, Host of the Live At Amaranta
House Concert series

"Thank you for your outstanding performance !
Everyone greatly enjoyed the eclectic selections,
sophisticated arrangements, fantastic musicians and
very well put together ensemble . . ."

Lena Grozmans,
Host of Open Embrace
House Concert Series

"Congratulations on the debut of your re-created quartet !"  
Our audience loved NUVO,
especially the way in which you 
each piece with a some comments and then played a short
pre-recorded excerpt of the original piece to help orient everyone.
The transitions into your re-constructed
versions were really seamless."
— Marilyn Kosinksi, Concert & Music Coordinator
St. Paul's Towers, Oakland

"The Rachmaninoff was magnificent.  Quite transporting..."
Rev. Jeff Anderson, Senior Minister at Oakland Center for Spiritual Living

"What a fabulous trio, unlike anything I've heard !
One minute fiery, the next, sweet and romantic ..."

Melanie Wright, Assistant Activities Director
Varenna At Fountaingrove
, Santa Rosa

"The standing ovation at the end of the first set
said everything that needs to be said about the
       NUVO's performance at Concerts Off The Circle.
Once again, Smolens has surrounded himself with 
virtuosic collaborators. 
His original compositions/arrangements and adept keyboard work 
shown brightly throughout. Percussionist Brian Rice
turned a couple of cymbals and a wooden box into a
full drum kit for the jazz and blues numbers,
while augmenting the performance with his usual assortment
of expertly executed percussive oddities.
Sam Bass filled the space with so many sounds that it was
sometimes astonishing that they all came from a single cello
(with a little help from his digital looper, of course).
All taken, the NUVO Chamber Trio was outstanding."
—Brad Gallien, Host of
Concerts Off The Circle

"An intriguing and entertaining afternoon of music by three very talented musicians. The Jazz At The Chimes audience certainly appreciated hearing this unique trio..."
—Mary D'Orazi, presenter for
Jazz At The Chimes

"Our audience thought your trio was really great.
Fabulous variety styles and moods..."

—Ramon Honea, Activites Director
Cardinal Point
, Alameda




history of performances


Sunday February 10th
Maybeck Recital Hall, Berkeley (SOLD OUT)

Saturday November 17th
Open Embrace House Concert Series, Cupertino

Saturday November 3rd
Wisteria Ways, Oakland


Saturday December 9th
Private House Concert, Palo Alto

Sunday November 5th
Maybeck Recital Hall, Berkeley

Monday October 30th
St. Paul's Towers, Oakland


Sunday November 15th
Oakland Center For Spiritual Living  


Friday October 24th
Varenna Center, Santa Rosa

Sunday July 20th
Jazz At The Chimes, Oakland

Monday January 20th
Varenna Center, Santa Rosa


Monday September 30th
Varenna Center, Santa Rosa

Friday May 17th
Cardinal Point, Alameda

Saturday March 16th
House Concert, Berkeley (SOLD OUT)



Michael Smolens (arranger/composer, piano, melodica,
                              dumbek, alto flute, voice)

A composer/arranger, multi-instrumentalist, and vocalist who has performed for nearly four decades, Smolens’ artistic sensibility freely incorporates colors, moods, and arranging concepts from a multitude of influences. His primary sources of inspiration include: contemporary jazz, modern vocal flights, 20th-century classical, North Indian classical, African music, modern Brazilian music, accompanied Sufi poetry, and stage magic. Michael holds two music degrees from UC Santa Cruz, and has studied with some of the most innovative jazz teachers, including Art Lande, Allaudin Mathieu, and Kenny Werner. His works have been commissioned by Meet The Composer, National Public Radio, the Occidental Choir, UCSC Dance Dept., and numerous Bay Area solo vocalists.

Michael has recorded six CDs in various formats from duo to large ensembles and they feature jazz legends Stefon Harris (vibes), Paul McCandless (reeds), and Zakir Hussain (tablas). He has also performed and recorded with members of Bobby McFerrin's "Voicestra" and folk/jazz/storyteller legend Claudia Schmidt. Other ensembles he leads include the West-African trio Bal du Kor, Brazilian trio Brisas do Brasil, the New American Songbook Project, earPlay Jazzquintet, KRIYA Octet, and the vocal Mirabai Ensemble. 

Michael is a senior-level teacher, working with individuals and groups since 1974 and coaching other teachers since 2000. He has published and lectured extensively on the art of practicing, and is adjunct faculty at Sonoma State University and JFK University.

Justin Ouellet (violin & viola)

co-director of orchestral & chamber music studies at Oakland School for the Arts, Justin Ouellet is quickly garnering a reputation as a top performer as a cross-over artist in the classical and non-classical worlds. He has worked with an array of conductors including the award winning Gerard Schwarz, John McLaughlin Williams and Arnie Roth as well as performed alongside musicians around the world including the Alexander String Quartet, Wayne Lin, Kimberly Fisher, Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg & Emil Miland.

As an orchestral & chamber musician, Justin has performed throughout the United States in halls such as Carnegie Hall, Boston's Symphony Hall, Philadelphia's Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, and internationally in the countries of Austria, Canada, France, Germany, Netherlands, Puerto Rico & Switzerland. As a non-classical musician Justin has been a featured artist alongside some of the San Francisco's preeminent performers such as Kev Choice, Josh Jones, Cava Menzies, Rob Reich, and more. Justin can be heard on recent recordings by Cava Menzies, Roscoe Mitchell & Undercover Presents as well as a co-produced EP for Anna Oiseau.

Aaron Germain (acoustic bass, fretless electric bass,
                            acoustic, guitar, gimbri)

Spending 20 years as a busy hired gun bass player, Aaron has been through all sorts of adventures; traveling the world and learning from the masters. Growing up in Massachusetts, he cut his teeth playing upright and electric bass in bands ranging from jazz, blues, funk, reggae, Senegalese mbalax; all while driving to New York and Boston, and all over New England. From the beginning he learned to be picky about quality, but not genre. Moving to the San Francisco Bay Area in 2000, his adventures continued, and he quickly found himself working over time, sometimes playing two or three gigs a day. He entered the world of salsa and Afro-Cuban music, Brazilian forro music, Caribbean steel pan music; he found himself accompanying Indian kathak dancers, veteran calypso singers from Trinidad, or navigating through dense, odd-meter jazz compositions.

Over the years, Aaron has performed with instrumentalist such as: Barry Finnerty, Scott Hamilton, John Handy, Tommy Igoe, Stanley Jordon, Yusef Lateef, Nguyen Le, Jeff Massanari, Paul McCandless, Jason Marsalis,Melba Moore;, Andy Narell, Akira Tana, and Michael Wolff. And vocalists, including Jacqui Naylor, Bonnie Raitt, Kenny Washington, Paula West, and Mary Wilson.

He has performed at notable local venues such as The Fillmore, Herbst Theatre, The San Francisco Jazz Festival,Yoshis (Oakland SF); New York venues including Blue Note, The Blues Alley, Scullers, Zanzibar Blue; and Japanese venues Le Club Jazz (Kyoto), Cafe Yorozuya (Kobe), Z Imagine (Tokyo), Donfan (Tokyo), MEG (Tokyo) and Bar T.T. Funk (Tokyo).

Marlon Aldana (drums, cajon, dumbek)

Born in Guadalajara, Mexico, 1988. Musician, mixing engineer, and architect. At a young age Marlon started drumming and experimenting with Latin music as a self-taught musician, later studying jazz, rock and funk styles with numerous teachers around Mexico. He received a degree in architecture with a specialty in combining music and sculpture concepts and worked as a session drummer with different pop and rock artists around Mexico.

Since he moved to the US in 2012, he is been part of a variety of projects with different genres including jazz, Afro-Cuban, funk, reggae, electronic, folk, and many others. Aldana was introduced into the flamenco world by Maestro Jason McGuire “El Rubio”, which became his teacher and mentor. In 2014 Aldana became part of the company Caminos Flamencos and The Jason McGuire Trio, combining flamenco, jazz and Latin music. He currently lives in Oakland, CA where he works as a musician and graphic designer with several local and touring artists.