Alek Razdan And The A-Train Orchestra


By Lady K
May 2013

Somewhere in Massachusetts, lives a “kid” named Alek Razdan (he’s 17), who was evidently born with a saxophone clasped in his hands – he sounds like he’s been playing for at least 17 years. And he not “only” plays sax (tenor and soprano), but also writes a mean tune, and sings. The A-Train Orchestra includes Ken Demaine (bass), Dan Whalen (guitar), Dave Vincent (drums), and Rikki Razdan (tenor/baritone sax).

This group brings back the “big band” sound, with plenty of boogie-ing blues, jump, jive – you’ll be wishing for a dance floor, and someone to twirl, or to be twirled by. Most of the tunes included on Two-Timin’ have been around for many, many years, and the A-Train Orchestra treats them as the masterpieces they have become. Nearly all of the tracks are instrumental, with only 2 songs included (seriously, Lady K was so into the music, she didn’t miss vocals at all). While not a strictly blues album, the blues is there, along with jazz, rock, and fun.

Two of the tunes on this album were written by the child prodigy (aka Alek Razdan) and they are terrific. The jive-y “Two-Timin’”, with its insane horns, and the rip-roaring “A-Train Boogie” are up-tempo instrumentals that scream for swing-dancers to get out on the dance floor and do their thing. “A-Train Boogie” has a rocking guitar intro, and is then joined by plenty of brass.

“Mello Saxophone” (by Montrell, Marascalco, Blackwell) has a big band boogie sound and Alek is the vocalist. The slow, sexy “Sleepwalk” is so yummy, at first I thought it was the original Santo and Johnny version (1959) – very cool to hear it again, and it’s music that was just made for slow-dancing.

Dan Whalen shows his honor and appreciation of Albert Collins and his blues instrumental “Backstroke.” The a-m-a-z-i-n-g “September Song” brings on another stroll down memory lane, another slow, sexy oldie that Boomers will recognize immediately.

Alek finally stretches his vocal cords again, on a very cool, rocking blues tune - Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson’s “Looking Back.” Alek Razdan and the A-Train Orchestra’s version of Jimmy Spruill’s “Lonely Island” is haunting and beautifully done. They make you feel the lonely sadness of the island.

As I said, it isn’t all blues, but Lady K thoroughly enjoyed getting to know the music of Alek Razdan and the A-Train Orchestra.

'Two-Timin" is proof that blues will never die

Album Review | 4 out of 5 stars

Boogie is back, and Alek Razdan And The A-Train Orchestra are here to tell you all about it. Their new album, "Two-Timin'," showcases a wide variety of 1950s rhythm-and-blues classics, along with a title track written by Razdan himself and a track, "A-Train Boogie," written by the entire band. With rapid-fire precision, the band races through both old songs and new with unbridled enthusiasm, all the while proving that boogieing will never go out of style.

"Two-Timin'" starts off strong, launching immediately into "Jumbo," a grooving, sax-driven song whose infectious energy is a great introduction to the LP. The album then moves into "Mellow Saxophone," an — unsurprisingly — mellower track whose sultry feel offsets the opening track nicely. Instead of maintaining its frenetic energy throughout the album, the band wisely chooses to intersperse upbeat songs with more serene ones that would do well as slow dances. For example, the third track, "Sleepwalk," is a waltz-like striptease of a number that complements its blues rock-driven successor, "Backstroke," nicely, while the brooding "September Song" features a delicate interplay of sax and guitar. The album slows often enough to give listeners — or dancers — a break, but these interludes never detract from the strength of the album as a whole.

Still, the album is best at its wildest, with the band's most notable performances found later on tracks like the call-and-response "Walking With Mr. Lee" or the frenetic "Cat Scream." The latter song's mood and unapologetic transitions showcase the band's unity and technical skill while also giving Razdan ample time to solo. Razdan's own song, "Two-Timin'," is also a highlight that follows surprisingly well from the silky "September Song" into a catchy, upbeat sax number with a throbbing baseline.

The album also includes a perfunctory, but appreciated, love song: "Looking Back." Lyrics like "I was looking back to see/ If she was looking back to see/ If I was looking back at her" charm while the rare vocals add another dimension to the music. The song's surf-rock guitar melds seamlessly with the ever-dominant sax to produce one of the album's catchiest tracks. The album also ends on a high note, with the cheerful "A-Train Boogie." The track tidily rounds out the album as it bookends with opener "Jumbo."

Overall, the band's new music is very good, but most impressive is just how contemporary its members manage to make their performances feel. The album almost never feels dated, despite having its roots deep in blues history. It is also worth noting that, musical finesse aside, front man Razdan is not just another professional jazz musician. The bespectacled musician is a mere freshman at Tufts University.

Furthermore, "Two-Timin'" is his third album with The A-Train Orchestra, which includes his father, Rikki Razdan — not bad for someone who hasn't even decided on a major. Alek Razdan possesses a musical maturity found infrequently in men twice his age, whether it shows itself as he screams through a solo on "Cloudburst" or when he bluesily saunters through "Lonely Island." His confident playing and singing energize the album and complement the rest of the band gracefully. He is even lauded by Whoopi Goldberg and drummer David Robinson of The Cars.

Alek Razdan and his orchestra prove that blues music will never die; it is just as easy to dance to this album as it would have been sixty years ago. Whether in a  '50s dance hall or a Quentin Tarantino movie, this is party music through and through, as the album struts and rocks for its 41-minute duration. The music is engaging but not overbearing, and its technical composition never gets in the way of its appeal. Put on your dancing shoes and grab a date! 

ASR Records

14 tracks
Big band swing revivalism had a brief vogue in the late 1990s, but, insofar as the music and its tropes are timeless, this is a pleasant outing, with the expected assortment of cabaret numbers (a nuancical rendition of Kurt Weill’s 1938 classic “September Song”); early rock-era mainstream pop (“Sleepwalk” by Santo and Johnny); and bluesy classics (“Backstroke” and “Pinky”), with proto-rock standards such as “Looking Back” mixed in. The performances here are the polar opposite of moribund—they are executed with both clarity and panache, heard perhaps nowhere better than on “Cloudburst,” an instrumental version of the amazing 1959 Lambert, Hendricks, & Ross smash hit. The A-Train Orchestra’s rendition is bursting with an explosive, propulsive vigor which further exalts the already admittedly spectacular and incomparable original. Highly recommended. (Francis DiMenno)

Alek Razdan & The A-Train Orchestra

Two-Timin' (ASR 003; 41:15; Three Stars)

17-year-old saxophone whiz Alek Razdan and his quintet have an easy time extracting fun from old r&b (Red Prysock's "Jumbo") and blues (Albert Collins' "Backstroke"). It's no gimmick when the Tufts University student blows tenor and soprano simultaneously. Add a real singer and some brass, and they would give Roomful of Blues a run for their money.

Meet Alek Razdan

“Alek sounds a lot better than I did at his age. Hell, he sounds better than I do now!”

         --Sax Gordon, a leading r&b/blues artist in the USA and Europe

“The future of r&b and jazz is in good hands. Alek has a depth in his musicianship that is rarely found in someone three times his age.”

--Mark Earley, Roomful of Blues 

Alek Razdan, based on Boston’s North Shore, is no ordinary saxophone and clarinet player. Only in his mid-teens, he’s pulling ahead of the legion of other talented young jazz artists found playing in clubs and studying in music programs around the country. Alek shows impressive technique and surprising expressive power, He has a musical intelligence well beyond his 15 years. These qualities, along with crispness of spirit and firm determination, elevate Alek close to an artistic level frequented by long-established musicians.

Want proof? Give a close listen to Alek’s tenor, soprano, and clarinet on his new album, Something Different, and/or hear him in concert with his crackerjack A-Train band—his father, Rikki, plays woodwinds, Dave Vincent mans the drum kit, and John Hyde supplies keyboards. Every day of practice and study he becomes more and more easeful with spontaneous creativity and his tone deepens. Every day, too, Alek continues to explore the artful possibilities offered by not only traditional jazz, swing jazz, bebop, and post-bop, but also blues, r&b, and, not least, Indian classical music.

Something Different is the latest important step in a musical odyssey that proceeds on a sure and steady track, without disruption to his school work and his family life. The journey began early, very early. Alek’s first instrument was a toy saxophone—he was all of 18 months!—and from there, inspired by hearing his father practice his tenor at home, he moved on to the recorder. At age eight, he started taking clarinet lessons. Next, Alek took up the tenor saxophone and eventually began playing in jam sessions at Gloucester’s Rhumb Line club and restaurant, where he befriended Dave and John. All the while, Alek stayed (and stays) attentive to the jazz and other types of music he found in his parents’ well-stocked record collection, savoring the golden sounds of Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Art Blakey, Sonny Stitt, Earl Bostic, Sam Butera, Ravi Shankar, Ali Akbar Khan, on and on.

Alek’s debut album, Tenor 12, appeared in 2005. After kicking off the album with the swinging self-imagined title track, the pre-teenager winningly treated time-honored gems from the repertory of Ellington, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Sonny Rollins, and, to name one more notable, r&b bar-walker Big Jay McNeely. “Tenor 12 was recorded live in our living room,” said Alek. “I learned a lot producing it, and I think for a home recording, it came out pretty well. We were pleasantly surprised to receive a very favorable review in Saxophone Journal [July/August 2006 issue].” Discerning critic Billy Kerr raved over his musicality: “[Alek] possesses a sound as big as a house, great time, and a true feel for improvisation….[He] swings his tail off.”

Good as that debut album was, Something Different offers even richer aural pleasures. Alek draws listeners into his fascinating jazz-and-beyond world, playing with unassailable integrity and evincing a secure sense of craftsmanship. “I tried to have a nice, varied mix of material, the same as in my first CD,” said ever-articulate Alek. “This time, however, I wanted the songs to be more sophisticated, and I included the work of many of my favorite artists, such as Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Artie Shaw, Boots Randolph, and others, in an attempt to keep their music alive, in a sense.” (Ah, that record collection again.)

On the new release, Alek takes significant strides in forging his own poignant voice out of the personalized tones and styles of the saxophone and clarinet greats mentioned above, along with a good number more, such as Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster, Red Prysock, Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis, and Arnett Cobb. The young musician has far-ranging, discriminating taste: rowdy Texas tenor, Kansas City swing, super-heated bebop, Nashville jazz (the great Boots Randolph, in fact, offered encouragement to Alek through letters), British traditional jazz (the colorful Acker Bilk), and even smooth-and-sweet Lawrence Welk Show music (clarinetist Henry Questa).

With typically fine assistance from the regular gang, Alek shines on 16 album tracks, each a delight in its own special way. His fleet-fingered clarinet (not saxophone) propels a vibrant rendition of John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps,” and he rather amazingly employs Roland Kirk’s double-saxophone spontaneous circular breathing technique in his one-take (!) makeover of “Volunteered Slavery”—his difficult, intense practicing paid off. Alek’s imaginative impetus motors the clarinet-stoked revival of the Artie Shaw classic “Special Delivery Stomp,” and the teenager gives a fond nod to Indian music with his assured soprano saxophone work on “Raga Kuch Farak Hai.” Alek got the idea to write this raga (which translates as “Something Different,” after finding reel-to-reel tapes of this wonderful music in the basement of his grandfather’s home; back home in southern Asia, and in Europe, Raj Razdan, used to play violin in a ballet group’s orchestra. Still more good genes: Alek’s other grandfather, Sidney Shanbar, was a respected jazz pianist.

Several songs find Alek displaying a true affinity for the blues, something that can not be said of the vast majority of young, rising-star jazz musicians. He isn’t championing time-honored Delta and Chicago blues, mind you, but rather the fascinating strain of blues that overlaps jazz: what filled the magical horns of Count Basie’s and Ray Charles’s sidemen, Coltrane, Ben Webster, and so many other jazz heroes. Alek stamps his own bluesy mark on the Red Prysock numbers “Fruit Boots” and “Foot Stompin.” There’s a certain especial earthiness to his playing in “Willow Weep for Me” and “Volunteered Slavery,” too. Alek got it right when he said: “I love the raw energy of the blues and try to put a part of this into my sound and playing style.”

The maturity and aesthetic worth of Alek’s playing has been deepened by the outstanding company he keeps. In addition to his dad and Dave and John, he’s shared the stage with three internationally-known acts who live on the North Shore or not too far away from Alek in Rockport: singers Willie “Loco” Alexander (bohemian jazz-poet/co-founder of American punk-rock) and Barrence Whitfield (the r&b dynamo, a special favorite of European audiences), and the jump-blues band Roomful of Blues (active since the 1970s). There have been others too, including local jazz singer Karen Ristuben and organ specialist Marty Rowan and nationally-known trombonist Sarah Morrow and pianist Jeff Gardner (Alek performed with the latter two at the 2006 Rockport Art Association Summer Concert Series). And, not least, Alek has sat in with the Megawatt Blues Crushers, an accomplished local r&b band that Rikki and Dave played with for 17 years (in 1996, the Crushers won the coveted Boston Blues Battle).

Alek appreciates his jazz and blues friends and family. “They’re extremely talented,” he said, “and they really inspire me to put my all into every performance. All of them are such great guys. They put so much effort into everything they’re playing, and have such a fun time doing it!”

What’s the high point of Alek’s musical life so far? “I’d say having the opportunity to sit in with Roomful of Blues at the Regatta Bar in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It was really an exciting experience, because I had always listened to their records from an early age, and had always thought they were a great band. Plus, my dad, coincidentally, had also sat in with Roomful a while back, when he was attending college in Rochester, New York.”

Every day Alek becomes more and more comfortable with his journey to attain his own voice on his woodwinds. “Over the years,” he noted, “I think that I’ve greatly improved my ability to play a melody or line that I hear in my head. This has a lot to do with just being familiar with your instrument, and having the ability to translate your ideas into the actions of your hand.”

The time may very well come when Alek Razdan wields the power of the jazz universe with his fingers on the keys of his instruments. In the meantime, this young jazz communicator gives it his all to master his art. “Whenever I play,” he said, “I always think that I can do a better job, and I continually strive to make myself a better player.”


--Frank-John Hadley

            DownBeat columnist/Grove Press author


Alex [sic] Razdan

ASR CD, R001

You don’t hear too many young players nowadays whose playing shows a true influence from players several generations removed. Among the last musicians to burst onto the scene in a meaningful way showing such influence were trumpeter Warren Vache (clearly showing the influence of Bix Beiderbecke) and tenor saxophonist Scott Hamilton (showing the influence of Lester Young and Zoot Sims etc.). Tenor saxophonist clarinetist Alek Razdan’s playing reflects the influence of Sam Butera and Acker Bilk. I know you must be wondering why I have chosen to comment on a player from this school of jazz since I generally reserve my observations for more modern practitioners; oh!, did I mention that Razdan is 12 years old?

Razdan is a 7th grader from Rockport, Massachusetts. To hear him is not to believe him. He possesses a sound that is as big as a house, great time, and a true feel for improvisation. Yes, the solos are all his (I checked it out.) Razdan started on the clarinet in 8th [sic] grade, four years ago, and added saxophone in the summer of 2005, less than a year ago. He listens to the older players (his words) such as Gene Ammons, Sonny Stitt, and Sil Austin. He plays a weekly gig in Gloucester, Massachusetts with a group called the Megawatt Blues Crushers, and plays for private parties.

The music on this CD is a mix of blues tunes and jazz standards, and the band consists of Razdan on tenor and clarinet, John Hyde, keyboard; Dave Vincent, drums; and Razdan’s father Rik on tenor (listed as backup tenor sax). The CD opens with the title tune written by Razdan, a medium-up tempo swinger that falls somewhere between a blues and Rhythm. Razdan comes out of the starting gate guns ablazin’, with lots of pizzaz and attitude. He growls with the best of them, and while his harmonic language is not yet developed (thank goodness for small favors, although he chould be saving Giant Steps for his 2nd CD), his riff oriented solo is strong and shows terrific chops. The Girl From Ipanema is done as a moderate bossa nova featuring two low-register tenors in unison on the melody, with young Alek talking the solo a la Ben Webster.

Razdan plays clarinet on two tunes, When the Saints Go Marching In and Stranger on the Shore. His sound is somewhere between Acker Bilk and Johnny Dodds, but again his time, feel, and understanding of the music are truly astounding.

The CD closes with an up-tempo version of Take the A-Train in which Razdan and dad Rik trade 8s for a couple of choruses. I guarantee, you’ll have trouble figuring out just who is playing when, in the exchange. When you listen to this recording, think of all the “older players” sssyou [sic] know that can’t swing from a tree, and then listen to 12 year old Alek Razdan swing his tail off.