August 26, 2016


By Dee Dee McNeil / Jazz Journalist

August 26, 2016

TOM McCORMICK – “South Beat”
Manatee Records

Tom McCormick, tenor & soprano saxophones/flute; Pete Wallace, piano; Nicky Orta, electric bass; Eric England, acoustic & electric bass; Carlomagno Araya, drums/percussion; David Chiverton, drums; Edwin Bonilla, congas/bongos; Humberto Ibarra, guiro; Doug Michels, trumpet/flugelhorn; John Kricker, trombone. Special Guest Artists: Jonathan Kreisberg, guitar; Leo Quintero, guitar; John Lovell, trumpet/flugelhorn solos.

Energetic funk horns bounce into my listening room with gusto. The tune is “South Beat”, the title of this musical package and an original composition by the artist. McCormick offers pick-you-up music. Jazz that rejuvenates. After putting on three or four CDs that disappointed me, I was really pleased to hear this production. McCormick brings a fresh face to old standards and previews some original compositions that sound like they could easily become jazz standards. For example, two of his compositions, with strong Latin influence like “Iridescence” and “Blue Cha,” sound as though I have heard them before and are well produced and beautifully melodic. Carlomagno Araya on drums and Edwin Bonilla, percussion, dance away with rhythm personified. McCormick solos strongly on tenor and soprano saxophones throughout, while the horn section appropriately embellishes the production on “Iridescence”. McCormick has written all arrangements and co-produced tracks 1,2,4,8 & 10 with Araya. Another favorite original composition is “Mantra” with a stellar solo by guest artist, Jonathan Kreisberg on guitar and this tune delivers a catchy melody. You’re bound to sing along with this one. John Coltrane’s “Naima” is always a treat to hear and this group of musicians does it justice with Pete Wallace basking in the spotlight on his piano solo. Another favorite of mine is Victor Young & Ned Washington’s tune, “My Foolish Heart”. It’s such a beautiful song, featuring a very bluesy, sexy solo by McCormick, with Eric England making a stand-out, solo statement on double bass. This group transitions easily from straight-ahead to funk; from Brazilian and Cuban beats to rich blues and strong swinging arrangements. I played this Compact Disc four times and liked it more with each spin.

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Chicken Coup/Summit Records

Evgenia Karlafti, organ/piano/vocals; Nestor Dimopoulos, guitar; Vagelis Kotzabasis, drums; Anastasis Gouliaris, drums; Dimitris Popadopoulos, trumpet; Dimitri Vassilakis, tenor saxophone; Antonis Andreou, trombone.

No one loves an organ based jazz group more than I do, so when I heard that organ on the first song of “Music Soup’s” recording, I was happily expectant. “Cut to the Chase” is the title of this Cd and the song title of cut number one. It was composed by keyboardist, Evgenia Karlafti and guitarist, Nestor Dimopoulos. In fact, they have individually written or co-written every song on this project. The title tune bounces the time from 5/4 to 6/4 to 5/8 and races at top speed. I recognize immediately that these serious musicians are challenging the listener and themselves to play outside the box. Their next offering, titled “The Theme,” features Karlafti singing as well as playing organ. I prefer them as an instrumental group and I miss the B-3 organ bass pedal licks, but Karlafti is definitely multi-talented.

Music Soup is a good name for this trio of musicians because they embrace a mixed bag of styles and musical concepts that mirror their decade of playing together and their individual personalities. Nestor summed it up by saying, “We don’t limit ourselves stylistically.”

This organ trio, based in Athens, Greece, is an integral part of the Greek jazz scene. According to the liner notes, Athenian music conservatories began offering jazz programs in the late 90s and jam sessions sprung up all around the city. Jazz audiences and interest kept growing and today, their Greek National University has a Department for Jazz Studies that offers in-depth jazz courses. Here is a rich example of how our indigenous, American musical art form has inspired musicians from continent to continent. Because they have been working together for ten years, Music Soup has a tight, cohesive sound. Their music is well written and produced. On “Your Song” horns join the group. Special guests Dimitris Papadopoulos on trumpet, Dimitri Vassilakis on tenor sax and Antonis Andreou on trombone fatten the sound. However these horns, (nicely arranged by Haris Ziouva) are merely icing on the creative cake that Karlafti and Dimopoulos have baked. Nestor’s bluesy guitar and Evgenia Karlafti’s organ mastery are the fireworks of this production.
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Independent label

Dave Bradshaw, piano/synthesizer/organ/string programing/drum programming; Darren Rahn, tenor saxophone/keyboards/synthesized bass/drum programming/horn section/Wurli; Allen Hinds, guitar; Mel Brown & Ken Friend, bass; Tarell Martin, drums; Jason Rahn, trumpet; Christian Teele, percussion; Marqueal Jordan, vocals.

I’ve been looking forward to Dave Bradshaw Jr. being set free to do his solo project and show the world his composition skills and piano/keyboard technique. This is super happy music and well worth the wait. Bradshaw has co-written every song on his newly released CD with producer Darren Rahn. The first cut, “West Coast Jammin’” is playful and funky with Bradshaw playing piano and synthesizer and Rahn adding tenor saxophone, keyboards, synthesized bass and drum programming. Allen Hinds on guitar is musically strong throughout, but he comes to life on the second cut. This song sounds like it was based on the popular “Sunny” composition, but it has a fresh melody and Bradshaw overdubs his outstanding piano parts with organ and synthesizer. Tarell Martin brings fire and funk to the project with real drums replacing the programmed ones. “Guys’ Night Out” quickly becomes one of my favorite cuts on this CD. I especially like the fact that Bradshaw brings passion to the piano and isn’t afraid to stretch out and improvise over the tenacious tracks he’s laid down. Another favorite of mine is “Saboroso: with its Latin flavors and exciting percussive work by Teele and Martin. Mel Brown plays a strong groove throughout on bass. This is Smooth Jazz at its best, with Bradshaw bringing his knowledge of ‘Straight Ahead’, blues and swing, then mixing it up with funk and fusion. The blend is as natural and delicious as ice cream with cake. And Bradshaw’s premiere CD endeavor is as joyful as a birthday party. It will make you want to get up and dance.

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R Music, Inc

Ray Goren, Rhythm guitar/lead guitar/vocals; Jamie Powell, rhythm guitar/vocals; Sammy Lee, harmonica/vocals; Lester Lands, bass/rhythm guitar/vocals; Albert Trepagnier, Jr; drums; Tadg Galleran, keyboard; Rhythm guitar, Terry DeRouse; Andrew Bush, keyboards; Bobby ‘Hurricane’ Spencer, musical director/horn arranger/tenor saxophone; Dan Weinstein, Cornet/trombone; Retha Petruzates, Lester Lands, Robert Spender, Background vocals.

I visited the Seabird Lounge in Long Beach on Friday night and I was in for an exceptional treat. The Generation Blues Experience Band was performing and they put on a high energy, exciting show. The audience was literally dancing in the aisles and standing up to testify. Each of the male group not only played instruments but could sing lead and background vocals. Similar to this album, each took a turn to perform a solo song, every musician exhibiting a unique sound and vocal timbre. Sammy Lee is magnificent on harmonica and his voice is rich and gritty all at the same time. When he sings “Little Mama,” the women in the audience scream and shout. Pianist, Tadg Galleran, brought the house down when he sang “Even White Boys Get the Blues”, falling to his knees on the last chorus and, at one point, playing Ray Gorens guitar while Goren went to the keyboard to play an impressive blues solo. Speaking of Goren, his soulful rendition of the Bill Withers composition, “Ain’t No Sunshine” coming from a young man who is only sixteen years old, was surprising. But what really got the applause was his amazing technique on guitar. I could tell immediately that this youthful blues player is going to be a huge star.

Goren sings three songs on this album including “Ain’t No Sunshine”, “Rainin’” (co-written with Goren by drummer, Albert Trepagnier, Jr.) and “Private Angel” that Goren co-wrote with the band’s musical director, Bobby Spencer. I remember Lester Lands on bass from recently seeing him playing with a blues group at La Louisianne in Los Angeles. He stepped up to the microphone, still laying down a solid bass- line while singing “Shake, Rattle and Roll”. The audience chimed in on the ‘hook’ of the song. Every time Lester sang “Shake”, we all gladly came in with the familiar lyrics, “rattle and roll”. And the party was on! Ray Goren gave an exquisite guitar blues solo and once again I could hardly believe that someone so young could play with such finesse and expression. Lady GG came to the stage and entertained us with a couple of songs including an emotional rendition of “The Sky Is Crying”. She is not on the album, but she appeared with the band during their live performance Friday at the Seabird. She exhibited a strong voice and much rolling of the hips. Her songs ooze emotion. Drummer, Albert Trepagnier, has a beautiful voice and closed the second set out playing drums and singing. He’s not featured as a vocalist on this album, but I hope he will be on the next one.

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High Records

John Clark, composer/French horn; Kinan Azmeh, clarinet; Lynn Bechtold, violin; Dan Cooper, 7-string electric bass; Jennifer DeVore, cello; Stephanie Griffin, viola; Cesare Papetti, drums; Michael Rabinowitz, bassoon; Rob Stephens, keyboards; Thomas Carlo Bo, conductor.

This work of art is an EP rather than a CD, featuring only six songs, but still giving us the full breath and width of each composition by playing them each over five minutes. Consequently, you end up with nearly 40 minutes of music. The unusual CD title translates to “underfinable sound”. I note that the credits on the CD jacket list instruments one would consider more like chamber music than jazz instrumentation. Once the first cut, “Sibilia Colubri” begins to play, I find the composition very classically constructed. Rob Stephens’ keyboard work introduces us to a lovely melody and puts the jazz component into this piece. Clark’s French horn is unique unto itself and the strings add a touch of symphonic or string quartet magic to the mix. About mid-way through, Cesare Papetti kicks in on his trap drums, putting a funk face on the piece. I enjoy this unusual and creative arrangement, although I find the tune itself repetitive. The melody keeps repeating over and over, using various instruments to sing the same melodic line. Perhaps a bridge in the song would have helped. “Die Kreuzotter” is dark and ominous in tone and presentation. I can picture a villain creeping into a shadowy room with a hood over his head and a weapon in his hand. Come to think of it, the more I listen to the music of John Clark, I think he could submit this project to some motion picture company or perhaps consider scoring for film. He knows how to build tension in his music and the repetitious lines lend themselves to film scoring. The title “Nine Live” pertains to the nine musicians who have recorded this album. Just like the CD title boasts, Clark’s musical ensemble and his compositions come without boundaries and are difficult to define.

John Clark is no newcomer to the world of jazz. Early on he played with several NEA jazz masters like McCoy Tyner, Miles Davis, George Russell and Gil Evans. He was a familiar participant with the Gil Evans Monday Night Orchestra that reigned supremely popular at New York City’s Sweet Basil jazz venue in the 1980’s. Currently, Clark is on the faculty of Manhattan School of Music and passing the baton to the next generation of musicians.
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Independent label

Quinsin Nachoff, tenor saxophone/composer; David Binney, alto saxophone; Matt Mitchell, piano/fender Rhodes/Wurlizer/moog rogue/organ; Kenny Wollesen, drums/timpani/tubular bells/handcrafted percussion.

If you enjoy Avant Garde jazz and exploring unknown musical territory, Quinsin Nachoff’s newly released CD is perfect for you. Here is an artist that stirs up the territory between modern jazz and contemporary classical in a most unique way. Nachoff is unafraid of exploring the depth of untested musical waters. He dives right in with no restrictions, no life preserver and no limits. This bass-less ensemble includes musicians who are all leaders in their own right. Drummer, Kenny Wollesen, is the founding member of ‘the New Klezmer Trio’ and ‘Sex Mob,’ but has also worked with Bill Frisell, Norah Jones, Tom Waits and John Zorn. Matt Mitchell, is the pianist and keyboard expert. He’s worked as part of the faculty of the New York-based Center for Improvisational Music. Reed man, David Binney’s Mythology label is releasing this album and Binney is a prolific player/composer/producer who has collaborated with Donny McCaslin, Uri Caine and Chris Potter.

Tenor saxophonist, Quinsin Nachoff, is a graduate of the University of Toronto and has composed music for a variety of ensembles including the Toronto Jazz Orchestra, the Cecilia String Quartet, his own Horizons Ensemble and more. He also leads the Pyramid Project that brings together a saxophone brass quintet with drums. He has coached at the Banff Centre for the Arts, taught at the University of Toronto, at Humber College and served as artist-in-residence at the Queensland Conservatorium in Brisbane, Australia. He has composed all the music recorded on this compact disc and all four of these talented music men breathe vivid life into his work, at times sounding like way more than just a quartet.

These arrangements are pulled and stretched like a huge rubber band across the universe, using staccato like a sling shot and bouncing the tones around like polished stones against the sky. Here is an unconventional recording, featuring a quartet minus the bass, obviously on a quest for unbridled freedom.
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August 12, 2016

By: Dee Dee McNeil/Jazz Journalist

AUGUST 15, 2016

I had fun this month, listening to numerous and varied big band arrangements. There was MICHAEL GAMBLE AND THE RHYTHM SERENADERS who took me back to the 1930’s and ‘40’s with his Swing arrangements. HECTOR MARTIGNON’S BANDA GRANDE infused his band with Latin roots. RICARDO BACELAR blends Brazilian music with jazz fusion in a ‘Live’ concert recording. LOU CAPUTO delivers a big sound from his “Not So Big Band, Uh Oh!” and STEVE HECKMAN gives us a heartfelt tribute to John Coltrane. Finally, MICHAEL DAVIS and his HIP-BONE BIG BAND take a more modern approach with funk/fusion and punchy horn lines while celebrating big band excellence.

Organic Records

Michael Gamble, bass; Jonathan Stout, lead guitar; Keenan McKenzie & Paul Cosentino, clarinet/all saxes; Russ Wilson & Laura Windley, vocals; Brooks Prumo, rhythm guitar; Gordon Au, & Noah Hocker, trumpets; Craig Gildner & James Posedel, piano; Josh Collazo, drums; Lucien Cobb & David Wilken, trombones.

If you love the music of the 1930’s and ‘40’s, this is a production that will bring you great happiness and joy. It is reminiscent of the big band era of Harry James, Stan Kenton, and Charlie Barnet. Michael Gamble has carefully chosen musicians who obviously “honor the legacy of this genre with integrity.” You can picture those girls in bobby socks and ballooning, full skirts Jitterbug dancing to this music with hands, feet and skirts flying in all directions. This is a tribute to big bands at a season when they were the popular music of the day; filling dance halls with young, stomping feet and majestically orchestrated big band sounds. From the very first cut, with the vocals of Laura Windley, we are transported to that time and space on “Back In Your Own Back Yard”. Boy, I haven’t heard that song since I was a little girl. Artie Shaw, Tommy Dorsey, Count Basie, Duke Ellington and Woodie Herman set the precedence for dance music and orchestrated jazz in my mother and Father’s Day. Gamble has proudly taken their baton and directed his orchestra in the same, historic manner.

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Zoho Records

Hector Martignon, piano/accordion/conductor/composer/arranger saxophones; John Benitez, bass; Vince Cherico, drums; Samuel Torres, congas/maracas; Chistos Rafalides, vibraphone; Andy Hunter, Rafi Makiel, Luis Bonilla, Alvin Walker, Chris Washburne, Trombones; John Walsh, Seneca Black, Steve Gluzband, Julie Desbordes, Fabio Morgera, trumpets; Enrique Fernandez, Chelsea Baratz, Alejandro Aviles, David De Jesus, Jason Arce & Alex Han, saxophones; String Quartet: Nuine Melikian, Everhard Paredes, Samuel Marchan, & Diego Garcia. SPECIAL GUESTS: Brenda Feliciano, vocals; Joe Burgstaller, solo trumpet; Edmar Castaneda, Colombian Harp; Jorge Glem, cuatro; Roberto Quintero, cajon; Martin Vejarano, gaita (a Columbian flute)/tambura/maracon.

“The Big Band Theory” brings us a completely different look at orchestration and presentation. Hector Martignon is aggressive in arranging and celebrates a Latin perspective, along with showcasing his composer skills on this recording. There is nothing old-school about this production. I love the addition of vibraphone, which I first prominently noticed on “99 MacDougall Street”. This is Martignon’s third CD release, after being GRAMMY nominated twice. Colombian-born and now living in Harlem, New York, pianist Hector Martignon offers us daring, somewhat visionary arrangements, including compositions by Classical composers Bach & Mozart and the great jazz composer/pianist, Bill Evans. He dives into a composition of Brazilian songwriter, Hermeto Pascoal and surprisingly mixes things up by tossing Mozart in the mix. Martignon speaks of the 1990’s and the turbulent 1960’s era in the United States as inspirational, as well as his time in Germany during the Christmas holiday season. His music composition celebrating the “Trombone Chorale” is reflective of the pulsating rivers of people streaming like worker ants in and out of subways and/or trains, with Christmas music playing in the background. I found the arrangement on “Estate” to be awe inspiring. Martignon is an artist whose brush becomes his fingers across the 88 keys of his piano or placed colorfully on his accordion. He merges the music and emotion of his Colombian culture into jazz and classical music with strong strokes of creativity and genius.

Below is his take on the Bill Evans composition “Interplay” featuring the art of Wassily Kandinsky.

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RICARDO BACELAR – “Concerto Para Moviola ao Vivo”
Independent label

Ricardo Bacelar, acoustic piano/keyboards; Ronaldo Pessoa, guitar; Luizinho Duarte, drums; Miquélas dos Santos, bass; Marcus Vinicius Cardoso, violin; Marcio Resende, soprano/tenor/ & flute; Hoto Junior, percussion; Maria Helena Lage Pessoa, keyboards & percussion.

This CD begins as a well-orchestrated tribute to one of America’s premiere producer/arrangers; Mr. Quincy Jones. The Brazilian band plays Joe Zawinul’s “Birdland” composition and “Killer Joe” (by Benny Golson), two songs famously arranged and recorded by ‘Q’. The orchestration is lush and mirrors Quincy’s original arrangements. They were always favorites of mine. Ricardo Bacelar is a Brazilian pianist, as well as a composer and arranger himself. On this project, his focal point is the 1970s and 1980s jazz fusion era, featuring familiar compositions by Weather Report, Pat Metheny, the Yellowjackets, Moacir Santos and Antonio Carlos Jobim. This CD was recorded “Live” during the Guaramiranga Jazz and Blues Festival in Brazil and is his second album release as a leader. Michel Legrand’s tune, “The Windmills of Your Mind” is beautifully executed featuring the violin of Marcus Vinicius Cardoso, as well as a rousing electric guitar solo by Ronaldo Pessoa. The funk undertone keeps the familiar pop tune modern. Ricardo Bacelar has composed four tunes on this jazz fusion adventure and offers us a very enjoyable hour-plus of fine, well-executed music. Because the band is recorded live, you can hear that the audience is enthusiastic and receptive.

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Jazzcat 47 Records

Lou Caputo, baritone/soprano saxophones/flute; Joel Perry, guitar; Bill Crow, bass; Don Stein, piano; Dave Smith & John Eckert, trumpet/flugelhorn; Virginia Mayhew, tenor saxophone; Jason Ingram, trombone; Dale Turk, tuba; Geoffrey Burke, alto saxophone/flute; Warren Smith, vibraphone; Mike Campenni & Rudy Petschauer, drums; Eddie Montalvo, conga; Leopoldo Fleming, percussion.

On cut number one, the very first thing I hear that grabs my attention is the rich, exciting sound of a baritone saxophone soloing on “Black Nile,” a familiar Wayne Shorter composition. I turn to the CD jacket to see who’s playing that baritone sax solo. It’s Lou Caputo. As the disc spins and various musicians are featured on solo bars, I’m impressed with their individual master musicianship. Virginia Mayhew swings hard on tenor saxophone and so does Dave Smith on his trumpet during the delivery of this Wayne Shorter tune. And wow! Who was that rolling across those drums like that? Rudy Petschauer is powerful! Caputo has gathered a sparkling array of New York’s best to play these “not so big band” arrangements and make them shine. On the Don Elliot composition, “Uh Oh!” I enjoy Warren Smith’s vibraphone talents. One of the impressive things about this recording is the excellence of ‘the Mix’. Bravo to the engineers that mixed and mastered this recording. Was that you, Mike Marcianao at Systems Two? You can hear every nuance of instrumentation; every brush across the drums and each percussive expression on the conga. Bill Crow is balanced perfectly on bass to lock in with Don Stein on piano, Joel Perry on guitar and either Petschauer or Mike Campenni on drums. Here is a delightful, jazz adventure with rich, well written arrangements by Caputo and the late Chris White, that explore straight ahead jazz at its best. The “Not So Big Band” (which by the way sounds way big!) has been performing for over a decade in New York City and various concert venues. I’ll be playing this CD over and over again for years to come.

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Jazzed Media

Steve Heckman, tenor & soprano saxophones; Grant Levin, piano; Eric Markowitz, bass; Smith Dobson V, drums.

This music is rolling right up my lane. Coltrane is one of my favorite jazz artists and Steve Heckman has performed a heartfelt tribute to the master, daring to record it in ‘live performance’ at the Hillside Club in Berkeley, California. When I say ‘dare’ I mean it as a great compliment. So many artists these days go into the studio and lay down tracks, then use technology to fix things. Heckman shows his listening audience that he is up for the task at hand and needs no technology to enhance his recording. He does it ‘old school’. Walks up to the microphone and plays the music from his heart, using his own unique technique and expression. Heckman is well supported by Grant Levin on piano, Smith Dobson V on drums and Eric Markowitz on bass. I appreciated, enjoyed and respected the group’s ability and tenacity to tackle Coltrane’s astonishing legacy. This is an hour-long concert that brought me pure bliss and reminded me of the amazing talent and awesome body of work that John Coltrane left us to enjoy. It’s Heckman’s fifth CD as a leader. He resides in the San Francisco Bay area and All eight songs on this project are Coltrane compositions, with the exception of Rodgers & Hart’s “It’s Easy to Remember” from ‘Tranes’ 1963 ballad album. This gorgeous ballad was one of my favorite cuts on his album. The title tune, “Legacy” was composed by Heckman himself. It’s well-written and well-played, just like all the cuts on this ‘live’ production.

Heckman’s own legacy includes playing with trumpeters Eddie Henderson, Howard McGhee, Chet Baker and Tom Harrell; trombonist Roswell Rudd; pianists Andrew Hill, Benny Green, Jessica Williams, Jim McNeely, George Cables and guitarists John Abercrombie, Mimi Fox and Bruce Foreman. Let’s not forget drummers Jimmy Cobb, Eddie Moore, Donald Bailey and Pete Escovedo or vocalists Jackie Ryan, Madeline Eastman and Kellye Gray. And his legacy continues.
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Hip-Bone Music

Michael Davis, composer/arranger/producer/trombone; Andy Ezrin, piano; David Finck, bass; Will Kennedy & Jared Schonig, drums; SAXOPHONES: Dick Oatts & David Mann, alto; Bob Malach, Andy Snitzer and Charles Pillow, tenor; Roger Rosenberg, baritone; TRUMPETS/FLUGELHORNS: Nick Marchione, Jim Hynes, Tony Kadleck, Scott Wendholt, Kent Smith, and Zaq Dvis; TROMBONES: Michael Davis, Marshall Gilkes, Nick Finzer, Keith O’Quinn, Conrad Herwig, Bob Chesney, Andy Martin, Birch Johnson, Michael Dease and Amy Salo; Jeff Nelson. George Flynn and Bill Reichenback, Bass trombones.

New York trombonist and educator, Michael Davis, has put together his eleventh CD release to celebrate his composing and arranging skills, with the help of Kickstarter donations. From 1994 to 2007 Davis was the trombonist for the Rolling Stones. He also toured and recorded with Frank Sinatra from 1988 – 1994. He’s used his trombone skills to perform or record with a wealth of diverse talent including Michael Jackson, James Taylor, Bob Dylan, Aerosmith, Tony Bennett, Jay Z, Sarah Vaughan, Sting, Branford Marsalis, Bob Mintzer, Paul Simon, David Sanborn and Terence Blanchard, just to name a handful. He’s composed over one-hundred-fifty songs, ten of them he is featuring on this recent recording of a dozen songs. The first two compositions, “Butter Ball” and “Zag Attack,” feature horn lines that are punchy and repetitious, acting as a harmonic trampoline for the soloists to leap and dance upon. “Butter Ball” has a funky drum line that motivates this arrangement and Will Kennedy definitely is inspired on his drum kit. Davis’ composition, “Zona,” has a ‘Smooth Jazz’ feel with a catchy melody, where Davis takes a solo and so does Dick Oatts on alto saxophone. Davis had made sure that many of his band members get an opportunity to solo and show their masterful skills throughout this project. But for the most part, eighty percent of the Davis music is arranged for ensemble playing by the big band. Because he uses a more modern approach in arranging, with funk drums as a solid base for the players to dance atop of, I would never have guessed that at age 21 he was working as part of the Buddy Rich big band for two years. Later, he landed a position in Sinatra’s touring band that lasted seven illustrious years. Keeping this kind of company so early in his career had to greatly inspire and educate him. However, in this project there is no “Swing”. Instead, he has seamlessly blended today’s hip-hop/fusion sound into his big band production; thanks to the power and smash of drummers Kennedy and Jared Schonig.

One of my favorite tunes on this CD is the old standard “Sentimental” with Bob McChesney offering a triumphant trombone solo. I love Davis’ arrangement on this beautiful ballad. I also enjoyed “Show Up”, composed by Michael Davis & Cole Davis, that had an Avant Garde flair floating above the funky drums and amidst the fusion-like-harmonics of the horn section. Credit would have to be given to Bob Malach on tenor saxophone, Scott Wendholt on trumpet and Andy Ezin on piano who all added improvisational depth and character to the arrangement with their individual solos.
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August 2, 2016

By Dee Dee McNeil/Jazz Journalist

August 2, 2016

This month I was inspired by two women who brought culture and unique perspective to jazz with the use of international languages and refreshing productions by amazing, world-class musicians. I’m talking about San Diego’s Allison Adams Tucker and Brazilian diva, Kenia. Speaking of culture, Harold Lopez-Nussa brings us a belly full of Cuban jazz, seasoned with African roots and American jazz and blues. Steve Fidyk, a forceful and creative drummer, charges out of California’s West Coast gates with an all-star group and vocalist, Catherine Russell reminds us of Harlem in the early years of jazz, big bands and chanteuses like Billie Holiday and Ethel Waters. Finally, UK’s own Benn Clatworthy brings his saxophone prowess to the forefront and asks us an appropriate question in today’s United States climate; “What’s Going on?” I tell you all about it in this column of CD Reviews.

Origin Records

Allison Adams Tucker, vocals; Josh Nelson, piano/fender Rhodes/pump organ; Scfott Colley, bass; Antonio Sanchez, drums; Chris Potter, bass clarinet/tenor sax/flute; Rogerio Boccato, percussion; Romero Lubambo, guitar; Mike Moreno, guitar; Stephane Wrembel, guitar.

This vocalist is quite extraordinary. She sings well in English, French, Portuguese, Italian, Spanish and Japanese on this groundbreaking recording. Yes, six languages and all sung with emotion, passion and sounding very authentic to this listener’s ear. The singer and her longtime pianist, Josh Nelson, flew to New York and recorded with an International group of musicians. The results is a unique and pleasurable project. Tucker majored in linguistics and minored in music. This album combines both passions. Her sweet soprano voices caresses each song and each language with plenty of expression.

The entire album is a very easy-listening experience and the musicians accentuate each song beautifully. I especially loved the guitar work on “Sous Le Ciel de Paris” by Stephane Wrembel. His guitar licks are rhythmic and enchanting. The arrangement on “Pure Imagination” is stunning and creative. Josh Nelson stands out, like a beaming star in the heavens, with his piano playing and accompaniment. Allison Adams Tucker sparkles with her ability to not only sing in varied languages, but also offers us an exciting menu of music, including Jobim’s popular “Aguas de Marco” sung in Portuguese and Pat Metheny’s “Better Days Ahead” where she shows off mad scat skills. Kudos to Matt Pierson who produced this project and brought the best out of everyone.
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Mooka Records

Kenia, vocals; Sandro Albert, acoustic & elec. Guitar; Romero Lubambo, acoustic guitar; Paul Socolow, bass; Adriano Santos, drums; Mark Soskin, keyboards & acoustic piano; Hendrik Meurkens, harmonica; Ago Pisztora, surdo; Lucas Ashby, percussion.

Born Kenia Acioly in Rio de Janeiro, Kenia always brings a rich, mellow sound to her music. In the 90’s and 90’s her singing was a pleasant introduction to contemporary Brazilian jazz, blended with pop. On this CD, the songstress reunites with members of her first band after nearly two decades. Her opening song and the title of this CD, “On We Go” is composed by Eric Susoeff with lyrics by Lorraine Feather; (songwriter and jazz historian, Leonard Feather’s little girl). The composer also arranged this tune, but for the majority of the twelve recorded songs, Kenia herself is the accomplished arranger.

She has also penned lyrics for a couple of the compositions. Ivan Lin’s “Closer to me” features the lovely addition of harmonica by Hendrik Meurkens and the rhythmical accompaniment of guitarist, Sandro Albert. This is one of my favorite tunes on this CD. The simplicity of the production draws the listener closer to the lyrical content, and Kenia loves scatting over the track, exemplifying her theme of freedom. Kenia’s voice is like a summer wind, gently rustling the leaves of a palm tree. Her music is soothing and smooth as a cloudless sky. She sings in her native Portuguese as well as English, and sometimes just scats with joyful sounds; no words necessary! Other favorite songs are: “On We Go”, “Melancia” with her voice soaring like an eagle above this well-produced track/no lyrics; “Zureta” and the happy, up-tempo, “Pra Qué Qué Inventaram A Bahia?”
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Mack Ave Records

Harold Lopez-Nussa, piano/keyboard/backing vocal; Alune Wade, bass/vocal/backing vocal; Ruy Adrian Lopez-Nussa, drums, percussion/triola/backing vocal; Mayquel Gonzalez, trumpet, flugelhorn; Dreiser Durruthy, tambores bata, vocal; Adel Gonzalez, percussion; Ruy Francisco Lopez-Nussa, drums.

This Cd enchanted me right from the cover, with a keyboard lying singularly inside an abandoned canoe. The artwork was compelling. The canoe is floating on a rippled lake with the artist’s name and CD title hoovering above it. Then the hum of a male voice appears, singing the melody of an unfamiliar song that strangely sounds as though I should know it. This voice, unpretentious and simple, singing in a language I do not speak nor understand, entices me. I feel the vocalist’s passion and his love. In face, I find this project full of love, life and creativity. Harold Lopez-Nussa, the composer/vocalist /pianist touches me deeply. When his piano playing begins, it both stuns and amazes me. Lopez-Nussa is unequivocally an extremely talented pianist/composer.

This artist, with a dual citizenship in both Cuba and France, is the first to release an album internationally since the Obama lifting of restrictions and the long-standing, U.S. trade embargo. Lopez-Nussa was born into a musical family in Havana on July 13, 1983. Both his father and uncle are working musicians. His deceased mother, Mayra Torres, was a highly regarded piano teacher and by the mere age of eight years old, young Lopez-Nussa was enrolled at the Manuel Saumell Elementary School of Music. After years of classical training, at age eighteen, he discovered jazz. Now, listening to this man’s virtuosity, I can only say his piano mastery is startling, beautiful and undeniable.

“Jazz was scary. Improvisation was scary; that idea of not knowing what you are going to play,” he shares in his liner notes.

Not to worry! Lopez-Nussa has mastered improvisation in the same way he has mastered his instrument and his composition skills. Surrounded by outstanding musicians, including his father (Ruy Francisco Lopez-Nussa) on drums and his younger brother Ruy Adrian Lopez-Nussa on drums and percussion, they never stop surprising me with energy, improvisation and technical skills. His bassist, Alune Wade, is from Senegal and you hear his vocals throughout this recording. On cut #6, trumpeter Mayquel Gonzalez executes a compelling solo. Lopez-Nussa incorporates blues, gospel, call and response, as well as Cuban cultural chants into his arrangements. I find myself totally engrossed in his concepts. Lopez-Nussa has a way of transporting the listener to various places with his music. One moment you are attending a party in Cuba and the next you are in Africa, surrounded by chanting voices and percussion. Then, suddenly you are in New York at a jazz club listening to Thelonius Monk’s popular composition, “Evidence”. All of this wrapped up in one composition, titled “Feria”.

“I’ve always liked the idea of projecting myself to the world from here,” Harold lopez-Nussa says in his liner notes, referring to his beloved Cuba.

This artist moves smoothly between classical, Cuban cultural music, popular and jazz music. His musical notes, wound together in this CD like a tightly wrapped ball of twine, compel the listener to become like a cat, who playfully pokes at the yarn watching the production unravel in creative and beautiful ways.
Release date is September 9, 2016.
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Posi-tone Records

Steve Fidyk, drums; Brian Charette, organ; Joseph Henson, alto sax; Shawn Purcell, guitar; Doug Webb, tenor sax.

This record company, Posi-tone Records, seems to have a group of musicians who are comrades and they make it a point to support each other by recording in concert and exchanging leaders. Just last month, I reviewed Doug Webb’s CD with most of these same players. However, on this recording, it’s the drummer who is featured as ‘leader.’ Monk’s composition, “Evidence” is a good way to begin any project. All those short, snappy, staccato notes that spell out the melody in that uniquely, creative way, are great for a drummer to be-bop along with and Fidyk takes full advantage of this opportunity. On Fidyk’s original tune, “Good Turns” he approaches the percussion support with a flurry of cymbal crashes and high energy that pulsates the song straight-ahead, rolling it forward like a freight train at top speed. Fidyk turns out to be a competent composer. “Caffe” is another one of his originals and is a lesson in straight-ahead drum chops that uses an awesome horn section to set-up the melody. Then, flying like a bat out of cave on fire, Fidyk pushes this wonderful group of musicians to their limits. The unusual breaks and harmonics remind me of Thelonius Monk’s composer skills. Just when I thought I was going to get all straight-ahead jazz and bebop, Fidyk flicked the switch on “Doin’ the Shake” where he shows he’s equipped to play funk with the best of them. This song gives Purcell a chance to showcase excellent guitar skills and by the way, Purcell wrote this piece. On “Moose the Mooche” the excitement peaks and the listener gets to enjoy Charette’s amazing talents on the organ. I had to play this one twice and both times it left me breathless. Fidyk obviously enjoys playing up-tempo, with challenging breaks and a band that brings the best of what they have to the session. Both horn players, Henson & Webb, perform unforgettable solos throughout, strutting their improvisational talents like finely tailored Italian suits. They’re sharp, trendy and play to impress.

Fidyk comes from a musical family. His father, John Fidyk, who played tenor saxophone in several East Pennsylvania groups, proudly took his eight-year old son (Steve) to gigs and had him sit-in as a substitute drummer when only a mere child. Both parents recognized their son’s musical talents early on. Consequently, they encouraged little Steve to hone his percussive skills. He majored in Music Education at Wilkes University and played drums in several big bands. To date he has performed on over 100 recordings and has an extensive discography. This CD will be a shining star to add to his growing constellation.
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Jazz Village/Harmonia Mundi Records

Catherine Russell, lead vocals/background vocals; Matt Munisteri, guitar/banjo/music director; Mark Shane, piano; Tal Ronen, bass; Mark McLean, drums; Jon-Erik Kellso & Alphonso Horne, trumpet; John Allred, trombone; Mark Lopeman, tenor & baritone saxophone/clarinet; Andy Farber, tenor saxophone; Dan Block, alto saxophone; SPECIAL GUEST: Fred Staton, tenor saxophone.

Catherine Russell has reached back to the potpourri of 1920’s, 1930’s, and 1940’s African-American music with emphasis on the golden age of Harlem. Compositions like “Blue Turning Grey Over You” by Fats Waller & Andy Razaf or “You’ve Got the Right Key but the Wrong Keyhole” bring Bessie Smith’s memory to the project. Other tunes like Ray Noble’s popular standard, “The Very Thought of You” and “Swing! Brother, Swing!” bring Billie Holiday and Ethel Waters to mind. “Let Me Be the First to Know” was composed by Leroy Kirkland, Pearl Woods, and the queen herself, Ms. Dinah Washington. However, Russell doesn’t sound like Dinah or any of these historic singers. She brings her own vocal stylings to the table. There’s no trace of Dinah’s phrasing or Billie’s poignant style. Russell proffers her own vocal persona, although there are times when her timbre and tone do remind me of Abbey Lincoln.

Russell explains, “It’s about not forgetting your roots. This album is comprised of songs from artists who played at the Apollo in Harlem, where all African American artists of note appeared.”

Ms. Russell comes from strong musical stock. Her father, Luis Russell, was a legendary pianist/composer/bandleader and served as Louis Armstrong’s musical director. Her mother, Carline Ray, was one of the pioneering vocalist/guitarists and bassists who performed with the historic International Sweethearts of Rhythm. These songs recall an era when her mother and father were working musicians. No doubt she heard many of these precious compositions as a youngster while growing up.
This is Russell’s sixth CD release and 2016 has proved to be a very busy year for her. She was featured in an hour-long concert on PBS television’s American Songbook as part of the NJPAC series. As a seasoned and touring background singer, Russell joined fellow members of David Bowie’s last touring band in February of this year for an emotional tribute to Bowie at the 2016 Brit Awards. She appeared at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. to sing the grand finale at the 2016 NEA Jazz Masters Award Ceremony, before traveling to L.A. for a live taping at Radio Deluxe with John Pizzarelli. In December, she will be a guest vocalist with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and Wynton Marsalis on their annual Holiday Tour.
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Laughing Lettuce Records

Benn Clatworthy, tenor saxophone; John Donaldson, piano; Simon Thorpe, bass; Matt Home, drums.

Marvin Gaye has written or co-written many amazing songs, but none has stood the test of time, politics, and cultures like “What’s Going On?” Decades after he composed it, I find myself asking that question over and over again, daily; especially in today’s highly charged American political climate. “What’s going on?’ Clatworthy has taken a new look at Marvin’s tune, honing it through the eyes of a jazz perspective (which Marvin would have loved since he was a great lover of jazz) and adding a unique arrangement that moves from the pop version to a double time, walking bass with a flurry of improvisational saxophone notes on the ‘hook’ of the song. Donaldson, on piano, gives us a superlative solo and Matt Home drives the familiar composition at a solid pace with drum sticks crashing and cymbals singing. Thorpe pumps that walking bass with splendid accuracy and locks in with the drums to hold both a ¾ time Segway and an exciting double time that captivates. I heard Clatworthy play this piece “live” at Maverick’s Flat in Los Angeles recently, and it was even more exciting in person using the iconic Henry Franklin on bass and Carl Burnett on drums with young, up-and-coming keyboardist, Sam Hirsh. The breathtakingly beautiful composition, “Here, There and Everywhere,” composed by Lennon and McCartney (of the Beatles fame), is performed with deep emotion and heartfelt sincerity. On “Limehouse Blues,” Matt Home gets to show off massive drum skills on his solo. But it is Clatworthy, with his Coltrane-ish approach to the music and his free form, improvisational skills, along with well-honed technique, who is the star of this recording. Surrounded by gifted musicians, they come together in a cohesive knit that makes us want to slip inside the music, smooth, comfortable and full of quality, like curling up in a cashmere sweater or inside your lover’s arms. This is music you play over and over again.
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July 15, 2016

By Dee Dee McNeil / Jazz Journalist

July 15, 2016

MVD Records

Bob Holz, drums/percussion; Larry Coryell, guitar; Mike Stern, guitar; Bob Wolfman, guitar; Randy Brecker, trumpet; Billy Steinway, keyboards; Steve Weingart, keyboard solos on 8 & 9; John Viavattine, Jr., bass; Jesse Collins, alto saxophone; Ada Rovatti, saxophone; John Viavattine Sr., flute/tenor & soprano saxophone; Ethan Wojcik, trombone; Tori Higley, vocals.

Drummer, Bob Holz, has surrounded himself with the crème de la crème of smooth jazz nobility including appearances by Larry Coryell, Mike Stern, Randy Brecker and Steve Weingart. The first cut on this CD, “Moving Eyes” pulsates with repeatable melodic lines, haunting voices, as well as a formidable guitar solo by Mike Stern. The second cut, “A Vision Forward” and the title of this production, also has an easily remembered melody line and is heavily funk influenced. Here is a contemporary, smooth-jazz CD that incorporates rhythm and blues, rock and pop in a pleasant, easy listening way. Cut #4, “Avalon Canyon” reminds me of a Quincy Jones arrangement; a throw-back to the 70’s. It’s a moderate shuffle that features Viavattine Sr on flute. Holz captures a strong groove with sticks flashing and time locked down, cement hard. His publicist notes that on the upcoming touring group, Detroit-based Ralphe Armstrong will join the band as their bassist. I’m quite familiar with Armstrong’s notable talent from his days as a 16-year-old prodigy with John McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra to his illustrious career playing with the likes of Frank Zappa, Herbie Hancock, Jean-Luc Ponty, Santana, Aretha Franklin and more. I had the pleasure of working with Ralphe extensively when I was singing jazz at home in Detroit. He’s an amazing bass player and will make a premium addition to the Holz group.


Holz began his career in Boston, attending Berklee College of Music. He went on to study with Billy Cobham in New York and would later share the stage with a host of iconic musicians like David “Fat Head” Newman, Cornell Dupree, Maria Muldaur, Dr. John, Les McCann, George Clinton/Parliament Funkadelic and Robben Ford. He has co-composed all of the songs on this album. Holz sums it up by saying his goal is:
“To learn from the past, embrace the present and chart new musical explorations.”
Mission accomplished.
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Music Stand Records

Anthony E. Nelson Jr, soprano & tenor saxophones; Brandon McCune, piano; Kenny Davis, bass; Chris Beck, drums; Bruce Williams, alto saxophone; Josh Evans, trumpet.

If you have ever been in the throes of doing taxes or bookkeeping, you know how miserable and often stressful it can be. At least, it is for me. Numbers just aren’t my best friends and that kind of work drives me up the wall. I decided to put on some music while I was tediously entering numbers into my Excel program. I grabbed a new CD I had just received and WOW! Anthony E. Nelson Jr was just what I needed at that very moment. He made the work I actually hate doing a more pleasant experience. His original jazz music soothed my stress, be-bopping me into a pleasant mood. This is the type of jazz I love. Good music is so healing! Right from the title tune, I was captivated and entertained. The arrangement on “Swift to Hear, Slow to Speak” is clean and well-rehearsed with strong, harmonic horn lines that punch the melody out like a cookie cutter. Chris Beck took a stellar solo on drums and I was properly introduced to the composer by a group of excellent musicians including Nelson Jr on saxophones. He and Josh Evans on trumpet, along with Bruce Williams on alto sax, create a smooth blend of horns. This was my first time hearing the work of Anthony E. Nelson Jr., perhaps because he’s based on the East Coast, some 3000 miles away from Southern California. But I am now a definite fan. “Peter’s First Step” is another winning composition that whips me back to the late sixties when Art Blakey was swinging hard and Miles and Coltrane were breaking new ground. There is something comforting about Nelson’s compositions. Something spiritual and familiar. When I listen to this CD, I feel better. “Softly She Said” is a tale of two women, presented as an emotion ballad, soaked in blues, with Brandon McCune sounding amazing on piano and Kenny Davis rich and unobtrusive on bass, but solidly locking that groove down and making sure you know he’s there. Davis plays some very melodic bass lines, but never lets that blues-groove get away.

From the titles of these songs and the linear notes, I soon learn that Nelson brings strong Christian faith to his music. For example, the tune I mentioned above and one that I like very much, “Peter’s First Step” is a composition based on Matthew 16:13 – 19.

Nelson explains, “It’s really about what God does when we pray and listen first.”

Mr. Nelson has endeavored to inject hope into his music; hope and praise and peace. That’s what I got from it. New Jersey native, Anthony E. Nelson Jr is a musician, composer, arranger and most importantly, a man of significant spirituality and religious substance. I salute his numinous concepts and celebrate his creativity, channeled from the great beyond and offered to us like a gift or a rainbow.
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Mack Ave Records

John Beasley, piano/arranger/conductor/Fender Rhodes/minimoog; Benjamin J. Shepherd, Reggie Hamilton, and Rickey Minor bass; Gary Burton, vibes; Grégoire Maret, harmonica; Terreon Gully, drums; Tom Luer, tenor saxophone; Danny Janklow, alto saxophone; Ryan Dragon, trombone; Tom Peterson, bass clarinet; Gabriel Johnson, trumpet; Francisco Torres, trombone; Brian Swartz, trumpet; Bob Sheppard, alto & soprano saxophones; Bijon Watson, trumpet; Gary Novak, drums. Thelonius Monk voice excerpt from French interview. Jamie Hovorka, Gabriel Johnson, Mike Cottone & James Ford, trumpets; Wendell Kelly, Ryan Dragon, Lemar Guillary, Eric Miller, Paul Young & Steve Hughes, trombones; Justo Almario,saxophone; Tom Peterson, Jeff Driskill & Alex Budman, woodwinds; Adam Schroeder, baritone sax; Joey De Leon, percussion.

A cacophony of sound bursts from my CD player and startles me into alertness. It’s not really dissonant, but more like organized chaos. It’s the second cut on John Beasley’s newest Compact Disc release that has snatched my attention. This entire recording celebrates the great work of composer/pianist Thelonius Monk. The tune is “Skippy,” where the horn section is beautifully arranged and Bob Sheppard shines on alto and soprano saxophones. Bravo to Brian Swartz and Bijon Watson on trumpets with Gary Novak holding everything in place on drums and taking a stellar solo. The musicianship, the arrangements, the compositions; they are all thee wrapped in a bundle of energy that only someone brilliant like Beasley could organize.

Beasley is joined by two other creative and competent producers; Ran Pink and Gavin Lurssen. Beasley, however, has arranged and conducted this entire album. The take on “Round Midnight” is beautiful in an odd way; perhaps I should have referred to it as an ‘odd beauty.’ Of course we all know how beautiful this Thelonius Monk composition is, but Beasley has taken it to new depths with funky, hip hop drum licks and unexpected chord changes that hauntingly thrust the listener into another dimension of understanding. The transmogrification of this standard, Monk jazz tune shows how daring and delicious Thelonius, the composer, really was and how talented and improvisational Beasley is. He, like Monk, is one of those people with his ears and inspiration in the outer limits of music. The orchestration on this project is awesome, as is the musicianship. Bravo to every member of the orchestra that brought Beasley’s arrangements to life. Gary Burton offers a wonderful vibe solo on “Epistrophy”. On “Oska T,” you actually hear Monk speaking about his musicianship and its effect on fellow musicians. Surprisingly (I discovered in the liner notes) both Beasley and Monk were born on the same October 10th day, but several years apart. If you appreciate and admire the music of Monk, this Beasley tribute CD is a must-add to your collection.
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PND Records

Senri Oe, piano/composer; Jim Robertson, bass; Reggie Quinerly, Andy Watson & E.J. Strickland, drums; Yacine Boulares, saxophone; Olga Trofilmova, trombone; Paul Tafoya, trumpet; SPECIAL GUESTS: Sheila Jordan, Lauren Kinhan, Theo Bleckmann, Becca Stevens and Dylan Pramuk; Also vocals by Junko Arita, Mitch Wilson. The New School Singers and Travon Anderson.

Here is an interesting and artistic project. Pianist, Senri Oe, born September 6th in Osaka, Japan, has chosen a variety of vocalists to sing his original compositions. Back in the day, songwriters searched for voices that could properly sing and sell their songs. Burt Bacharach and Hal David were very lucky when a vocalist named Dionne Warwick arrived at the studio to demo their compositions. The Gold Record results were a blessing to both songwriters and singer. I don’t hear any outstanding Pop stylings on this CD, but I do hear some pretty awesome songwriting and some excellent deliveries by a number of singers whose credits firmly establish them as working professionals. One iconic voice is that of Sheila Jordan, who (at 87) is still interpreting jazz and is on the move, teaching, gigging and traveling worldwide. Senri Oe has often mentioned her as inspirational and she interprets his first song titled “Tiny Snow” quite well. Saxoponist, Yacine Boulares, also adds his talents to the song in an unforgettable way.

Lauren Kinhan might not be a household name, but her singing career is distinguished, with stints as part of the New York Voices and Bobby McFerrin’s Vocabulaires group. She’s also toured with Ornette Coleman. Kinhan sings “Very Secret Spring”. Becca Stevens vocalizes the title tune, “Answer July.” What a beautiful composition! She has also penned the words for “Answer July.” For some reason it reminds me of UK pop singer/songwriter, Corinne Bailey Rae. Another favorite of mine is “Just A Little Wine” with a haunting melody that recalls composer Janis Ian’s song styles from the 1970s. Jon Hendrick’s lyrics are beautifully interpreted by Theo Bleckmann. This is a lovely tribute to the talented pianist/composer and artist, Senri Oe.
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DOUG WEBB – “Bright Side”
Posi-Tone Records

Doug Webb, tenor saxophone; Joe Magnarelli, trumpet; Brian Charette, organ; Ed Cherry, guitar; Steve Fidyk, drums.

From the very first, sweet strains of tenor saxophone that leap from my CD player, I know it’s Doug Webb. I’ve been listening to his style and enjoying the excitement he creates on stage for three decades. Webb has been featured on over 150 jazz recordings and has added his blues soaked style to tracks used in hundreds of television programs and movies. He’s an on-demand, Southern California, saxophone session man for television and film. This, his seventh album release, is funk-based with Manarelli on trumpet blending well with Webb’s saxophone licks. Webb has penned seven out of the twelve songs on this CD. His composition skills showcase smooth technique and a love of melody. The addition of Charette on organ spices things up and thickens the stew when Webb puts the pots on to boil. This is particularly obvious on cut #3, “The Drive”, where everyone of the musicians seem powered up and propel their improvisational skills at a fast clip. I found Webb’s composition, “Melody for Margie” to be beautiful, promoting a visceral emotion. Another of his compositions I enjoyed immensely is “One For Hank” where Cherry on guitar gers to stretch out, as well as Charette on organ. All in all, this CD swings and Webb is flying above the solid rhythm section, as daring as a man on a trapeze. His music is exciting.

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July 13, 2016

By Dee Dee McNeil/jazz journalist

They say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. In Henry Franklin’s case, it’s absolutely true. His father, “Samuel “Sammy” Franklin, made his mark in Denver, Colorado first playing violin, then trombone and finally mastering the trumpet. For years he performed with the George Morrison Band and honing his craft as part of the popular YMCA band in Denver. Later, he found himself in Kansas City as part of the Benny Moten Band. He also played in Lionel Hampton’s orchestra, Andy Kirks band, and a number of others before he decided to form his own musical organization in Los Angeles. The Sammy Franklin Orchestra entertained at various west coast clubs, as well as fraternity and sorority dances. Once settled into the Los Angeles music scene, probably one of the things he found most attractive (other than the good weather and crush of music jobs) was pretty, little Vera Wysinger, a native of California and a registered nurse. They married and up popped Henry Carl Franklin, who today his friends fondly refer to as, “the Skipper”.

I recently asked Henry Franklin how he got that nick name of “the Skipper”?

“I borrowed it from my son. On our first album for Black Jazz Records in 1971, we titled it, ‘The Skipper.’ Pianist, Bill Henderson (Kamon), had written a tune for his God son, (who is my son) and he named it Skipper. People associated the album title with my name and they started calling me ‘The Skipper’. My son’s a Junior, but he’s the original Skipper”.

When I asked Henry about his dad and the music business he said, “He had a popular society dance band in Los Angeles, but he wasn’t into Bebop. I turned him on to that. I used to bring the cats over to our house and that’s when he heard it. His main message to me was to practice, practice, practice.”
At eighteen years old, Henry Franklin had followed his dad’s instructions and was already part of a popular local group with vibraphonist, Roy Ayers.

“Roy had the Latin Jazz Quintet that included Bill Henderson (piano), sometimes Elmo Jones on piano, me and Carl Burnett (drums). After high school, Elmo left and went to school at Howard University. Nobody’s heard from or seen him since,” Henry told me.

Ayer’s Latin Jazz Quintet played at Frat Houses, private parties and eventually night clubs. The fledgling group used to follow Cal Tjader around every time he would come to town. People would hire Cal for entertainment when they hosted parties and Henry said their group would go in and play on Cal’s intermission.

“Cal liked Roy Ayers and our band, so he let us play on their break and it turned out to be a thing. Every time they came into town, we’d be hanging with Cal and his group.“

It had to be very inspirational to Henry and his group of youthful musicians striving to be jazz artists, hanging out with the likes of Callen Radcliffe Tjader, born in 1925, who was already firmly established in the music business. Tjader was combining the music of Cuba and the Caribbean with acid jazz and rock. The 1960’s may have been one of Tjader’s most prolific periods. Franklin would have been rubbing shoulders with Tjader’s historic bandmates like Lonnie Hewlett, known for his singing and piano playing; Armando Peraza on percussion; bassist Eugene Wright (fondly called, the Senator), drummer Al Torre, and pianist Vince Guaraldi. During the Verve years Tjader worked with Donald Byrd, Lalo Schifrin, Willie Bobo, a young Chick Corea, Clare Fischer, Jimmy Heath and Kenny Burrell. So Franklin was surrounded by examples of excellence early on. At that time in his career, Paul Chambers was Franklin’s hero.

It wasn’t long before Henry was married and working for the City of Los Angeles in Animal Regulations. At night, he still pursued his music and on weekends sometimes traveled to nearby cities to perform. For a while, Franklin played with a group called Little Joe and the Afro Blues Quartet, formed in 1963 by Joseph “Little Joe” DeAguero. In 1967 their group, featuring Little Joe on Vibes, Franklin on bass, Bill “Kamon” Henderson on piano, Varner Barlow on drums and Jack Fulks on flute and alto saxophone, was performing in San Francisco.

“I was in San Francisco working with Little Joe and the Afro Blues Quartet. We had a little light-weight hit record with the same instrumentation as Cal Tjader; vibes and stuff. We got this gig. Our first time out of town, we went to San Francisco for a weekend. It just so happened that Willie Bobo was working around the corner at a club; the Matadore. He came in on his break and checked out the band. I guess he liked me ‘cause he asked me if I wanted to join his band in New York. I said yes, but you know, I didn’t believe him. Three days later, he sent me a ticket. I had a little day job then, because I was married with a family to support. So, I talked it over with my wife and she said, yeah – go ahead. Right away, I quit that City job and moved to New York. I was really blessed and lucky ‘cause I got to stay at Roy Ayer’s house and didn’t have to pay rent or anything. He had gone to New York before me with Herbie Mann. Yeah, that happened a lot in those days. You know, the East Coast band would hear somebody from the West Coast and they’d call them to work; Roy Ayers, Bobby Hutcherson, Billy Higgins, Herbie Lewis, all those guys got calls. So it was my turn. I got the opportunity and I took it.”

It was about a year of touring before Henry would wind up back in Los Angeles at the famous Memory Lane Supper Club, a hot jazz spot in the African American community. That’s when Henry decided he’d had enough of being on the road with Willie Bobo.

“So I gave two-weeks-notice and it just so happened that in the audience one night was the South African jazz trumpeter, Hugh Masekela. He was just starting up a new band and asked me if I’d like to join his group. I said, heck yeah. The result was my first Gold Record for the hit recording of “Grazin’ In the Grass”.

Henry Franklin has found his way onto the recording sessions of several icons and not all of them were jazz musicians. Stevie Wonder called him to add his solid, double-bass, low notes to the “Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants” album. Boom! That became another Gold record accomplishment.

Franklin recorded with Gene Harris and the Three Sounds on “Soul Symphony” for Blue Note Records in 1969 and “Live at the It Club” in 1970, Volume one and two. In 1972, he joined Woody Shaw in the studio to record “Song of Songs” for Contemporary Records. By 1973, he was playing with Hampton Hawes and recorded for the Prestige label, the “Blues for Walls” album. That same year he was recording with Bobbi Humphrey on her “Bobbi Humphrey Live: Cookin’ with Blue Note at Montreux.”

Franklin was a hot commodity on bass back then. No sooner did he finish his stint with Humprey, he was back in the studio with Julian Priester on the “Love, Love” album for ECM. If he wasn’t in the studio, he was on the road with jazz nobility like Freddie Hubbard, Willie Bobo, Archie Shepp, O.C. Smith, Count Basie and Al Jarreau. He had already started composing and one of his original compositions was sampled by the musical group, “A Tribe Called Quest.” He’s been on the bandstand working with such icons as Don Cherry and Billy Higgins. Henry pushed his musical limits. He experimented outside the bebop music that he loved so deeply, working with John Carter and Bobby Bradford. Henry recorded two albums; “Self-Determination Music” and “Secrets.” He worked with the great Pharoah Sanders, Milt Jackson, Sonny Rollins, jazz vocalist Joe Williams and Bobby Hutcherson. He’s appeared on more than 150 albums as part of their rhythm section and worked with some of the biggest names in jazz history.

Henry expressed disappointment with some of the jazz releases and styles of youthful players in today’s jazz spotlight.

He told me, “I miss the melodies in the music. There’s no melodies anymore like there used to be. You used to be able to identify a song with an artist. You can’t do that anymore. See, If I asked you to name five Freddie Hubbard songs, you could tell me. But if I asked you to tell me a Wynton Marsalis song, you probably wouldn’t be able to think of one. There’s a lot of feeling with these young musicians and a lot of great technique, but I come from the bebop era, where music and composition is more than just technique.”

Speaking of technique and instrumentation, I asked Henry Franklin if he played Fender bass.

“I did and I don’t. When I was with Freddie Hubbard he had me playing fender bass and O.C. Smith liked that sound too. I like German bases. Both of my upright basses are built in the 1940’s. They’re not that old but the sound is what counts. One’s a Hoyer and the other’s a Wilfer. Unfortunately, you can’t just play acoustic bass on a gig anymore. These days everybody uses an amplifier.”

Henry decided to start his own SP record label in 1990. He was frustrated with big record labels and various hired producers telling him what to play and how to play it. He wanted a platform to market and produce his own creative compositions and ideas. Even more importantly, he wanted to perform and record the bebop music he has loved so passionately over the years. The result is a roster of seventeen albums on SP Records, with the ninth one being released April 15, 2016. It’s titled, “High Voltage” and is a tribute to McCoy Tyner featuring a group he calls, Three More Sounds. They include Bill Heid on piano, Henry on bass, Carl Burnett on drums, with special guest, Chuck Manning on saxophone.

I listened to the soon to be released “High Voltage” CD featuring seasoned veterans of jazz, all intent on celebrating McCoy Tyner. This CD showcases Henry Franklin’s tenacious bass and also introduced me to the composer skills of Bill Heid. The trio opens with “Brother George,” a laid back groove and memorable melody that makes you want to whistle along, reminding me somewhat of Tin Tin Deo. Heid has a crisp, clean approach in the upper register of the piano, with busy fingers tinkling the piano keys like waterfall droplets. There is something refreshing about his playing. On this first cut, Franklin’s solo is a crowd-pleaser, with his deep contra bass always present and supportive in the background. Franklin is just as magnificent when upfront and in-your-face as a solo artist. On Heid’s composition, “Unit 8”, Chuck Manning leads the way with gusto and verve on his tenor saxophone to establish the melody. The trio follows brightly, marching full force ahead, waving flags of musical brilliance with Carl Burnett propelling the group on drums, straight-ahead, and putting the ‘con brio’ in the piece. Heid utilizes all eighty-eight keys on this one, flaunting his piano skills in a polished, delightful way. The mix is so clean that I feel I am sitting front-row-center at some cozy jazz club enjoying these gentlemen in person. Having worked with West Coast engineer Nolan Shaheed myself, I’m not surprised at the clarity his engineering skills bring to this recording. Both the McCoy Tyner songs they feature, “The Greeting” and “Mellow Minor” are performed in majestic ways, like one would expect from kings of instrumentation. I’m sure McCoy would be well pleased. Franklin has contributed an original composition titled, Under Tanzanian Skies.” It’s very melodic. Manning immediately captures my attention with his sweet, sexy, soprano saxophone solo. Heid’s right hand continues to mesmerize in the upper register and he gets to dig deeply into his blues roots on this tune. “High Voltage” featuring ‘Three More Sounds’ is a beautifully produced piece of art from beginning to end. You are guaranteed nearly fifty minutes of continuous, jazzy listening pleasure on this Henry Franklin Production and record label. His legacy continues, full speed ahead!

James Leary: A Solid Bass Brick In The Foundation Of Jazz

July 6, 2016

James Leary: A Solid Bass Brick In The Foundation Of Jazz
Originally published (Jan 25, 2015, 11:41 AM PST) – by http://www.lajazz.com as part of Dee Dee’s Jazz Diary.

Interviewed & Written by Dee Dee McNeil/Jazz Journalist

James spoke with conviction. “People like James Brown, you know, he and his audience recognized that everybody listens to the bass. Well, you know in the South, bass was always something that people loved. When the bass solo came or the bass voice, everybody shouted ‘Yeah’ ”

James Leary is a mild mannered, soft spoken, humble bassist with a well documented history in jazz. Not one to toot his own horn, he’s remained a solid brick in the foundation of several iconic bands including Bobby Hutcherson, Earl Hines, Nancy Wilson, Dizzy Gillespie, and the Count Basie Orchestra. He played with Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Johnny Hartman, Rosemary Clooney, Max Roach, Esther Phillips, Eartha Kitt, Eddie “Cleanhead” Vincent, Major Lance, Red Garland, Randy Weston, John Handy, Don Shirley, and many more. I’m honored to say he even played on my recently released CD entitled, “Storyteller”.

His big bass sound is majestically performed on a Bernedel upright bass built in 1834, or on his English Panormo bass built in 1909. He also plays an electric Fender bass and entertains around the Los Angeles area and beyond. Surprisingly, his first jobs in music were as a rhythm and blues pianist in Little Rock, Arkansas. Leary played piano in bands featuring Teroy Betton, Ben Pruitt, Thomas East, Robert Trezvant, David ii, Jimmy Mayers and York Wilborn; groups that worked all over the Arkansas area.

JAMES: “My mother’s brother, Cornelius Torrence, who later moved to Chicago, played great boogie-woogie piano. My father’s brother played a little boogie-woogie piano. They both played by ear and I learned from both of them by watching their hands. All of my grandparents owned pianos. My mother’s mother, Ethel Torrence, is the one who bought a piano and my mother was kind of a musician. She played trumpet, bugle and a little piano.

I grew up in the South end of Little Rock, down below Roosevelt (aka 25th St). That was the black area. Above 25th was the white area. Then there was a conclave of white folks below 25th on Broadway, a beautiful neighborhood that stretched down into the hood. Little Rock was really strange. It had enclaves of white and black. They could be up the street from each other, but without interaction. There was a street called West 9th Street that had black businesses – grocery stores, drug stores, pool halls, cleaners, the Gem Movie Theater, etcetera. We didn’t even deal with white folks at all because of Jim Crow and segregation. If you wanted to get a job, all the bus drivers were white; all the municipal workers were white. After a while that stopped, but maybe the first ten years of my life I never saw a black postman. They probably were the first ones to integrate. My grandmother knew some of her white neighbors, but I don’t think they ever had a friendship.

“My grandmother bought a piano when I was six or seven and I took lessons. My cousin, Pat (Mpata) and my sister Barbara played piano. They were so much better than me that I quit and decided to be a football player. I was really a good football player too, until at the age of fourteen I broke my leg. I had to stay home and a visiting teacher came to the house. At that point, the piano became my best friend.

“At fifteen, I had a teacher named Art Porter, Sr. who was the Horace Mann High School choir director and also a jazz pianist. He would sometimes have his jazz trio play at Horace Mann and I was already trying to be a piano player, ’cause I had heard Ahmad Jamal and I was trying to play ‘Poinciana.’ And also I played on talent shows behind different people including ‘the Lyrics’ because my name was Leary and sounded a little like lyric, they named the group after me. My neighborhood friends, Jack Gay and Tomas East were very interested in music. Jack Gay’s brother-in-law had a record collection and we would go over and listen to it. I had been listening to Ahmad Jamal and I would put my ear to the speaker to hear that bass. I was already leaning towards the bass, when I heard this piano player named Charles Thomas playing and I said, I’ll never be able to do that. He sounded like Wynton Kelly. So, even though I was making gigs as a pianist, at fifteen I found myself loving the bass. When I heard Art Porter’s trio and the bass player, I think that pushed me over the edge.

“At the time, I was a working pianist. I think I was making $30 a week playing piano with a rock and roll or rhythm and blues band. But I went down to the music store and bought this bass. I had been down there looking at it 3 or 4 times. I decided, ok that’s it. I’m getting that bass. It cost $135, was painted black and had a hole in the side. So that’s when I became curious about playing the bass; around the tenth grade.

“Israel Crosby is the one who was playing with Ahmad Jamal and if you played piano, you had to play Israel Crosby’s bass line and rhythm. So Israel Crosby was my first inspiration. Then my English teacher gave me the record “All Blues.” When I heard Paul Chambers it was over. It was Israel Crosby and Paul Chambers. I didn’t know about Mingus until a little later on a Columbia sampler album I heard, ‘Mingus Ah Um’ (Leary starts singing the bass line to me in his rich baritone voice) and on the same sampler album, Dave Brubeck with ‘Blue Rondo A La Turk’. You know, I started listening to the bass as a piano player.

“Art Porter, my choir teacher in the eleventh grade, started a big band. It was the first time my high school had ever had a big band. So I played bass in the big band and I didn’t even know where F was. I was starting to learn. I sang baritone in the choir. I wasn’t really good enough to step out there as a soloist (he mimics the famed Leon Thomas jazz yodel) and I probably would have had to work really hard to be a solo singer, but I was a good ensemble guy.

“One guy who played trumpet, a great musician; his name was Teroy Betton and he embellished my piano playing. Teroy taught me the changes that Hank Crawford played on ‘Misty.’ He (Crawford) had an arrangement on Misty that ‘swung’. So then I started analyzing Hank Crawford while I was still playing piano. I didn’t play bass then. Later, when I played the bass, I would always figure out what the rest of the chord was from what was played in the bass line, because that’s how I played piano.

“Art Porter gave me a five or six night a week job on my new bass with the hole in the side. So I quit my rhythm and blues gig, which really pissed off the R&B band leader because we had jackets printed ‘York Wilborn and the Thrillers’ and I was their reliable piano player.

“I’m saying that the bass is half of the music, the way we like to hear the music. In the gospel church you hear that organ bass rollin’. You know I used to go to the sanctified church just to listen to that organ. We always paid attention to the bass. People like James Brown, you know, he and his audience recognized that everybody listens to the bass.
Well, you know in the South, bass was always something that people loved. When the bass solo came or the bass voice, everybody shouted ‘Yeah’ (Leary sings to me the 1951 hit record by Billy Ward and the Dominos, ‘Sixty Minute Man’ and we laugh).

“When I left high school and Art Porter, I went to North Texas State. I had my first bass lesson with Alan Richardson. I also met guys who were mentors and who were students. One guy’s name was Mike Lawrence. Mike Lawrence showed me quite a few things, mainly chords. I was learning melodies to some of the Art Blakey tunes. And another musician there was Billy Harper, the saxophonist who played with Lee Morgan. He was with Lee Morgan when Lee Morgan got killed. We (Harper) would go play gigs with folks like Fathead Newman and people who were coming through like Marcus Belgrave (trumpeter) and the guy that played tuba and baritone saxophone, Howard Johnson. This is when I was a freshman in college. I’d be with all these musicians and learn all these other tunes. I also took an Improv class. That’s when I started realizing there was more than standards. There was this other music over here. And that’s when I started learning other kinds of harmony. I knew hundreds of standards, but then I started learning the music that the beboppers were playing. You know, Coltrane and all those kind of songs.

“I later met Pharaoh Saunders in the driveway of my Little Rock home where my mother had moved. Pharoah was visiting relatives in North Little Rock and was leaving to join John Coltrane. He lived in New York and encouraged me to move there.

“I left North Texas State and I spent 3 years at a black college in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. It was called Arkansas AM & N but now it’s known as UAPB (U of Arkansas, Pine Bluff). Then, I didn’t have a real bass teacher and I reverted back to keyboard playing with various R&B bands. But I played bass with jazz groups. I would listen to records, transcribe things off records, and … sometimes guys would have sheet music from other professional groups and I would study those. I studied intensely. There was another guy named John Stubblefield who played tenor saxophone and another piano player named Sonelius Smith, although I think I showed him more on piano than he could show me. Sonelius Smith is still a pianist right now in New York. And there was Joe Gardner, a trumpet player who used to take songs off of Lee Morgan records and we would play all this music. 1967, our group participated at Intercollegiate Jazz Festivals in Little Rock and in 1968 (in St. Louis) I met George Duke. He was with a group from San Francisco State. I graduated from UAPB in ’68 and remembered that conversation with George Duke about San Francisco. In addition, my maternal Aunt Lois and Uncle Scotty lived there. That made it easy to move to San Francisco where I reconnected with George Duke. The second day there, I met local musicians Bill Bell and Mike Nock. Mike recommended me to John Handy, who was using Mike White, a violinist. Nock and White had started a band called Fourth Way. We rehearsed daily and finally we played a night at Both/And. After that, I started playing with major artists at the Both/And Club after Delano Dean, (the owner) found out about me. To my amazement, the first group was the Bobby Hutcherson/Harold Land quintet.

“I also worked with Thelonius Monk from 1970 into 1971. John Heard had moved to Los Angeles in 1968 and George Duke started to hire me. I enrolled in Grad school at San Francisco State during that time studying Bass with Charles Siani at SF State and a virtuoso bassist named Ortiz Walton who lived in Berkeley. Independent of Siani, Walton guided me thru some technical aspects which helped improve my tone and musicianship.

“In 1972, I was working with the great vocalist, Joe Williams at The Boarding House with local piano master Bill Bell, the great Eddie Marshall and me on bass. I also was working with the great swinging pianist, Martha Young, at a Berkeley, Ca Marina hangout, 2 days a week; a large restaurant with a piano bar area called Solomon Grundys. John Heard was subbing with the Basie Band and had to split back to LA. I was called for a rehearsal as a temporary, one-time sub (so I thought) with Basie’s Band at the Fairmount Hotel Ballroom. Their run was over at the hotel. To my surprise, Basie asked me to see his wife about something. I thought it was to be paid for the rehearsal. Mrs. Basie offered me the Basie gig and hired me after that rehearsal. Six months later, in May of 1982, I was given notice from the Basie Band. I was told Cleveland Eaton came off of temporary leave. That was not the understanding I had, but that’s the music business, so I returned to the Bay area. During the next period of time I freelanced around San Francisco and did a recording session with Jon Hendricks and Company, featuring Michele Hendricks. About a year later, I rented a U-haul truck and moved to Los Angeles to study Film scoring privately with the great Nobel nominee, Orchestrator/Composer and former UCLA professor, Albert Harris. I started working with Maxine Weldon playing Fender Bass. My friend, Randy Randolph was her pianist and versatile Washington I. Rucker was the drummer. Randy also got me on a gig with Jake Porter. Jake Porter auditioned me for his regular Sat/Sun Brunch engagement at the Bonaventure Hotel. That was 1983 and into 1984. Hank Crawford had hired me on Electric Bass during that time in 1983 and in April of 1984, I quit Jake Porter’s gig at the hotel. I asked my good friend, bassist Al Mckibbon, (father of beautiful Allison Mckibbon) to fill the required two weeks notice as a favor. I then played a two week engagement in Oakland ,Ca. with Hank Crawford featuring drummer Jimmy Smith and Calvin Newborn, a great guitarist from Memphis, Tennessee. I always played Fender bass with Hank.

“I returned to Los Angeles and got a call from conductor, George Rhodes. In March of 1984, I started my 5 year stint with Sammy Davis Jr. Life is movement!!!

Dee Dee: Tell me about your latest project – the “James Leary Tribute Choir Recording Project.”

JAMES: “Art Porter taught his high school choir how to be great for competitions and all kinds of stuff. So I already realized the depths and the sound and the sonority of a choir. I decided to go all out for this project when I was subbing with the Luckman Orchestra and we were playing “Shout,” Mary Lou Williams’ music with the Los Angeles Master Chorale and the Albert McNeil Jubilee singers, featuring Carmen Lundy and Cedric Berry. With those 250 voices behind me in that ensemble, well I had never heard anything like that before; perfectly in tune; flowing with the pauses and all the dynamics. That’s when I knew I had to compose for a choir.

“I like big band music too. I started writing music for the big band in college. I didn’t start writing for choir until later. When I got the Finale Softwear Music Notation program, I was subbing for Phyllis Battle (the vocal instructor at Billy Higgins’ World Stage music space) and this is maybe ’95, around that time. Before that, I was writing for a small vocal group. Even in high school I wrote for voices, because usually I arranged the songs for a small group of guys in a singing group. But later on, somehow it morphed into writing for a choir. I knew the depths of a choir. When I heard the Los Angeles Master Chorale and the Albert McNeil singers together, that pushed me into wanting to get that caliber of performance from a choir.

“I’ve been a composer ever since I was fourteen years old. So, I would just hear something and I would arrange it for choir, because I had Finale Softwear, where you could actually hear the voices back at you as you write them. I started writing more and more, because I like the sound of it. Sometimes I would write something for instruments and then transfer that to choir. At times instrumentalists say, man – your music is challenging, and singers have said the same thing. But I want to have a certain sound.

“In order to get that, I needed a person who could read and sing it right then; the first time down. I tried to get some of my original music sung, asking this conductor, Dwight Dickerson’s brother, Charles Dickerson to help. We went over to Nolan’s studio (the No Sound Studio in Pasadena) and these singers Dickerson recommended arrived. But I had to go one by one and teach them the music, even though they could read. So Carmen Twillie, a friend of Nolan’s, (the studio owner/engineer) saw me toiling line by line to teach them and recording everybody one-by-one. She said, oh no – no – no. I’ve got some people who can do this right now. So Carmen Twillie called these three people that I never heard before and they were studio session singers. They walked in the studio and they were standing in the middle of the studio with my written music when I heard all four voices sung together masterfully. I worked with this group because I could afford four people. They were super pros and made performance suggestions from time to time that enhanced the music tremendously. So that’s when I was determined to try and get a larger choir with the caliber of the Master Chorale. Because my music is challenging and also, these master singers don’t really have time to stop and donate their services. They’re excellent and they deserve to make the paper.”

James leary recently concluded an Indiegogo effort for his “James Leary Tribute Choir Recording Project”. You can hear samples of this music at http://www.jameslearymusic.com. You can also enjoy his YouTube performances with greats like Sammy Davis Jr. and George Rhodes, the Count Basie Orchestra, 5 Basses play Mingus’ “Boogie Stop Shuffle” with Donald Dean on drums and John Clayton & Nedra Wheeler among the featured bass players and more.

When he’s not composing, performing or producing, you’ll find Leary teaching and inspiring children at the Vision Theater in Leimert Park as part of MusicLA, a community arts outreach program. He provides piano lessons to local youth. Here is another jazz icon living here in our Los Angeles community, deserving of our adoration and support.


June 26, 2016

By Dee Dee McNeil/Jazz Journalist

June 26, 2016

As a songwriter myself, it’s always interesting to hear the melodic musing of other composers. I am open to their musical tastes and creative expressions. I enjoy hearing their lyrical ideas and it’s exciting to discover new voices in jazz exploring unique pathways. The composer/artists below each have a little piece of themselves to share with us, should we care to take time and listen. TODD HUNTER uses a jazz trio to interpret his compositional skills. NOVIA M. YUKUMI strives to combine musical genres with keen compositional skills and good producers. RON KING is triumphant on trumpet expressing his original compositions. JOE POLICASTRO’s guitar trio transforms several popular genres into jazz with unique arrangements. JIM SELF AND THE TRICKY LIX LATIN JAZZ BAND show the world how tuba can be relevant in jazz and beyond. Finally,“BRAZZAMERICA” combines Brazilian culture with American jazz roots and comes up with a winning concept. Read all about it below.

Dexterity Records

Todd Hunter, piano; Steve Hass & Aaron Serfaty, drums; Dave Robaire, bass; Rufus Philpot, elec. Bass.

With a catchy title like “Eat, Drink, Play”, I figure Todd Hunter and his group must have an exploratory purpose for this recorded music. After all, I’m very familiar with the best-selling book, “Eat, Pray, Love” that documents a woman’s journey across Italy to find herself. It would appear that Todd Hunter has already found himself. He is composer of every song on this CD and arranged them as well. Hunter’s also the producer and pianist. His melodies are memorable and his songs well-written. This is an easy listening project that showcases Hunter’s songwriting/arranging skills, incorporating the talents of Robaire on upright bass and mostly Serfaty on drums with the exception of the final tune, “210 to the 15,” where he uses Rufus Philpot on electric bass and the first tune, “Big Bird,” where Steve Hass is the Trap drum player. BTW, for those unfamiliar with Southern California highways, I have driven that “210 to the 15” that heads to San Diego going South and Las Vegas going North many times. This is a very mellow album, even when Hunter tackles Sambas and ‘Swing’ it pretty much stays at a level keel throughout. Favorite cuts: “I See More Than One” and “Snake In The Bottle”. I wanted to put lyrics to “Moments I Remember”, its melody is so pensive and lovely with unusual and unexpected chord changes. It’s the perfect music for eating, drinking and playing; pleasant and unobtrusive throughout.


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Independent label

Novia M. Yukumi, vocals/alto and soprano saxophone; Michael Angel, guitar; Juan Tyus, keyboards; Alex Al Dunbar, bass; Donnell Spencer Jr, drum; Andréa Cole & Charla Emel, background vocals.

I first met this young lady when she was a Japanese student at the Music Performance Academy in Alhambra, California where I was vocal coaching part time. Yukumi was full of excitement about her music and exhibited a beautiful voice, as well as a love of saxophone and songwriting. Now, several years later, it pleases me to listen to her first album release. She has composed, or co-composed, all of the songs on this, her premiere recording endeavor, and clearly is a very good songwriter. The challenge of taking her native language of Japanese, and translating her thoughts into English, makes for some very poetic lyrics. This CD is more Smooth jazz and leaning towards Pop, but it’s well produced by Yukumi and Juan Tyus. On “Flowing In the Water” Michael Angel’s electric guitar brings a Jimi Hendrix, 1960 kind of feel to the jazz and Yukumi’s voice is rather like a folk singer. That makes for a fresh approach to her original compositions and cements her vocal styling as uniquely hers. The arrangements are plush with background vocals and harmonics as rich as a string section. “Little Drops” features Yukumi on Alto saxophone with Dunbar on bass and Spencer Jr on drums pushing the music ahead like a strong freight train climbing up a mountain. Together, with Tyus on keys, they build the excitement. The production is solid. “If You Go To Wherever” utilizes descants with voices singing the lyrics in the background like distant angels interpreting a poignant message of love lost and still staying strong in the face of heartache. Yukumi’s sound on her reed instruments is all her own, just like her vocalization. At times, she makes the Alto saxophone almost sound like a soprano sax; light and feathery. “Inside Color” is another instrumental where she is actually playing soprano sax and it lends itself to funky, Smooth jazz stylings. I am particularly engaged with Yukumi’s composition abilities. The title tune, “Believer” is very catchy. Here is a young star on the rise. I hope she gets the airplay that she deserves on this her first album release. This album could easily be played on Christian radio, Smooth Jazz stations and cross over to Pop.
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Independent Label

Ron King, trumpet/flugelhorn/keyboards; Vienna Spencer, co-producer/vocals; Johann Frank, guitar; Jeff Lorber, piano; Bennett Brandeis, guitar; Preston Shepard, French horn; Andy Langham, piano; Hamilton price, bass; Bob Sheppard, flute/tenor saxophone; Gary Novak, drums; Gina Kronstadt, Kirstin Fife, violin; Brianna Bandy, viola; Stephanie Fife, cello; Rob Lockhart, tenor sax; Tom Ranier, piano; Dave Carpenter, bass; Lanny6 Castro, congas.

Here is an interesting “Smooth Jazz” concept featuring King’s trumpet and exalting him as arranger/ performer and composer of every track on this album. This piece of extraordinary creativity is co-produced by Vienna Spencer and beautifully engineered by Talley Sherwood. On a couple of the songs, King is responsible for playing all the instruments. For example, on “Peace & Love” he is featured singularly on trumpet, rhythm and keyboards. On his composition, “Atlantic Thoughts” he plays trumpet (Harmon mute) and all other instruments except for the piano solo by Andy Langham. Langham is an amazing and gifted pianist. I like the production. The strings are a sweet surprise. My favorite cuts are the more straight-ahead “A Long Home Home”, where Gary Novak on drums and Lenny Castro on Congas offer quite an exciting mixed percussion solo. “If You Could Only Know My Mind” combines Smooth and straight-ahead in a unique way that pleases my ears. Hamilton Price performs an outstanding bass solo. Andy Langham races around the piano keys with technique and purpose, while King wraps his trumpet around this tune, exploring the sweet melody and diving off into creative, improvisational places. This is an artistic musical endeavor you will probably listen to more than once the way I did.

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Jerujazz Records

Joe Policastro, bass; Dave Miller, guitar; Mikel Avery, drums. Guest Artists: Andy Brown & Andy Pratt, guitars.

“Wives and Lovers”, the familiar tune by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, opens this CD. Right off the bat, Policastro’s bass seems to be the glue that holds this trio solidly in place. His bass line becomes the unifying element in the first tune’s arrangement, while the guitar sings the melody in a somewhat choppy manner, being played very acoustically. I had to adjust my ears to this stylized acoustic presentation. “Harvest Moon”, the popular Neil Young composition, has a little more finesse and smoothness about the arrangement. I found it more palatable for my taste. Policastro’s trio is used to playing nightly in Chicago’s popular Champagne bar called “Pops for Champagne.” The trio tackles a myriad of popular songs from many genres on this CD, translating them into jazz arrangements with their own unique approach. For example, they play one of my favorite Stevie Wonder compositions, “Creepin” where Policastro takes a brief solo on his double bass, bowing it in a sweet, symphonic kind of way. I enjoyed the sound of their guitar guest, Andy Pratt on the 4th cut “Wave of Mutilation”. Maybe it was because the guitar sound wasn’t so choppy, but had an electronic, pedaled sustain to the tone. There’s a tribute to Prince when they make a medley of “Condition of the Heart” and “Diamonds and Pearls” where Policastro takes a long and creative solo on the intro of the tune. There’s also a tribute to the late, great R&B vocalist, Billy Paul when they play “Me and Mrs. Jones” in a very bluesy way, featuring Andy Brown on guitar. I love his smooth, blues approach. They also play the Bee Gee’s hit, “More Than A Woman” in their own unique way, featuring Andy Brown once again on guitar. I enjoyed Brown’s sound on his guitar instrument the best. He definitely transformed this Pop hit into a respectable jazz arrangement, with flying fingers and beautifully played improvisation. Drummer Mikel Avery gives an impressive solo during this tune.

Joe Policastro is a Chicago Bassist, composer, arranger and educator. He was raised in Cincinnati, Ohio but relocated to Chicago, Illinois in 2003. He has performed and recorded with many jazz luminaries including Diane Schuur, Jeff Hamilton, Phil Woods, Ira Sullivan, David “Fathead” Newman and Billy Hart to name just a few. When he isn’t working with his trio, you can find him composing and arranging for Mulligan Mulligan Mosaics Nonet and his work can be heard on recordings by numerous artists including Ira Sullivan and the Rob Parton Big Band. Guitar buffs should get a kick out of this Policastro Trio recording.
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Basset Hound Music

Jim Self, tuba/fluba; Francisco Torres, trombone; Ron Blake, trumpet/flugelhorn; Rob Hardt, tenor & soprano saxophones/flute; Andy Langham, piano; Rene Camacho, string bass; Joey De Leon, timbales/bata Shekere; Giancarlo Anderson, congas; George Ortiz, bongos.

Jim Self is a veteran Los Angeles Studio Musician who has added his tuba to over 1500 Movie scores. You might recognize his work as the voice of Mothership in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”. This is his 13th solo CD featuring amazing technique on his tuba and undeniable skills as a Latin jazz composer. It’s rare that I receive a CD to review featuring tuba as the lead voice. Jim Self is a master of his instrument, an ingenious composer/arranger. Perhaps Poncho Sanchez said it best.

“Jim Self has brought a fresh, new approach to Latin Jazz with his tuba. Very seldom do you hear this combination in jazz, much less Latin Jazz. If you love good music, you’ll love this!”

And the artist, Jim Self explains in his linear notes:

“Cuban music was very popular dance music in the U.S. before Castro (especially Rumbas, Mambos and Cha Chas) – as a boy, I heard it everywhere. In the 60s I fell in love with the Bossa Nova, followed by the Samba (on my earlier jazz recordings I played several of them). Now my latest love is Latin Jazz. Always, in the back of my mind, I wanted to play in an Afro-Cuban band; but that world is not a place where you would expect to see or hear a tuba. I am stubborn enough to make it happen.”

I’m glad he did! This has become one of my favorite Latin Jazz releases this year. It’s joyful music, flawlessly performed by master musicians and shows the composition skills of trombonist, Francisco Torres. Torres has co-produced this record with Jim Self. They’ve hired the ‘who’s-who’ of West Coast Latin jazz musicians to interpret these beautiful songs, including original music by Jim Self and Torres along with four popular Latin jazz standards; including “Morning” composed by the late Clare Fischer; the Tito Puente composition “Old Arrival”, Eddie Cano’s “Cal’s Pals” and Nat Simon’s popular “Poinciana”. This is definitely a CD I’m proud to have in my collection.

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Independent Label

Leco Reis, bassist/educator; Cidinho Teixeira, piano; Edson Ferreira, percussionist/producer.

All three of these talented musicians enjoyed musical success in their native country of Brazil before settling in America. Pianist, Teixeira, is renowned in Brazil and although he’s been living in the United States for two decades, many of the top Brazilian players patronize his gigs whenever they’re in town. He’s an in-demand composer, arranger and pianist who has worked with such luminaries as Gilberto Gil, Gal Costa, Harry Belafonte, Mark Murphy and Blossom Dearie. Additionally, Cidino Teixeira released half-dozen albums in his own name. Leco Reis, the bassist of this trio, has been working the New York music scene for more than ten years. He’s a Berklee College of Music graduate with an advanced degree from Queens College and he serves on the music faculty of Sacred Heart University. Although he too is soaked in Brazilian cultural music and jazz, he often gigs in more contemporary improvised settings. Dynamic drummer, Edson Ferreira, is a noted percussionist and music producer who studied at Sao Paulo Conservatory. He’s played concerts, clubs and festivals all over the world as both a leader and a sideman. Together, these three talented gentlemen make a formidable music force that has incorporated Brazilian music standards with some of Teixeira’s original compositions and infused everything with American jazz. The results is “Brazzamerica”. Mile Davis’ popular tune, “So What,” is incorporated nicely into “Samba Do Carioca Wav”. “Lim Sim” (Maracatu-Blues) creates a platform for Ferreira to showcase his drum skills and it’s a plush arrangement with the bass line sewing the fabric of the composition together with strong, unforgettable stitching of tone and bass groove. This is an exultant, heartwarming package of music interpreted by three musicians who have been performing together for over five years. The results is a combination of love and respect for each other, with a fusion of their cultural roots and American jazz.
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June 15, 2016

By Jazz Journalist/Dee Dee McNeil

June 14, 2016

Summer is a time for convertibles, bar-b-ques in the park, and jazz spraying out of radios, cell phones, tablets and speakers like water from a fire hydrant in Harlem. You just want to soak the music up and cool off with the smooth sounds as you enjoy your day. BOB MINTZER offers us a smokin’ Los Angeles band with great arrangements to match the technical prowess of the players. JOCELYN MICHELLE surprises the listener with her multi-talents; ED ROTH proclaims to be a “Mad Beatnik”. MICHIKA FUKUMORI and her trio are easy listening jazz, while DAN PRATT isn’t afraid to color outside the lines. Read all about it in my Musical Memoirs.

Fuzzy Music Mobile LLC

Bob Mintzer, saxophone; Russ Ferrante, piano; Edwin Livingston, bass; Peter Erskine, drums; Aaron Serfaty, percussion; Larry Koonse, guitar; Wayne Bergeron, James Blackwell, John Thomas, Chad Willis, and Michael Stever, trumpets; Bob McChesney, Erik Hughes, Julianne Gralle, and Craig Gosnell, trombones; Bob Sheppard and Adam Schroeder, saxophones.

The first cut dances into my listening room with spunk and Latin sparks flying everywhere. I start wiggling in my seat to this high energy band of Los Angeles jazz giants. It’s titled, “El Caborojeno,” an Afro-Cuban composition by Mintzer. He describes it this way.

“When writing this piece, I thought of the wind players as percussion instruments; lots of short accented notes add a percussive quality to the horn passages.”

“Havin’ Some Fun” is a tune written in the style of the great Count Basie Orchestra and that’s right up my alley. It Swings! The harmonics are beautiful and I was super impressed with that baritone sax solo. These charted arrangements are wonderfully creative and the full big band charts are available @bobmintzer.com This gifted saxophonist/composer has joined with master drummer, Peter Erskine, after being band mates and friends for nearly half a century to collaborate on this CD. Now, with gray hair and receding hair lines, they fondly remember spending their high school days in a big band at the renowned Interlochen Arts Academy before graduating and going their separate ways. After traveling around the world separately, but both with various big bands, it’s probably not surprising that since they have now settled into the Los Angeles lifestyle, their big band collaboration would take root here and flower.

This is an amazing piece of creativity from the stand point of composition, arrangements and production. With folks like Edwin Livingston on bass, Bob Sheppard, Mintzer and Adam Schroeder on saxophones, Erskine manning the drums, Larry Koonse on guitar and Russ Ferrante on piano, plus all those technically brilliant horn players, they have created a monster project. Here is an album anyone would be proud to have in their collection.

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Chicken Coup Records (part of Summit Record Group)

Jocelyn Michelle, organ/piano/guitar; John Rack & Bruce Forman, guitars; Sammy K, drums/percussion; Brad Dutz, percussion; Doub Webb, tenor Saxophone; Steve Mann, tenor/alto & soprano saxophone; Stan Martin & Andrea Lindborg, trumpets; Gina Saputo, vocals on cut #5; Regina Leonard Smyth, vocals on cut #10.

Looking gorgeous in a scanty, red, form-fitting dress and fishnet stockings, from the cover artwork I was prepared for Jocelyn Michelle to be a vocalist. She surprised me. She is, instead, a multi-talented artist who plays the Hammond B3 organ, the piano and jazz guitar. Additionally, this talented woman has composed six out of the ten songs on this CD. Right from the very first cut, her self-penned “Inglewood Cliffs,” roars out of the gate with a powerful Swing groove. Sammy K kills it with his outstanding drum solo. Doug Webb opens the 3rd cut, making a sexy tenor saxophone entrance on Marvin Gaye’s composition “Trouble Man” with some kind of street noises in the background. Was that an intentional play on “What’s Going On” or a mistake? I couldn’t figure out why those noises were there. Never mind! Jocelyn Michelle sprinkles blues into the mix, caressing those organ keys and setting up the groove nicely. I sincerely appreciate Jocelyn’s ability to embrace the blues like a lover. Her talent shines.

This artist has surrounded herself with some of the best musicians in town and they do justice to her compositions, as well as supporting her obvious talents. However, I wish she had eliminated the vocals and (in my humble opinion) the “all over the map” that Jocelyn Michelle talks about in her linear notes distracts from the jazz sensibility of this recording. I didn’t mind the smooth jazz transition on cut #7. I thought the modern arrangement worked on “Last Tango in Paris”. “Never Let Me Go” showed Jocelyn’s tender side and was beautifully performed. But the final song, with gospel overtones, seemed strangely out of place and the vocals were distracting.

Jocelyn Michelle comes from a musical family with her mother playing piano and singing opera. Her father played trumpet. This artist began studying piano at age seven when her parent realized their child could hear a song and play it by ear. She and her guitarist husband, John Rack, have released three CDs prior to this one. With Hawaii currently their home, they’ve been playing jazz and blues on the Big Island since 2013.

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Warrior Records

Ed “the Wrench” Roth, piano/Hammond B3/Fender Rhodes/Clavinet/all Synthesizers and electronic percussion; Chad “the Big Galute” Smith, all drums; Rock “Astaire” Deadrick, all percussion; James “Big Game” Manning, Andrew “Country Club” Ford and Ed Roth, bass guitar; Joe “El Kabong” Calderon, guitar; Linda “The Queen of Scots” Taylor, guitar; Mitch “Stroybook” Manker, trumpet, valve Trombone, Flugel Horn; Tony “the Magnet” Grant, vocals; Special Guest: Tom “Bard of Light” Scott, saxophone.

It’s been a while since I read or heard the term ‘beatnik’, so I was interested to see what Mr. Ed Roth’s music reflected. Roth is a keyboardist with a strong penchant for funk and blues. He, along with the great Tom Scott on saxophone, let you know from the very first title tune what this project is all about the funk groove. Roth plays an assortment of keyboard instruments including piano, Hammond B3 organ, synthesizers, Fender Rhodes, a clavinet and electronic percussion. Additionally, he has composed the majority of the music on this CD and secured the who’s-who of top LA-based studio musicians to interpret his tunes. It enhances his project to include Grammy winning saxophonist, Tom Scott and Grammy winning drummer, Chad Smith. Smith is also an inductee into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. In fact, the first thing I noticed on this CD, after the pianist, was that strong drum line building a backline of powerful rhythm to propel this music into the atmosphere. No wonder! Smith’s history is as a member of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. If you love a funk-groove colored with Rhythm, Blues and Smooth jazz overtones, you’ll be quite pleased with this eleven-song production. Roth is a solid composer and his ensemble expertly plays his original music with definitive technique and finesse.

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Summit Records

Michika Fukumori, piano; Aidan O’Donnell, bass; Billy Drummond, drums.

This is an Easy Listening jazz recording. Michika Fukumori is a gifted pianist and she leads her trio with impeccable taste and seasoned technique. I enjoyed Aidan O’Donnell’s bass solo on “The Story I want to tell You;” an original composition by Fukumori. She has written four of the twelve songs recorded. Each is splendidly interpreted, balanced and well represented by these musicians. “Luz” is another original composition, beautifully written and sensually served up as a tender ballad.

Growing up on Japan’s main island, Fukumori was born in the city of Mie and has been playing piano since the impressionable age of three. Almost immediately she began composing her own tunes. She studied classically at the Aichi Prefectual University of Fine Arts and Music; then with renowned Japanese pianist Colgen Suzuki. It wasn’t long before she was performing in Japanese jazz clubs. In the year 2000, Michika Fukumori came to New York from Japan to study jazz piano. She has studied for fifteen years with Steve Kuhn, who is the producer of this recording. He’s also her mentor, her friend and her hero. Additionally, she studied with iconic bassist, Ron Carter, and the brilliant pianist, Geri Allen, at City College of New York, earning a Master’s Degree in 2003.

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Same Island Music Imprint

Dan Pratt, tenor/alto saxophone; Mike Eckroth, piano; Christian McBride, bass; Gregory Hutchinson, drums.

If you are looking for someone who colors a little outside the lines, look no further. Pratt is painting with broad musical strokes way outside the designated palate. On “Gross Blues” his composition reminds me a bit of Eddie Harris, with those short choppy notes that set up the groove. The thing is, we never really reach that down-home blues feel that Harris was so famous for offering. Instead, Pratt’s tune reminds me more of a deconstructed blues, dancing on the edge of Avant Garde. On “New Day,” he settles down a bit, dropping the staccato to smoothly introduce us to a melody that is challenging and leaves lots of space for his trio to stretch out. Pratt has surrounded himself with some of the best players in the business and they interpret his seven original compositions in a stellar way. This is Pratt’s fourth recording as a leader, following two critically-acclaimed organ flavored CDs. He is a founding member of the Brooklyn Jazz Underground collective and a regular participant in the Christian McBride Big Band, the David Smith Quintet and the Tammy Scheffer Sextet. Favorite cuts on this CD are “River” with it’s rich, haunting bass solo by McBride, “Junket” that allows Gregory Hutchinson to flash his drum skills vibrantly and “Hymn for the Happy Man”.

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June 3, 2016

By Dee Dee McNeil / Jazz Journalist

It’s preposterous to realize that the young man I see sitting on that well-worn piano bench is only a senior in high school. How can someone who plays piano so masterfully still be a teenager?

I’m sitting at the Dolo Coker Scholarship Foundation auditions and listening to a variety of hopeful, young jazz musicians. Jamael Dean is one of them and his talent is astonishing! He wound up winning the scholarship that year and then again, the next year. Everyone was buzzing about his piano chops. I went to someone who knew him well to gather history on this developing jazz artist. Here’s what his grandfather told me.

His grandfather, Donald Dean Sr., has been a jazz drummer for nearly five decades. He’s the one laying that groove down on the 1969 Atlantic Records release, “Swiss Movement” with Les McCann and Eddie Harris ‘Live’ at the Montreux Jazz Festival. He’s worked with Kenny Dorham, Ernie Andrews, organist Jimmy Smith, and a host of other notable jazz names. Donald is beaming with pride about his grandson.

“Remember when we used to do those school gigs back in the day?” He reminds me.
As the narrator for a program that taught young people the three elements of jazz, I remember those days very well.

“Well, I still do these school gigs every year for black history month,” Donald Dean Sr. told me. “So Jamael had a great ear for music and he started playing piano by ear as a kid; Picking out all these tunes on the piano when he was about seven years old. That’s when I first noticed it. In school, he started off playing violin. But his piano chops were so good that I kept challenging him. I would give him music to listen to, like Thelonius Monk. I would take him to the schools with me, when I was playing the school circuit. The musicians that were on those gigs were folks like saxophonist, Charles Owens and four or five of us would be playing. The schools were so impressed with this kid and so were we, because he would hear it and he could play it. You know, he would listen to Stevie Wonder and all that kind of stuff and learn to play it. Each year he got better and better. I would challenge him to listen to a plethora of people and I would tell him, listen to this and play that for me. I’d put it on a disc for him and he’d go home and come back with it sounding exactly like the disc. Back then, he was playing by ear. At the University up there in Bakersfield, they took an interest in him and started teaching him to read music. I had a little piano at home and I had a few books. We would sit down and the guys would come over, you know like Art Hillary, René Van Helsdingen and Phil Wright. They’d show him a few things and he loved it. That female bassist, Nedra Wheeler, she helped him. So did trumpeter Richard Grant. But all the credit is due to him, because he wanted to do it. It wasn’t about showing him. He wanted the music bad.”

Jamael’s father, Bill Dean, remembers that as early as age two, Jamael seemed smitten with music. In an article written by Richard Simon and published in LA Jazz Scene newspaper, his father spoke about his son’s obsession with music.

“Jamael would pull out pots and pans and beat on them as if they were drums. He would get his sister’s clarinet and try to play it. He started playing the violin at his school in the third grade. I bought him a little keyboard just before he was nine. His mother and I were surprised at what he could do on the piano without any lessons.”

While interviewing Jamael himself, I asked exactly what had turned his interest to jazz and he was quick to say it was his grandpa.

Jamael told me, “I used to go to gigs with my grandpa and he would just have tons of fun with his friends. I thought, oh man, that’s what I want to do.”

I asked Jamael, “What made you choose piano because your grandpa is a drummer?”

He responded, “Well, I couldn’t play with grandpa if I played drums.”

We laughed about that, but it made sense.

“When I would listen to my grandpa with Les McCann, like … Les’s approach to piano made it seem so cool. I was influenced by Les McCann, Bobby Timmons and Ahmad Jamal when I was just a kid.”

Jamael is a quiet, unobtrusive individual. He’s appropriately hesitant to sing his own praises, but his grandfather was quick to tell me how multi-talented he is.
Donald Dean Senior said, “You know I was teaching him drums too. He’s multi-talented. He can play the drums. He’s got a saxophone, he’s got a trumpet, he’s got a bass, he’s got a guitar and he tinkers around with all of these things. He started on violin, when he was in grade school, and it was donated to him by my good friend, bassist, Louie Spears. I’m so proud to have a grandson that’s interested in jazz.”

I spoke to master bassist and educator, Richard Simon, who remembers Jamael as an eleven or twelve-year-old piano prodigy who participated in the JazzAmerica Foundation.

“Back in 2010, I was playing a private party in the Baldwin Hills area of Los Angeles. It was just before Christmas. Donald Dean was the drummer and he asked me if his grandson could play a tune on the piano when the band took a break. I wasn’t the leader, but I said I thought it would be fine. A very thin, shy youngster of about 11 0r 12 years old climbed onto the piano bench and proceeded to play Monk’s ‘Ruby My Dear’. That’s a daunting piece, even for older folks, never mind a pipsqueak pre-teen. But Jamael played it with so much soulfulness it was clear that he possessed a rare depth of understanding about the music. When he finished and the raucous ovation subsided, I practically tackled him and said, you’re not leaving this room until I get your name and phone number. We have a jazz program on Saturday mornings and you’d be perfect for it. His dad said that they lived in Bakersfield, some 90 miles away, but he said the family would discuss bringing Jamael to Hollywood once a week. Apparently there was one teacher up there helping nurture Jamael’s interest in jazz, but no program like JazzAmerica for group instruction.

“Buddy Collette was a co-founder of JazzAmerica in 1994. In the first several years, JA operated on two tracks; Saturday ‘Master Classes’ for high school musicians and weekday jazz instruction at four middle schools and Fairfax High School as an After-School program. The original mentors on Saturdays included Gerald Wiggins, Bobby Bryant, Ndugu Chancler, Tony White, Buddy (Collette) himself and yours truly. We were supported by the Music Center of the County of Los Angeles, which gave us access to the rehearsal rooms adjacent to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. The first several summers, we served ninety students. Later, we solicited the help of the Skirball Cultural Center in the Sepulveda Pass at Mulholland for new funding, hired school buses to bring in kids from the city, and performed at Skirball’s annual arts fairs. One special year there, 2005, we were blessed with the likes of Katie Thiroux, (now a successful professional bassist), and Austin Peralta, the phenomenally talented pianist who later died tragically in his early 20’s. Today, we’re still in business, more canoe than cruise ship, but nonetheless, buoyed by a handful of organizations and propelled by the interest in jazz that still beats within the heart of the community. In twenty-two years, we have provided a home for a thousand youngsters. On July 31, JazzAmerica youth will open the second day of the 2016 Central Avenue Jazz Festival.

“Getting back to when I first met Jamael, our program resumed in early January of 2011. The Dean family car was usually the first one in the Musicians Union’s parking lot. Jamael was the quietest student in the band and the most focused. He clearly had listened to the recordings of the pieces we rehearsed and arrived at each rehearsal ready to play. He had an instinctive feel for the way jazz piano supports the collective improvisation of the brass and saxes in traditional jazz. He crafted his solos, creating personally meaningful phrases that incorporated the jazz vocabulary without clichés. Music is simply in his blood and in his soul.”

When I interviewed Jamael Dean, he explained how he was influenced by McCann, Timmons and Ahmad Jamal. But it didn’t take long for his taste in music and musical concepts to grow.

“Now, I’ve kind of gravitated more towards Herbie Hancock, Alice Coltrane, McCoy Tyner and Sun Ra. They were definitely trying to reach a higher place … and I’m trying to tap into that,” Jamael shared with youthful sincerity.

When he was in the 8th grade, they had a program called the Bill Green Mentorship. Jamael was still living in Bakersfield, California, where he attended Compton Junior High school. Many young students, who have an interest in music and jazz, are unable to afford private music lessons and need the opportunity to grow and become professional musicians. Initiated in 1998, the Los Angeles Jazz Society’s Bill Green Mentorship Program provides that opportunity for qualified students every year. The purpose of the program is to supplement the education of promising young jazz students and encourage their development as future professional jazz artists. They invested wisely in the blossoming talent of Jamael Dean.
At a point when he was graduating from Junior High School to High School, his family moved from Bakersfield to Los Angeles so their gifted son could attend The Los Angeles County High School for the Arts. Jamael lit up when he talked about his school.

“My school gives me a lot of opportunities, like going up to the Generation Jazz Festival and also the people they bring in for Master classes are great. For example, this guy named Dayna Stephens (a saxophone player from New York), he’s a bad dude. He came a couple of times and Gerald Clayton visited us. The Thelonius Monk Institute always comes up to our school as well. I plan to go to the Brubeck Institute next and then I was going to try and go to The New School in New York. I have a scholarship already,” he spoke quietly, but with a determined firmness to his tone.

“My musical dreams and goals are kind of eclectic. I started off playing R&B and gospel music. I really just want to tie all of the genre’s together to show that it comes from the same place. It all comes from improvisation from the beginning and bridging the gap between musicians and people who aren’t musicians. Because musicians like a certain type of music and audiences might not be able to deal with it sometimes (for lack of a better term) the intellectualness of it. So, I want to be able to find the complexities and make it come across as simplicities and all the simplicities come across as complexities. After all, clearly music is a universal language.”

In the summer of 2015, Jamael spent 10 days in Vienna, Austria as a scholarship recipient for the Zawinul Foundation for Achievement.

“I’m actually going to get to go to Japan this summer, touring with (saxophonist) Kamasi Washington. That’ll be pretty cool. I’ve always wanted to visit Japan,” Jamael told me.

This is only the first trip, in a string of many, that I visualize for this talented pianist. I won’t be surprised when he is leading his own band and touring to promote his own CD. Meantime, keep the name of Jamael Dean on your radar, and listen for his amazing talents as he plays around town. Watch him jamming with Jon Baptiste in the video below, and I’ll be featuring him on Sunday, June 12th, with the amazing Michael Session sextet, in concert at Maverick’s Flat in the historic Crenshaw district of Los Angeles, as part of my Sunday Best Jazz Series.


May 31, 2016

By Dee Dee McNeil / jazz journalist

The one thing that amazes and pleases me, is when I listen to recent CD releases and how artists today stretch the boundaries of style and culture in music. Dizzy Gillespie did it when he incorporated Latin culture into his jazz arrangement. The artists I listen to take the music and expound on it; improvise on the chord structures and melodies, while at the same time enhancing each piece of music in a brilliant and positive way. Jazz allows you to get rid of your inhibitions and find freedom in the music. It brings people together. The CD reviews below are great examples of this concept and why jazz is so important to our world. Read all about Brazilian composer/vocalist CARLA HASSET, Flaminco guitarist, JASON McGUIRE, Australian pianist MATT BAKER, composer/conductor, and MATT LAVELLE’s “Solidarity” album leaves me speechless. BERNIE MORA & TANGENT combine R&B, funk and Smooth Jazz in a very successful way and Argentinian, JULIO BOTTI brings us “Sax to Tango” with the University of Southern Denmark Symphony Orchestra; the brilliance of GREGORY PORTER’s new CD is spell-binding and finally, Hawaiian composer/vocalist and pianist, MAGGIE HERRON, brings class and creativity together with her satin smooth voice.

Paulista Records

Carla Rigolin Hassett, vocalist/composer/guitarist; Joao Pedro Mourao, guitars/viola Caipira/Cavaquinho; Andre de Santanna, elec. & upright bass; Leonardo Costa, drums/percussion; Gibi, Felipe Fraga & Alberto Lopez, percussion; Pablo Medina, Wurlitzer; Chris Bautista, trumpet; JP Floyd, trombone; Wes Smith, flute/alto, tenor and baritone saxophones; Thalma de Freitas, vocals; Bill Brendie, accordion; Ben Lewis, Fender Rhodes & Mellotron; Evan Greer, drums/tambourine; Matt Rhode, Hammond B3 Organ; Caro Pierotto, Grecco Buratto & Felip Fraga, backing vocals; Fabiano do Nascimento, 7-string nylon guitar; Aaron Serfaty, snare & cymbals; Benedikt Braydern, violin; Jacob Hassett, viola; Sarah O’Brien, cello.

There is something soothing about Brazilian jazz. It puts me in a mellow mood and fills my spirit with joy. Carla Bassett brings us a package of delightful, original music sung in Portuguese and English, intermittently. Her vocals are pleasant, light, sweet and fresh as Açaí na tigela or whipped cream on mango. What’s really impressive are her composition skills. Hassett’s songs sound like Brazilian Standards. “Forté” is a melancholy ballad with a rhythmic undertone of guitar and percussion. It’s lovely with a melody I begin to sing along with as though it was a familiar song on the radio. Hassett knows how to create a ‘hook’ to her tunes; one that lingers at the end of each song production in repetitious beauty. She plants the melody in your brain like a fruitful seed. This talented composer has written seven out of ten songs on this CD and they are each well-written and pleasantly produced. Cut #2, “Pois É E Tal” is full of spunk and spice, inviting me to dance around the room without inhibition. On this song, Hassett is joined by Thalma de Freitas on vocals. Freitas is a Brazilian star renowned as the lead singer for Orquestra Imperial, as well as for her role on a popular soap opera. Hassett is also a proficient guitarist and plays as well as sings on one of her compositions, “Guerreira Vai” , that features a rich accordion solo by Bill Brendie. Carla Hassett has cut several different recording sessions, adding musicians and musical instruments as she goes to accentuate her arrangements. Here is an album of world music that inspires gladness and introduces us to a charming singer with an admirable composition and arrangement proficiency.

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Jason McGuire Music

Jason McGuire, Flamenco guitar; Paul Martin Sounder, bass; Marlon Aldana, drums; José Cortés, vocals; Kina Mendez, background vocals; Manuel Gutierrez and Jose Cortes, palmas.

It’s not often that I get to experience an exciting, master Flamenco guitarist like Jason McGuire. In this recording, he is innovative enough to incorporate his flamenco music with jazz. McGuire has composed all of the tunes on this project and they are rich in culture and dynamically produced. According to the press package, McGuire is a native Texan, with Irish roots, who now lives in Northern California. His work is greatly admired by flamenco aficionados across the nation and especially in Spain. McGuire is currently musical director for Caminos Flamencos, a world class dance and music company that is based in the San Francisco Bay area. His music is invigorating and refreshing. It has a much fuller sound than one would expect from such a small group of musicians. On “Mira Mira” the bass and percussion put excitement into the mix to support McGuire’s amazing agility on his guitar. This is a Rhumba with a swift paced energy that will have hips wiggling and feet stomping to the rhythm. McGuire tackles bulerias, tangos, rondena, and everything in between with obvious passion and love for the music. He’s technically astute on his instrument. I learned there are over fifty flamenco styles (or Palos) that are recognized by the structure of their rhythm. Speaking of rhythm, Marlon Aldana on drums is a rhythm master. Palos are also characterized by chord progressions and their area of origin. This is sexy music, from start to finish. It’s written and interpreted by McGuire in a very unforgettable way.

McGuire explained in his linear notes, “Back in Texas, in my early 20’s, I was hungry for music of all sorts. Playing guitar since age 9, inspired mainly by Jimi Hendrix and the British blues players of the late 1960’s, alongside the intense influence of the classical and jazz music I was introduced to at school, seemed to open my musical curiosity. I bounded from one genre to another, ignoring the boundaries between them. Flamenco came to me and stopped me in my tracks at sixteen, and I’ve never looked back …”

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Jazzelm Music

Matt Baker, piano/vocals; Lage Lund, guitar; Luques Curtis, bass; Obed Calvaire, drums; Bashiri Johnson, percussion; Joel Frahm, tenor saxophone.

“This Is the End of a Beautiful Friendship” never sounded so joyful. Baker’s sextet sets the pace and spirit of his CD from the onset of the very first tune. This is the pianist’s fifth CD as a leader and his second since he relocated to New York City from Sydney, Australia. Baker is a deliberate player, one that enjoys presenting the melody of these standard tunes clearly and decisively. As a twelve-year-old, Baker studied piano and by fifteen he was working at a café close to his school. His father is a jazz trombone player. So young Baker grew up listening to an eclectic record collection. His idols are Oscar Peterson, who befriended him when they first met at the Blue Note in New York City. They remained friends until the icon’s passing. He also found encouragement and received gifted knowledge from Herbie Hancock. Baker says he’s inspired by the work of Wynton Kelly, Red Garland, Thelonious Monk and Brad Mehldau. Then there are jazz greats like Bud Powell, Art Tatum and Jacky Terrasson, who he also admires. For the past six years he has been studying with Taylor Eigsti, who introduced Baker to producer Matt Pierson. The outcome is this album.

On cut #7, the title tune of “Almost Blue” gets a nice set up by Curtis on bass and then Baker’s voice sings the haunting story of broken hearts and teary, red eyes that are ‘almost blue’. This song boasts great lyrics with a poignant melody. I enjoyed his vocal interpretation on this song composed by Elvis Costello. However, on the whole, I prefer his piano skills to his vocals. I love what Frahm brings to the project on his tenor saxophone and Lund’s melodic guitar solos and rich rhythm guitar work adds butter to this musical cookie. Calvaire is sweet on drums and hard hitting. He knows just when to punctuate the moment, the phrasing, and when to color the crescendos. I truly enjoyed the group’s arrangement of “I’ll Be Seeing You.” Baker steps outside the realms of what I heard on the first three tunes and explores chordal structure and classical overtures inside his improvisation and experimentation. He touches me deeply during his execution of this song. Luques Curtis plays a compelling solo on his double bass, as does Calvaire on drums. Other favorites are the arrangement and production on “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning,” “Reflections,” and “Lonely Avenue.”

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Rhombus Records

Bernie Mora, guitars; Doc Anthony, drums; Robert Vance, bass; Doug Webb, saxophones; Corey Allen, keyboards; Lee Thornburg, horns; Charles Godfrey, percussion; Special Guest: Brian Brombert, fretless & upright bass.

Bernie Mora has composed or co-written all the songs on this explosively energetic album. The cover of this CD is eye-catching. The artwork is by the late, great Ray McNiece and it is a beautiful painting. Inside, you will find a blend of Smooth Jazz, R&B, Straight-ahead and pop music. Yes, you read it right. All those genres are wrapped up in one small package. The horn section reminds me of 1980’s R&B groups like Tower of Power, the Ohio Players, Average White Band, or even the James Brown Orchestra. The punch and energy that this group of musicians produces is exciting and infectious. Mora incorporates the ‘funk’ in everything he writes. “Blue Moon Funk” is a perfect example of a track reminiscent of a James Brown album before he laid down his vocals. This production is extremely tight musically, fun to listen to and well-arranged and produced. Mora plays a dramatic guitar solo on Cut #4, titled, “For Cryin’ Out Loud” where his guitar sounds like it’s actually weeping, screaming and hungry for attention. There’s a Latin/Spanish undertone to this composition and, at the same time, a Jimi Hendrix Rock influence. Meantime, the saxophone solo brings us back to Smooth Jazz in a comfortable, but surprising transition. All of that in one tune keeps me alert and actively listening. Corey Allen ‘Swings’ on keyboards when “Take That” follows as Cut #5. When Allen’s keyboard sweeps into Latin grooves from ‘Swing’ mode, it makes my ears perk up. Then comes Vance on bass, soloing at an exciting tempo just before the tune ends in a blast of horns and staccato notes. Wow! On the tune “Reckless” Mora does it again. He makes that guitar talk!

Perhaps Bernie Mora explained it best when he wrote in his linear notes, “We like to think of it as soulful. Experience the variety and layers we have created for you. Hopefully, you will be transformed as we were.”

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Unseen Rain Records

Matt Lavelle, cornet/flugelhorn/alto clarinet & conductor; Lee Odom, soprano saxophone/clarinet; Charles Waters, alto saxophone/clarinet; Ras Moshe Burnett, tenor and soprano saxophone/flue/bells; Tim Stocker, baritone saxophone/bass clarinet; Mary Cherney, flute,piccolo; Claire de Brunner, bassoon; Chris Forbes, piano; Laura Ortman, violin; Gil Selinger,, cello; Anders Nillson, guitar; Jack DeSalvo, banjo, mandola; John Pietaro, vibraphone, percussion; Francois Grillot, double bass; Ryan Sawyer, drums; Anais Maviel, voice.

The first song Is dark, full of strings and horns that remind me of gardens packed with honey bees and flies. The instrumentation encourages strings to be bowed and tones to be bent. Consequently, they sound very much like insects to me. It’s titled “solidarity”, the same as the CD. The composer must have had something specific in mind, but I probably would have titled it, ‘Spring Garden.’ Lavelle has composed everything on this production. He is the conductor and plays cornet, flugelhorn and alto clarinet. His concept is to hire master jazz players and challenge them to improvise on his musical themes using both traditional, classical instruments. This includes Claire de Brunner on bassoon and Gil Selinger on cello; Ras Moshe Burnett on reeds and Charles Waters on alto sax and clarinet. It’s not an odd premise to throw traditionally classical instruments into the arms of jazz musicians, since jazz is often referred to as America’s unique classical art form. However, this project seems to be melting chamber orchestra and big band music together over an unusual premise of improvisation, freedom and Avant Garde. The song “Faith” gives us a taste of New Orleans verve and Kansas City spicy ‘Swing’. However, the resulting responsiveness between players fosters explosive musicality to interpret Lavelle’s compositional focus. His desire to mix genres is both interesting and challenging. It leaves the final review to be culminated by the ears and in the hands of you, the listener.

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Zoho Records
Julio Botti, soprano & tenor saxophones; Pablo Ziegler, piano/music director & producer; Saul Zaks, conductor; The University of Southern Denmark Symphony Orchestra.

Here is an impressive example of jazz saxophone featured with a symphony orchestra that is playing tangos. It’s rich, absolutely compelling, sexy and dramatic from start to finish. Of course it’s more structured and less improvisational, but you can still here the culture of Latin America and the culture of American jazz brought together in a very unexpected way. Under the direction of pianist/ arranger/composer and orchestrator/producer, Pablo Ziegler, and conducted by the magical baton of Saul Zaks, the University of Southern Denmark Symphony Orchestra is beyond beautiful as they interpret nine iconic Astor Piazzolla Nuevo tangos, one tango standard and three compositions by Ziegler. What an amazing backdrop for Julio Botti to float on top, letting his brilliant reed playing become an important voice throughout this production. Ziegler, on piano, adds his own jazzy zest to this recording. These two gentlemen (Botti & Ziegler) have collaborated in the past. Their first artistic success was “Tango Nostalgias” featured in a quintet setting and recorded in both New York and Buenos Aires. It achieved a Latin Grammy nomination in the “Best Tango Album” category. That was in 2013. This album marks their second collaboration and is far more ambitious than their first. I learned something when Ziegler wrote in the linear notes:

“Saxophone was never a traditional tango instrument, but Julio Botti found a way to express Nuevo Tango through the saxophone, just like a tango singer. That is why I consider Julio an extremely unique and talented artist.”

I agree! With ‘improvisation’ being the most important element of jazz music, Ziegler is opening new doors with this project by adding a saxophone as a primary soloist voice in the tango genre. That’s what jazz is all about; stretching the boundaries and striving for freedom while employing improvisation to create something fresh and new. Mission accomplished.

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GREGORY PORTER – “Take Me To The Alley”
BlueNote Records

Gregory Porter, vocals/songwriter/producer; Alicia Olatuja, voice; Chip Crawford, piano; Aaron James, bass; Emanuel Harrold, drums; Keyon Harrold, trumpet; Yosuke Sato, alto saxophone; Tivon Pennicott, tenor saxophone; Ondrej Pivec, organ.

The music of Gregory Porter is compelling and honest. In an artistic way, it reminds me of the compositions of Bill Withers. Porter touches the listener with melodies that stick like fly paper to our ears and with lyrics that tug at the truth. We understand his blues and celebrate his joyfulness. When he sings “…though my past has left me bruised, I ain’t hiding from the truth, when the truth won’t let me lie right next to you,” we can relate. That relatability and his beautiful voice continue to bounce this unique singer/songwriter up the charts. At times his tone reminds one of Lou Rawls, at other moments he takes us to a gospel church in Harlem and fires us up. He can weave a folk song around us and make us hear poetry in his words with unquestionable sincerity in his delivery. Songs like “Holding On” and “Take Me to the Alley” give the listener pause, perhaps to dig deeply into our human frailness.

These songs encourage us to be better than we were moments ago. Alicia Olatuja sweetly harmonizes with Porter’s vocals. They blend comfortably like honey and herb tea. “Consequence of Love” is pure poetry put to music. The simplicity of this production allows us to hear and digest these words of wisdom and contemplate their meaning. The melodies make me want to hum along. Porter has reunited with Kamau Kenyatta to produce this gem of a recording and they just keep turning out masterpieces. I was pleasantly impressed when I recognized the artist, Kem, singing along with Porter on “Holding On”. Another special guest is the amazing Lalah Hathaway on Porter’s tune, “Insanity”. It’s a beautiful song with a deep lyrics. I love the Keyon Harrold muted trumpet solo. “Don’t Be A Fool” recalls the Donny Hathaway and Roberta Flack duets in tone and groove. I expect this to be another Grammy Nominated album that sells millions.

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Independent Label

Maggie Herron, vocals/piano/producer; Bill Cunliffe, piano/arranger/producer; Grant Geissman, guitar; Dean Taba, bass; Abe Lagrimas, drums/ukulele; Bob Sheppard, saxophone/flute; Brian Scanlon, baritone, sax; Bob McChesney, trombone; Ron Stout, trumpet/flugelhorn; Alex Acuna, percussion; Ramon Stagnaro, guitar; DeShannon Higa, Guest trumpet solo;

Right from the first smoky vocals, I was hooked on Maggie Herron’s style and a few minutes later on her composing skills. This lady is a prolific songwriter. The first cut, “Wolf,” is a creative play on the story of Little Red Riding Hood and real life drama. It’s very smartly written, by Maggie & Dwan Herron. Vocally, Herron has a rich alto voice and a tone reminiscent of the great UK Diva, Cleo Laine. The studio band elegantly supports her vocal talents, with arrangements on this song by Bill Cunliffe and a stellar sax solo by Bob Sheppard. Cut #2 is another well-written original composition titled, “I Can’t Get To Sleep”. Herron shows off her piano chops on this tune, featuring a sweet Ukelele solo by Abe Lagrimas, who also competently plays drums throughout this production. The title tune come next and it’s beautifully written, arranged and produced. Bill Cunliffe is the pianist and arranger and this song is a diamond stud in my ear. It sparkles even brighter when Ron Stout plays a sexy flugelhorn solo. Jazz vocalist Denise Donatelli adds her harmony vocals to strengthen the ‘hook’ that is hauntingly beautiful. The first five compositions on this CD are written by mother and daughter and the combination is perfect. “I lie Just A Little” focuses on a bluesy delivery with just vocals and bass. I listened to this CD for two days straight, admiring the lyrical content, catchy melodies, smart arrangements and Maggie Herron’s obvious multi talents.

She’s winner of Hawaii’s prestigious 2015 Na Hoku Hanohano Award for Jazz Album of the Year for her CD, “Good Thing”. She has another CD titled, “In the Wings.” With the release of “Between the Music & the Moon,” she offers fifteen original and well-written songs that she successfully interprets with her beautiful voice. Additionally, she woos us in French on “Notre Amour” and in Spanish, “Ritmo Latino”. Impressive.

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