MOSTLY TRIOS

September 15, 2021

By Dee Dee McNeil

September 15, 2021

DAVE MILLER TRIO – “THE MASK-ERADE IS OVER” – Summit Records

Dave Miller, piano; Andrew Higgins, bass; Bill Balsco, drums.

Charlie Parker’s “Anthropology” opens the Miller Trio’s album in a joyful way.  From straight-ahead, they shuffle into “Be Careful It’s My Heart.”  Strangely, the album’s title track is listed as Track #3 but it’s not.  Instead, the tune that plays is “The Opener” which jogs along at a comfortable, moderate pace with Bill Balsco’s drums pushing the tune forward.  Andrew Higgins takes a well-played solo on bass. Then comes the album’s title tune, “The Masquerade is Over.”  Actually, Dave Miller has changed the spelling of the tune as the album title.  It’s meant to reflect our hopeful, collective, community joy in removing our masks worn during the pandemic.   I don’t think I ever heard this song played so rapidly.   The lyrics are sad and lament the dissolve of a romance, so most people play it as a ballad.  However, the Miller Trio zips happily along for three minutes and six seconds with the walking bass skipping alongside Dave’s up-tempo piano and the drums pumping the piece towards the finish line.  Dave Miller has a light touch on the piano.  His fingers dance briskly over the keys as he reminds us how much we enjoy standard jazz tunes like these: “You Don’t Know What Love Is,” “Yardbird Suite,” “Estate” and “Why Did I Choose You.”  This album reminds me of warm evenings, perched at a local, nightclub, piano-bar, while sipping a potent drink and listening to someone talented, like Dave Miller and his trio, play every favorite tune we love to hear.

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LEON LEE DORSEY – “FREEDOM JAZZ DANCE” – JazzAvenue 1

Leon Lee Dorsey, bass/composer; Manuel Valera, piano; Mike Clark, drums.

Leon Lee Dorsey, a veteran bassist, and drummer Mike Clark have a close working relationship and share a deep simpatico together.  The last four recording projects have featured these rhythm makers, each one adding a different third guest.  In this case, it’s the very talented, Cuban-born pianist, Manuel Valera.  Valera was once a full-time saxophone player in Havana, but switched to piano after moving to New York City in 2000.  This energetic and artistic album of music is dedicated to the late Puerto Rican-born piano master, Hilton Ruiz.  Dorsey played with Ruiz regularly, enjoying their camaraderie in his final years. The group features a couple of Ruiz compositions.  These collective songs, on Dorsey’s ”Freedom Jazz Dance” album, highlight a kind of bilingual aesthetic woven into the arrangements that Dorsey, Valera and Clark conjure up.  The trio’s chemistry is beautifully integrated and they fit together like red beans, spicey ginger rice and hot sauce.  Be it the drum propelled arrangement of the title tune, composed by Eddie Harris, where the tempo is cookin’ on high or “Home Cookin’” (a Hilton Ruiz tune), the trio wraps arms warmly around the blues.  These three musicians are obviously on-point and inseparable. 

“Until the End of Time” is a lovely ballad with Manuel Valera showing his tender, vulnerable side on piano.  These three awesome musicians present an enticing arrangement of “Autumn Leaves,” suddenly double-timing the tune midway through and spicing it up.  Dorsey sweetly plucks out the Jobim tune, “How Insensitive” on the upper strings of his double bass to introduce the tune.  Valera transforms the song with his brilliant improvisations, while Mike Clark infuses the arrangement with Latin percussive rhythms.  However, it’s songs like “New Arrival” that endear me to this trio.  It’s a composition that rolls up the straight-ahead tracks like a run-away locomotive.  They close with Dorsey’s tune, “Chillin.’”  Leon Dorsey’s bass walks with powerful steps and Valera’s piano moans the blues through his steady fingers.  Mike Clark colors the music brightly on drums and keeps the pulse crisp and in-the-pocket.  This is a recording I will enjoy playing time and time again!

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ADAM NOLAN TRIO – “PRIM AND PRIMAL” – Independent Label

Adam Nolan, alto saxophone/composer; Derek Whyte, double bass; Dominic Mullan, drums.

This is a free bop trio, based in Ireland, that explores improvised, conversational and modern jazz.  They blend double bass, alto saxophone and drums to create a puffed-up soufflé of Avant-garde music that stretches both restrictive walls and their creativity.  Adam Nolan takes flight on his alto sax and interplays with bassist Derek Whyte and drummer Dominic Mullan, allowing his fellow musicians to invoke their own space and voice.  Their resulting music evolves from lyrical conversations to fiery, unified statements.  Nolan originally played rock and funk drums in his hometown of Kilkenny, Ireland.  He switched to alto saxophone when he was fourteen and currently holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Jazz Performance and Composition.  He has worked with numerous groups as a sideman.  Finally, he decided to explore his own ideas and musical style in order to create an original brand of free jazz. Bassist, Derek Whyte is a major part of the Dublin jazz scene and drummer Dominic Mullan is an important musical name in Ireland who has also been part of the rhythm section behind many popular Irish jazz groups.  This is their first unified effort as a trio and the first time they have recorded together.  However, the trio sounds both compatible and comfortable, improvising spontaneously and giving the solid impression they have been playing together for decades.  On their album, “Prim and Primal” they unapologetically create spontaneous, exhilarating and honest emotion.  Each musician shows off their brilliant talents individually; then come together in a marriage of minds and music.

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GRAHAM DECHTER – “MAJOR INFLUENCE” – Capri Records Ltd

Graham Dechter, guitar; Tamir Hendelman, piano; John Clayton, bass; Jeff Hamilton, drums.

Guitarist, Graham Dechter, has reunited with his dream trio for this recording. The dream-team includes Tamir Hendelman, John Clayton and Jeff Hamilton.

Dechter has composed all but one song on this project. “Pure Imagination” is the cover tune that he co-arranged with master drummer, Jeff Hamilton.  Hendelman and Dechter join instruments (piano and guitar) to remind me of a 1950s radio jazz show theme song I used to listen to as a youngster.  It was hosted by White House Coffee and transmitted from Chicago to my Detroit radio.  Funny, how music reminds you of times and places in your life. The blues is laced throughout this arrangement, with Dechter’s guitar as beautiful as a field of bluebells or a trellis of lavender and blue morning glories. 

“When I first met nine-year-old Graham Dechter, I didn’t imagine that we would one day be working together.  His passion and conviction of the music have taken him where he wants to be.  He set goals and attained them by working hard.  For this, his third recording as a leader, he asked me to produce it.  I suggested he compose most of the material, since he is so talented in that area.  What you hear on this recording are mostly his originals, and by the end of each song, you would bet they were standards,” Jeff Hamilton praised Graham Dechter’s composer talents.

Dechter opens with a blues-based song called, “Orange Coals;” a title reflective of the energy and burning hot tempo of this tune.  Dechter generously shares the spotlight with his all-star band members.  They each take a solo to show off their tenacious talents.  Hendelman, as always, is brilliant on piano.  Track #2 is titled “Reference” and John Clayton’s rich bass is featured throughout.  I especially enjoyed the conversation Clayton and Hamilton musically shared on bass and drums.  Graham Dechter has a guitar style that bleeds navy, turquoise and sky-blue tones into these tunes.  One thing is obvious. He embraces the blues with an open heart.  Dechter says he was inspired by jazz luminaries like Herb Ellis and Wes Montgomery, but I wonder what blues guitar players he was also listening to?  You hear the Montgomery style somewhat incorporated into his title tune composition, “Major Influence.”  But on his original composition, “Moonithology,” you can tell he was also influenced by Charlie Parker.  This song opens with the powerful but tender drum brushes of Jeff Hamilton tap-dancing across his instrument.  Also, on “Bent on Monk” Dechter pays obvious homage to Thelonious and the quartet swings hard, adding those personal ‘licks’ that immediately conjure up familiar Monk tunes. 

At age nineteen, Graham Dechter joined the Clayton Hamilton Jazz orchestra.  He was the youngest member to join in the history of that band.  At twenty-two he released his first album as a bandleader; “Right on Time.”  You can hear his talent and potential blossoming on this, his third album release.  It’s bound to have a “Major Influence” on the world of jazz.  

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GERRY EASTMAN TRIO – “TRUST ME” – Independent Release

Gerry Eastman, guitar/composer; Greg Lewis, organ; Taru Alexander, drums.

Gerry Eastman learned to play guitar, bass and drums as a young man.  He studied at Cornell University and Ithaca College and was a member of the Count Basie Orchestra in 1986, with guitar as his main instrument of choice.  On this trio journey, the three musicians tread the path of creativity, using eight original compositions by Gerry Eastman as directional outposts.  The opening tune is titled “Trust Me” and is modern jazz with unchartered chord changes that take surprising twists and turns.  The melody is lost in a series of unpredictable key changes and modulations that frankly leave me baffled.  I listen to this composition twice, but liked it less the second time around. However, “St. Marteen Swing” is Track #2 and it is very melodic and well-played, giving free reign to Greg Lewis on organ and making a spotlighted space for Taru Alexander to solo and excel on his drums.  This tune swings and is reflective of the organ, guitar and drum trio that I always enjoy listening to.  “Native Son” follows, with an introduction by Eastman’s competent guitar setting the mood amidst a flash of drum cymbals and Lewis blending warm organ chords into the background.  This song is once again leaning heavily towards modern jazz and less towards the traditional organ trio sound.  At points, the tune dips into Avant-garde music, building the piece into a crescendo of energy, until at the very end, it leaves the listener hanging off the precipice of its unexpected ending. The tune “Learn from Your Mistakes” takes a sharp turn towards ‘straight-ahead’ jazz.  Gerry Eastman’s guitar solo is defined by his clean, articulate approach to improvisation, clearly singing note-for-note, his own unique melodies atop the busy drums of Alexander.  I am more impressed with Eastman’s skills playing guitar than his composing talents. 

Greg Lewis has been a strong player on the modern jazz scene and started playing piano and organ professionally in the New York area as a teenager.  He’s led his own trio and accompanied blues singer Sweet Georgia Brown.  Drummer Taru Alexander started playing drums at age seven and worked with his dad’s quintet as a teenager.  He made his first recordings when he was a mere sixteen and has played with many amazing jazz artists like Abbey Lincoln, Betty Carter, Roy Hargrove and Branford Marsalis.  All three of these musicians seem to be talented players, perhaps struggling to find cohesiveness within the original material and the arrangements.                          

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THE SCENIC ROUTE TRIO – “FLIGHT OF LIFE” – Cross Currents Jazz

Ollie Dudek, bass/composer; Javier Santiago, piano; Genius Wesley, drums.

This is a spirited trio that features the compositions of bassist, Ollie Dudek.  The very first tune sets the mood and the groove for this energetic threesome.  Titled “The Optimist,” these three musicians tear out of the studio on the wings of this swinging, up-tempo piece that quickly features the bass man trading fours with the other musicians and then taking off on his own to improvise and sing the melody.  This is the kind of tune that makes you joyful and gets your feet to tapping.  I’m quick to recognize that Dudek is a stellar composer and this debut recording by The Scenic Route Trio continues to mesmerize with a tune called, “Flight of Kawan.”   Kawan means hawk in a native Brazilian language called Tupi and this tune is dedicated to Ollie’s son, also named Kawan.  It flies along at a moderate swing pace and I can picture a hawk spreading wide wings and soaring through the San Francisco sky.  Dudek is based in the San Francisco Bay area of Northern California.  Javier Santiago takes a journey up and down the 88-keys of the grand piano, adding a touch of the blues and showing off his super talents.  All the while, Genius Wesley locks the rhythm tightly in place on trap drums.  This trio is both dynamic and entertaining. 

Other outstanding songs on The Scenic Route Trio are “Children of the Sun” that celebrates humanities unification and the life-giving powers of the sun. Many of these songs were written while Ollie Dudek was locked down in 2020, experiencing the pandemic days.  This tune lilts along with a Latin beat and Ollie’s sensitive bass dancing beneath the melody, beautifully introduced by Javier Santiago.    Speaking of the COVID pandemic, “Pandemia” is a composition that was written to document the confusion and anxiety of the uncertain times we are living through.  However, it didn’t sound anxiety driven.  In fact, it was a pretty happy, shuffle tune, until Wesley’s drums cut time and the arrangement dived into an unexpected ballad tempo.  Ollie soaked up the spotlight, soloing on bass and changing the mood and mission of his composition.  Afterwards, Genius Wesley kicks the piece back into gear, taking a brief eight-bar solo that returns us back to the happy-go-lucky, resilient tempo.  “Dreamscape” is a lovely tune that Ollie Dudek described as a piece to inspire us to hold fast to our dreams.  His music is so well-written that each song sounds like a standard jazz tune.  You will enjoy every composition, played vigorously and with much emotion by this outstanding trio.

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LISA HILTON – “TRANSPARENT SKY” – Lisa Hilton Music 

Lisa Kristine Hilton, piano/composer; Luques Curtis, bass; Rudy Royston, drums.

Pianist, Lisa Hilton has composed nine of the ten songs on this album.  Her piano playing, based solidly in classical study, is unobtrusive background music. This is easy listening.  It’s the kind of playing you hear as parlor music or someone tinkering at a small house party.  “Living in Limbo” is one of her more interesting and melodic compositions in an otherwise bland offering.  After reviewing albums by Oscar Peterson, Billy Childs, Llew Matthews, Kenny Barron, Yuko Mabuchi, Marion McPartland, Renee Rosnes and George Duke, this type of production lowers the bar for jazz.  When I heard “Chromatic Chronicles” I was hopeful, because it sounds as though Hilton based this composition on the Horace Silver song, “Sr. Blues.”   Finally, her title tune, “Transparent Sky” proffers a pretty composition that she interprets at the close of this album. Unfortunately, once again without notable improvisation.   Improvisation is one of the most important parts of playing jazz.  It’s not just scales and arpeggio runs.  Although Ms. Hilton continues to turn out CD recordings, like General Motors turns out cars, this reviewer just cannot consider her a jazz pianist until she includes one song that swings and expands her piano talent into the realms of improvisation. 

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CHAMPIAN FULTON & STEPHEN FULTON – “LIVE FROM LOCKDOWN” – Champian Records

Champian Fulton, piano/voice; Stephen Fulton, flugelhorn/trumpet.

During the pandemic lockdown, Champian Fulton captivated Online audiences with her Sunday evening webcasts.  Consequently, she figured it was time to release an album.  The pianist/vocalist called on her father, Stephen Fulton, to add his flugelhorn and trumpet.  Stephen’s instrument brightly colored her project.  The result is this appealing duo album of voice, piano and horn.  When COVID-19 hit Manhattan in 2020, Champian Fulton watched her gigs, tours and concerts fly out the window like bits of paper. For the love of music and to keep their chops up, Champion and her dad began performing from home for their virtual audience.   A few fans and friends grew to over 20,000 views on any given week.  The success of ‘live-stream’ acceptance and the growth of her fan community led Champian to begin recording the duo experience.  This talented pianist and songstress has a warm, soprano tone and a sincerity to her vocals that is hypnotic and comfortable.  You will recognize the thirteen familiar tunes this duo presents.  One of the tunes is Dinah Washington’s hit record, “Blow Top Blues,” Duke’s “Satin Doll,” Billie Holiday’s memorable recording of “You’ve Changed” and other standards like “Moonglow,” “What is This Thing Called Love” and the old pop tune “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles.”  Ms. Fulton has a great piano technique and its jazz all the way, laced with blues.  At times, traces of Erroll Garner’s unforgettable style is evident.  Her bass hand is steady and strong, walking briskly beneath her upper register, where her right-handed fingers display strong melodies and improvisation.  Stephen Fulton is tasty and supportive with his horn, knowing just when to touch on the melody or highlight and improvise in the open spaces his daughter provides.  These two are perfectly comfortable with each other and that makes their listening audience comfortable too. 

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MUSIC HEALS!

September 6, 2021

By Dee Dee McNeil

September 6, 2021

RODNEY JORDAN & CHRISTIAN FABIAN  – “CONVERSATIONS” – Spicerack Records

Rodney Jordan, bass/composer/arranger; Christian Fabian, bass/composer/arranger.

The original tuning of the A tone at 432hz is said to have a healing effect on the listener’s body.  With this in mind, these two bassists have done the A=432hz tuning that was in effect up until Mozart’s time.  Their goal is to heal a broken planet, sickly bodies and cultures in distress.  I am hopeful that this music can indeed heal us, but while we are listening, we also get a good, strong dose of excellent and creative musicianship.  It’s my fledgling experience hearing an album that features two bass players, period.  I find that quite entertaining. 

Legendary bassist, Ron Carter, spoke to this concept. “To the listeners out there, this CD is a great example that two can make great music!!”

The two excellent bass players have an overall goal to not only heal with frequencies, but to introduce some meditative improvisations in combination with a wide repertoire. They open with the familiar “Just For You” tune and captivate me with their creativity.  “Happy to be Alive” is Track 2 and it’s an original tune written by Jordan and Fabian that’s quite rhythmic.  You can hear Rodney Jordan singing the melody out of the left channel, using his bow, while Christian Fabian lays down the rhythmic bass line coming from the right channel.  That’s how you distinguish the two bassists; Jordan will be in the left speaker and Fabian in the right channel of your speaker system.   The familiar “My One and Only Love” is absolute beautiful and this time, Fabian takes the lead on his bass, letting Jordan provide the rich embellishment and tempo, with free-flowing improvisation rooted in his bass line.  Jordan has composed “Robin’s Theme” that has a catchy melody.  Christian Fabian dances across his string bass, adding a counter melody to the mix.     Fabian and Jordan have composed “The Ride Over.”  It’s a shuffle tune and sings a melody that dips and dives. It’s fun to wonder where the bass players will lead you next as you follow willingly along the unknown path.  I’m enjoying every moment of the brisk walk these two bassists take.  “Body and Soul” is full of blues, sweet regret and emotion.   Jordan has a way of sliding up to a tone.  His bass style captures the imagination and the moment.  The two musicians improvise and speak in musical conversation on Despiritu #2 and #4.  On these musical reflections they employ something referred to as ‘tone rows’ created by Hildegard von Bingen, a German abbess (nun) who lived between 1098 to 1179.  She too used music to heal people by singing tone rows to them.  You will get a taste of von Bingen’s genius as these two exceptionally talented bass men play around with her ‘tone rows.’  I truly enjoyed their original song, “Conversations #4” which was up-tempo and full of fire.  They close with “Conversations #1 and I am compelled to play the album once again for a second chance at being healed and inspired; but mainly, because the music is just that good!

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GERRY GIBBS THRASHER DREAM TRIOS – “SONGS FROM MY FATHER” – Whaling CIty Sound

Gerry Gibbs, drums; Chick Corea, Kenny Barron, Geoff Keezer & Patrice Rushen, piano; Ron Carter, Buster Williams & Christian McBride, bass; Larry Goldings, organ.

“Songs From My Father” is the much-anticipated new album from renowned drummer and son of the legendary Terry Gibbs.  His son is drummer, Gerry Gibbs.  The younger Gibbs is paying homage to the musical legacy of his 96-year-old father in a most incredible way.  Terry Gibbs is not only the composer of eighteen songs on this recording, but he is also an accomplished vibraphonist.  Gerry Gibbs has assembled some of the best and most celebrated jazz musicians to join him on this tribute album.  It’s a double set recording where you will enjoy four very distinctive trios.  Disc 1, track 1 is titled, “Kick Those Feet” and features Gerry Gibbs, with Kenny Barron on piano and Buster Williams on bass.  The trio comes out racing forward with power and punch!  Gerry Gibbs is a superb drummer, who not only solidly holds the rhythm and tempo in place, he also knows just when to color and accent the music.  I am immediately enthralled with this composition, because of the happy melody and their dynamic arrangement.  Yes, it will make you want to tap your feet and snap your fingers.  Track 2, “Smoke ‘Em Up” features the brilliant Patrice Rushen on piano and Larry Goldings on organ.  This song is rooted in funk jazz, with the addition of Goldings awesome talents on organ, with Gibbs driving the trio ahead on his trap drums will have you once again toe-tappin’ and hand-clappin’.  On the composition, “Bopstacle Course,” Gibbs pairs piano icon, Chick Corea with bass legend, Ron Carter.  The excitement is palpable, straight-ahead and blossoms from the bebop era.  The universe seems to explode on the composition called “Nutty Notes.” This time, Gerry Gibbs is joined by Geoff Keezer on piano and Christian McBride on bass.  Their tempo is off the charts and flying faster than a shooting star.  What a great tune and an exhilarating arrangement.  I am spellbound!  Gibbs slow-swings “Take It From Me” and features Buster Williams holding court on the trap drums.  When Kenny Barron enters, he becomes the whipped cream on the cool, ice cream sundae. Disc One is so good, I could hardly wait to hear what was on disc two.  Disc 2 does not disappoint.  Opening with the Terry Gibbs composition “Townhouse 3” the percussion parts add intrigue to the arrangement.  Patrice Rushen’s precise fingers dance across the keys like Olympic acrobats.  “Waltz for My Children” is also beautifully played by Patrice and another one of my favorites is “Lonely Dreams” featuring the inventive playing of Geoff Keeser on piano with Christian McBride’s distinctive bass spotlighted.   The final tune was composed by Chick Corea for this special project and is called, “Tango for Terry,” as a tribute to Gerry’s famous father. 

This is certainly one of the pinnacles of Gerry Gibbs’ recorded works.  Every song is well-written and played to perfection, with the drum mastery of Gibbs elevating these arrangements, employing excitement and perpetuating the distinguished legacy of his dad, Terry Gibbs.  As I listened, this music definitely lent a healing and inspirational legacy that touched my soul and invigorated my spirit.

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PETER TIJERINA – “JUST YESTERDAY” – Outside In Music

Peter Tijerina, trombone; Corey Kendrick, piano; Aneesa Strings, bass; Nicholas Bracewell, drums; SPECIAL GUESTS: Michael Dease, trombone; Diego Rivera, tenor saxophone.

Peter Tijerina, Michael Dease and Diego Rivera smoothly blend their horns to create a larger-than-life sound during this project.  The horn arrangements make a Sextet sound like a big band.  I enjoyed the title tune, written by Peter Tijerina, with its beautiful melody, reminiscent of Strayhorn’s “A Flower is a Lovesome Thing.” The horn harmonics are sweet. The tune, “Lovely” swings hard and was composed by tenor saxophonist, Diego Rivera.  Nicholas Bracewell’s drums rumble on the intro and percussively part the curtains so the horns can march into the spotlight. Then Corey Kendrick takes a spirited solo on piano.  This is one of my favorite tunes on this album of fine music.  They give female bassist, Aneesa Strings a time to shine and solo.  The composer, as well, takes several dynamic moments to solo on his tenor saxophone.  When Michael Dease steps up to the microphone with his trombone tenacity he does not disappoint. “Strange Breakfast” is an arrangement with a lilting tempo, interesting changes and a catchy melody.  On Track 5, “In N’ Out Blues” (another composition by Tijerina) we get to hear a lot more of Peter playing his trombone. There are some tonal challenges and a feeling that Tijerina is still in an exploratory stage on his delivery and still developing his style, but he definitely is carving out his own direction.  Another one of his outstanding original tunes is “It’s One or the Other” where the group takes a traditional, straight-ahead approach during this arrangement.  Speaking of composers, Tijerina’s pianist, Corey Kendrick has contributed Track 7, “Neither Confirm Nor Deny.”  It’s a happy-go-lucky shuffle tune with a sing-along melody-line that’s infectious.  Tijerina’s trombone solo sounds great on this tune, rooted in blues and smooth as a silkworm’s back.  “Deviation” is Track 8 and another original composition by the trombonist. This one is a little purposefully dissonant, led by Aneesa’s singular bass line, then joined in by challenging horn lines.  This original composition is unlike all the others and lends itself to allow Michael Dease a space to explore his own outstanding trombone creativity.  This tune showcases the musicians speaking to one another in very improvisational ways.  Super talented Corey Kendrick is stellar on piano during his creative conversation.  He and Aneesa briefly duet in a warm way.  On Hoagy Carmichael’s beautiful standard, “Stardust” Peter Tijerina approaches this song from the Great American Songbook absolutely solo, without accompaniment.  We can hear every nuance in his emotional delivery.  Tijerina closes with “This Could Be The Start of Something Big” and the ensemble goes out with a bang!   I would say Peter Tijerina’s composing skills currently outshine his performance, but this is only his debut recording and there is much potential and talent to be unearthed. I’m sure Peter Tijerina has yet to show us all the blossoming flowers from his musical seeds.  These colorful blooms give us a peek into his bright future.  All in all, this album is a sweet bouquet.

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LUKASZ PAWLIK – “LONG DISTANCE CONNECTIONS” – Summit Records

Lukasz Pawlik, acoustic piano/keyboards/synthesizer/samples/bass programming/composer; Mike Stern, electric guitar; Tom Kennedy & Michael Kapczuk, electric bass; Dave Weckl, drums/co-producer; Gary Novak & Cezar Konrad, drums; Phil South, percussion; Dawid Glowczewski, alto & soprano saxophone; Szymon Kamykowski, tenor saxophone; Randy Brecker, trumpet/flugelhorn.

From the first strains of “Indian Garden” my attention is captured.  This is music that inspires dreams and creativity.  The sounds are electric, smooth jazz and fusion with a crush of flute and synthesizer; plentiful percussion and tenacious trap drums.  Lukasz Pawlik takes an invigorating tour of his keyboard improvising.  He dives into a smooth jazz groove in a splendid way.  Pawlik’s talents on keyboard shine brightly.  He builds the tension and crescendos the piece.  Suddenly, he swivels to the grand piano and the arrangement turns ‘straight-ahead’ and impressive.  Here is someone who uses all the colors in his paint box.  He clearly shows the listener he is multi-dimensional.  Bassist Tom Kennedy steps forward on his electric instrument and struts his stuff.  Track 3, “Jellyfish” opens like waves rolling onto wet sand and splashing salty turquoise across the shore.  This artist paints pictures with his music.  Szymon Kamykowski’s tenor saxophone blows like island winds across the sand and sea.  Bits and pieces of percussion and synthesizer sparkle in the production like distant stars or moonbeams dusting the waves.  On Track 4, the funky trap drums of Cezar Konrad lay a basement foundation for this tune titled, “For Odd’s Sake.”  Randy Brecker bursts through the front door on trumpet and struts around this musical house that the band is building.  They invite us to take a seat and enjoy the music.  Here is a project full of innovation, charisma, charm and mixed genres of music that both inspire and entertain.  This project also spotlights the exceptional talents of Lukasz Pawlik as a composer, producer and master pianist.  

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CHUCK OWEN and THE JAZZ SURGE – “WITHIN US” – Summit Records

Chuck Owen, accordion/hammered dulcimer/bandleader/composer; Per Danielsson, piano; LaRue Nickelson, guitar; Corey Christiansen, Dobro/nylon string & steel string guitars; 12-string guitar; Mark Neuenschwander, bass; Danny Gottlieb, drums; Beth Gottlieb, Djembe; Sara Caswell, violin. WOODWINDS: Tami Danielsson, Steve Wilson, Jack Wilkins, Rex Wertz & Matt Vance. TRUMPETS: Frank Greene, Jay Coble, Mike Lapichino & Clay Jenkins. TROMBONES: Keith Oshiro, Tom Brantley, Jerald Shynett & Jim Hall. GUEST SOLOIST:  Warren Wolf, vibes/marimba.

If you love big band music the way I do, you will sink your teeth into this wonderful celebration of twenty-five years of THE JAZZ SURGE playing great music and bringing us delightful musical moments.  This is a contemporary jazz big band that interprets the compositions of bandleader Chuck Owens, along with the music of the legendary Miles Davis and the late, great Chick Corea.  On this recording, they open with the Chick Corea composition, “Chelsea Shuffle,” featuring a solo by Steve Wilson on soprano saxophone and Warren Wolf with a spirited solo on vibraphone.  The big band horns accent the piece and build the energy.  Then Mark Nuenschwander comes walking in on his big bad bass to soak up the spotlight.  Danny Gottlieb is powerful on drums.  Composer, Chick Corea was supposed to be a featured artist on this project.  Sadly, the legendary pianist made an unexpected transition from this life after a terminal illness. This band has earned seven Grammy nominations in the past and I have little doubt this album will become another. “Trail of the Ancients” is Track #2 and this Chuck Owen composition celebrates our country’s American Indian culture.  It was written to honor those who have come before us and features a sweet violin excursion by Sara Caswell. 

This 19-piece, tight-knit ensemble includes some members who have been with the big band since it’s self-titled 1996 debut.  The Jazz Surge was founded as an extension of Chuck Owen’s professorship at the University of South Florida.  Owen will retire from his position at the University this summer after teaching there forty years.

“I’m incredibly grateful to be commemorating 25-years with this band.  It really changed the trajectory of my career and gave me a newfound focus for my writing.  I now had specific people that I was writing for and through them, I discovered so many things.  Ultimately, it’s allowed me to take more artistic risks based on the fact that I have wonderful musicians that are willing to go on the ride with me,” Chuck Owen shared.

Every composition on this masterful album is well-played.  You will enjoy each one.  To solidify my opinion, the Chuck Owens original material was recognized by a Guggenheim Fellowship Award.  Over the years, this capable and artistic big band has hosted special guests and icons including Chick Corea, Joe Lovano, Randy Brecker, Bob Brookmeyer, John Clayton, Dave Douglas and Gerald Wilson.

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JARED DUBIN – “EXCUSES EXCUSES” – Outside In Music

Jared Dubin, trombonist/composer; Russ Flynn, electric bass; Danny Wolf, drums; Sebastien Ammann, Fender Rhodes/piano; Syberen Van Munster, guitar; Nick Biello, alto saxophone.

As a child, Jaren Dubin listened to his parents playing Miles Davis, Steely Dan, Weather Report and Pat Metheny.  At a young age, his grandfather introduced him to the Swing Era and turned him on to “The Glenn Miller Story.  That’s when he became interested in the trombone. By the time he was in high school, teenaged Dubin was digging deeper into the jazz tradition and began studying the tone, technique and genius of Slide Hampton, J.J. Johnson, Curtis Fuller, Steve Turre and Steve Davis.  He also turned to younger musicians like Terence Blanchard and D’Angelo.  Jared Dubin studied classical trombone with L. Fernando Jiminez and also with Steve Davis, while attending Jazz Studies classes at Western Connecticut State University. Later, he played on cruise ships, jumped feet first into New York City’s jazz scene and made the rounds of jam sessions. For a while, he taught music and became a high school band director. 

Jared Dubin’s debut album called “Excuses Excuses” was recorded in 2012.  We see and hear people leaning heavily on ‘excuses,’ like crutches, for things they meant to do and didn’t; goals they set and fell short of completing and this album also reflects Dubin’s unforgiving pursuit of the arts. This he does with no excuses at all.  He offers us a strong production that showcases his talents as a composer, a bandleader, as well as a trombonist.  The first tune, “The Breaks” is melodic and Danny Wolf on drums implements the groove.  Dubin and Nick Biello harmonize their horns and drill the melody into our heads.  I like this tune a lot.  Almost immediately I’m singing along with it.  “Ain’t No Thang” is a slang expression for ‘don’t worry, be happy.’  Jared Dubin has a measured, warm tone on the trombone and he and Biello exchange eight bars like a vocal conversation.  Musically, this album draws influence from both jazz fusion, post-bop and 1990s modern jazz.  During Track 2, Dubin shares the spotlight with pianist Sebastien Ammann on Fender Rhodes and features a solo by drummer Danny Wolf.  The composition “Time Apart” is a pretty ballad that once again calls attention to Dubin’s love of melody.   He plays it beautifully and I also enjoyed the bass solo by Russ Flynn and the lovely piano solo by Ammann, this time on grand piano.  “Passive Aggressive” is the name of Track #4, spurred by a piano bass line, with a counter-line provided by the horns. I enjoyed the spontaneous guitar work of Syberen van Munster on “Worry Go Round” and once again, Dubin ties the arrangement together, like a giant bow ribbon, with his rich, warm trombone solo.  The title tune is very fusion influenced with a strong funk groove pushing the melody forward. This is an impressive debut album that introduces us to Jared Dubin.

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JOE FARNSWORTH – “CITY OF SOUNDS” – Smoke Session Records

Joe Farnsworth, drums; Kenny Barron, piano; Peter Washington, bass.

Joe Farnsworth swings, shuffles, improvises and dances on his trap drums.  You can hear and see his love of his instrument and his respect for those percussion masters who paved the way. I recently found an impromptu tribute he did celebrating LA’s historic drummer, Billy Higgins.

With the Farnsworth drum sticks flying, this dynamic trio opens with a “New York Attitude.”  It’s a Kenny Barron composition.  I am caught up in the bebop groove and the expressive mastery of these musicians.  Together they swing hard and unapologetically.  Their straight-ahead magic continues on “The Surrey With the Fringe on Top.”  Kenny Barron’s interpretation of this song is both creative and totally unique.  I’ve heard this tune a million times, but Barron paints a new face on an old favorite and the arrangement soars.  They give Joe Farnsworth a bright spotlight towards the end of the tune to show off his drum skills and he does not disappoint.  Although he opened with brushes at a brisk pace, the tune grew, like a crescendo, and exploded with energy.   “Ojos Carinosos” is an original composition by Farnsworth that’s dipped in blues and boiled in Latin spices.  The tune gallops slowly out the gate with a tango-feel and a warm melody, introduced to us by Barron’s sensuous delivery on the piano. 

“Kenny Barron is jazz piano royalty, along with the likes of Barry Harris, Tommy Flanagan and Cedar Walton,” Joe Farnsworth praises the trio’s pianist. 

But George Cables calls attention to Joe Farnsworth’s tender-side.

“When I think of Joe Farnsworth, I think of no-nonsense swinging.  That’s why his composition “Ojos Carinosos” caught me by surprise.  I do know that he can be sensitive and tender, but the fact that this lyrical, Latin-esque piece, played so beautifully by Mr. Barron and company, came from the pen of Mr. Farnsworth, reveals a truly tender and loving soul,” Cables wrote in the liner notes.

Track 4, “Bud-Like,” by Barron, yanks us back to an energy-driven arrangement where Farnsworth shines.  This is followed by one of my favorite standards, “Moonlight in Vermont.”   When Peter Washington enters on double bass, his solo is absolutely lush, rich and regal.    The title tune, “City of Sounds” is composed by Farnsworth and is blues personified.  I am swept away by this tune, flashing back to the days of ‘The Three Sounds’ and loving how Peter Washington steps up, front and center, to sing his rich bass sound, while Mr. Barron continues to shine and patter on piano.  “No Fills” is just plain straight-ahead goodness that races into my listening room like the lightening bugs outside my window, sparkling with brightness and playful excitement.  This red-hot trio closes with “Softly as in a Morning Sunrise” and I feel like I just attended the best jazz concert ever!  I think I’ll play this album again, and again and again!

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DAVE MEDER – “UNAMUNO SONGS & STORIES” – Outside in Music

Dave Meder, piano/composer; Miguel Zenon, alto saxophone; Michael Pilet, drums; Marty Jaffe, bass; Philip Dizack, trumpet.

The opening tune, “Song of Secret Love” is absolutely lovely, featuring an awesome bass solo by Marty Jaffe and the fluid piano of critically acclaimed composer, Dave Meder.  Meder was inspired to compose these nine songs as a reflection of the vivid, colorful, and timely writings of Spanish Civil War-era philosopher, Miguel de Unamuno.  Unamuno supported a free press, human rights and civil liberties. Dave Meder hopes that his songs personify the relationships and dichotomies between democracy and authoritarianism; internationalism and nationalism; faith and non-belief.  Track #2 is a composition titled “Augusto’s Dilemma” and peels back time to a 1920s jazz-feel.  Meder’s piano solo conjures up Eubie Blake, Ragtime and a period in American history when Gershwin and Irving Berlin were pop kings, creating music for the Great American Songbook.  Remember, the Roaring Twenties introduced the public to some incredible jazz music; i.e. Louis Armstrong, King Oliver and Duke Ellington.  Dave Meder is a soulful and thoughtful composer/pianist who brings a delightfully different perspective to the bandstand.  His music is purposeful and melodic.  Meder displays bright, classical traits that scale his pieces, but he also travels other adventuresome, musical paths.  His piano art intrigues and entertains the listener.  Track #4 is more Avant-garde.  The trio adds a horn to the mix, Philip Dizack is featured on trumpet.  The song is called “I Look For Religion in War” and once again, Jaffe takes a sweet solo on double bass, pulling out his bow and intoxicating us with his creativity.  Returning to a trio format, “If Ever I Would Leave You” is such a beautiful ballad and Dave Meder pulls the best out of this song, inserting several unique chordal changes that color this song with unexpected exquisiteness.   Meder’s recent single release from this album is “The Lake and The Mountain” featuring Miguel Zenon on alto saxophone.  It’s a tune that changes tempos and moods in a very bi-polar way; somewhat extreme but always beautifully played.  This composition seems more like a suite than a singular song.  All in all, Dave Meder’s entire project is well produced.  Every song becomes a singular and memorable concert in itself.

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RAY OBIEDO – “LATIN JAZZ PROJECT, VOL. 2” – Rhythmus Records

Ray Obiedo, guitar/composer/arranger/producer/keyboards; Peter Horvath & Bob Crawford, piano; David K. Mathews, keyboards/piano/organ; Peter Michel Escovedo, congas/bongo/timbale/percussion; Michael Spiro, guiro/tambourine/shaker/maracas/percussion; David Belove, Marc van Wageningen & Dewayne Pate, bass; Phil Hawkins, Billy Johnson, David Garibaldi & Paul van Wageningen, drums; Karl Perazzo, timbales/percussion; Colin Douglas, wood block; Jeff Cressman, trombone/horn arrangements; Mike Rinta, bass trombone/trombone/horn arrangements; Erik Jekabson, flugelhorn; Mike Olmos, trumpet/flugelhorn; Bob Mintzer, tenor saxophone;  Joe Cohen, tenor saxophone; Doug Rowan, baritone saxophone; Melecio Magdaluyo, flute/tenor & alto saxophones; Rita Thies, flute/alto flute/bass flute; Sheila E. & Jon Bendich, congas; Phil Hawkins, steel pans; Norbert Stachel, flute/alto flute; Lilan Kane, vocals; Sandy Cressman & Jenny Meltzer, background vocals.

This month I was listening for music that healed and uplifted.  Ray Obiedo’s music has consistently done just that!  He offers a new package of lilting, percussive, harmonic music flavored with spicy Latin influence.  Guitarist and composer, Ray Obiedo has written and arranged ten compositions for his Volume Two Latin Jazz Project and enlisted the input of stellar musicians, like percussive dynamo, Sheila E., Santana’s keyboardist David K. Mathews, the Yellowjacket’s reed man, Bob Mintzer, flautist Norbert Stachel and trumpet master, Mike Olmos along with several others listed above.  The opening tune “Still Life” is anything but still.  It’s a cha-cha originally written for Pete Escovedo’s Orchestra.  The song is an energetic tune, in a very smooth jazz, laid-back kind of way and it’s harmonically beautiful.  The horns sing the melody and you may find yourself whistling along.  This is joyful music and music that makes you want get up and dance or do something.  Obiedo’s music has a modern edge, with roots in R&B music that blossoms into contemporary jazz.   However, all of his arrangements are clearly soaked in Latin, Cuban and Brazilian music.  On the tune, “Criss Cross,” Sheila E. excites our attention with her percussive prowess and bassist, Dave Belove, holds the piece tightly in place with his original bass lines. Ray Obiedo establishes a carefree melody on his guitar, while the horns and flutes color the piece in bright and brilliant ways.  David K. Mathews takes a solo on piano, then steps back so Sheila E. can showcase her conga drum expertise.  The song “Beatnik” features Bob Mintzer on tenor saxophone and a funk groove is propelled by Billy Johnson on drums.  On the “Santa Lucia” composition Norbert Satchel adds his flute, fluttering above the rhythms like a happy bird.  “Belafonte” is a Bossa Nova that adds vocals to the mix to enhance the beauty of the arrangement.  Once again, it’s Ray Obeido’s guitar that leads the way.  He delineates the melody and sets the mood of the piece. This arrangement is supported by Stachel’s strong flute power.  There is one cover tune, a composition by the great bandleader Gerald Wilson (R.I.P.) titled, “Viva Tirado.”  According to Obeido, this tune has a cool ‘low rider’ groove and Ray was taken by the way the Latin/rock group El Chicano recorded it.  The Mathews piano solo is very contemporary, jazzy and expressive. Wilson’s composition is the only tune on this album that Ray didn’t compose. 

Ray Obeido is also a skilled producer, an engineer and in addition to producing ten album releases as a bandleader, he has engineered or produced several other CDs for various artists.  His talents combine to bring out the very best in his original composition arrangements and he inspires the magnificent group of musicians who appear on this project.  Every song is a gem, sparkling like rubies and diamonds in a king’s crown.

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KIRK LIGHTSEY – “I WILL NEVER STOP LOVING YOU” – Jojo Records

Kirk Lightsey, solo piano.

What better way to end a column about healing music than to celebrate the iconic and legendary, Mr. Kirk Lightsey.  He is a member of my hometown and the eminent Detroit school of jazz piano.  His music is timeless and beautiful.  Opening with the title tune, that is one of Mr. Lightsey’s original compositions. The tenderness leaps from the CD.  This is followed by the Wayne Shorter “Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum” composition that is explored by Lightsey’s complex chording and frolicking fingers.  His hands play counter melodies with the bass line steady and in perfect tempo mode.  Everybody’s got a “Pee Wee” in their cast of neighborhood characters.  Tony Williams composed the song and Kirk Lightsey tells us all about “Pee Wee” with his creative, solo piano characterization.  Lightsey reinvents “Infant Eyes” (by Wayne Shorter) using chords I could never even imagine.  That’s why this pianist/composer/recording artist is such a genius.  It’s those unusual but absolutely lovely chords he blends together, fitting them together like magnetic puzzle pieces.  You will enjoy his interpretation of Phil Woods’ “Goodbye Mr. Evans” and John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” tremble and shake beneath Lightsey’s touch.  He thrills us with his concepts and his staccato stops; his smooth, poignant introductions and lush phrases that intoxicate. His imaginative mind speaks to your soul, if you listen hard enough.

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JAZZ WOMEN TO WATCH, TO LISTEN, TO APPRECIATE

August 30, 2021

By Dee Dee McNeil

August 30, 2021

ELLA FITZGERALD – “SUNSHINE OF YOUR LOVE” – MPS Records

Ella Fitzgerald, vocals; Tommy Flanagan Trio: Tommy Flanagan, piano; Frank Delarose, bass; Ed Thigpen, drums. Lou Levy, piano; Gus Johnson, drums; Max Bennett, bass; Ernie Hecksher’s Big Band.

Today, I had the opportunity of listening to Ella Fitzgerald’s record, “Sunshine of Your Love.”  It’s an unusual blend of pop, rock and jazz tunes, showing her diversity and creativity.  Ella’s steps outside the proverbial jazz genre to record six tunes with an orchestra and six tunes with Tommy Flanagan’s Trio.

In 1968, jazz history became rooted in a German record label established by Hans Georg Brunner-Schwer and launched as MPS Records.  The company founder began to record amazing legends like Dizzy Gillespie, Oscar Peterson, Dexter Gordon, Freddie Hubbard and Ella Fitzgerald.  Thankfully, these historic recordings are being reissued in the United States on vinyl and in CD formats. MPS was Germany’s first ever jazz label and they have partnered with Bob Frank, CEO and founder of Bob Frank Entertainment, to make this distribution project successful. 

Ella’s project opens with audience applause.  We recognize that we are attending a ‘live’ recording and then we hear the full orchestration of a big band that is playing the popular Beatle’s pop song, “Hey Jude.”  Ella enters with her phenomenal phrasing that makes this album of mixed genres both interesting and inventive.  The supreme queen of jazz vocalists has refreshed “Hey Jude” and she manages to ‘swing’ the pop song into the arms of jazz.  Ella’s stylized version gives “Hey Jude” a big hug!

On the title tune, “Sunshine of Your Love,” Ella gives us all a lesson in embellishment, creativity and vocal aerobics.  The orchestration is a bit outdated, but Ella’s in grand voice.  On the Burt Bacharach/Hal David composition, “This Girl’s in Love with You” Ella showcases the sweeter side of her voice. 

She continues with “Watch What Happens.”  It spotlights her vocal fluidity and it’s more like what we jazz lovers admire about Ms. Fitzgerald; her ability to reinvent the Great American Songbook.  She continues by re-inventing the Joe Williams/Count Basie hit record, “Alright! Ok! You Win.”  Followed by a hard swing on “Give Me the Simple Life.”  When we reach “Useless Landscape” with its haunting, beautiful melody, the big band is gone and replaced by Tommy Flanagan’s capable trio.  Ella embellishes the tune with scat-singing, both unique and creative, she sings the way Ella and only Ella can do.  This is a historic reissue that should be in every collector’s library of music. 

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LAUFEY & PHILHARMONIA ORCHESTRA   

An Icelandic-Chinese singer/songwriter and cellist is now letting her guitar talents float above lush orchestration.  You will find Laufey’s talent both unique and hypnotic.  Although she’s marketed as a ‘pop’ singer, I believe this young lady’s talents cross genres.  She is performing her new release, “Let You Break My Heart Again.”  The melody is lovely and her light, airy voice dances, butterfly free, above the string ensemble.  With nimble fingers, she plucks the strings of her acoustic guitar and blends with the orchestra in a very delicate way. I am totally intrigued.  Enjoy her sweet soprano voice, her composer skills and the professional orchestration.  Check out Laufey’s other releases: “Street by Street & “Someone New.”  This talented young woman is a star on the rise.                                         

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ANDY JAMES – “SHARED LIVES” –  Le Coq Records

Bill Cunliffe, pianist/arranger; Joe LaBarbera & Marvin “Smitty” Smith, drums; Terrel Stafford, trumpet; Rick Margitza, tenor saxophone; Alex Acuna, percussion; Chuck Berghofer, bass; Jake Langley, guitar.

Andy James has a voice as sweet as cotton candy.  She opens with one of my favorites, “My One and Only Love” and sings it beautifully complimented by Jake Langley on guitar.  The title tune “Shared Lives” is challenging melodically and features the drummer beating out the groove with mallets. The minor arrangement features Ernie Watts on saxophone and Bill Cunliffe on piano.  “You’ve Changed” is a bit of a train wreck, mostly, I think, because of the arrangement.  At times, the vocalist sounds unsure.  It just got so busy and with so many surprise modulations that mid-way through, it began to feel tedious.  The first time down was smooth as silk.  But then that modulation disrupted and put a speed-bump in the road.  Andy James is competent as she sells her rendition of “The Gentleman is a Dope” and “Moon River.”  She has been greatly influenced by the queen of jazz, Ella Fitzgerald.  However, Ms. James certainly has her own sound and tonal style.  She surprises me with her rendition of “These Boots Are Made for Walking” that Frank Sinatra’s daughter made famous as a bit pop hit. 

Since launching Le Coq Records, with husband, producer and label founder Piero Pata, James has quietly released four captivating records. Another CD that arrived in my review package was the one titled, “All the Lovely Things You Are.”  Once again, she gathers songs from the Great American Songbook like a lovely bouquet.  Each song is a pretty and colorful flower that Andy James has picked and she confidently and emotionally expresses.  James is also featured on The All-Star Vol. 1 album released in 2020.  It’s absolutely saturated with amazing West Coast talent like John Beasley, Bill Cunliffe, Bob Sheppard, John Patittuci, Rich Eames, and many of the same musicians who play on her current release; “SharedLives.” Andy James is a jazz vocalist to watch, to listen and to appreciate.

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ADI MEYERSON – “I WANT TO SING MY HEART OUT IN PRAISE OF LIFE” – Independent Label

Adi Meyerson, bass/composer; Sam Towse, piano/synthesizers; Kush Abadey, drums; Camille Thurman & Sabeth Perez, vocals; Eden Girma, spoken word; Lucas Pino, bass clarinet/tenor saxophone; Anne Drummond, flute; Marquis Hill, trumpet.

Eden Girma opens with spoken word, with Adi Meyerson bowing her bass instrument and using prose to set the mood for this recording.  They offer a three-minute prelude.

“To be one within a dark moment, bonded through the wreckage.  Turn over the palms of our hands up toward the sun and beyond …” Eden speaks in a soothing voice. 

The background music is peaceful.  It calls us to meditate or do yoga; or pray.  A soprano voice sings without words.  The bass plays the melody and the vocal spoken prose now doubles the voice.  We are entering an unusual project of creativity.  Part II, titled “Kabocha” a word Wikipedia describes as Japanese for winter squash features a male voice speaking Japanese.  It sounds more like he’s saying Kabucha. I look it up and Kombucha is a fermented tea.  So now, I’m truly confused.  Is it winter squash or tea?  Bassist and composer, Adi Meyerson says this musical journey was inspired by the life and work of iconic Avant-garde visual artist, Yayoi Kusama.  Adi is using her art work and intentions as a springboard for Meyerson to create a sonic, safe haven for listeners.  Ms. Meyerson hopes her music mirrors an ideal, a utopian society, devoid of negativity and strife. 

Well, I agree we certainly need a remedy and a get-away from stress and strife.  The entire world is in need of that.  The first two pieces on this six-part suite of music are indeed relaxing and thought provoking.   On “Follow the Red Dot, Part III, Marquis Hill makes a stunning appearance on trumpet and the music becomes more straight-ahead jazz stirred into an Avant-garde pot of improvisation.  Kush Abadey is masterful on drums.  Sam Towse takes a piano excursion to share his perspective with us, while Adi Meyerson pumps her double bass in the background.

Adi Meyerson was inspired by an art exhibit featuring the work of Yayoi Kusama in downtown New York City.  She has integrated thoughts, spoken word, political opinions and a vocalization on Part IV, “Caged Bird” with lyrics and a tenor saxophone solo by Lucas Pino.  Meyerson has synesthesia, a neurological condition in which two senses overlap and trigger each other.  In her case, she sees color when she hears certain pitches. I heard that pop star, Farrell Williams also has that gift.  Much of Kasama’s color palette matched Meyerson’s own visual perception in music.  When Adi saw Kasama’s artwork, she heard certain pitches and those infused her composition process.  Adi acquired her melodies from the colors in Yayoi Kusama’s paintings.  This is unique art, freedom and jazz.  I found Adi Meyerson’s music to be beautiful.  Perhaps she describes it best in her liner notes.

“The music and the message behind it took on a new form and became a vehicle for me to further explore my identity and womanhood and face my own mental health struggles,” she shared.

Meyerson endeavors to use her music to create and immerse the listeners in their own sonic version of utopia.  This is a special music project that stretches outside the mold to create new curves, colors and edges in her compositions.

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HAEUN JOO – “WE WILL FIND” – Next Level

Haeun Joo, piano/vocals/composer; Matt Holman, trumpet/flugelhorn; Doug Weiss, bass; Ronen Itzik, drums.

Born in Busan, South Korea, this award-winning pianist, Haeun Joo is also a singer, composer and making a name for herself as a thoughtful and very original jazz artist.  Haeun Joo moved to the United States in 2011 in search of the true roots of jazz, pop and soul music.  As a student of Berklee School of Music, she honed her piano and composer skills studying with George Garzone, Danilo Perez and Joanne Brackeen.  She’s a big fan of Keith Jarrett, Bill Evans and Fred Hersch.  Another mentor is Vadim Neselovskyi, who is a very accomplished pianist/composer and who has co-produced this album.

From the very first tune on this debut album for Ms. Joo, you hear how lyrical she is and her melodies are well-thought out and lovely.  There is something peaceful about this artist’s composer consciousness.  She uses her voice, flute-like, to infuse her music with a choral balance.  When she sings, I can hear all the harmonics that could join her and become a string ensemble or orchestrated horn section.  Her piano style flows, pensive and persuasive.  She gives Doug Weiss a brief opportunity to solo on his bass, as if he and the piano are having a whispered conversation stage-center.  It’s a very effective arrangement that calls attention to the melody, while allowing Weiss to be expressive on his instrument. Haeun Joo’s music is warm and inviting.  It reflects a careful, well-planned and practiced personality.  Track 2 is called “John” and it too begins pensively.  She plays the piano tenderly, with a love of the upper-register.  Her fingers tinker with the soprano parts of the instrument with music-box-clarity.  Beneath the melody, like a counter-point descant, her voice soars now and then to add other harmonic elements to the piece.  The title tune, “We Will Find,” brings voice and trumpet together like two horns.  Matt Holman is fluid on both trumpet and flugelhorn.  He fits perfectly into the mix of Joo’s compositions.  The album’s title song is another laid-back tune that is both beautiful and relaxing.  Haeun has an ear for melodies and each song contained here is well-written with harmonies that are both interesting and nicely arranged.  I enjoyed “In the Rain.”  However, I found all the tempos are way too similar. 

I wanted to hear some hard swing or some energy driven, straight-ahead excitement.  There is none of that.  I know that these musicians have it in them to pick up a tempo or double-time a piece.  This production needed the tempo changes to showcase Ms. Joo’s ability to ‘swing’ and to play up-tempo, as well as excelling at a moderate pace.  On the tune, “A Window in the Dark,” the drummer tries hard to build the time and crescendo the music, but the over-all arrangement handcuffs him.  Her composition “Questions” has a jazz waltz feel to it, but it locks into that comfortable moderate tempo once again.  This debut album for Haeun Joo is like buying an album of ballads.  That works for certain moods and moments, but soon you will want to hear one piece that dances, leaps and jumps for joy.  That unfortunately is absent from this delightful debut.

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SATOKO FUJII – PIANO MUSIC – Libra Records

Satoko Fujii, solo piano.

Here is another album of music created as a result of the pandemic and self-quarantining.  Pianist and composer, Satoko Fujii has often expressed that she wanted to make music no one has heard before and this album certainly fulfills that goal.

“I started recording in my small piano room during the pandemic and while I was editing the recordings, I got this idea.  I thought I could put together small parts to make a big work, fitting the pieces together the way I wanted to.  I could make music like building with Legos.  This may not be a new thing for many creators, but for me, it was new because I am a very analog piano player,” Satoko explained her concept for this album of work.

This unique production stages Avant-garde music for us to marvel at and enjoy. It was created by Satoko Fujii by recording short snippets of improvisations and stringing them together like pearls.  For example, she dropped chop sticks on the piano strings; rubbed low strings with a big, felt mallet and plucked high strings inside the piano with determined fingertips.  Each time she tried something new, she recorded it. 

“The materials I recorded are all so short, that without shifting them around they don’t make any sense,” Satoko shrugged.

To grow the piece, she had to transfer these short parts into a music editing application.  The unique composer fit together smaller recorded parts to create a large, vibrant picture.  She worked with one section at a time, listening, then dragging the next part she wanted to hear into that section.  For example, on the first of two suites of music, Satoko created, number one composition titled “Shiroku” that translates to ‘white’ in Japanese.  It features a number of background-beautiful-sounds that cushion her piano premise.  Sometimes it’s percussive, using her fingers to pound the rich piano wood, or playing the inner strings of the instrument instead of the ivory and ebony keys.  At times, I could not have identified the grand piano instrument at all.  Satoko Fujii’s music does not sound like any piano concert you have experienced.  She would probably smile and say; mission accomplished.

Satoko Fujii’s music is textured and poetic.  Some of the high-pitched sounds would make a dog howl and a violin jealous.  They range from eclectic bird calls to percussive harp music or locomotive wheels against hot steel.  The electronic blending of these various bits and pieces of her artistic vision have produced a complete musical painting.  Satoko’s music mirrors many colors and various shades.  She is the ultimate musical revolutionary; the undeniable visionary who captures freedom and slaps it into her arrangements like soft putty. These compositions stick to your ears, wildly blowing like paper earrings. You will not be able to sing these songs, but you will be in awe of them as they float away.

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HELEN SUNG WITH SPECIAL GUEST HARLEM QUARTET – “QUARTET +” – Sunnyside Records

Helen Sung, piano; David Wong, bass; Kendrick Scott, drums; John Ellis, tenor saxophone/flute. SPECIAL GUESTS: Harlem Quartet: Ilmar Gavilan, first violin; Melissa White, second violin; Jaime Amador, viola; Felix Umansky, cello.

Pianist and composer, Helen Sung, recently won a 2021 Guggenheim Fellowship.  She uses this recent recording to celebrate the work of influential women composers, co-producing this project with the great violinist, Regina Carter.  Ms. Sung features fresh arrangements of tunes composed by Carla Bley, Mary Lou Williams, Marian McPartland, Toshiko Akiyoshi and Geri Allen, opening with Allen’s “Feed the Fire” that she plays flaming hot and brightly.  Helen Sung adds a new, counter melody to the piece. “Mary’s Waltz,” written by Mary Lou Williams, features the beautiful touches of Melissa White on violin.  Helen Sung’s delicate approach, during her piano performance, is quite different from the fiery and energetic first tune.  David Wong delivers a lovely bass solo.  You will enjoy Helen Sung’s classical influences that color these popular jazz songs.  For example, Sung incorporated a symphonic element into Akiyoshi’s “Long Yellow Road” and on “Elegy for the City,” (that features Jaime Amador on viola) and allows John Ellis to pick up his flute and inflate the tune with joy.  Both arrangements are lush and very classically infused. When Sung takes her piano solos, she brings one-hundred-percent jazz pianist to the spotlight.   Helen Sung’s arrangements change moods and rhythms; create grooves and bend genres, but are always infused with Helen’s mastery on the piano.  To add interest and dynamics to this production, The Harlem Quartet (a string quartet), was originally composed of first-place laureates of the Sphinx Competition for Black and Latino string players. This popular quartet was formed in 2006. The members on this recording are first violinist Ilmar Gavilán, second violinist Melissa White, violist Jaime Amador, and cellist Felix Umansky. They soar on “Melancholy Mood.”

Helen Sung will apply her Guggenheim Fellowship to a multi-movement arrangement for big band, slated for completion next year. She also received a Chamber Music America Digital Residency grant. Consequently, she’s producing a series of interdisciplinary events this year with her quartet, a poet, a DJ and an installation artist.  If that isn’t enough to keep her busy, Ms. Sung also received a New Music USA 2021 Music Creator Development Fund grant to collaborate her music with a dancer and neuro-rehabilitation researcher.  The dance program that results from this collaboration is meant to entertain, to heal and inspire dementia and Alzheimer patients.

“I’ve learned, this past year and a half, not to take anything for granted; be it people, relationships or opportunities … So, I’m jumping in with arms wide open.  I want to swallow life whole!”  Helen Sung shared.

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SHEILA JORDAN – “COMES LOVE LOST SESSION 1960” – Capri Records Ltd.

Sheila Jordan, vocals; Band members not acknowledged.

It’s quite exciting to hear Sheila Jordan in her prime, with vocals crystal clear and a small trio backing her up.  This 1960 recording predates the album, “Portrait of Sheila,” by more than two years.  In fact, it may be the earliest representation of this jazz singer at the beginning of her storied career. According to the liner notes, Sheila Jordan was working regularly at the Page Three Club in Greenwich Village with pianists John Knapp or Herbie Nichols at the keys; with bass players Steve Swallow or Gene Perlman and drummer Ziggy Willman.  There are no records of the bandmembers when it was recorded June 10, 1960 at the Olmsted Sound Studio in New York for a small label called Chatham Records.  Yes, Capri Records did confer with Jordan for the names of musicians, however she couldn’t remember. 

Born in Detroit and sent to live with her grandmother in Pennsylvania’s coal-mining country at a young age, Jordan was a born singer.  She expressed herself vocally as a child and when she returned to Detroit, Sheila began working in jazz clubs as a teenager.  She moved to NYC in the early fifties and married Charlie Parker’s pianist, Duke Jordan.

On this album of familiar jazz standards, Ms. Jordan covers songs we know and love like “Ballad of the Sad Young Men” and Billie Holiday favorites like “Comes Love” and “Don’t Explain.”  Sheila opens with a song Sassy Sarah Vaughan recorded called “I’m the Girl” and follows this with a wonderful rendition of “It Don’t mean A think If It Ain’t Got that Swing” exploring her scat vocals by freely rambling up and down the scale to show off her range and creativity.   She swings “Sleeping Bee” and seems very comfortable in the ‘swing’ mode.  On “When the World Was Young” Sheila introduces us to the verse of the song and then sings this ballad with great emotion.  I can tell that she’s a very young singer who was working on sustaining her tonal notes. Even back then, she seemed to be thinking and executing like a horn player.  On the ending note of this tune, she slides up to the third and then climbs above that, the way a saxophone might have done.  But her comfort level is always the up-tempo tunes, where she can let loose and swing; for example, on “I’ll Take Romance.” 

Today, Sheila Jordan is heralded as one of the most distinctive and creative voices of jazz and is a NEA Jazz Master and self-described “Jazz child.” She has made her historic mark in the jazz world, pioneering a duo approach of voice and solo bass and collaborating with legends like Mark Murphy, Cameron Brown, Harvie Swartz, Steve Kuhn and recording with Carla Bley, Arild Andersen, Roswell Rudd, Kenny Barron, Ben Riley and George Russell just to name a few. 

This album is a piece of jazz history, snatched from the past and celebrating the lady in her youth, during a formative period of her vocal growth.

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LADY BLACKBIRD – “BLACK ACID SOUL” – Foundation Music

If Black Acid Soul/Jazz is your thing, Lady Blackbird’s album is one you just have to hear.  Her tone and persona stand solidly and singularly in their own spotlight.  Her voice is like no other I’ve heard.  There are shreds of Eartha Kitt, Nina Simone, Grace Jones and Tina Turner, but her sound is uniquely her own.  The production by Chris Seefried, who was GRAMMY Award-nominated for his work on the debut album by Andra Day, combines genres for Lady Blackbird that match and compliment this singer.

Lady Blackbird is Los Angeles-based singer Marley Munroe and she’s been steeped in music since birth.  Her voice developed richness and resonance while singing in church and performing at States Fairs since age five.  She landed a deal on a Christian record label as a young teen and that resulted in work with rock/rap group, DC Talk.  She appeared on four Christian albums recorded by TobyMac. However, that wasn’t exactly what she wanted to do forever.  At age eighteen, she found herself working with Jimmy Jam, Terry Lewis, Sam Watters and a bunch of R&B heavyweight producers.  A production deal led to a record contract with LA Reid’s Epic Records.  When that dissipated, Lady Blackbird nested into a comfortable position with producer/songwriter, Chris Seefried and signed to Foundation Music.  The result is this new album of unusual and non-specific, categorized music.  This vocalist could easily cross-over to jazz, but her deep gospel roots, thick R&B riffs and runs, along with her smokey tone and Patti LaBelle-like costumes could fly Lady Blackbird in all directions.

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LUCY YEGHIAZARYAN & VANISHA GOULD – “IN HER WORDS” – Independent label

Lucy Yeghiazaryan, vocals/songwriter; Vanisha Gould, vocals/songwriter; Eric Zolan, guitar; Dan Pappalardo, bass; Kate Victor, cello; Ludovica Burtone, violin; Richard Cortez, guest vocals.

This is a very sparse production with no whistles and bells; no string orchestras or dynamic saxophone solos. But it endears the listener with honest lyrics, interesting melodies and the delightful vocals of these two singer/songwriters: Lucy Yeghiazaryan and Vanisha Gould.  This recording is pure art.  Opening with a song called, “The Game” and the haunting voice of Lucy Yeghiazaryan blowing across space like a wild, hot wind. Eric Zolan’s guitar caresses the melody that Vanisha Gould has composed with tender fingers. “The Game” becomes one of my favorite songs straight away. 

“Gypsy Feet” has a lyric that celebrates the wild spirit of a woman who passes from scene to scene, man to man and this time the vocalist is songwriter, Vanisha Gould.  Both artists sing the refrain in unison and it’s a catchy, easily repeatable hook.  “Hey Baby” is a cute, jazzy duet featuring guest male vocalist, Richard Cortez and with Lucy Yeghiazaryan singing about a guy trying to pick up a girl.  It’s a strong jazz tune, as is “Look This Way,” written and performed by Vanisha.  Dan Pappalardo walks his bass and Eric Zolan takes a tour of his guitar instrument, improvising freely during this arrangement.  Lucy sings a bluesy ballad called “Gone Again” followed by another Gould original called “Trapped in This Room.”  This song has an inspired lyric.  There are a couple of standards thrown in for good measure, one being “My Man” sung beautifully by Lucy Yeghiazaryan.  Vanisha Gould is a fine composer.  I find her melodies and lyrics to be fresh and jazzy, like her song “Cute Boy.”   This is an unexpected diamond project, glittering brightly from a stack of CDs covering my desk.  It was generously funded by a grant from the New York Foundation Arts 2020 Women’s Fund.

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BEST OF THE BEST

August 21, 2021

By Dee Dee McNeil

August 21, 2021

OSCAR PETERSON – “MOTIONS & EMOTIONS” –  MPS Records

Oscar Peterson, piano; Sam Jones, bass; Bobby Durham, drums; Bucky Pizzarelli, guitar; Claus Ogerman, arranger/conductor. Note: Orchestra names unavailable to this journalist.

Germany’s first jazz label, MPS Records, has a history of reissuing albums by legendary jazz artists.  This summer they have released a plethora of records including George Duke, Don Ellis, Dexter Gordon, Slide Hampton, Lee Konitz with martial Solal and the genius, Oscar Peterson.  These recordings have been released on both vinyl and CDs in partnership with Bob Frank Entertainment.  I was thrilled to be able to review “Motions & Emotions,” an album originally recorded in 1969.

Peterson opens with “Sally’s Tomato,” featuring a background of orchestral strings, with Oscar’s crisp, improvisational piano parts dancing brightly atop the rich orchestration of arranger, Claus Ogerman.  This tune is from the popular film, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and composed by Henry Mancini.  I listen to music all day long, every day, and I hear a lot of exceptional jazz musicians, but Oscar Peterson brings something exceptional to the bandstand.  His style and piano mastery is not only beyond reproach, it’s just pure happiness and genius. 

According to Claus Ogerman, when Oscar Peterson first came to their New York studio to record, Oscar was unhappy with the provided instrument.  He just refused to play an inadequate piano.  The entire orchestra sat there, stunned by the possibility that the recording session might be cancelled.  Conductor, Claus Ogerman, and the MPS label people finally agreed to let the recording continue without Oscar Peterson and that Peterson could overdub his part later at MPS Studio – Villigen.  That’s how this master piece was made.

Track 2 gives us a bright, new look at the pop song, “Sunny” that was so popular in August 1966, fifty-five years ago.   It sounds just as good today, with Oscar’s refurbished, jazzy arrangement.  He follows this with the poignant ballad, “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” with a rich bass line played by Sam Jones.  On track 4 titled, “Wandering” you can hear the strings sometimes singing along with the piano melody of this waltz in unexpected moments.  Mainly, Ogerman’s arrangements simply cushion and enhance Peterson’s piano explorations in a beautiful way.

On some songs, Oscar’s fingers fly so fast and so precisely, it’s hard to believe that someone could express themselves at that speed and with that kind of precision.  When he uses both hands to sing in unison at that quick tempo, magic happens!  Their lovely, dreamy arrangement on “Wave” returns us to Peterson’s rich jazz heritage playing standard jazz tunes.  His interpretation of “Dreamsville” will take your breath away and his rendition of “Yesterday” becomes a very acceptable Latin infused arrangement with a samba beat. Bucky Pizarelli’s guitar star-shines on the tune.

One of Oscar Peterson’s amazing gifts was his ability to hear a double time improvisational piano line in his mind; then lay it atop the chordal theme.  His agile fingers placed the creativity perfectly in place. Peterson’s technique completely transforms and elevates every composition.  Take for example the way he infuses “Elenore Rigby” with the blues.  It reinvents the song and paints a different conception of Ms. Rigby in such a cool way.    Peterson does the same kind of transformation when he plays “Ode to Billy Joe.”  He adds the blues in a jazzy, swift and completely mesmerizing presentation. 

After all these years, Oscar Peterson remains a prince on the piano; uncanny and creative; genius and inspired.  Born August 15, 1925 and making his transition in December of 2007, he is a legend and a piece of jazz royalty we must never forget. Oscar Peterson is the best of the best.

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RENEE ROSNES – “KINDS OF LOVE” – Smoke Sessions Records

Renee Rosnes, piano/Fender Rhodes; Chris Potter, saxophones/flutes/bass clarinet; Christian McBride, bass; Carl Allen, drums; Rogério Boccato, percussion.

Any piano player that can get the super gifted Billy Childs to write their liner notes has got to be amazing! I was so happy when I received the Renee Rosnes “Kinds of Love” album release. Let me say, without a doubt, she is a dynamic composer and awesome pianist.  Although she is rooted in traditional jazz, Renee brings originality to her work and is clearly a tenacious voice on the jazz scene.  You hear it on her first tune “Silk (Dedicated to Donald Brown)” where she establishes her strength and talent, incorporating a memorable melody with chords that inspire Chris Potter to fly high on his saxophone.  Carl Allen’s drum rolls infuse the energy of this group and push the music forward.  Renee Rosnes punches staccato piano parts that pump the quintet into a frenzy.  When she takes over, her piano power is exciting, speedy and she comfortably chooses a solo path that sets her apart from the rest.  I am enthralled. 

Renee Rosnes has already recorded ten albums for the Blue Note label.  This is her first for Smoke Sessions Records and it’s a doozy!  Track 2 sooths the spirit and settles me into the womb of this ballad.  Chris Potter pulls out his flute to soar above the beauty during this “Kinds of Love” arrangement.  It is followed by the tune, “In Time Like Air,” a song that invites our attention, using Christian McBride’s creativity on bass and a whispered female voice singing softly in unison with pretty melody lines.  The introduction is quite clever and has been arranged to carry us into a forest with unseen birds that sing on hidden branches. 

This is an album full of musical surprises.  Like on “The Golden Triangle” that starts out somewhat classically and then bursts into the blues, embracing a medium swing tempo with Renee’s imagination and creativity racing around the piano keys.  Christian McBride entertains us grandly on double bass. Then enters Chris Potter on saxophone to elevate the arrangement a little higher.  Renee Rosnes is other-worldly and knows how to grow the music.  It’s a bean stalk that invites us to take a chance, hold on tightly and climb along with her. 

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WAYNE CONIGLIO & SCOTT WHITFIELD – “FASTER FRIENDS” – Summit Records

Wayne Coniglio, bass & tenor trombones/composer; Scott Whitfield, trombone; Ken Kehner, piano; Eric Warren, bass; Kevin Gianino, drums; Jacob Melsha, trombone/voice; Debbie Lennon & Elsie Parker, vocals.

All of the musicians in this band are educators and are proud to ‘pay it forward’ in terms of inspiring the next generation and the ones that follow.  The ensemble opens with Dexter Gordon’s tune, “Fried Bananas” (based on the chord changes from “It Could Happen to You”).  The tempo flies and the trombone solos are stellar, smooth and lovely to hear.  Ken Kehner takes a piano solo that is both spirited and creative.  Kehner is someone who is just as comfortable playing pop music, classical (Brahms or Prokofiev), as he is improvising and accompanying as a traditional jazz pianist. 

Speaking of Ken Kehner, he has composed Track 2, “Swirling.”  This arrangement is such a wonderful example of what happens when you put two outstanding trombonists together on a project.  Their blend is smooth and silky as baby oil.  Neal Hefti’s “Girl Talk” composition has long been a favorite of mine.  At the introduction, Coniglio and Whitfield have a full, big band sound on this arrangement, even though it’s just those two trombones in the horn section.  This album swings hard and offers our ears a pleasant listen, featuring two talented, powerhouse trombonists. 

Wayne Coniglio is a product of the music program at Longview School in Phoenix, Arizona.  While attending the University of Illinois he was a member of the legendary John Garvey Band.  After moving to New York City, he performed with The Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra, The Toshiko Akiyoshi Jazz Orchestra, The Mingus Band and Chico O’Farrill’s Latin Jazz Dream Band.  Throughout the 1990’s, Coniglio was invited to tour as part of the Ray Charles band.  Ray Charles encouraged him to write arrangements for his band and this spurred Wayne Coniglio into action.  Inspired by Ray, his writing and arranging career quickly expanded.  He began to write for chamber ensembles, choirs, big bands and pit orchestras.  Coniglio became the arranger for the Kevin Kline Awards Show for three consecutive years.  Wayne has included three of his original compositions as part of this production. I personally enjoyed “The Determinator,” that was played at an up-tempo pace, in a very straight-ahead arrangement and gives drummer, Kevin Gianino a solo to spotlight his talent.

Like Wayne, Scott Whitfield loves big bands.  He’s added his trombone excellence to the bands of Clare Fischer, Bill Holman, Bob Florence, Toshiko Akiyoshi and Johnny Mandel.  He has recorded ten albums as a bandleader and appeared on over fifty recordings by other artists.  Whitfield has traveled worldwide sharing his expertise on trombone as a clinician.  Professor Whitfield served on the jazz faculty at Rutgers University from 1998 to 2002.  In 1986 he founded the Scott Whitfield Jazz Orchestra.  One of his mentors was Nat Adderly and he released a 75th birthday tribute to Nat in 2006 featuring his jazz orchestra that rocketed to number five on the radio airplay charts.

Together, Coniglio and Whitfield, along with their powerful rhythm section and special guest Jacob Melsha (also a trombonist), offer us this fine-tuned album appropriately called, “Faster Friends.” 

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HAROLD LAND SR. – “WESTWARD BOUND!” –  Reel to Real

Harold Land Sr., tenor saxophone/composer; Buddy Montgomery, Hampton Hawes & John Houston, piano; Monk Montgomery, bass; Jimmy Lovelace, Mel Lee & Philly Joe Jones, drummer; Carmell Jones, trumpet;

I was expectant and excited when I heard that Los Angeles based, tenor saxophone icon, Harold Land, had previously unreleased music.  It will be shared with the public this summer by Reel to Reel Recordings.  They unearthed this amazing album, recorded at the Seattle jazz club (The Penthouse) back in 1962 through 1965.  Engineer Jim Wilke has preserved some of Harold Land’s best work, presented ‘live’ with three different bands.  The first is inclusive of the Montgomery Brothers, Buddy on piano and Monk on bass, along with drummer Jimmy Lovelace and Kansas City trumpeter, Carmell Jones.   This music was honed from a weekly broadcast on KING-FM radio, over half a century ago.  On June 12, 2021 a 33-1/3 RPM duel-LP set was released on vinyl to celebrate this project in a very historic way.  On August 6th, these projects were released digitally.  I agree with Zev Feldman, co-president of Resonance Records and heralded as a ‘Jazz Detective,’ when he said:

“I feel that these recordings of Harold Land are special and need to be heard.  Land was one of the purveyors of West Coast jazz whom I feel is an under-recognized genius who doesn’t get discussed enough,” Feldman praised the tenor saxophone master.

On the opening number, “Vindetta,” Carmell Jones on trumpet and Harold land on tenor sax come straight out the gate like Santa Anita race horses.  After working so long with trumpet genius, Clifford Brown, it’s no wonder that on some of these Land performances, Harold includes a trumpeter. This original composition by Harold Land swings harder than Jackie Robinson at home plate.  The bassist, Monk Montgomery, is powerful beneath the excitement, walking his upright bass and holding the rhythm in place along with Jimmy Lovelace on drums.  Pianist Buddy Montgomery is tasty and creative as his fingers skip along the keys.

Harold Land has a warm, buttery sound on his saxophone.  He and Carmell Jones worked together regularly on sessions for Pacific Jazz Records.  It’s good to hear their camaraderie on “Westward Bound.”   On “Beep Durple” (a take-off of the popular jazz tune, Deep Purple) Carmell Jones adds his original composition for Track 2 of this historic concert.  Drummer, Jimmy Lovelace, propels this bebop tune forward on his trap drums and Monk Montgomery sticks with him like Velcro, pumping his walking bass. 

The tune “My Romance” issues in a new quartet made up of Hampton Hawes on piano and Los Angeles based drummer, Mel Lee.  Montgomery remains the bassist and this lovely ballad unfolds with Hampton Hawes performing an ear-catching introduction on piano.  The group continues with the Hawes composition, “Triplin the Groove.”  This song brings us back to the wonderful blues roots that Harold Land grew from, blossoming into the bright and beautiful flower he became on his tenor sax.

When bass man, Curtis Counce invited Land to join his band, Harold said yes and worked with them between 1956 and 1958.  In ’58 he recorded as a bandleader for Fantasy Records on an album called, “Harold in the Land of Jazz.”  One of Land’s stellar recordings followed; “The Fox” that was released in 1959.  You clearly hear his hard-bop prowess sparkling on this album.  In 1959, he recorded “Grooveyard” on Contemporary Records. This was followed in 1960, by the Jazzland Records release he made called “Eastward Ho! Harold land in New York with Kenny Dorham.” 

Harold also worked with the Shorty Rogers’ Giants in 1961.  All through the 1960s, Harold Land was in demand as a studio session musician. He also worked regularly with Red Mitchell throughout 1961 and 1962.  Some of you may remember it was Red Mitchell who helped to advance Ornette Coleman’s early jazz career.  As Harold Land’s reputation grew, he answered a number of calls to work with A-list jazz musicians.  He co-led a band with Bobby Hutcherson from 1969 to 1971.

One of my favorite albums by Harold Land is “A Lazy Afternoon” released in 1995, conducted and arranged by the great Ray Ellis with our beloved Bill Henderson (Kamon) on piano as part of Land’s specialized rhythm section.  These beautiful ballads, made famous by Billie Holiday, showed the softer, more romantic side of Harold Land.

You can really hear how Harold Land was influenced by John Coltrane on his arrangement of “Invitation” recorded in Germany during a live performance with his “All Stars” group at the Subway Jazz Club in Cologne.  His band is stuffed with legendary talent including Billy Higgins on drums, Cedar Walton on piano and Buster Williams on bass.

The final tunes on this re-discovered “Westward Bound!” project are recorded with John Houston on piano and the explosive Philly Joe Jones on drums.  Monk Montgomery is still on bass and this quartet recorded on August 5 of 1965 at the Penthouse jazz club.  You hear Land’s breathy tenderness on his tenor as he explores “Who Can I Turn To?”

Every cut on this album is an individual masterpiece and celebrates the talent and mastery of Harold Land Sr.   This historic album continues to sing his legacy.

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JOEY DEFRANCESCO – “MORE MUSIC” – Mack Ave Records

Joey DeFrancesco, organ/piano/keyboard; trumpet/ tenor saxophone/vocals; Michael Ode, drums; Lucas Brown, organ/guitar.

“Free” is one of ten new compositions by Joey DeFrancesco on his new Mack Ave Records release titled, “More Music.”  Not only are Joey’s composing skills cooking on a hot stove, he also has expanded his talents to playing not only organ, keyboard, piano and trumpet but now he has added tenor saxophone to his musical mastery.  Another surprise is that Joey DeFrancesco steps up to the microphone and sings on the tune, “And if you Please.”   On a song he calls, “Lady G” (an ode to his wife) Joey introduces us to his warm, rich sound on tenor sax and it’s absolutely beautiful.  I was so captivated by this bluesy ballad that I played it twice before listening to the entire album.  Another surprise is Lucas Brown, a fellow organist from Philadelphia, who plays organ, as well as being a competent guitarist.  He becomes a solid addition to Defrancesco’s trio and frees Joey up to ‘do his thing’ on multiple instruments.  DeFrancesco and his trio of merry men, have re-emerged from their collective quarantine to happily bring us “More Music.”

“Lucas plays differently than I do.  We don’t sound alike at all and that’s important.  What’s the point of having somebody that’s going to be playing my stuff note for note?” Joey complimented his bandmate, organist and guitar master, Lucas Brown.

I have attended many Joey DeFrancesco concerts over the years and watched him bring crowds to an exciting frenzy during his energetic organ solos.  I’ve also enjoyed him entertaining us playing his trumpet, but I had no idea he was expanding his talents to woodwind instruments.  As a big Miles Davis fan, young DeFrancesco had always wanted to play trumpet and honed his tone and presentation on that horn with many years of practice.  In 1988, a very young Joey DeFrancesco was actually a part of the Miles Davis band and toured worldwide.  Here is a flashback to that time in his life, performing ‘live’ on stage with Miles at the Warsaw Concert.

25-years ago, DeFrancesco decided he also wanted to play the tenor.  His grandfather and namesake, Joseph DeFrancesco, was a woodwind player.  The older man’s favorite instruments were tenor saxophone and clarinet.

“One day I just decided to get his tenor out of the case and see if I could play it.  … I practiced and it actually came pretty quick.  I got so comfortable that I went down to Orlieb’s for a jam session.  I got on the stage and Philadelphia saxophonist Victor North was standing next to me.  I didn’t know who he was, but he looked like Buddy Holly. …Well, Victor North kicked my ass and the horn went back into the case for another 25 years,” Joey chuckled recalling the experience that made him question his talents on saxophone.

In recent years, he had the opportunity to record with legendary tenor player, Pharoah Sanders (“In the Key of the Universe”).  Inspired by Pharoah, by his own tenor player, Troy Roberts and by the iconic Charles Lloyd, DeFrancesco went to his dad and once again asked to borrow his grandfather’s tenor sax.

“If you’re going to play, you can have it.  But you gotta play it,” his father clearly set the rules.

“What separated me from a lot of other organists was the huge influence I took from tenor saxophone players.  I have a certain sound that I love and that was already in my mind.  No matter what instrument I’m playing, there’s a certain concept that always comes through,” Joey explained.

“Just Beyond the Horizon” is a song that opens with a powerhouse solo by Michael Ode on drums.  Lucas Brown steps away from the organ and adds his guitar chops to the mix.  DeFrancesco brings his genius on organ and the tune is off and running.  Mr. Ode also takes a fiery and inspiring drum solo later in the song.   On “In Times of Reflection” Joey DeFrancesco slips behind the piano keys and plays a dynamic introduction to this lovely, jazz waltz.  Later, he blows us away with his trumpet solo.  This is another well-written DeFrancesco composition that quickly becomes one of my favorites.  On Track 6, “Where To Go” the trio explores a funk feel that transforms into a straight-ahead arrangement.  Both DeFrancesco and Lucas Brown challenge each other playing simultaneous organs.  The organists bring the blues front and center and Michael Ode takes a spirited trap drum solo. 

Joey DeFrancesco’s music makes me happy!  Both his tunes “This Time Around” and the title tune, “More Music” bring joy into my listening room.  All in all, here is organ-trio-jazz at its best, featuring Joey DeFrancesco’s mind-blowing and multi-talents.

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FREDDIE HUBBARD – “THE HUB OF HUBBARD” – MPS Records

Freddie Hubbard, trumpet; Richard Davis, bass; Louis Hayes, drums; Roland Hanna, piano; Eddie Daniels, tenor saxophone.

This is an album released in 1969, a little over thirty-four minutes long and it features four songs played by trumpet legend Freddie Hubbard with gusto!  “Without A Song” starts out in an exciting way.  It swings hard and features Hubbard at his very best.  At the tune’s top, Eddie Daniels echoes the melody on tenor saxophone that Hubbard is playing, before Hubbard takes off like a 747 cruising down the runway.  The brilliant drums of Louis Hayes egg the take-off onward and Richard Davis pumps hard on his double bass, fueling the process.  Only pure, spontaneous energy exuded from this quintet and it’s infectious.  When Daniels enters for his solo, he lifts the piece a notch higher.  This is the traditional, straight-ahead, bebop rooted jazz I grew up listening to and it is joyful music to my ears.  I enjoy the creative and cohesive flavor of Roland Hanna on the piano.  His comping behind the Davis bass solo is noteworthy because it’s so uniquely Hanna.  He doesn’t just snap the chord changes under the bass solo.  Instead, he has a conversation with the bass and plays unexpected and always on-point complimentary phrases.  When master drummer, Louis Hayes trades fours with the group, he reminds the world of who he is and his extraordinary legacy.  I didn’t understand the engineer’s choice to add echo on the fade of Freddie’s adlib trumpet, but I recall there was a lot of echo usage back-in-the-day of 1960s music.  At lightning speed, the ensemble takes on “Just One of Those Things.”  They are playing so fast you can hardly count the time.  It’s just an awesome and energy-driven arrangement.  When they settle down and play a ballad, you get to enjoy Freddie’s emotionally connected interpretation of “The Things We Did Last Summer.”  Beautiful!

This is a collector’s dream album, featuring Freddie Hubbard at his prime, along with all the members of his group, who were stellar then and also became legendary in their own rights.

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DOMINICAN JAZZ PROJECT – “DESDE LEJOS” – Summit Records

Stephen Anderson, piano/composer/accordion track; Ramon Vazquez, Jason Foureman & Craig Butterfield, bass; Guy Frometa, drums; David Almengod & Juan Alamo, percussion; Marc Callahan, coro; Carlos Luis, guitar/ voice/composer; Guillo Caria, clavietta/composer; Mayquel Gonzalez, trumpet; Rahsaan Barber, tenor saxophone; Sandy Gabriel, saxophones.

The plan was, in 2020 the members of the Dominican Jazz Project would return to the studio and record their second CD.  Their first one was released in 2016.  Unfortunately, the pandemic changed everything.  Consequently, pianist, Stephen Anderson took the quarantine time to begin composing.  In May of 2020, long time member of the group, Jeffrey Eckels, called Stephen to say his mother had passed away.  Stephen and Jeffrey discussed how they could social-distance and begin to record a song Jeffrey had composed, “Siempre Adelante.”  Shockingly, only two weeks later Jeffrey Eckels also died.  The two men, who were good friends, had been recording together for nineteen years.  Stephen composed the song “Sin Palabras” (“No Words”) to honor his friend Jeffrey.  Both of these compositions become part of this new album and two of nine original compositions that are included in their Dominican Jazz Project.  Renowned Cuban bassist, Ramon Vazques, who lives in Puerto Rico, was invited to replace Jeffrey Eckels.  Before he could join the group to record the new project, his mother became severely ill.  Although Ramon eventually contributed six tracks to this recording, in the interim, the group invited friends of Jeffery Eckels to replace his missing bass part; Craig Butterfield and Jason Foureman. 

The result of hibernation during the 2020 pandemic was not only personnel changes, but also the determination of these master musicians to draw from various folkloric rhythms of the Dominican Republic and to reflect their personal life changes.  These experiences led to the creation of this music.  It’s spirited and joyful, even in the face of COVID and so much death and sadness.  This music is healing.  These songs uplift and give hope.

Stephen Anderson’s piano playing is a bright star on the jazz horizon.  The group opens with his composition “Fuera de la Oscuridad” that translates to “Out of the Darkness.”  It is straight-ahead jazz, saturated in Latin rhythms and fueled by Guy Frometa’s powerful drums, while showcasing the talented percussion players throughout this arrangement.  Their musical message is energetic.  Sandy Gabriel’s saxophone stitches the piece together with gold threads, keeping the fabric of their message and melody cohesive and strong. 

Track 2 is “Ritmas de Bani” a tribute to a town (Bani) located west of Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic where a festival is held each year.  The Afro Cuban, 6/8 rhythm and the repeated ‘coro’ by Marc Callahan and vocalists blend to transport us to a rich, warm cultural experience.  “Como un Rayo Ciego” is a lovely ballad that guitarist, Carlos Luis composed and he sings it in Spanish with great emotion.  Track 5, “If You Only Knew” (Si Tu Supieras) ambles along at a moderate tempo and has a sweet melody that sounds relaxed and happy.  Mayquel Gonzalez makes a spotlight appearance on trumpet.   Each song and all the players contributing to this project highlight the beauty, hope and joy that the Dominican culture offers us on a silver disc.  Pop it into your CD player and enjoy.

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JAZZ ALL-STARS RELEASE NEW MUSIC

August 11, 2021

By Dee Dee McNeil

August 11, 2021

THE JAZZ ALL STARS – VOL 1. – Le Coq Records

John Beasley, piano/Fender Rhodes; Bill Cunliffe, piano/arranger; Rich Eames, piano; John Patitucci & Chris Colangelo, bass; Vinnie Colaiuta, Marvin “Smitty” Smith & Joe Labarbera, drums; Alex Acuña, percussion; Jake Langley, guitar; Rick Margitza & Bob Sheppard, tenor saxophone; Charles McNeal & Brandon Fields, alto saxophone; Adam Schroeder, baritone sax;  Bob Lockhart, Sal Lozano, Ken Fischer, Brian Scanlon, & Ralph Moore, saxophones; Wayne Bergeron, Kye Palmer, Mike Rocha, Anthony Bonsera, & Terell Stafford, Trumpets; Andy Martin, Francisco Torres, Bob McChesney, Michael Dease, Ryan Dragon & Ben Devitt, trombones; Andy James, vocals;

Although this album of music was released some months ago, great music is timeless. This “Jazz All-Stars Vol. 1” features many Los Angeles based musicians and is exquisitely produced.  Track 1 spotlights an outstanding drum solo by Vinnie Colaiuta and Alex Acuña (on percussion) during the John Beasley composition “Theme for Flotus,” arranged as a jazz waltz.  It’s a lovely composition that swings hard (in spite of its waltz status) with the title celebrating the former First Lady of the United States; Michelle Obama.  John Patitucci’s bass solo is warm and wonderful mid-way through the piece.

Track 2 is written by Bill Cunliffe, who also has arranged the music on this album.  “Tu Wero Nui” has a lush horn section that gives this piece a big band flair. “Tu Wero Nui” is the Maori language meaning, “the ultimate challenge.” It was written by Cunliffe following a turbulent flight to New Zealand. Unfortunately, the liner notes on the CD cover do not tell us which wonderful saxophone player is soloing on this number, but that solo is rich and beautiful.  The tune, Log jammin,’ written by Jake Langley, sounds like an Eddie Harris piece or a 1966 Cannonball Adderley tune called “Mercy – Mercy – Mercy” by Joe Zawinul.  It has that kind of flavor with a solid groove provided by the drums of Marvin “Smitty” Smith.  Langley makes a strong musical statement on guitar during this arrangement.  He’s a veteran player with organist, Joey DeFrancesco’s trio.  John Patatucci’s arrangement of “Afro Blue” is quite unique with just bass and Acuña’s percussion featured.  Andy James is the vocalist on “Caravan” and floats like a cool summer breeze above the hot tracks that these all-stars lay down.  I was disappointed that a fade ended the tune during an outstanding guitar solo by Langley.  I could have enjoyed sixteen more bars of that guitar goodness and groove. This is an album of great music performed by outstanding West-Coast-based musicians.  This production also shows off the arranging talents of Bill Cunliffe, Rick Margitza and John Patatucci.  Every composition and creative arrangement proffers ear candy.  Thanks to the new, Las Vegas based record company, Le Coq, here is a sweet and joyful album of well-played music for the world to enjoy.

Piero Pata, founder of the Le Coq label, is an Italian-Australian native with a deep love of jazz, music, dance and art.  We can happily expect a long list of all-star jazz artists to be released by this new record company.  Stay tuned!

“Touring around the world as a Flamenco dancer, I got to know and perform with so many great jazz artists.  So, when we started Le Coq, I focused on gathering together these incredible musicians.  This album is a way to introduce the label through the vision of these artists who audiences know and who have been pushing the music forward for a lifetime,” Piero Pata sums it up.

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SYSTEM 6 – “TALES FROM THE BACKYARD” – Skipper Productions

Benn Clatworthy, woodwinds/composer; Ron Stout, trumpet; Joey Sellers, trombone; Bryan Velasco, piano; David Reynoso, bass; Tyler Kreutel, drums; Yayo Morales, percussion.

The System 6 album, “Tales From the Backyard” is the result of Benn and his musical entourage meeting, outdoors and socially-distanced, throughout the pandemic in 2020.  Consequently, this album title was inspired after months of Benn Clatworthy holding rehearsals in his backyard.  The band was preparing for this studio project.   

Benn Clatworthy is a serious and prolific composer, based in Los Angeles, who offers us seven original tunes on this project, with one song contributed by trombonist, Joey Sellers.  Clatworthy says his composing skills are driven by what he describes as a “search for beauty.”

“The Vegan” opens this album with all the fanfare and excitement that three horns and a rhythm section bring to the party.  The counterpoint arrangement, at the beginning of the tune, is inviting and bounces like colorful balloons. Then Ron Stout steps into the spotlight.  Stout is stellar and straight-ahead on trumpet.  Clatworthy arrives on the scene, playing soprano saxophone free as a bird in flight and just as beautiful.  We hear a memorable solo from Bryan Velasco on piano and the steady drum support of Tyler Kreutel pumps the band up.  Kreutel takes a flashy and spontaneous solo towards the end of the tune, with a baritone saxophone egging the drummer on.  It’s an interesting arrangement that features Clatworthy, (throughout this production), picking up a variety of woodwind instruments to showcase his many multi-talents. 

Next, Clatworthy features his flute.  The instrument dances atop the rich tapestry of Yayo Morales’ percussive excellence and Kreutel’s swinging drums infuse the tune titled, “Calypso Trisha.”  The horns support the arrangement brightly in the background.  Joey Sellers steps forward on trombone, while Latin rhythms inspire us to dance. Then, attention is given to bassist David Reynoso, who shares his inspired double bass solo with us.  This is a joyful composition that radiates resilience and hope. 

However, in the face of great political upheaval and racial unrest in our country, Benn Clatworthy has also composed “Ballad for George Floyd.”  Floyd was an unarmed black man who lost his life to the knee of a policeman and whose final words wave like an unforgotten banner above our consciousness as he whispered, “I can’t breathe.”  Floyd’s death, on the streets of America, rang out like a warning-shot to the world.  People across the globe marched in solidarity against the obvious hate that took George Floyd’s life.  Benn Clatworthy’s composition radiates the drama and sadness that permeated spirits worldwide after that confrontational execution was captured on the cell phone of a traumatized teenage girl.  Clatworthy’s composition is dirge-like at first, before it sprints into action and becomes a straight-ahead swing.  As the tempo accelerates, with Kreutel’s drums pounding like angry feet on the pavement, Benn’s saxophone stretches the limits of expression; melodically screaming at us to pay attention.  The horn ensemble acts as exclamation points. 

The singular song contributed by Joey Sellers is titled, “The Mystic Feminine Charms of Caesura Chonchalita.”  The definition of Caesura is a rhetorical break in the flow of sound that comes in the middle of a line of verse.  This composition by Sellers has an Afro-Cuban beat and a lovely, lilting melody.  There is no break in the flow.  Consequently, I suppose Caesura Chonchalita must simply be a female name.  Just to double check, I reached out to Professor Joey Sellers, who teaches at Saddleback College, for his input.  Here’s what he told me about this composition title.

“She is the fictional ex-wife of Bolt Spillman, a main character from a short story and Caesura Chonchalita is a lady described as a sweet, but somewhat icy Argentinian/Greek beauty, who enjoyed being lathered in butter,” Joey Sellers informed me. 

Needless to say, I was stunned by this depiction of his composition starlette.

The composition, “This One’s for Celia” is a soft, warm, fuzzy ballad that’s steamy with love and emotion.  There’s one thing I know about Benn Clatworthy.  He plays from his heart.  The System 6 ensemble closes out this album with “The Skipper Meets the Pharoah” that references their Record Label president and iconic bassist, Henry “The Skipper” Franklin and the great jazz legend, Pharoah Sanders.  This tune is played at a very exciting, up-tempo pace and leaves this listener on a high note.

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BARRY ALTSCHUL’s 3DOM FACTOR – “LONG TALL SUNSHINE” – Not Two Records

Barry Altschul, drums/cymbals/composer; Jon Irabagon, tenor & soprillo saxophones/clarinet; Joe Fonda, bass.

The number three in numerology stands for music, art and creativity.  Adopted by Barry Altschul, as part of his “3dom Factor” group, these musicians apply all three disciplines; art, music and creativity, as part of their production package.  In addition to being a trio of artists, they are friends and have worked together for the last decade or so.  I feel this group is exploratory and pushes the boundaries of creativity.  ‘3dom Factor’ features Barry Altschul on drums and cymbals, Jon Irabagon on clarinet, tenor and soprillo or sopranino saxophones, with Joe Fonda playing bass.  After four years of silence, this is the trios fourth release, captured ‘live’ during a European tour in 2019.

“Long Tall Sunshine” is a wonderful title for a musical excursion full of warmth, light and energetic heat.  The title track is a previously unrecorded composition, described by Altschul as his once long and tall paramour with a sunny disposition.  Joe Fonda adds his pulsating bass beat to open the tune and establishes the tempo.  He’s quickly joined by Altschul’s busy, spontaneous drums and Jon Irabagon’s melodic saxophone unwraps the piece, like a present for our ears. 

The other three compositions on their ‘live’ performance album are familiar songs from other times and other recordings.  Altschul described it this way.

“I don’t really believe that anything is really new.  I’m a believer in fresh.  I listened to Miles Davis when he said that Louis Armstrong played everything that could be played.  So, it’s just a matter of being fresh, … using the same compositions just provides a springboard to let us get into some fresh improvisational spaces,” Altschul explained.

You will hear songs reinvented from his “Live in Krakow” album.  The way they have presented these songs on this album reflect Altschul’s five decades philosophy of improvising and expanding music.  It shines a stream of sunshine on the trio’s ability to be spontaneous, expressive and creative.  After all, that’s what jazz is all about.  That’s why jazz is called the music of freedom. 

The cover portrait for the “Long Tall Sunshine” album was painted by Nora Howard and captures the energy and attitude of freedom, depicting this drummer and his “3dom Factor” trio.

Altschul’s groundbreaking work in Avant-garde music is easily paralleled by his straight ahead work with folks like Lee Konitz and Art Pepper.  His fame glows sunshine bright from the 1960s when he worked with artists like Paul Bley and Chick Corea, bassist Dave Holland and saxophone giant, Anthony Braxton.  He has also recorded with such greats as Sam Rivers, Andrew Hill, Dave Liebman and Julius Hemphill.  This is another bright, shining flame shooting out from the “Long Tall Sunshine” and bathing us in its brilliance.  

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DENNIS MITCHELTREE – “NEVERMIND THE CIRCUS” – DEng or Music

Dennis Mitcheltree, tenor saxophone/composer; Jesse Crawford, bass; Bill McClellan, drums.

This trio opens with an original composition by Dennis Mitcheltree titled, “Strummin’ While Nawlins Swims.”  It’s a bright, melodic composition that uses staccato starts and stops to call attention to the catchy melody.  Track 2 is titled, “911” and showcases Mitcheltree’s smooth tone on his tenor saxophone. Mitcheltree has composed all ten of the songs on this album and each one is well played and well-crafted.  This project was recorded in Pasadena at the studio of Nolan Shaheed, just before the Pandemic grabbed us all by surprise and forced the world into panic.  Jesse Crawford steps forward on his double bass and takes a brief, poignant solo on “911.”  There is a sadness about this composition’s melody that softly calls for help. I enjoy the instrumental freedom that the saxophone, bass and drums deliver.   This is a trio that stands alone without piano or guitar accompaniment.

Dennis Mitcheltree is a native of Milwaukee, Wisconsin who spent several years in New York City before relocating to Los Angeles.  At age twelve, he was fascinated with the Oboe instrument.  That led him to expand his horizons and explore the baritone saxophone; but by high school, the teenager had discovered Miles Davis, John Coltrane and the tenor saxophone.  Today, he is not only an admirable tenor saxophone player, but he’s also an actor and a prolific composer. 

Born September 25, 1964, Dennis is married with children and took time away from recording and touring to concentrate on being a good dad.  In 2017, Mitcheltree established a club residency in Santa Monica, California.   For a while, he was opening act for the Julian Coryell and Andy Sanesi group.  After a while, he moved his band into the headline spot. 

“I played with Julian and Andy quite a bit … and was grateful to bring my group to perform the compositions I’d been writing as the kids were growing up.  Their presence in my life has really influenced the way I compose,” Mitcheltree told AllAboutJazz.com.

Because of that steady gig, Mitcheltree had income and time to compose.  That’s how “Nevermind the Circus” came into being.  The two musicians he recorded with are long-time NYC band members from his New York trio; Jesse Crawford and Bill McClellan.  Locally, he has been performing with Benjamin Shepherd on bass and drummer, Dan Schnelle or bassist Edwin Livingston and Steve Hass on drums.  However, when his old friends (Jesse and Bill) turned up in Los Angeles to do a few gigs, he called them into the studio to make this album. 

It’s been a long trek from Wisconsin to Los Angeles.  He turned down a scholarship to the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music Jazz Program.  Instead, he moved to the East Coast and enrolled at the Berklee College of Music.  In 1987, Dennis Mitcheltree graduated Magna Cum Laude, with his major in performance. After that, Dennis moved to New York City.

Always a deep thinker and community minded, on Track 3 is a tune called, “Recount.”  Mitcheltree turns the spotlight towards the question of election validity and ballot recounts and he also shines a wide light on his talented drummer, Bill McClellan.  McClellan dances brightly beneath the arrangement, often pushing a double-time feel beneath Mitcheltree’s blues-saturated improvisation.  I am intrigued with the Mitcheltree compositions.  They are so well-written and the unexpected, momentary stops in his arrangements call the listening audience to attention.  At the fade of the “recount,” McClellan shows us what he’s all about, roaring around his trap drums like a restless lion.

Dennis Mitcheltree explains some of his feelings when he was composing and arranging this artistic piece of work.

“The circus: it’s in our homes.  It’s on our phones.  It’s on the news.  It’s in the government, a billboard, a social media post, a visit to the grocery store,” Dennis explains.

Then he plays a bluesy ballad like “Olivia,” where bassist, Jesse Crawford, picks up his bow and sings his solo song in a very provocative way.  The song “Twinkle Toes” is a speedy arrangement that opens with the saxophone reminding me of gun shots.  Dennis Mitcheltree shows on this tune that he can swing and bebop with the best of them.   And why shouldn’t he?   He’s a former student of Joe Lovano, Billy Pierce, George Garzone and Joe Viola.  Today, he’s an educator and conducts jazz clinics himself.  As a composer, Mitcheltree says he’s been greatly influenced by a long list of jazz icons including Strayhorn, Ellington, Mingus, Woody Shaw, Joe Henderson, Tadd Dameron, Thelonious, Bud Powell and of course, the two artists who got him interested in jazz in the first place; John Coltrane and Miles Davis.  Other favorites on this recording are Track 7, “L.A. Blues” and Track 8, “Tarayzm,” where Dennis gets down and dirty with the blues and his horn becomes fluid and fiery as hot oil in a cast iron skillet.

I found this album to be totally intriguing and a clear testament to the power, creativity and innovation Dennis Mitcheltree performs on his tenor saxophone and injects into his original compositions. 

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DR. MIKE BOGLE – “LET THERE BE LIGHT” – MPB/Groove Records

Dr. Mike Bogle, keyboards/vocals/trombone/composer; Buddy Mohmed, bass; Harrell Bosarge, drums; Andy Barrus, steel Pan/Percussion; Dana Sudborough, vibraphone.

Dr. Mike Bogle is a multi-instrumentalist, composer and educator who has led several different groups in the Dallas/Fort Worth area.  Opening with “Voyager’s Dream” I am immediately intoxicated with the beautiful blend of Dr. Bogle’s keyboard with Dana Sudborough’s vibraphone.  To spice up this straight-ahead tune, Andy Barrus adds Steel Pan and his percussion talents.  Buddy Mohmed solos on electric bass and Harrell Bosarge lends his timely rhythm on trap drums.  The title tune, “Let There Be Light” is vocalized by Dr. Mike Bogle, like a horn.  He sings the melody without words and it’s a challenging, lovely melody that is begging for lyrics.  

Dr. Mike Bogle is Professor of Commercial Music at Dallas College on the Cedar Valley campus.  In the past, he’s worked with notable jazz names like James Moody, Slide Hampton, Jaco Pastorius, Ira Sullivan, Pete Christlieb and Duffy Jackson.  Once a touring musician, music has taken him all over the world.  Dr. Bogle has released six albums as a bandleader.  He has composed all the music on this album except for the popular Pee Wee Ellis composition, “The Chicken.”   I enjoyed every one of Mike Bogle’s compositions. “Eat Your Vitamins” is rooted in funk, with a harmonic vocal choir (all voices sung by Dr. Bogle).  The tune encourages us to eat our vitamins and enjoy our vegetables.  On this arrangement, Mike Bogle pulls out his trombone and displays a warm tone on the instrument that floats above the Harrell Bosarge drum groove.  Dana Sudborough’s vibraphone talents shine throughout this production.

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FALKNER EVANS – “INVISIBLE WORDS” – CAP Records (Consolidated Artists Publications)

Falkner Evans, solo piano.

As an artist who has always preferred collaborating with other players, this solo effort is a step outside of Falkner’s comfort zone. Even though he has played several ‘single’ gigs, and in fact, met his wife while playing solo at an upper East side restaurant, he just never contemplated recording a solo piano album until now.

Evans grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma and like most young people, was drawn to 60s rock and R&B music, before discovering jazz while in high school.  His first professional gig lasted four years, playing with the popular Western Swing band, “Asleep at the Wheel.”  He transplanted to New York City in 1985, where his bandleader experience would begin.  Consequently, he released his leader debut titled, “Level Playing Field” as a trio endeavor with Cecil McBee and Matt Wilson. 

There were two more trio excursions before Evans expanded to quintet status.  In 2020, he released a septet album titled “Marbles.”  That same year, while experiencing a country plagued by pandemic infections and living in a quarantined society, Evans had a feeling of being frozen in time. Unfortunately, in the midst of all that drama, Falkner Evans suffered a devastating loss.

“This is a record I never planned to make.  On May 19, 2020, my wife Linda took her life.  Linda was a bright light with a radiant soul.  Her smile could melt your heart.  Linda was the smartest person I have ever met.  I learned a lot from her.  I am a better person for having known her and in turn a better pianist and composer,” Falkner Evans sang the praises of his wife.

It takes time to grieve and to recover from the loss of a loved one. After three months, Falkner Evans finally took a seat in front of the ivory and ebony keys, he began to compose.  This album is the lovely result.  Evans has poured his heart and soul into these compositions, in celebration of his life and love for the woman he lost.  He calls it “a snapshot of his beloved wife through his own lens.”   The songs are beautiful, but melancholy.  He has named this album, “Invisible Words.”

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DAN SIEGEL – “FARAWAY PLACE – Independent Label

Dan Siegel, piano/keyboard/accordion/composer; Allen Hinds, guitar; Brian Bromberg, acoustic bass; Abraham Laboriel & Dwayne “Smitty” Smith, electric bass; Vinnie Colaiuta, Steve Gadd & Omari Williams, drums; Lenny Castro, percussion; Lee Thornburg, trumpet/trombone; Eric Marienthal, saxophone; Rogerio Jardim, vocals; Charlie Bisharat, violin; Jacob Braun, cello; Chris Bieth, English horn; Damian Montano, bassoon; Tom McCauley, Allen Hinds & Dan Siegel, hymn choir.

From The very first tune, I recognize that Dan Siegel has a love of melody.  His compositions are all very melodic and structured in a repetitious way that drills the melody home.  This is the same arrangement pattern used in pop and R&B music.  Usually in pop and R&B they use the ‘hook’ to be the repetitive melody that snags the listener’s ear.  Siegel uses the chords and melody at the beginning of his songs to repeat.  In one respect, this is a good practice.  However, the missing jazz factor in Siegel’s music is the improvisation on his piano instrument.  I never really hear him stretch-out to improvise on his themes.  He just plays a theme over and over again.  On the opening tune “Old School” and the following track, “Sentimental Story” he uses this technique.  Although his music is soothing and easy-listening, his piano playing lacks creative improvisation.  Improvisation is one of the most important, if not THE most important part of being a jazz musician.  On “Tried and True” the groove is contagious, but the starting chords sound strangely similar to the song “Sentimental Story”, a track playing right before this one.  Although the arrangements are similar, the productions are packed with punch and talent.  Dan Siegel rarely takes the lead to be exploratory on his solos or to exhibit his prowess on the piano. Perhaps because he is surrounded by such outstanding musicians. Even if he had played his original compositions in a variety of keys, it would have helped to make his song repertoire stronger. Also, most of his compositions are performed at a similar, moderate tempo.  With the amazing list of talented players on this project, I was expecting more diversity.  On Track 11, Siegel did step up to solo more on his piano instrument.  Maybe too little too late.

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WONDERFUL WIZARDS OF CREATIVE MUSIC

July 31, 2021

By Dee Dee McNeil

Aug 1, 2021

WADADA LEO SMITH – “TRUMPET” – Tum Records

Wadada Leo Smith, trumpet/composer.

This collector’s album is a unique, extended collection of solo trumpet music recorded over one summer week, in the beautiful, natural acoustics of St. Mary’s Church.  St Mary’s is a medieval stone church in the town of Pohja on the Southern Coast of Finland.  This amazing new work of musical art features fourteen new compositions by Wadada Leo Smith, spread over three CDs.  It was recorded in July of 2016, at the historic church that was constructed between the years 1460 and 1480 and is said to be very close to its original condition.  As usual, Wadada Leo Smith explores all the tones, textures and possibilities of the trumpet. 

“The acoustics were perfect for the trumpet sound.  The recording took place over four days during the summer.  It was a beautiful moment for creating art,” Wadada Leo Smith recalled.

“The trumpet is a metallic vehicle and, because of its architectural design, it has the potentiality of offering the music creator the ability to create a pure and sometimes unimaginably beautiful music.  That music of the trumpeter is heard in this world and across space.  It is an instrument made for the dreamer of dreams, the one who can authenticate the dream into reality,” Smith described his chosen instrument.

This beautifully constructed album package consists of a CD sized booklet full of art and wise words that perpetuate the legacy of master musicians like Albert Ayler, Miles Davis, Howard McGhee, Steve McCall and spiritual innovator, Malik al-Shabazz.  Wadada Leo Smith dedicates his music to these historic figures and more.  In the booklet, he gives opinions on each icon that inspired his music and why they mean so much to him.  There are also several color photographs of Wadada and a rich biography that traces his early musical life to the present. The historic St. Mary’s Church is photographed and there are many pages of original artwork in the booklet and gracing the covers of the three CDs; art created by the multi-talented Wadada Leo Smith.  Several of his previous art scores have been featured exhibits at major American museums.

Smith received his original musical inspiration from his stepfather, Alex “Little Bill” Wallace, who was one of the first Delta blues singers to play electric guitar.  Wadada Leo Smith’s Leland, Mississippi home was always full of music with frequent guests like Little Milton, Elmore James and B.B. King.  As a trumpeter, he thought of himself as a descendent of Louis Armstrong, although he was also greatly influenced by Miles Davis, Booker Little, Clifford Brown and Don Cherry.  However, Wadada was always his own man; a musician who pushed the boundaries.   After leaving the army in 1967, he moved to Chicago and joined saxophonist, Anthony Braxton to become part of the blossoming AACM, (the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians).  As part of his music theory exploration, Wadada Leo Smith developed the two basic systems of music he has used in his compositions ever since: the system of rhythm-units and the notation system he termed “Ahkreanvention” that literally means to create and invent musical ideas simultaneously utilizing the fundamental laws of improvisation and composition.  With his rhythm-unit concept, each single sound or rhythm, or a series of sounds or rhythms, is accepted as a complete piece of music.  Smith’s creation of Andhrasmation Symbol Language has been significant in his development as an artist and educator.

Professor Smith has been on the faculty of the University of New Haven, The Creative Music Studio in Woodstock, New York and Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson.  He also served as Director of the African-American Improvisational Music Program at the Herb Alpert School of Music at CalArts.  In 2016, Wadada Leo Smith received the Doris Duke Artist Award and an honorary Doctorate of Arts degree from CalArts, where he was celebrated as Faculty Emeritus.  In 2019, Smith received the UCLA Medal, the campus’s highest honor and in 2021 he was named one of the 2021 USA Fellows by the United States Artists.  This album is another example of Wadada Leo Smith’s excellence, unique creativity, craftsmanship and brilliant talent.  With his beautiful tone and emotional connection, his music makes me feel one with the universe.  It opens like a blooming flower and roots itself into the soul of his listening audience.         

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ALEX COLLINS, RYAN BERG, KARL LATHAM – “TOGETHER” – DropZoneJazz Records

Alex Collins, piano; Ryan Berg, bass; Karl Latham, drums.

There’s nothing quite like ‘trio music’ when the players are as creative, talented and inspired as these three musicians.  On the well-loved tune, “Stella by Starlight” they open sweetly like a music box.  Soon, the spotlight turns to the bassist, Ryan Berg.  He basks in the light and thoroughly entertains us on his upright instrument.  When Alex Collins enters on piano, both his solo and style are stunning and unusual.  I am captivated by his approach on the piano and the freedom he exhibits, with Karl Latham slapping the drums into high gear to perpetuate the excitement.  Sometimes it sounds as if two pianists are playing instead of one.  Alex Collins is extremely gifted. 

Drummer Karl Latham has produced this session.  Karl is listed on the DrummerWorld ‘Top’ Drummers List.  He is also the Recording Engineer on this project.  The clarity he captures is wonderful.  His talents are prominent and exploratory on “Alone Together” a song usually recorded as a pensive ballad.  In this case, the trio has double-timed the arrangement and the tune streaks by on humming bird wings.  Latham takes a long and inventive drum solo on this piece, until the time resolves, slowing down to wrap us in a warm, somewhat classical piano arrangement.  The creativity presented by this trio is dynamic and much appreciated.

Ryan Berg opens “Green Dolphin Street” setting the groove with his double bass, offering a rich, provocative tone.  Berg has performed with Gregory Porter, Mark Whitfield, Lindsey Webster, JD Allen, Lenny White, Gerald Clayton and more.  He’s a bass staple on the New York City jazz scene. 

Alex Collins is a composer and arranger, as well as a uniquely talented pianist.  He’s performed with Michelle Coltrane, Gerry Gibbs, The Dizzy Gillespie All-Stars, Lennie White and in 2003, Collins received the Wynton Kelly Jazz Foundation Award for Jazz Achievement.

When you combine these three exceptionally talented individuals, you get an opportunity to hear what the perfect jazz trio should sound like, under the best of circumstances.  This is an album I will enjoy time after time, year after year, always discovering something fresh and exciting to please my jazz palate.  Their music is absolutely delicious!

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LAUREN HENDERSON – “MUSA” – Brontosaurus Records

Lauren Henderson, vocals/composer/background vocals; Sullivan Fortner, piano; Paco Soto & Nick Tannura, guitar; Eric Wheeler, bass; Joe Dyson, drums; Marquis Hill, trumpet; Sabu Porrina, percussion; Daniel J. Watts, spoken word.

Lauren Henderson made a conscious effort to be sure this new release exemplified her traditions and the cultures that have influenced her style and vocals. 

“I wanted my next record to blend jazz, flamenco and Afro-Latina music,” explained Henderson.

Opening with her breathy, tremolo voice caressing the lyrics to “I Concentrate on You,” she overdubs and harmonizes with herself on this tune.  Sullivan Fortner is notable and complimentary on piano.   This is Henderson’s eighth release as a leader. She includes original compositions as part of this repertoire and she sings several songs in Spanish.  Track two is one of her original songs titled, “La Marejada,” that she performs in Spanish.  Paco Soto is emotional and full of passion on Flamenco guitar.  The tune “Forget Me” is one I heard Shirley Horn sing and Lauren Henderson gives bassist Eric Wheeler the introduction on solo bass to draw us into this song.  Joe Dyson’s seductive drum licks add the perfect punch and Marquis Hill’s muted trumpet is sexy and fills in the empty spaces until it’s solo time.  Then he flies high as does Fortner on piano. 

“Corazon, No Llores” is very tango-like at the top of the verse and once again Henderson sings in Spanish.   As the song unfolds, it spreads joy like sweet jam.  On this arrangement, Nick Tannura steps forward with his guitar featured brightly.  Lauren Henderson has a soft sound, reflective of what she describes as her ‘shy’ personality.  But there is a sexy undertone that whispers her lyrics and is quite provocative.  You clearly hear it on “Wild Is the Wind.” 

“I’m not a belter.  It’s more nuanced.  While intensity is a powerful tool that we can use in a beautiful way and in a positive way, I can be more private at times. … I think I bring some of that to the stage.  I’m so grateful for people who take the time to listen.  I’m saying more with less and people have to listen to be able to receive it,” she says. 

The arrangement on “Ahora” is exciting and features Sullivan Fortner and Eric Wheeler on bass.  Joe Dyson’s drums push the track ahead and Lauren once again chooses to sing in Spanish.  The rhythm section is powerful on this track.  The title tune, “Musa” is another Henderson composition and is sung in Spanish.  It becomes one of my favorites on this album.  It’s very melodic and the arrangement is lilting and happy.  Eric Wheeler sparkles during his bass solo.  Lauren Henderson’s project is fun, diverse and creative.

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DETROIT COMPOSERS COLLECTIVE – “REALISM” – MUSIC OF KENN COX, BRAD FELT & MARK LIPSON – DCC Records

Cliff Monear, piano; Michael Malis, keyboards; Jeff Pedraz & Miles Brown, upright bass; Jesse Kramer & Sean Dobbins, drums; Pepe Espinosa, Latin percussion; Dwight Adams, trumpet/flugelhorn; Andrew Bishop, tenor saxophone; Terry Kimura, trombone; Rafael Statin, tenor saxophone/flute; Mark Lipson, producer/arranger.

The work of three Detroit composers is featured on this straight-ahead, legacy album of music; Mark Lipson, Kenn Cox and Brad Felt.  Lipson founded the Detroit Composers’ Collective (DCC) in 2015 to preserve some of Detroit’s many great jazz musicians and composers.  Lipson is a drummer and composer in his own right and was an admirer of Kenn Cox.  Two of his songs are included on this recording; “The Masters” that opens the CD and Track 2,“Tony’s Trip.”  As the producer and arranger of this project, Mark Lipson has employed some of the top players around the Motor City.  Opening with his own tune, “The Masters” this title epitomizes the work of himself, Kenn Cox and Brad Felt.  This tune barrels into my listening room with tenacious energy, in a jazz waltz vein.  As the horns blare, Cliff Monear is complimentary and supportive in the rhythm section, on piano.  Andrew Bishop takes an inspiring tenor saxophone walk around the tune, as does Dwight Adams on trumpet.  On “Tony’s Trip” we are transported to South America with spicy, hot Salsa music.

Like many master musicians who came out of Detroit, Kenn Cox was a graduate of the legendary Cass Technical High School.  After graduating Cass Tech, he went to the Detroit Conservatory of Music (1949-1958), as well as the Detroit Institute of Music Arts from 1959-1961. Then Cox left for New York City.  Although his initial dive into the music world was on the trumpet, Cox became attracted to the piano early on and that became his instrument of choice.  In New York City, he landed an accompanist position with the great Etta Jones and was her Musical Director until 1966.  He also worked with the legendary Helen Humes and Ernestine Anderson.  Upon returning to Detroit, he joined the hard bop quintet headed by trombonist, George Bohannon.  This was followed by Cox forming his own group; Kenny Cox and the Contemporary jazz Quintet.  They recorded for Blue Note Records.  With roots deeply embedded in post-bop, hard bop and bebop, Kenn Cox was a prolific composer.  On Mark Lipson’s “Realism” album he has interpreted two compositions by Cox.  The first is “Cuernavaca,” named for a Mexican City heralded as The City of Eternal Spring.  This Latin influenced composition, with Pepe Espinosa propelling the tune on percussion, features a lush melody and a beautiful solo on flute by Rafael Statin.  “Samba de Romance” is the second tune penned by Kenn Cox.  Drummer, Sean Dobbins, holds this piece rhythmically in place along with Espinosa on percussion and bassist, Jeff Pedraz, bows a beautiful solo on his upright instrument.   Michael Malis skims along the keyboard keys and Rafael Statin flutters his flute.  Terry Kimura makes a solo appearance on his trombone.

Brad Felt’s compositions close out this CD.  He was born May 6, 1956, full name, Bradley James Felt, and grew up in Royal Oaks, Michigan. Felt made his musical mark playing tuba, euphonium and composing music.   Like Cox, he started by playing trumpet in grade school.  Once he got braces, playing trumpet became challenging, so he switched to tuba at age fourteen.  Following his high school band participation, he attended Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan, sponsored by a performance scholarship.  He studied with Sam Sanders, Doc Holladay and Herbie Williams, as well as being part of the jazz workshop led by trumpet master, Marcus Belgrave.  Brad Felt extended his tuba playing into the world of jazz and in 1990, he featured his own compositions during a concert at the Detroit Institute of Arts entitled “The Tuba Rules!”

Felt’s arrangements are more Avant-Garde and his compositions give this talented ensemble freedom to stretch-out and improvise broadly atop his creative chord changes.  “Existentialism” is up-tempo and Rafael Statin picks up his tenor saxophone and flies free as an eagle.  Sean Dobbins is exciting on trap drums.   On the “P.J. Lids” composition, they add a Latin beat and feature Espinosa on Latin percussion.  This tune is brightly enhanced by a provocative horn ensemble.  The production closes with Mark Lipson’s tune, “Spinning,” featuring Andrew Bishop on tenor saxophone, Cliff Monear on piano, Miles Brown on double bass and Jesse Kramer manning the drums.  All in all, here is an entertaining production that introduces the listener to some of Detroit’s best jazz composers interpreted by an outstanding group of Motor City players.

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TRINEICE ROBINSON – “ALL OR NOTHING” – 4RM Music Productions

Trineice Robinson, vocals/background vocals; Laura-Simone Martin, background vocals; Lindsay Martin Jr., vocals/background vocals; Cyrus Chestnut & Phil Orr, piano; Kenny Davis, bass; Vince Ector, drums; Kahil Kwame Bell, percussion; Joe ‘Stretch’ Vinson, guitar; Don Braden, tenor & alto saxophones; Ian Kaufman, trombone; John Meko, trumpet; Nils Mossblad, tenor saxophone.

The ensemble backing up Trineice Robinson is so strong that I am immediately drawn into this project like quicksand.  Don Braden opens the first piece, “All or Nothing at All” on saxophone and sets the tone.  The group swings hard.  Robinson arrives vocally and sings this standard from the great American Songbook with vigor and strength.  Cyrus Chestnut adds a spirited piano solo.  The group’s arrangement of “Footprints,” the second song, is too busy.  Trineice Robinson and Nandita Rao have written lyrics to Wayne Shorter’s tune.  Don Braden has arranged the piece and features Vince Ector on drums and the colorful percussion of Kahlil Kwame Bell.  Unfortunately, it sounds like Robinson is fighting the ensemble for space to vocalize.  She’s such a strong singer that the production is a disappointment, because it’s so busy featuring the band, the vocalist seems to have lost her spotlight.  Trineice Robinson’s rendition of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On?” shows her strong R&B side.  She has worked regularly with an R&B band since her college days.  As a multiple stylist, she was raised in the gospel church and has been singing gospel music since she was a young child.  Dr. Robinson also has extensive classical training.  You can clearly hear her powerful alto voice on “Come Sunday.”  This is an arrangement that simply features her voice and Chestnut’s piano. 

As a teacher, Trineice Robinson has dedicated her life to helping others achieve success on their journey to discovering and honing their vocal talents. She teaches jazz, gospel/Christian music, R&B, rock, country and pop singing styles.  She has created ‘Soul Ingredients’ a teaching methodology for developing a singer’s musical style and to teach interpretation in African American, folk-based music styles.  It’s meant to personalize a singer or performer’s own expression. 

This is Dr. Robinson’s debut album. You hear the full breadth and width of Trineice Robinson’s vocals on the beautiful ballad, “You Taught My Heart to Sing” written by McCoy Tyner and Sammy Cahn.  “La Costa” has long been a favorite tune of mine and I was happy to hear Dr. Robinson cover this song, featuring Phil Orr on piano with Don Braden’s beautiful flute licks complimenting sweetly. The background vocal harmonies are refreshing as they lilt along with this Latin flavored tune.  Robinson snatches a piece of the blues while covering the Nancy Wilson hit song, “Save Your Love for Me.”  I was impressed by her original tune, arranged as a shuffle blues. “Let it Shine” does just that.  This is a strong composition with a positive, uplifting lyric and it’s soaked in gospel.  She’s joined by her two children, Laura-Simone Martin and Lindsay Martin, Jr. who sing background.  Kenny Davis takes an impressive bass solo on the Thelonious Monk song, “You Know Who (I Mean You).”  Trineice scats with the horn, singing along in unison. 

Dr. Robinson comes from a large, close-knit religious family.  There are three generations of preachers in her family and she sang with a gospel choir from the age of five.  Obviously, her children are following in her footsteps. The closing song, “This Little Light of Mine” featuring Lindsay Martin Jr., singing with spontaneous sincerity and joy.  Here is an album that     introduces us to the rich voice and many vocal styles of Dr. Trineice Robinson.

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ANTONIO ADOLFO – “JOBIM FOREVER” – AAM Music

Antonio Adolfo, piano/arranger/producer; Lula Galvao, guitar; Jorge Helder, double bass; Paulo Braga & Rafael Barata, drums; Dada Costa & Rafael Barata, percussion; Jesse Sadoc, trumpet/flugelhorn; Danilo Sinna, alto saxophone; Marcelo Martins, tenor & soprano saxophones/flutes; Rafael Rocha, trombone; Zé Renato, vocals.

Brazilian composer extraordinaire, Antonio Carlos Jobim, has blessed the world with amazing songs that will live on forever.  Like so many of us, pianist Antonio Adolfo also admires the Grammy Award winning composer, Jobim, who introduced Bossa Nova to the United States and the world.  Antonio Adolfo has chosen to re-imagine nine of Jobim’s beautiful compositions from the 1960s. They are treasures that reflect Adolfo’s own unique artistry.  Antonio Adolfo is a composer himself, who has recorded over two dozen albums as a bandleader, some that featured all his own compositions.  In fact, more than 200 of his original works have been recorded by major artists including Sergio Mendes, Earl Klugh, Herb Alpert, Stevie Wonder, Dionne Warwick and others.

Adolfo became a professional jazz pianist at age seventeen, when he formed and led his own trio.  He toured with famous singers like Flora Purim and Elis Regina.  He also toured with Milton Nascimento, whose music he commemorated in a 2020 recording tributing that great musician; (BruMa – Celebrating Milton Nascimento).  For this recent project, Adolfo has assembled some of the top musicians in Brazil.  He opens this album with probably one of Jobim’s biggest hit recordings, “The Girl from Ipanema.”  The ensemble embraces the rich, Bossa Nova rhythm, but also incorporates a soft ‘swing’ groove into the mix.  Antonio re-colors the original arrangement, giving the horns space to show-off.  Danilo Sinna’s sweet alto saxophone wraps the swing around his solo, then invites Adolfo to present his enthusiastic solo on piano.  On “Wave” Lula Galvao is brilliant on guitar and Rafael Rocha’s trombone is king! 

Antonio Adolfo was just establishing his career in music during the early 1960s, at the same time Jobim was becoming an international success and Brazilian music was intoxicating the world.  It was around this same time that he met Antonio Carlos Jobim.

“When he returned to Brazil, after the Bossa Nova concert at Carnegie Hall in 1962, I met and hung out with Jobim on several occasions.  He was captivating and witty.  He shared his knowledge of music and nature, subjects about which he was passionate and knowledgeable.  We would spend hours talking and I was charmed by his wisdom,” Adolfo recalled his time spent with Jobim.

On Track 3, we get to enjoy the smooth beautiful voice of Ze Renato singing the ‘happiness’ song, “A Felicidade.”  We also hear the trumpet excellence of Jesse Sadoc on this familiar tune.  With Adolfo’s piano pumping life and energy into the arrangement, along with the percussive magic of Rafael Barata and Dada Costa.  I love the alternate chording and fresh harmonics that Antonio Adolfo adds to “How Insensitive.”   Then, on “Favel (O Morro Nao Tem Vez)” his arrangement slips into a minor blues suit and features straight ahead, improvised saxophone and trumpet solos that stand out as colorfully as a red & white polka dot bow tie.  This arrangement is playful and full of joy.

Adolfo explains his creative process: “When I create arrangements for my albums, I play the music literally dozens of times on the piano until I start to feel a kind of partnership with the composer.  After I thoroughly absorb the music, I can start hearing my own voice emerge, and I then can create the different harmonies, meters, phrasing and forms that I adapt to the instruments in my concept.”

With all the respect and love that Antonio Adolfo has for his hero, he has arranged and played this wonderful music, endeavoring to repaint the solid structure with his own bright colors and artistic shading.  You will enjoy the flavor of each tune and feast at the table of Antonio Adolfo, tasting each delicious bite of rhythm and harmony, and enjoying the rich succulence of every song arrangement.  Adolfo’s modern jazz sensibilities and arranger skills are the perfect ingredients for creating a meal of music fit for queens and kings to devour                           

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KENNY GARRETT – “SOUNDS FROM THE ANCESTORS” – Mack Ave Records

Kenny Garrett, alto saxophone/vocals/electric piano/composer; Vernell Brown, Jr., piano; Corcoran Holt, bass; Ronald Bruner, drums; Rudy Bird, percussion/snare; SPECIAL GUESTS: Jean Baylor, Linny Smith, Chris Ashley Anthony, Sheherazade Holman & Dwight Trible, vocals; Dreiser Durruthy, bata/vocals; Pedrito Martinez, vocals/congas; lenny White, snare; Johnny Mercier, piano/organ/Fender Rhodes; Maurice Brown, trumpet.

Kenny Garrett tells us “It’s Time To Come Home,” the name of  his opening tune, featuring Rudy Bird’s percussive beauty that nudges this production and supports Garrett’s silky smooth alto saxophone. This song has an Afro-Cuban feel to it with the voice of Jean Baylor featured, softly harmonizing with Garrett’s horn.  Dreiser Durruthy adds his bata talents and vocals, speaking to us and singing to us in what sounds like Yurabic. Track 2 is a tribute to trumpet master, Roy Hargrove (“Hargrove”) and features Maurice Brown on trumpet, with a choir of harmonic voices in the background who add another dimension, the way a string section would do; ever smooth and beautiful.  The melody is catchy, as Garrett and Brown punch it out in unison before exploring their individual improvisations. Kenny Garrett has composed all the music on this recording. 

“For Art’s Sake” features the drums of Ronald Bruner with Kenny’s saxophone calling out powerfully to the listener’s ear.  Also, we hear Garrett’s piano talents at the electric piano.  I am assuming this song is written to tribute the great Art Blakey, only because the drummer is so brillianly spotlighted.  Speaking of ‘art,’ the cover artwork on this album is amazing and created by Rudy Gutierrez.

“What Was That” is straight-ahead and exciting, giving Garrett a platform to fly free on his alto sax.  Vernell Brown, Jr., takes an exploratory trip around the 88 keys and wows us with his fluidity.  Rudy Bird’s colorful percussion is spotlighted during this tune and breathes fire and flame into the composition.   Ronald Bruner’s drums are hotly present on track 6, “Soldiers of the Fields/Soldats des Champs.”  As Kenny Garrett delivers his brilliant saxophone solo, Bruner’s powerful percussion fuses the tune, like a match to a kerosene lamp.  His double-time dances beneath this song and is flammable.  Special guest, Lenny White, is also here adding snare-snap to the drum sounds. However, it is always Kenny Garrett who fans the flames and enriches these songs with his inspirational musicianship.   The title tune, “Sounds from the Ancestors” begins with a sweet piano introduction that sets the mood and solidifies the melody.  Enter Pedrito Martinez on congas and vocals, whisking us up and reminding us of Cuban and African roots. Los Angeles based vocalist, Dwight Trible improvises on this song.  Kenny Garrett has invited several guest vocalists onto this project. He invites them to infuse his music with their spirits and free-vocal improvisations.  The melody of this particular song is so beautiful, I wish I had heard Trible’s beautiful baritone voice sing it down just once, but the pianist does a magnificent job of delivering this melodic message.  Garrett’s album ends with him playing percussion, using his air and alto saxophone to create breathy, rhythmic passages. This composition offers us the same kind of Afro-Cuban arrangement we heard at this album’s beginning, perhaps to remind us that “It’s Time to Come Home.”

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REVIEWING OLYMPIC GOLD BIG BANDS, ORCHESTRAS & SMALL ENSEMBLES

July 25, 2021

By Dee Dee McNeil

July 25, 2021

BOB MINTZER & WDR BIG BAND COLOGNE – “SOUNDSCAPES” – MCG Jazz

Bob Mintzer, tenor saxophone/electronic wind instrument (EWI)/composer/arranger/conductor; WDR MEMBERS: Billy Test, piano; Paul Shigihara, guitar; Stefan Rey, acoustic & electric bass; Hans Dekker, drums; Marico Doctor, guest percussionist. Johan Hӧrlen & Karolina Strassmayer, alto saxophones; Olivier Peters & Paul Heller, tenor saxophones; Jens Neufang, baritone saxophone; Wim Both, Rob Bruynen, Andy Haderer & Ruud Breuls, trumpet; Ludwig NuB, Raphael Klemm & Andy Hunter, trombone; Mattis Cederberg, bass trombone.

For the past six years, Bob Mintzer has been the chief conductor of the WDR Big Band Cologne.  He wanted to work with a large, world-class ensemble to explore his intricate arrangements and showcase his original composer skills.  There is a tradition at the WDR Big Band to have the chief conductor fashion a project of their music and showcase their talents on their specific instrument.

“I’ve been primarily concerned with organizing concerts that either featured all the great musicians in the band … or arranging the music of one of several iconic guests that were jointly selected to be featured.  I’ve enjoyed the challenge of tackling these activities,” Bob Mintzer mused.

“My mission in creating the music here was to make a warm, beautiful sound, with the occasional smattering of complexity amongst singable melodies, interlocking rhythmical counterpoint and an amalgam of grooves from around the world,” Bob explained.

The WDR big band opens with a tune called “A Reprieve” rich with Latin rhythms and a melody you will want to whistle along with. Track 2 is titled, “The Conversation” and brightly features guest percussionist, Marcio Doctor.  The tune is soaked in Afro-Cuban rhythms and features Mintzer, dominant on tenor saxophone.  “Stay Up” starts out up-tempo and swinging, with plenty of staccato starts and stops; but quickly changes course to a sweet tenor solo that flys and swoops above a lovely background of horn harmonics, with Hans Dekker pounding away on drums to inspire the ensemble.  Johan Horlen contributes an inspirational alto sax solo that lifts the piece.  This is straight-ahead jazz that thrills me. A song called “Montuno” reflects the heart of Cuban rumba and Mintzer’s love affair with the New York City Latin jazz scene. 

“I played in Tito Puente’s band for a year in 1974 and I played in a lot of salsa bands around New York prior to and after that,” Mintzer reminisces.  “I worked with Eddie Palmieri’s band.  So, I’ve played thousands of Montunos in my time.” 

This is an album full of cayenne spice, but cool as flavored, crushed ice cones on a hot summer day.  It’s full of harmony and descants; melody and musical conversation. Bob Mintzer has a love for counterpoint and you hear it these arrangements.  His compositions and arrangements keep the listener interested and he doesn’t mind sharing the spotlight with his various team players.   The joy of creating a big band project is dependent on gathering musicians together, with various viewpoints and cultural identities, but orchestrating to make them inclusive in the project in a unified and artistic way.  Mintzer exhibits a gift in this area.  He is also able to bend genres in his arrangements.  On the tune “Whack” for example, he blends fusion and funk in a delicious way, keeping the WDR Big Band solid with their harmonics and traditional flair. At the same time, he incorporates an electronic sound that propels the piece. It’s Mintzer stretching out on the EWI.   Paul Heller solos notably on tenor saxophone. 

“Canyon Winds” is a Smooth jazz sounding composition that allows Billy Test to showcase his awesome talents on piano and drummer Hans Dekker shines like a full moon on a clear night.  Every one of Bob Mintzer’s compositions is full of light, bright creativity and offers unexpected surprises for our ears. 

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SAM PILNICK’S NONET PROJECT – “THE ADLER SUITE” – Next Level 2122

Sam Pilnick, tenor saxophone/composer; Meghan Stagl, piano; Ben Dillinger, bass; Matthew Smalligan, drums; Ben Cruz, guitar; Euan Edmonds, trombone; Emily Kuhn, trumpet; Ted Hogarth, baritone saxophone; Max Bessesen, alto saxophone.

Sam Pilnick is a Chicago-based bandleader who has composed, produced and arranged this project to take his listeners on a trip to outer space, using a nine-movement suite inspired by Chicago’s beautiful and educational Adler Planetarium.

“As we entered The Adler, I was immediately inspired to write music as I saw the original space craft that brought home the astronauts from the Gemini II mission. … Reading the explanation of our planet, solar system and galaxy filled my mind with musical thoughts,” Sam Pilnick reflected on the inspiration for this project.

On Track 1., “Squawk Box,” Pilnick’s music is very orchestral and classically rooted. Track 2 is titled “Star Launch” and is a little jazzier, with the solo saxophones racing and the horn harmonics in the background warm and supportive.  “Star Launch” is much more engaging than the opening tune.  However, I wish I could hear the drummer more assertively.  Ben Dillinger on bass is clearly heard pumping away, but where are the drums?  Did Matthew Smalligan lay-out on this arrangement or did he get lost in the mix?  Then, out of the blue, the band quiets and the drums come marching through the curtains at the very end of the song.  What was the engineer thinking? 

Sam Pilnick, a tenor saxophone player, seems to lean heavily towards showcasing his woodwind players. The horns appear to have a central place in the spotlight and they are very busy throughout.  “Silver Light” opens with Meghan Stagl’s haunting piano chords, soon usurped by the horn ensemble.  This is a very pretty ballad composition by Pilnick.   We finally hear the drums clearly on Track 6, “House of the Massives (Pismis-24)” where the rhythm section is featured for the first eight bars before the horns dominate.  This arrangement is quite electric, but it’s neither jazz fusion or funk; Avant-garde or traditional.  It’s just busy.  The moderate tempo of most tunes throughout this production leaves this project of original compositions lack-luster and a bit boring, with the exception of the “Star Launch” tune.  However, the premise is noteworthy and the players are champions of their instruments.

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CHRIS STANDRING TRIO & ORCHESTRA – “WONDERFUL WORLD” – Ultimate Vibe Recordings

Chris Standring, guitar; Peter Erskine, drums/percussion; Dave Karasony & Harvey Mason, drums; Geoff Gascoyne, Darek Oleszkiewicz & Chuck Berghofer, bass; Kathrin Shorr, vocals; Randy Brecker, flugelhorn. VIOLINS: Magnus Johnston (leader) Jackie Shave, Thomas Gould, Bea Chappell, Kate Robinson, Ben Hancox, Tom Pigott Smith, Patrick Kiernan, Cathy Thompson & Dan Bhattacharya.  VIOLAS: Bruce White, Andy Parker, Reiad Chibah & Kate Musker.  CELLOS: Caroline Dale, Dave Daniels, Vicky Matthews & Nick Cooper. Tara Minton, harp. Geoff Gascoyne, orchestra arranger/conductor.

Chris Standring is an in-demand guitarist rooted in contemporary smooth jazz.  He prides himself with thirteen Billboard Top 10 singles and six single releases that all reached number one on the popular Billboard Chart.   “Wonderful World” is Standring’s fourteenth release as a leader. However, this album is very different from his other projects.  Instead of composing his own original music, this time Chris decided to put his unique and creative spin on songs from the Great American Songbook.  He also decided to feature a 19-piece orchestra, fulfilling one of his longtime dreams.

“I think there is something magical about the sound of a guitar and orchestra playing together, but I won’t always be in situations where it’s possible to use an orchestra.  So, the arrangements had to be flexible enough to work in a trio setting,” Chris Standring explained.

Chris Standring is a prolific composer, who has written or co-written over 100 songs and all of his other albums have spotlighted those composer abilities.    When asked about how he manages to come up with so many melodic ideas, he responded:

“I’m very disciplined about my writing.  I’m not married and don’t have any children, because I have been so intensely focused on my music and I don’t want any distractions.  I write pretty much every day and need silence and time for reflection. … I listen to a wide range of music styles to spark my creativity.” 

Standring is a native of England, but moved to the West Coast of the United Stated in 1991, settling in Los Angeles.  Almost immediately, he began recording with folks like Rick Braun, Carole Bayer Sager, Jody Watley and gospel icons, Bebe and Cece Winans.  He’s also been on-stage with such icons as Bob James, Patti Austin, Boney James, Peter White, Kirk Whalum and Dave Koz.  For this orchestral project, the respected guitarist called on a number of Los Angeles legendary jazz players to join him in the studio.  See the impressive list above.

You will enjoy the Standring interpretation of “How Insensitive,” with the orchestra arranged and conducted by Geoff Gascoyne.  The orchestrated portion of this album was recorded at the famed Abbey Road Studios in London.  Other lovely, nostalgic tunes you will appreciate are “Night & Day,” “Autumn in New York” and “Estaté.”   On “What A Wonderful World” vocalist Kathrin Shorr lends her talents to the mix as the strings soar and beautifully color the arrangement.  On the Standring original composition, “Sunrise” Chris features Randy Brecker on Flugelhorn during this waltz-tempo’d ballad.  Other gems are “My Foolish Heart,” “Alfie,” and the jazz standard, “Green Dolphin Street.”  He also covers the Donald Fagen tune, “Maxine.”  This is easy-listening jazz at its best.  Dim the lights, flame the candles and cuddle up with this beautiful album of familiar songs.

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THE PAXTON/SPANGLER SEPTET CD – “ANTHEM FOR THE NEW NATION” – Eastlawn Records

Tbone Paxton, trombone/co-leader; RJ Spangler, congas/percussion/co-leader; Phillip J. Hale, piano/fender Rhodes/electric piano; Sean Perlmutter/drums; Jeff Cuny, elec. & acoustic basses; Daniel Bennett, tenor saxophone; Rafael Leafar, alto saxophone/flute; Kasan Belgrave, alto saxophone; Damon Warmack, electric bass; Special guest: James O’Donnell, flugelhorn.

The Paxton/Spangler Septet is featuring the South African music of famed composer, Abdullah Ibrahim, formerly known as Dollar Brand.  Both Tbone Paxton and RJ Spangler have long been infatuated with the music of South Africa. The two musicians, who founded this septet, admire such artists as Hugh Masekela, Miriam Makeba and pianist, composer Abdullah Ibrahim.  The Tbone Paxton and RJ Spangler duo began this journey in 1980 when they formed a musical group known as the Sun Messengers Band.  This was followed by the Sun Sounds Orchestra.  Their orchestra effort was awarded Best Jazz Recording at the Detroit Music Awards in 1991.  After forming and dissolving several music ensembles, always with the desire to promote South African music, they have now released “Athem For the New Nation.”  Track 2 is the title tune of this album. Abdullah Ibrahim’s composition features a spirited alto saxophone solo by Rafael Leafar.  Track 3 is titled “Cape Town Fringe/ Mannenberg” and is based on an arrangement by Pharoah Sanders.  RJ Spangler’s percussion propels the group forward. The ensemble performs succinctly, establishing tight, African-flavored grooves for the soloists to take advantage of and to showcase each individual’s talent.  Phillip Hale opens Track 4 on piano, taking his time with the chords and introducing us slowly and emotionally to “Perfumed Forest Wet With Rain.”  I also enjoyed the flute of Rafael Leafar on this pretty ballad.  Another favorite on this album is “Moniebah” with a joyful bass solo by Jeff Cuny, who also wrote all the arrangements.  They close with the popular “Soweto” song.

Here is an album celebrating the iconic composer, Dollar Brand aka: Abdullah Ibrahim and infusing Motown groove with South African world music.

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MATT NIESS and THE CAPITOL BONES – “THE BEAT GOES ON” – Summit Records

Matt Niess, tenor trombone/arranger; Tony Nalker, piano; Shawn Purcell & Jim Roberts, guitars; Paul Henry, bass; Todd Harrison, drums; TENOR TROMBONES: Jim McFalls, Jay Gibble & Zach Niess.  BASS TROMBONES: Jerry Amoury, Jeff Cortazzo & Matt Neff.

Matt Niess and The Capitol Bones shuffle their way into my listening space with the familiar Sonny Bono song, “The Beat Goes On.”   It’s full of spunk and funk.   Matt Niess is a trombonist based in Washington, D.C., who played with the U.S. Army Band for over thirty years.  He was also a member of the Army Blues Jazz Ensemble and the US Army Brass Quintet.  On this recording, he is joined by some of the best jazz musicians in the Nation’s capital and they swing hard!  During the fade of this arrangement, the guitarist, Shawn Purcell, trades fours with Matt Niess’ trombone. Todd Harrison is spectacular throughout, taking a brilliant bow at the very end, with flashing drum sticks and admirable drum skills crashing into a crescendo of rhythm. 

“The Capitol Bones inaugural performance was in a restaurant called Firenzi’s in Arlington, VA; 1990, … not long after I joined the U.S. Army Band.  Our first big concert was the International Trombone Festival at the Eastman School of Music in 1991, after winning the Kai Winding Competition sponsored by the International Trombone Association.  The competition was the impetus that motivated me to forge the group into a trombone band like no other,” Matt Niess sang the praises of his band.

This is the long awaited fourth album for the renowned Capitol Bones.  Group founder and leader, Matt Niess, has every right to feel proud and enthusiastic about this recording.  It is absolutely terrific. The level of musicality and uniqueness is ‘off the charts;’ literally.  Matt’s arranging skills are also on parade and richly sparkle.

Matt arranged a well-known work in the trombone world that’s called “Two Pieces for Three Trombones.” He arranged it originally in 2010, for the Eastern Trombone Workshop (known now as the American Trombone Workshop).  For this recording, Niess expanded it to five bones and it’s become one of three bonus tracks included on this project.  Part two of this suite of music is actually called “Episode” and stands alone as track two on the album. The drums give the piece an Afro-Cuban feel, then part the curtains so that Jim McFalls can step through and solo on his tenor trombone.  The electric guitar makes an amazing statement on his own. Purcell steals the spotlight briefly away from the trombones and thoroughly entertains us. 

Pat Metheny composed “Song for Bilbao” and the trombones sound fat and full at the introduction of this piece.  Metheny’s tune features Jim Roberts on guitar.  “Duke Ellington’s Sound of Love,” written by Mingus, is beautifully performed and aside from the awesome harmonies of the trombones, pianist Tony Nalker is given ample time to show off his musical skills. 

Here is an album packed with musicality and a variety of songs and arrangements that will thrill and entertain you.  Take for instance the harmonics on “Yesterday” that ring dynamic and memorable.

Matt Niess adds a couple of his original compositions for good measure.  One is titled “Fanfare for the Capitol Bones” and it reminds me of a freight train plowing down the tracks. Niess combines traditional jazz with a contemporary perspective, sparking the song with funk drums and playing his trombone with gusto.  The guitarist adds electronic rhythm to the piece and brings the element of fusion along with him.  There’s a Medley of music from ‘Chicago’ including “Make Me Smile,” “The Approaching Storm” and “Man vs. Man” and another original composition from Neiss titled, “Felicity.”   If variety is the spice of life, and you’re prone to unique experiences, sprinkle this music liberally onto your CD player and enjoy.

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GENERATIONS – “THE BAYLOR PROJECT” – Be A Light

PRINCIPLES: Jean Baylor, vocals/background vocals/composer/arranger/ hand claps/stomps; Marcus Baylor, drums/percussion/hand claps/stomps/arranger; Shedrick Mitchell, piano/organ/Wurlitzer /Fender Rhodes/ arranger; Terry Brewer, piano/organ; Dezron Douglas, Richie Goods & Ben Williams, upright bass; D. J. Ginyard, electric bass; Rayfield ‘Ray Ray’ Holloman, lap steel guitar/guitar; Marvin Sewell, guitar/slide guitar/acoustic guitar; Pablo Batista & Aaron Draper, percussion; Stephanie Alvarenga, vocal contractor/arranger background vocals/claps & stomps; Linny Smith, Sheherazade Holman, background vocals/claps & stomps; Pastor Paul James, background vocals; Keith Loftis, tenor & soprano saxophone; Korey Riker, tenor saxophone; Freddie Hendrix, trumpet/flugelhorn; Mark Williams, trombone; Christopher Michael Stevens, horn contractor/trumpet; Aaron ‘Goody’ Goode, trombone; STRINGS: Darin Atwater & Geoffrey Keezer, arrangers; Lady jess, strings   contractor/violin l; Sara Caswell & Janina Norpoth, violin l; Orlando Wells, Frederique Gnaman & Ling Ling Huang, violin ll; Susan Mandel, cello; Celia Hatton, viola; SPECIAL GUESTS: Kenny Garrett, alto saxophone; Dianne Reeves & Jazzmeia Horn, lead vocals; Jamison Ross, lead vocals/background vocals; Sullivan Fortner, piano/arranger; Apostle Larry J. Baylor, preacher; Mother Mattie Baylor, Mother Joan Norris, Eric Roberson, Dana Johnson, Avery Sunshine, Evertt & Tamia Perry, Uncle James Arthur & Aunt Cassandra Medley, spoken word.

The opening tune Strivin’ is spirited and sounds like something Aretha Franklin would sing.  The vocalist, Jean Baylor, is strong and rooted in gospel music.  This original song features the soulful horn of Kenny Garrett, however that doesn’t necessarily make this jazz.  Instead, it’s very strong Rhythm & Blues.  “Happy to be With You” continues in the same vein, with the blood of rhythm and blues pumping the tune happily along.  The band’s messages of love and family are prominent with powerful harmonic horns that sound like the days of ‘Tower of Power’ or ‘Earth, Wind & Fire.’  Both of these gold record groups combined music genres, blending R&B, Pop and Jazz.  The Baylor production takes a turn with “Love Makes Me Sing,” a beautiful ballad with strings soaring in the background and Keith Loftis sounds complimentary and jazzy on saxophone.   Shedrick Mitchell at the piano adds his jazzy touch to the production.  Jean Baylor’s voice is sweet honey in the comb on this project.   Her voice is soulful, emotional and hypnotic.  As “The Baylor Project” presents a mixed genre of music, it’s Jean’s voice that ties the package together like bright, colorful ribbons.  On the song “2020” they dip deeply into the biscuits, gravy and goodness of gospel music.  Jean and Marcus Baylor have written and arranged a dozen compositions for our listening pleasure and each song is well written and compelling.  Jean Baylor puts lyrics to Wayne Shorter’s “Infant Eyes.”  Storytelling has always been central to the Baylor Project’s creative output.  As mentioned, their music crosses genres.  While most of it is rooted in R&B, on the seventh tune she features Jazzmeia Horn and Dianne Reeves, (two of my favorite jazz vocalists) and the project moves into pure jazz.  Marcus Baylor’s drums lock the ‘swing’ into place and Sullivan Fortner’s piano is outstanding as a strong support tool.  Sullivan is a musical master in his own right.

The beauty about much of today’s younger generational music is the cross-over appeal and the creative blending of genres.  This ensemble expands the term ‘jazz’ to new levels.  Their music is exceptionally well written, expertly arranged and, in addition, there is a strong element of spirituality and believability incorporated into their songwriting. I also must mention and applaud the fact that they employed live ‘strings’ and not a keyboard replica.  Listening to their music, I hear a hopeful spirit that prevails and uplifts.  So many people play well, but it takes a certain commitment, sometimes referred to as the ‘IT’ factor, along with talent to deliver music that inspires and heals.  “Generations” is one such project that will make you happy and hopeful.

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SARAH WILSON – “KALEIDOSCOPE” – Brass Tonic Records

Sarah Wilson, trumpet/vocals; Myra Melford, piano; Jerome Harris, bass; John Schott, guitar; Matt Wilson, drums; Charles Burnham, violin.

A lone trumpet blares, directing our attention to the tone of Sarah Wilson’s instrument and her latest project titled, “Kaleidoscope.”  The piano sounds like bottle chimes blowing in a rainstorm.  Charles Burnham’s violin brings another voice that handsomely harmonizes with Wilson’s horn.  Her melody repeats and burns into our brains.  This original composition by Sarah Wilson is titled, “Aspiration” and is dedicated to Renee Baldocchi, who was Director of Public Programs at San Francisco’s de Young Museum when Wilson met her.  Aspiration is one of a dozen original songs Wilson has penned for this production.

“This record is about the people who have supported me,” Wilson explains the dedication above.

As the album title implies, “Kaleidoscope” embraces multiple views, colors and personalities.  This is not strictly jazz, but a combination of genres inclusive of Afro-Latin grooves, Indie rock and something her publicist calls Avant-pop.  “Color” is a song she dedicates to Paul Caputo, another supporter, music mentor and Schoenberg scholar.  This composition reminds me somewhat of South African music, with the strong melody introduced by horns and the guitar of John Schott.  Myra Melford is given time to explore improvisation on her piano and Matt Wilson’s drums hold the music rhythmically in place. 

Wilson’s compositions are melody-rooted, with repeatable, simple lines that are easily remembered. After I read that she had spent much time working in the Bread and Puppet Theater, later expanding her Visiting Artist role to work with a giant-puppet production for two years, and finally becoming an arranger, conductor and performing musician during puppet shows, her musical vision became clearer to me.  Her music is not complex.  However, it is sometimes on the verge of Avant-garde.  She’s a fairly new composer, singing and writing her original songs beginning in 2000, after the loss of her mother.

“My mom died that year and I gave up the trumpet. …  Songwriting was distracting; soothing as I was dealing with this terrible loss in my life.  I felt relaxed doing it.  It’s another avenue for my music to travel down,” Sarah Wilson explained how she came to composing.

In 1993, after Wilson moved to New York City to specifically concentrate on music, she studied with John McNeil and Laurie Frink.  Wilson released her first album in 2006 (Imaginary Play) and followed that up with 2010s Trapeze Project. When not recording, she develops programs for museums and institutions.  Her latest project is a music production for The Tenderloin Museum.  Collaborating with Larkin Street Youth Services, an organization serving homeless youth that is based in one of San Francisco’s most poverty-stricken neighborhoods, “Tenderloin Voices” brings their stories to life through writing workshops and musical performances. 

This music doesn’t shuffle or swing.  It showcases simplistic melodies and Ms. Wilson is then dependent on her musical ensemble to do much of the improvisation we expect in a jazz production.  She is not a jazz singer.  Perhaps she explains her musicality best when reflecting on her days as Musical Director and Composer of Lincoln Center’s Out of Doors Festival’s Annual Puppet Program.

“At the time, I didn’t really have any formal training or experience composing.  I didn’t know much harmony, so I would just write these melodic bass lines and layer contrapuntal melodies on top of them,” she explained in her press package.  “I’ve formally studied music since then, but my basic composing approach hasn’t changed much.”

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MICHAEL MANTLER – “CODA ORCHESTRA SUITES” – ECM Records

Michael Mantler, trumpet/composer; Christoph Cech, orchestra conductor; David Helbock, piano; Maximilian Kanzler, vibraphone/marimba; Bjarne Roupé, guitar; Tibor Kovesdi & Philipp Kienberger, double bass; Asja Valcic & Arne Kircher, violoncello; Simon Schellnegger, Anna Magdalena Siakala, Daniel Moser & Tamara Stajner, viola; Joanna Lewis, Ulrike Greuter, Diane Pascal, Tomas Novak, Simon Frick, Maximilian Bratt, Magdalena Zenz & Emily Stewart, violin; Leo Eibensteiner, flute; Peter Tavernaro, oboe; David Lehner, clarinet; Fabian Rucker, bass clarinet; Christoph Walder, French horn, Daniel Riegler, trombone; Simon Teurezbacher, tuba.

“Coda” is a summary; a concluding statement of material selected from past work.  Michael Mantler (born in Vienna in 1943) has always found inspiration while listening to his early work and compositions.  That’s why he has titled this new release “Coda Orchestra Suites” because, although it’s newly written music, it is also music developed from past works.

“… Almost always, when I start a new composition, I begin with materials from previous work. More often than not that procedure would spark or beget a new line of musical thought from which to continue,” Michael Mantler explains.

“Twothirteen Suite” opens this piece of orchestrated art.  It’s a dramatic piece with plenty of crescendos and soaring string lines.  A tenacious bass line storms beneath the orchestra’s powerful statement.  Mantler has composed all of the music.  It’s European classical to the max.  During eleven minutes and forty-one second of this first song, I don’t hear any jazz at all.  

“I have always considered myself an orchestral composer,” says Michael Mantler. “Even when circumstances dictated smaller ensembles. This time I did not retain the original instrumentation but settled on what seems to be my current favorite – a chamber orchestra consisting of flute, oboe, clarinet, bass clarinet, trumpet, french horn, trombone, tuba, guitar, piano, marimba/vibraphone, plus a string section…” the composer says.

Even though Michael Mantler has included brief solos by himself on trumpet, by pianist David Helbock and Bjarne Roupé featured on guitar, the majority of the players are classical musicians who are reading music that is clearly orchestral.  Although quite beautiful, the premise of jazz is lost.  Why?  Because jazz is the music of freedom.  It expands on a theme and the players are encouraged to improvise. Also, Jazz swings!  Jazz shuffles!  Sometimes it can be totally free, like Avant-garde jazz.  Even when jazz is contemporary with fusion tones and funk drums, or transformed from Rhythm and Blues into smooth jazz, it still exhibits elements of freedom and transformation.  American jazz is our countries classical art form, created by African Americans and born out of struggle and a longing to be free.  As a jazz reviewer, although this music is beautifully orchestrated, I just cannot call this album jazz. 

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DIVERSITY EXPANDS THE PROVERBIAL JAZZ BOX

July 14, 2021

By Dee Dee McNeil

July 14, 2021

TANYA DENNIS – “WHITE SAILS BLUE SKIES” – Paloma Records

Tanya Dennis, vocals/composer/violins/castanets/handclaps/ Tibetan prayer bowl; Matt Berry, John Richards & Billy Panda, acoustic guitar; David Martin, acoustic guitar/handclaps; Jim Ferguson, bass; Scott Halgren, piano; Dann Sherrill, percussion/ handclaps; Hendrik Meurkens, harmonica;

Tanya Dennis is a multi-talented vocalist who also plays classical violin, guitar and composes music. She began performing at age sixteen, playing guitar at a deli in North Myrtle Beach.  Around this time, she also fell in love with the violin, after meeting George Kindler, a fiddle player with the David Bromberg band.  This fascination with the violin led her to jazz theory studies, electronic music, composition and the study of classical violin at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.  Tanya also spent three years at the University of Miami as part of their exceptional jazz program where she performed with an 80-piece jazz orchestra.  She also sang with a working, funk-fusion band.  Around the same time, Tanya Dennis was performing with the famed Ira Sullivan band.  She is an example of expanded musical talent and diversity.

Ms. Dennis has a cool, ice-cream sweet voice that entices you into its spell like the whipped cream on top.  She opens with an original composition titled, “Chiaroscura.”  This tune lilts across space, like a sail boat on a calm sea.  I am immediately taken by her lovely, unpretentious tone.  She has composed seven of the nine songs on this album.  I was not surprised, when I read, in her press package, that indeed this talented lady is an avid sailor. She gives us a hint with her CD cover and the album title.  Tonya purchased a 50-foot sailboat after experiencing a series of life-changing events and set sail around the keys, the Bahamas and the Caribbean in general, to settle her thoughts and clear her creative mind.  This song, (Chiaroscura) is a term for the play of contrasting light and shadow in the visual arts.  Consequently, this original composition was inspired by one evening when she witnessed the full moon glowing brightly on ocean waves; a perfect setting for light and shadow.

Tanya Dennis arranges music with Latin overtones that dip and dance like oars on a romantic lake.  For example, “Where You Are” is a song in this vein, colored by Dann Sherrill’s exciting percussion and stroked by the smooth vocals of Dennis.  On “White Sails” Tanya Dennis adds her talents on Tibetan prayer bowl.  You hear it clearly at the introduction of this pretty, bolero-like ballad. She sings lyrics that praise white sails and blue skies, new horizons and leaving the shore behind, in search of the good life.  This is a great composition and a good choice as the title of this entertaining and thought-provoking album.  Scott Halgren’s piano fills are sensitive and worthy of mention.  The acoustic and electric guitars are glitter on the cheeks of every song.  Hendrik Meurken’s harmonica is bright as lipstick or rouge, blushing against songs like “The World Can Do without Us Today.” 

When Tanya Dennis isn’t recording beautiful music as a bandleader, she is touring worldwide as a violinist, a rhythm guitarist, a mandolin player and even a back-up vocalist.  She has toured with legendary names like Faith Hill and Janie Fricke, who is a two-time CMA Female Vocalist of the Year winner. Tanya made waves with her premiere recording, “Waterdance” that mixed jazz, blues and country music to win her the “Rising Female Star European market” award.  She continues that legacy with this recent release.  You will want to play Tanya Dennis’ CD over and over again.  It’s just that good!

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PEARRING SOUND – “SOCIALLY DISTANCED DUOS” – Independent Label

Jeff Pearring, alto saxophone/composer; Billy Mintz & Francisco Mela, drums; Cameron Brown & Ken Filiano, bass; Claire de Brunner, bassoon; Daniel Carter, soprano saxophone; drums.

Jeff Pearring’s concept for this album grew out of the isolated flowerpot of pandemic blues. 

“This album is my improvisation to the experience of quarantine, lockdown and separation from the NYC community’s musical conversation during the pandemic of 2020.  These recordings provided the unique opportunity to release emotional energy through sound at a time when there was no certainty around,” Pearring explains in liner notes.

Jeff normally leads the “Pearring Sound” group as a quintet or trio.  He longed for musical camaraderie, and decided to play duets with six diverse, but talented musical friends.  He chose the musicians listed above to compliment his compositions, playing with each one singularly.  That created these eight duo performances.  “Twisting Pavement” opens with Billy Mintz providing drum licks, until Pearring joins in on his alto sax.  Jeff has a warm, compelling sound on the saxophone and at times uses staccato notes to push the melody forward.  Mintz is competent and creative on trap drums.  However, once the melody is established, I keep waiting for Pearring to stretch out and visit improv-land.  However, he stays very close to the melody and after a while, the piece begins to sound like someone practicing scales instead of performing.  I was more taken by Pearring’s bluesy take on Track 2., “Time in Isolation,” with Mintz brushing the pandemic dust off the blues.  However, at the fade of this tune Pearring once again resorts to scale practice, that for me takes away from the originality.  

Some cuts on this recording that rewarded my ear are his duet with bassoonist, Claire de Brunner on “Shapeshifter.”  The richness of the bassoon, played, descant fashion, against the tenor saxophone brought a spotlight to shine on both instruments as they held a conversation with each other; a conversation whose energy, at times, sounded somewhat like an argument.  In other words, there was never any solo space to expound on a theme or individually sing a melody.  The two instruments stayed busy.  Ken Filiano brings a ‘bass-ment’ for Pearring to build upon.  He holds down the piece titled, “A Continuous Conversation Renewed” with his double bass tenacity.  Jeff Pearring flits and flies around, like a busy bird, above the string bass and ever-circling the piece with wide wings. Cameron Brown takes over the bass playing when Jeff Pearring performs the familiar Miles Davis classic, “Solar.”  This song becomes my favorite, because it has such a happy, pleasing melody that gets to be played, clearly heard and digested.  This production is an assortment of Avant-garde duets that mirror the frustration and challenge being quarantined for over a year can inspire.  Jeff Pearring sums it up this way:

                “Jazz improvisation is the quintessential musical conversation.  Despite the numerous and seemingly miraculous, technological advancements throughout human history; conversations remain best in person.”

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VINCE MENDOZA CZECH NATIONAL SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA – “FREEDOM OVER EVERYTHING” – Modern Recordings

Vince Mendoza, composer/arranger/conductor; Jan Hasenӧhrl, director; Marcel Javorcek & Ondrej Kabrna, piano; Lukas Chejn, guitar; David Ruzicka, Oleg Sokolov, Karel Fingl, Renata Janska, Jan Pistora, Jaroslav Minor, Matous Novak & Dalibor Nemec, drums; Lubomir Maryska, tuba; Roman Koudelka, Tomas Olevrel, Silva Gerykova, Jaromir Gardon, Petr Vasinka, Pavel Pospisil, Ondrej Stajnochr, Rostislav Tvrdik & Eri Ishikowo, double bass; Robert Heger, Martino Kustarova, Tim Kodlec, Trefna Pavla Ondrichova, Lenka Schichova & Jiri Loukola, flute; Jan Kolar, Pavel Korbicka, Anna Skreptacova, Dana Wichterlova & Martin Petr, oboe; Lubomir Legemza, Dusan Mihely, Zdenek Tesar & Matous Kopacek, clarinet; Jan Hudecek, Stepon Rimsky, Petr Nemecek, Rudolf Krula, Richard Srbeny & Pavel Rylina, bassoon; Jan Hasenohrl, Lukas Koudelka, Marek Vojo, Jan Hykrda, Jan Burian & Roman Kubol, trumpet; Jiri Novolny, Karel Kohout, Petr Frid, Bohumil Bydzovsky, Petr Cihak & Barbara Kolatova, trombone.

VIOLIN 1: Alexej Rosik, (concertmaster/soloist), Helena Jirikovska, Martin Tupy, Martin Sandera, Miluse Kaudersova, Vaclav Vacek, Miroslav Kosina, Voclav Dvorak, Richard Valasek, Rodana Vectomova, Josef Novotny, Ondrejka Dlouha, Radka Preislerova, Martin Valek, Ayako Naguchi, David Sroubek, Filip Silar, Frantisek Kosina, Libor Kanka & Petra Bohm. VIOLIN 2:  Zdenek Jirousek (soloist), Katarina Klemankova, Ana Crnes, David Vorac, Martina Suskovo, Jiri Kohoultek, Karel Selmeczi, Ayako Naguchi, Stanislav Rada, Simon Tosovsky, Tomas Prosek, Helena Gertichova, Roman Konecny, Stepan Lauda, Jana Svecova, Lenka Sanchez, Eva Brummelova, Renata Juristova & Stanislav Rada. VIOLA: Karel Untermuller (soloist), Marketa Sadecka, Filip Kemel, Frantisek Jelinek, Boris Goldstein, Michal Demeter, Jiri Zigmund, Adam Pechociak, Miroslav Novotny, Jan Stippl, Vladimir Bazant, Irena Stranska, Lenko Bosnovicova & Adela Bryan.  VIOLONCELLO:  Milos Jihoda (soloist), Stepanka Kutmanova, Adriana Vorackova, Roman Stehlik, Petr Janek, Olga Bilkova, Martin Havelik, Zuzana Dostalova, Jaroslav Ondracek & David Havelik.

According to his liner notes, conductor/arranger/composer, Vince Mendoza, feels this album titled, “Freedom Over Everything” seeks to answer a question; what does it mean to continue to create art in service of the times? 

Once you read his composition titles, they speak for themselves. “American Noise” opens the orchestrated concert.  Lukas Chejn steps into the spotlight on this tune to offer a very blues-driven guitar solo.  This is followed by the pensive and beautiful, “Consolation” composition.  “Hit The Streets” starts off percussively, featuring Antonio Sanchez on drums.  Horns blare in between a sweet marimba exploration by Oleg Sokolov, while the strings crescendo and twirl like spinning, whirling Dervish dancers.  On “Meditation” we hear the melancholy, but very lovely tenor saxophone of Joshua Redman, who brings jazz to the orchestra on a golden platter and serves it up generously. “Justice and the Blues” starts out with horns that sound as if they are introducing us to ‘his royal highness’ in some far-away land of orchestrated beauty.  Nearly four-minutes in, the arrangement switches to tenacious and funky drums that take control.   Enter “Freedom Over Everything,” a composition that incorporates funk drums and poet, Black Thought, lends his mind-tickling lyrics that, in part, say:

                “…You’re either with the evolution or against it; the difference is prison gates or picket fences.  It’s big business; death is expensive.  Look! Hunger games by another name / is what became of the oath that went up in flames/ when another man was slain, but ain’t nothin’ changed.”

There is a brief finale, that plays like an interlude and strokes our emotions with the bow of Alexej Rosik’s solo violin displays his talents on the instrument. The eighth composition is titled, “To the Edge of Longing” and features the rich, powerful vocals of soprano Julia Bullock.  In closing, Vince Mendoza offers his “New York Stories” (a concertino for trumpet and orchestra) that features Jan Hasenӧhrl.

This is an album of lush orchestration with special jazz and operatic guests. Mainly, it’s classical music. I enjoy the imagination and arranging skills that Vince Mendoza brings to his compositions.  The Prague-based Czech National Symphony Orchestra performs with emotional magnificence.

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SAM BLAKESLEE & WISTFUL THINKING – “THE LONG MIDDLE” – Outside In Music

Sam Blakeslee, composer/trombone; Chris Coles, alto saxophone/electronic effects; Brandon Coleman, guitar; Matt Wiles, bass.

Sam Blakeslee is a very melodic composer.  His current single “The Long Middle” is pulled from an upcoming July 30th album release.  This song is a lovely, moderate tempo tune that, without drums, depends on Brandon Coleman’s rhythm guitar to hold the pulse of the piece.  He does that very competently.   The entire group, “Wistful Thinking,” is somewhat like an intimate chamber-jazz production without the violins and cellos.  “Ashokan” is track 2 of this production and it’s sultry and pensive, featuring Chris Coles, on saxophone, at the onset.  Soon, the curtains part and Sam Blakeslee steps through with his trombone bleating out a relaxing melody until Coles joins in.  Then, the two horns have a very public conversation.  On the composition, “Bygones Are Bygones” the use of electronic effects paints a ghostly, Avant-garde picture, with the two horns dancing harmonically in the middle of the unexpected.  The tempo picks up with the “Franklin’s Blues” composition and gives a nod to Matt Wiles on bass, who plays a prominent part in this arrangement, notably walking his bass notes beneath the improvisation of Coles and Blakeslee.  Matt grounds the piece.  They give him a space to solo, and his rich, bass tone is bluesy and free.  When Coleman adds his guitar licks, it creates an interesting dynamic between the two string instruments.  The horns sing the happy melody and bring the composition full circle.  This is one of my favorites on this album of relaxing and ethereal music. 

On the tune called, “Bob” I get to enjoy Blakeslee’s beautiful tone on his trombone.  This is another one of my favorites.  Matt Wiles takes a solo on bass and vividly tells his wordless story, plucking the strings with determined grandeur.  But it’s Blakeslee’s trombone that sings from the heart and sells the song. 

Here is an album with arrangements that are both unexpected and unique.  Sam Blakeslee’s compositions are well written and melodic. Each member of “Wistful Thinking” brings their best to the party and with Sam Blakeslee’s trombone leading the way, enjoy a bright, relaxing and beautiful celebration.

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HORIZONS QUARTET – PM Records

Dan Wilkins, tenor & soprano saxophones/composer; James Collins, piano/Fender Rhodes; Gene Perla, bass; Byron Landham, drums.

All compositions featured by Horizons Quartet were written by thirty-year-old Dan Wilkins.  He opens this energetic album with a tune called “Spiraling,” presenting us with a melody that circles from his tenor saxophone and inspires the others to join in.  The group is off and running.  When extraordinary pianist, James Collins along with Wilkins, decided to put a band together, they wanted their rhythm section to include the caliber of musicians that had inspired them to play jazz.  Collins had been inspired by celebrated Philly-based drummer Byron Landham, who has toured with Betty Carter and Houston Person, as well as working with organ icon, Joey DeFrancesco.  You can hear his power and precision during a solo on this first composition.  They also included bassist Gene Perla, who is a master musician and has played with Sarah Vaughan, Jimmy Cobb and Miles Davis.  At eighty-one, he still burns on the bass. 

One thing I noted, this quartet loves to build the tension and grow the music.  These arrangements are rich with energy and this multi-generational quartet offers us over an hour of exquisite jazz, mostly straight-ahead, well-composed and well-interpreted original music.  Arrangers Wilkins and Collins, allow each talent to express themselves vividly for our listening pleasure.  The quartet, as a whole, moves like a well-oiled engine, generating power, improvisation and precision that infuses each composition.  Every tune is enjoyable, but some of my favorites are “Benediction of the Moon” and “Get the Point” that begins with a drum solo where Byron Landham sets the tempo and the groove.  James Collins takes off like a rocket on piano and Perla pushes him ahead, fueling his flight with bass tenacity.  Dan Wilkins arrives, shooting flames out of his saxophone.  Finally, Landham is left alone in the spotlight to solo and introduce us to his powerful and relentless drum techniques.  Yes!  I “Get the Point.”  “Gaia’s Blessing” brings us ballad relief, with Collins turning to the sparkling tones of a Fender Rhodes to interpret this pretty tune.  Who doesn’t love a good jazz waltz?  They close with “Kindling of the Phoenix” and I’m left with a feeling of complete satisfaction.

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JULIAN GERSTIN –“MUSIC FOR THE EXPLORATION OF ELUSIVE PHENOMENA” – Zabap Music

Julian Gerstin, composer/arranger/congas/timbales/percussion/lyrics/vocals/piano/drum set.  Zara Bode, Mario Inchausti, Carlene Raper, Wanda Houston & Sarah LeMieux, vocals; Josh Francis & Ben James, drums sets; Wes Brown & Jay Cook, bass; Bob Everingham, tenor guitar; Jason Ennis, lead & rhythm guitar; Eugene Uman, piano/keyboards/co-arranger; Derrik Jordan, violin; Anna Patton, clarinet/vocals; Jon Weeks, alto, tenor & baritone saxophones; Jim Heffron, baritone saxophone; Michael Zsoldos, alto & tenor saxophones; John Wheeler, trombone; Don Anderson, trumpet/flugelhorn.

During the past fifty years, Julian Gerstin has spent his life studying, teaching and performing traditional music from around the world.  He earned a PhD in Cultural Anthropology from Berkeley and has traveled the world in search of rhythmic roots.  Gerstin is a percussion expert.  He has lived in Martinque, studied music in Cuba and Ghana and worked around the United States in a variety of settings.  Julian leads the jazz-oriented Julian Gerstin Sextet and performs with Trio Mambo, with VT Shakedown (afrobeat, ska and funk) and Bomba de Aqui (a Puerto Rican traditional music group) in addition to collaborating with an assortment of top artists in a variety of musical fields.  Gerstin is also the co-author of The Musician’s Guide to Rhythm.  Consequently, with that type of background and credentials, you expect this project to be as diverse as his lifestyle.  You would be right on the mark. 

This production is strongly rhythm-based and mixes grooves with spoken word, prose and his original compositions.  Gerstin has composed eleven of the dozen songs on this album and each is firmly cemented in his hypnotic percussion. Wanda Houston recites Julian Gerstin’s prose, formed by using familiar phrases from various eras, to trace “American History” through song.  This is their opening tune on this collection of thought-provoking works.  You will want to dance to the music of this first tune, but Houston’s dramatic voice makes you pay attention and think about her words as the horns punctuate the piece like exclamation marks. 

Gerstin’s composition, “Too Happy to Sleep” sounds very South African influenced.  However, his liner notes correct me and state that it’s African dance music with roots in Nigeria and Ghana. Vocalist Sarah LeMieux is featured on “After the Sleep of Lies,” a moody song with her beautiful voice caressing the prose of Gerstin’s lyrics in a very sensual way.  Her lovely vocals make the sad words palpable.

“Spruce Street” is titled like many American shape note hymns, after the place it was written; a street with a purple house in Brattleboro, Vermont.  It features a crafted clarinet solo by Anna Patton.  “Long Journey Home” has a haunting melody and Sarah LeMieux is back with her silky, smooth vocals.  This song is an adaptation of the a ‘Capella group, Sweet Honey in the Rock’s anthem that Julian Gerstin arranged for their “Still on the Journey” CD.  Each song on this “Music for the Exploration of Elusive Phenomena” is enjoyable, infectious and spiritually rooted.  Here is music that showcases the diversity that makes jazz a continuous work in progress.  The horn parts accentuate the melody and the percussive excellence pushes each tune forward like a 16-wheeler forging down the highway.                     

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ORRIN EVANS – “THE MAGIC OF NOW” – Smoke Sessions Records

Orrin Evans, piano/composer; Immanuel Wilkins, alto saxophone/composer; Vicente Archer, bass; Bill Stewart, drums.

This is a recording made in December of 2020 at ‘Smoke Jazz Club’ in New York City.  Like so many musicians, pianist Orrin Evans was hungry for musical camaraderie.  In March of 2020, Evans had been touring with a trio in Chicago when reports of a rapidly spreading pandemic, COVID19, had the musicians scrambling to get home.  Days of isolation followed with no work; no club gigs, no festivals and no concerts. For some reason, Orrin Evans found himself grounded in a strange way, when the concept of his musical mission became clarified.

“That’s kind of what this record is about.  ‘The Magic of Now,’ is like, what’s happening right now.  Not tomorrow.  Not yesterday.  What are you doing right now, at this exact moment, to make tomorrow better?”  Evans poses the question in his album liner notes.

Orrin met saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins when Immanuel was eleven years old and attending a summer camp program where Evans was an instructor.  Today, at twenty-three-years-old, Immanuel Wilkins is a rising star on alto saxophone and a blossoming composer.  Wilkins has written three songs for this project and Orrin Evans has written three.  The seventh song was contributed by drummer Bill Stewart and the late Mulgrew Miller.  This quartet opens their CD with a medley of “Mynah and The Eleventh Hour.”  Their arrangement of Mulgrew’s tune from the “Widespan” album is open, improvisational and straight-ahead.  The quartet’s tempo is a hair slower than the original recording, but you hear the freedom in these musicians and Bill Stewart plows ahead on the drums, burning with energy and feeding the production with fire.  Wilkins sparks the tune with his alto sax and Vicente Archer pumps his bass in lock-step with the drums.  Orrin Evans provides his own hot temperature on the 88-keys.  He and Wilkins stand out on this opening number, like two boxers in the ring.  The musical licks fly.  Once Evans asserts his singular status, he is pumped up by the Stewart drums while delivering an awesome piano solo.  I played this cut twice, before continuing to listen to the entire album.  It’s over thirteen minutes long, but there was a lot to hear, as the tune flies by!  Bill Stewart shows that he can hold his own during a fiery and exploratory trap drum solo that ends this medley with a bang. 

Evans met Stewart through their work together in Steve Wilson’s band.  He found himself intrigued by Stewart’s distinctive sound.  Right then, he made a mental note to create a scenario for them to work together.  In 2014, Evans assembled a band that included Stewart on drums and bassist, Vincente Archer.

“Basically, for the last six or seven years, I’ve been waiting for a moment to put that band back together,” Evans shares.

“Mat-Matt” is an Orrin Evans composition that’s another favorite of mine and it swings hard.  You get to enjoy Orrin’s style and technique on his instrument, up close and personal.  “Momma Loves” is a Wilkins original and reminded me of something Thelonious Monk would have composed.  Then I read the liner notes and discovered that Evans felt the same way about this tune.

“Monk didn’t really write tunes with odd-numbered bars, but this is like Monk with a modern twist. …You really hear those sentimentalities, those extra two bars are turning around to make sure you have that tie on straight, that you remember to give her (your momma) a call.  If feels like all of that,” Orrin Evans stated about the “Momma Loves” tune.

Together, this ensemble offers us “The Magic of Now” using music to remind us how important every second of life is and reminding us to appreciate it.

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SCOTT REEVES QUINTET – “THE ALCHEMIST” – Origin Records

Scott Reeves, alto valve trombone/alto flugelhorn/electronics/composer; Russ Spiegel, guitar; Mike Holober, piano/electric piano; Howard Britz, bass; Andy Watson, drums.

This lost recording was originally performed ‘live’ at the City College of New York in 2005, sixteen years ago.  During the 2020 pandemic, when Scott Reeves had time on his hands, like thousands of other musicians, out of curiosity, Scott Reeves gave this long shelved project a listen. 

“I was excited to hear how the quintet played so well together and I felt this may have been among my own personal bests.  During the time of this recording, I was experimenting with electronic enhancements; a pitch follower and a ring modulator.  Russ Spiegel’s electric guitar paired well with my electronically nuanced alto flugelhorn and alto valve trombone in the front line, colored by mike Holober’s use of grand piano and Fender Rhodes.  It allowed us to find that border between the warmth of more traditional forms of jazz and the edginess of more experimental styles.  I decided that this music needed to be heard!”  Reeves explained.

They open the concert with “New Bamboo,” a song that allows a certain freedom for the musicians to improvise on top of the energy-driven, ‘vamp’ feel.  All five of the six songs recorded are composed by Scott Reeves.  “Shapeshifter” is track 2 and introduces an intense and challenging melody that is also quite beautiful.  Reeves steps forward to blow his solo from the bell of his horn.  He spews a rich and powerful tone.  Next, Andy Watson takes a notable drum solo, with Mike Holober playing staccato chords in the background.  After the drums, Holober introduces us to his piano expertise, sounding rather like a humming bird is flying up and down the 88-keys with trembling wings. There are electronic colorations in the background, that create unobtrusive highlights during this arrangement.  The band of five sounds a lot larger than a quintet.  “The Alchemist” is one of my favorites on this production and is the title tune.  It taps into fusion jazz and has a wonderful, repeatable melody that sticks to your brain like Velcro.

Scott Reeves plays trombone with the Dave Liebman big band and has performed with the Vanguard Orchestra, with Chico O’Farrill’s Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra, as well as with familiar artists like John Patitucci, Ron Carter, Rich Perry, Kenny Werner, Steve Wilson and more.  Scott Reeves Jazz Orchestra has released two CDs and Scott is a Professor Emeritus at the City College of New York and has taught at the Juilliard School and various other universities.  His bandmates, guitarist Russ Spiegel and pianist Mike Holober are both prolific composers, especially for big band.  With this combination of players, all steeped in big band harmonics, could explain why this quintet has such a splendiferous, larger-than-life sound.  Holober is also a professor of Music at the City College of New York and has taught at the Manhattan School of Music.  He’s written music for the Frankfurt Radio Big Band and the WDR band, as well as arranged for artists like Joe Lovano, Randy Brecker, Dr. Lonnie Smith and John Scofield, to name a few.  London born Howard Britz is also a composer and not only a gifted bassist, but is also a competent pianist. He’s recorded four CDs as a bandleader and has been a sideman for jazz and Latin groups including work with Billy Pierce, Canilo Perez, Paquito de Rivera, Kenny Wheeler and Edsel Gomez.  Finally, drummer Andy Watson is celebrated on the East Coast for his unerring sense of time and groove.  He also is an astute sight-reader.  Close friends refer to him as “The Sheriff” because of his innate ability to lock-in any unruly horn sections.  Andy has performed with the Vanguard Orchestra and various iconic jazz artists like the great Benny Golson, the unforgettable Jon Hendricks, legendary Lew Tabackin, unforgettable James Moody, Joe Lovano, Woody Herman, Tashiko Akiyoshi and Jim Hall.  What’s not to love about this quintet? 

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INTERNATIONAL ARTISTS SPOTLIGHT JAZZ

June 30, 2021

By Dee Dee McNeil

July 1, 2021

IRINA ZUBAREVA – “BRIDGES TO RIO” –  Zoho Records

Irina Zubareva, vocals; Misha Tsiganov, piano; Itaiguara Brandao, electric bass; Portinho, drums.

Oh, my goodness! The energy and joy that radiates from Irina Zubareva’s very first track grabs my attention and won’t let me go.  Sung completely in Portuguese, it doesn’t matter that I can’t understand her lyrics.  I am captivated by her voice, her sincerity and her emotional delivery on “Samba Little Samba” (Show de Bola). 

This is followed by “Copacabana,” that Irina sings in English.  She has slowed the tempo down, with great support from Portinho on drums and the beautiful accompaniment of Misha Tsiganov on piano.  This song shows off Irina’s rich vocal range as she swoops from soprano to deep alto tones and then scat-sings.  On “Just Friends” each musician previews their expertise at a racing pace and we get to hear and appreciate the talents of Tsiganov on piano.  When Itaiguara Brandao steps forward on electric bass, his own magnificent talent is on display.  Portinho’s trades fours with his comrades and he swings hard and is very fluid on his instrument. 

Irina Zubareva comes from a very musical family.  Her father was a double bassist and worked in a Russian orchestra during the 1970’s.  He used to play at a restaurant where Irina’s mother was singing. Their talented daughter received her graduate degree in Music from the Saint Petersburg Academy of Art and Music in Russia.  She became an applauded performer in jazz clubs throughout St. Petersburg and has toured Finland, the Netherlands, Germany, Malta and the Dominican Republic.  Irina Zubareva also worked with a band on cruise ships.  In 2013, she relocated to New York City where she continues to make her mark.

This album was recorded as part of a ‘live’ performance at a private residence in New York City.  Her audience and culture commanded that she include some beloved native songs since many in her audience were of Russian descent.  

Zubareva’s talented pianist is originally from St. Petersburg, but is currently a valued member of the local New York Latin and jazz community.  The group’s interpretation of “Como Se Fosse” by Hendrix Meurkens and Ana Terra is another favorite on this album.  Irina is often seen performing with Hendrik Meurkens around the New York area.  Also, their arrangement on “Triste” is quite exciting and lyrical. “I’m Beginning to See the Light” is arranged delightfully, at a quick Latin pace and opening with only Irina and her bassist.  Itaiguara Brandao sets the groove and tempo on electric bass, prompting Zubareva to enter with her sweet vocal compliment. I played this cut twice!

The vocalist includes several Russian compositions that round out this tribute to Brazil, New York City and her cultural Russian roots.  Here is representation of global music at a high quality of musicianship, that reflects the jazz ability to expand every type of music with the freedom of improvisation and creativity.  These musicians and their talented vocalist expand on the theme of many cultures and weave them together like a fisherman’s net.  We are the catch, bathing in the liquid magnificence of their music and loving every moment of it.

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GABRIEL MARK HASSELBACH – TONGUE & GROOVE – Mesa/Bluemoon Recordings

Gabriel Mark Hasselbach, flugelhorn/trumpet/flute/alto flute/percussion/programming/co-producer; Daniel Sequin, alto & tenor saxophone/keyboards/bass/drum programming/co-producer; Bob Baldwin, keyboards/programming; Paul Brown, Chris Standring, Grant Geissman & Brian Hughes, guitar; Tony Moore & Kat Hendricks, drums; Miles Black, piano/organ/bass; Tony Seville, percussion; Rossi Tzonkov, bass; Jeffrey Holl, guitar/keyboards.

Based in Canada, Gabriel Mark Hasselbach opens his CD with a sweet, easy-listening tune titled, “Presence of Mind” featuring Daniel Sequin, who not only co-produced this CD but plays numerous instruments as listed above. This composition skips along at a moderate pace and I enjoy the blues-based piano solo. 

“Feels So Good” is a song I instantly recognize.  It was originally recorded by Chuck Mangione on his 1977 album.  Hasselbach features a creative, improvised guitar solo by Grant Geissman (who played and recorded with Mangione).  When Gabriel steps forward to play his horn, he creatively explores the tune, putting his own interpretation on display and playing the same model and vintage flugelhorn that Mangione played.  In the 70’s, this composition rose to #4 on the Billboard charts.  It’s a great composition to introduce to a new generation of listeners. “Chill@Will” is a smooth jazz shuffle arrangement with Bob Baldwin’s funky, programmed drums pushing the tune ahead and invites the happy addition of flute to the mix by Hasselbach.  Yes, Gabriel competently plays trumpet, flugelhorn and flutes on this project.  I enjoyed the ensemble’s instrumental take on the Sade tune, “Hang on To Your Love.”  I was interested in hearing their arrangement on the famous Clifford Brown tune, “Daahoud.”  I was hoping that Gabriel Mark Hasselbach would show some straight-ahead chops on this tune, because he can play traditional jazz in a heartbeat; but he keeps it smooth jazz all the way.  Chris Standring stepped into the spotlight to play a laid-back guitar solo and the ensemble convinced me to appreciate Clifford Brown’s music in this smooth jazz groove.  Hasselbach is a competent composer and offers nine tunes he has either written or co-written on this album.  Some of my favorites on this production are mentioned above, but I thought the title tune, “Tongue and Groove” was outstanding.  Hasselbach is a master on his horns and I enjoy his tone and the beautiful melody of this song.  If you appreciate smooth jazz and well-played music, you will find this album completely satisfying.

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KRISTEN MATHER DE ANDRADE – “CLARAO” –  Independent Label

Kristen Mather de Andrade, clarinet/vocals; Vitor Goncalves, accordion; Cesar Garabini, violao; Eduardo Belo, bass; Sergio Krakowski, pandeiro; SPECIAL GUESTS: Mathieu Tetu, guitar; Jenny Hill, alto saxophone; Joe Natale, tenor saxophone; Bill Owens, trumpet; Alaina Alster, trombone.

Opening with the happy tune titled, “Um Chorinho Diferente,” Kristen Mather de Andrade dances, twirls and delights us on her clarinet. Track 2 is “Coco Tara Ta Ta” and the arrangements include background voices that chant on the fade, sounding quite spontaneous.  On “Guele Guele” we hear Kristen Mather de Andrade’s silky, smooth voice.  This song is one of four original compositions penned by Brazilian singer/songwriter Roque Ferrriera, who specifically wrote compositions to showcase Mather’s voice.  Kristen sings in Portuguese.  The production is sparse and rhythmic, giving her vocals an opportunity to shine.

“What I like about the album is the uniquely New York experience.  The horns are all American, the rhythm section is all Brazilian and the arrangers are American and Brazilian.  We had a French guitarist.  The studio owner was Italian.  There were a ton of languages flying around the sessions.  It was a great combination of talents to create a sound that I have come away thinking is just as much New York as it is Brazilian,” Kristen Mather de Andrade explained her concept for this World Music album.

The arrangement on “Doce Melodia” was lovely with lots of horn harmonics and a lilting tempo that jogged along at a medium pace. “Sagrado” gave bassist Eduardo Belo an opportunity to set the mood from the very beginning along with percussionist, Sergio Krakowski who spices up the piece with the pandeiro, an instrument that looks similar to the tambourine but has many more tones and applications.  Kristen sings again on this medium tempo’d song.  Victor Goncalves is featured on accordion during the ensemble’s arrangement of “Bendito,” a very emotional ballad.

“Clarão” is a world music album with global appeal. Kristen Mather de Andrade is not Brazilian but loves the music of Brazil.  She is the principal clarinetist and soloist in the West Point Army Special Band and has been fascinated with Brazilian culture and music from a very young age.  Her tone and smoothness on the clarinet is the result of playing consistently with the West Point Band, the New York City ensemble that calls itself Vent Nouveau, as well as being an instrumentalist with the Quintette 7.   When not touring or recording, Professor Mather de Andrade teaches Master classes or hosts professional clinics at universities and music conservatories.

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MEHMET ALI SANLIKOL – “AN ELEGANT RITUAL” – Dunya Records

Mehmet Ali Sanlikol, piano/voice/ney/composer; James Heazlewood-Dale, acoustic bass; George Lernis, drums/gong/bendir.

Mehmet brings us “An Elegant Ritual” to introduce us to jazz from a Turkish perspective.  Here is a polished pianist who has composed all the music on this CD except the familiar “Invitation” tune, and who has poured his talent, heart and soul into melding his culture with contemporary jazz language. He has incorporated prayer-like scat singing and his use of the ney instrument.  The ney is a traditional end-blown flute that is used prominently in Middle Eastern music.  It’s quite beautiful.  Also incorporated into this production is drummer, George Lernis, playing Indonesian gongs and the bendir instrument.  This album is modeled after a Sufi whirling dervish ritual and greatly influenced by John Coltrane’s epic “A Love Supreme” album.  The central composition has four movements, like Coltrane’s Love Supreme, peppered with strategic placements of gongs and ney.  There is a deep sense of spiritual awakening in Mehmet Ali Sanlikol’s music, especially when he bursts into moments of song, more like scatting, where his voice sounds very prayer-like.  This music is rich with art, history and spirit.  It stretches the boundaries of jazz, offering the listener adventurous arrangements that embrace Eastern and Western culture and take a cognitive leap towards what jazz is and what it can be.  These are fresh interpretations with beautifully written compositions that showcase this unique trio.  They, in-turn, embellish everything with their individual talents. 

“I wanted to say something new through my own distinct musical voice in the trio format,” Mehmet says in his liner notes.

“While wanting to be new and innovative, I also wanted to be loyal to the piano trio tradition in jazz, as I have always had great respect for history, craftmanship, and the lifelong study it takes to master my given tradition. … In order to be respectful of one of the essential qualities of the jazz trio tradition, I decided not to do any overdubs whatsoever.  Therefore, everything you hear on this album has been performed live. … My voice, which has always been a natural part of my musical expression, is present to some degree on most tracks.”

Mehmet Ali Sanlikol is a master pianist, who plays with power and punch. He also is very accomplished on flute. His voice is culturally rich and he places it in unexpected places during this production, sprinkling improvisation and creative expression liberally throughout.  Each song is like a present, unwrapped slowly and surprising us with what’s inside.

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NATSUKI TAMURA – “KOKI SOLO” – Libra Records

Natsuki Tamura, trumpet/piano/wok/voice

Two years ago, when Natsuki Tamura recognized (on his birthday) that fifty years had passed since he became a professional musician, he decided to recap the history of his music development, recording this album as a solo act.  Natsuki has been part of the Avant-garde jazz community for many decades and it was not farfetched for him to incorporate his musical accomplishments and teachings from early music years into his present preoccupation with total freedom of expression.  He opens with a 6-minute trumpet solo.  Afterwards, Track 2, “Karugamo,” is an exploration of pots and pans, played like percussion, with a vocal chant that is both culturally Japanese and rooted by African influence.

“When I was eighteen and a senior in high school, an older member of my middle-school brass band invited me to play in the house band of a night club in Kyoto.  At the time, I was thinking about going to music school and was taking classical music lessons, including the piano.  Looking back, I recall that for a while I was practicing the piano every day in preparation for the music school’s entrance exam,” Natsuki Tamura explains in his liner notes.

Now, so many years later, locked in his small room with a grand piano, his horn and some pots and pans, Natsuki rediscovers his love of piano, his allegiance to his trumpet and his roots in playing drums.

“Another memory that stands out is when I was in a cabaret band in Jiyugaoka, Tokyo, and the drummer had to leave early to catch the last train. So, I would play drums for the last set.  I began to wonder what it would be like if, after fifty years as a musician, I started playing piano or drums now. The idea took on a life of its own,” he shared.

I prefer the composition “Kawau” to the opening number of “Sekirei.”  “Kawau” is melodic and beautiful, while the opening tune I thought should have celebrated elephants.  The trumpet sounds reminded me of a Pachyderm’s resonating voice and mating call.

On Track 4, titled “Bora,” Mr. Tamura sits before the grand piano and picks out a pensive melody with startling left-handed chords that accompany in the lower register.  When both hands chord together in rhythmic ways, he grows the piece incrementally, like a weed in the crack of concrete.  It becomes more and more lush, and green with life, as the tune progresses. 

“I don’t analyze what I do or what I think.  I just pursue my feelings.  I’m like a child,” he admits.

Indeed, there is playfulness, curiosity and inventiveness wrapped around these pieces of self-exploration.  In Japan, the 70th birthday is a milestone.  The word for it is ‘koki’ translated roughly to mean; rare in ancient times (when people didn’t even consider they would live that long).  His tone and ability on the trumpet expose Tamura’s unique musical vocabulary.  For example, on Track 5, his trumpet sounds nothing at all like Track 1 (the elephants) or Track 3, that I enjoyed so much.  It appears he often focuses on sound abstraction to create Avant-garde music that reflects his inner angels or demons, as the case may be.  Captured on disc is an artist who is technically brilliant, academically and classically trained, but as free as a sudden thunderstorm that appears out of nowhere and rains profusely onto the outdoor bandstand.  Instead of running from the storm, we sit in rapt attention, and get soaked in his jazz lyricism and daring creativity.  No one even opens an umbrella as the elephants come stampeding towards us.

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BEVERLEY BEIRNE – DREAM DANCER – 33 Jazz Records

Beverley Beirne, vocals; Sam Watts, piano; Flo Moore, bass; Ben Brown, drums/percussion/conga; Rob Hughes, saxophone/flute; Duncan Lamont, tenor saxophone; Romero Lubambo guitar; Jason Miles, fender Rhodes/strings/Hammond B3 organ/producer; Cyro Baptista, percussion.

Beverley Beirne’s voice is a breath of fresh air.  Her rich alto tones lilt and dance over these well-played jazz tracks and invite the listener to join in the joy.  Beirne’s lyrics are sung with emotion and clarity.  She opens with “Let’s Face the Music and Dance” featuring an intoxicating tenor sax solo by Rob Hughes.  The ensemble swings hard and Beverly has no trouble keeping up and pushing ahead in the true tradition of a competent jazz singer.  Like Duke made clear, it don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing.  No worries!  Ms. Beirne can swing.  At a more moderate pace, Beverley Beirne continues her swinging journey on “Weaver of Dreams” that features a stunning bass solo by Flo Moore on bass. Tenor saxophonist and composer, Duncan Lamont, has written the ballad “Now We’re Just Friends” that challenges Beirne’s range as she dips, like a swooping bird, into the very low vocal register.  David Bowie’s composition, “Let’s Dance” gets a make-over, arranged in an up-tempo Latin groove.  One of my favorite Billy Strayhorn compositions is “Daydream” and Beverley Beirne performs it as a swinging waltz; a both unusual and unique arrangement.  Clearly, Ms. Beirne likes to push the limits and step outside the box, which is the sign of a true jazz artist.  There are some traces of Ella Fitzgerald’s influence in her style, on certain licks, but her phrasing and creativity is all her own.  I enjoyed the percussion that opens “Temptation,” with Beverley’s voice floating atop the sparse production like a sweet, jasmine, summer breeze; enhanced with rich Rob Hughes flute tones.  Beverley Beirne is a renowned UK Jazz singer who has headlined many festivals throughout Europe.  This album introduces her to the United States market like a bright, shiny spotlight.

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TIM HAGANS NDR BIGBAND – “A CONVERSATION”- Waiting Moon Records

Tim Hagans, composer/arranger/conductor/trumpet; ENSEMBLE 1: Fiete Felsch, lead alto saxophone/flute; Frank Delle, tenor saxophone/clarinet; Ingolf Burkhardt, trumpet/flugelhorn; Steve Wiseman & Claus Stotter, trumpet/flugelhorn; Klaus Heidenreich, trombone; ENSEMBLE 2: Peter Bolte, alto & soprano saxophone; Stephan Meinberg, trumpet/flugelhorn; Dan Gottshall, lead trombone; Daniel Buch, baritone saxophone/bass clarinet; ENSEMBLE III: Christof Lauer, tenor saxophone; Thorsten Benkenstein, lead trumpet/flugelhorn; Stefan Lottermann, trombone;  Ingo Lahme, bass trombone; ENSEMBLE IV: Jukkis Uotila, drums; Ed Harris, guitar; Ingmar Heller, acoustic bass; Vladyslav Sendecki, piano; Marcio Doctor, percussion.

This is an album of music composed, arranged and conducted by trumpet master, Tim Hagans.  The NDR Bigband is the Hamburg, Germany Radio jazz Orchestra.  During this unique project, the musicians are grouped, not by section, (as might normally be done) but instead by sonic and emotional divisions.  Each one is charged with different objectives. Hagans is a three-time-Grammy-nominated composer and trumpeter.  This is his fourth recorded collaboration with the fantastic NDR Bigband.  However, he has been collaborating with this tight, professional and heralded group of musicians for two decades; thriving in various rolls with the orchestra.  For a while he was guest composer, then conductor.  He played trumpet with the big band and was a soloist and offered his arrangements for the orchestra. This is a five-movement exploration with suites of music that are all over eleven minutes long and mirror “A Conversation.”   You will experience a very evocative and improvisational production, portrayed beautifully and invigorated by the amazing musicians who take part in these unique arrangements.  For example, during Movement 1, Vladyslav Sendecki is exceptionally spotlighted on piano.  Jukkis Uotila is powerful and succinct on drums and Fiete Felsch adds his flute to the mix.  I found Movement 1 to be very classically based.  Movement II is busy, with horn licks staccato and moving, descant style, against each other like an argument or healthy debate.  When the melody does enter, it settles the music down; and then there are long horn lines of one single note that ring, as if introducing the solo of Daniel Buch, fluid on bass clarinet.  He brings jazz to the piece, like an offering in the pastor’s plate.  When Ingmar Heller enters on acoustic bass, the orchestra falls away and he is magnified, on his own, playing a remarkable solo for our listening pleasure that ends that Movement quite suddenly.  Movement III is more jazz than classical at its introduction and features Tim Hagan on trumpet along with several others in the horn section. The Fourth movement dabbles in the Avant-garde and sounds very New Orleans dirge-like.  It does feature a lovely saxophone solo half way through.  The final and Fifth Movement reminds me of the Mile Davis brilliant recording titled, “Sketches in Spain.”  Not melodically, but production-wise, with the sound of the horn scooting atop the lush orchestra arrangement and brings Miles to mind.  Six minutes into the movement the tempo and arrangement change drastically, with bright percussive licks by Marcio Doctor and a jazzy trombone solo by Klaus Heidenreich.   This is orchestrated art that gives us a peek into the mind of Tim Hagans, composer, conductor and arranger.

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ALI BELLO & THE SWEET WIRE BAND – “INHERITANCE” –  Tiger Turn

Ali Bello, acoustic, electric and baritone violins/composer/arranger; Gabriel Chakarji, keyboards; Gabriel Vivas, bass; Ismael Baiz, drums; Manuel Marquez, percussion; FEATURED ARTISTS: Regina Carter, violin; Jaleel Shaw, soprano & Alto Saxophones; Jeff Lederer, clarinet; Jorge Glem, Cuatro; GUEST ARTISTS: Javier Olivencia, soprano & tenor saxophones; Jeremy Smith & Manuel Ranel, maracas; Eddie Venegas, trombone; Bambam Rodriguez, bass guitar.

Ali Bello introduces me to fusion Venezuelan jazz music with his intricate compositions and the Sweet Wire Band.  I am intrigued.  He has composed every one of the nine songs on this album and he is also the arranger.  They open with a song titled, “Kaleidoscopic Sunset” richly propelled by Ismael Baiz on drums and Manuel Marquez on percussion. They draw from the Fulia musical style that is typical of the rhythmic patterns born from the Venezuelan coast.  Ali Bello’s sensuous violin is a cool breeze against the hot rhythms, spurred by the bass line of Gabriel Vivas.  Then, Chakarji beautifully constructs a soaring solo on keyboard that is bright and settles the energy down on this song, long enough for us to catch our breath and become absorbed with his inspired melodies. “Heartbeat” opens with just that!  The pulse of the song is played on electric bass until Bello’s violin saturates the production with his talent and power. Ali Bello investigates the historical climate of his cultural music and also embraces new genres that are developing like the Onda Nueva or New Wave Venezuelan style that combines bossa nova and jazz.  You hear this on Track 3, “Caracas.”  “Song to Marina” is a conversation between a son and his mother. Played as a slow bolero, it’s tender and warm.  One of his featured artists on this production is Regina Carter, an amazing jazz artist who was born and raised in my hometown of Detroit, Michigan.  She joins Ali Bello during this “Song to Marina” arrangement.  The two violins blend smoothly, like coffee and cream.  Another special guest invited to this fusion party is Jaleel Shaw.  He brings his saxophone to the “Bello’s Blues” that is like no blues I’ve ever heard.  It employs drum strokes of cumaco and clarin, in something they call the San Millan style of drumming in Venezuela.  Jaleel’s tenor saxophone colors the style with American jazz lyricism.  But Ali Bello’s violin magic solos and brings us back to his roots.  “Jojo” adopts a 5/8 rhythm, a Merengue Curaqueño, to develop this composition and features Jeff Lederer’s clarinet and Ali Bello’s violin. 

This is fresh and innovative music that combines the power of jazz transformation and freedom with the artist’s Venezuelan culture and roots.  The violin of Ali Bello and his tenacious compositions transport us to new horizons and introduce us to Venezuelan fusion music in a delightful way.                                                                       

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DAVE FLIPPO – “DEDICATIONS – JAZZ FROM PLANET FLIPPO” –  Opplif Records

Dave Flippo, piano/keyboard/melodica/composer; Donn De Santo, acoustic bass/fretless bass; Heath Chappell, drums; Aras Biskis, percussion; Dan Hesler, saxophones/flute.

Dave Flippo’s ensemble opens with a unique Flippo arrangement of Stevie Wonder’s composition, “Too High.”  This is straight ahead jazz, lacing the ‘hook’ of Wonder’s tune through the song like crochet needles; creating a rich, blanket of sound. This is the sixth album release for Dave Flippo and the premise was to compose songs that celebrated each of his extended-family bandmates and to celebrate his loved ones as well. 

Dave was attracted to music and the piano early in life.  He could read music notes before he could read words. Another interesting fact was that the Pittsburgh, PA native was drawn to jazz and classical music in his young years, when all his peers were listening to Rock ‘n Roll.  It seems he knew his life path practically from birth.  Pursuing music academically, he earned a Master’s degree at the Eastman School of Music and a Doctorate in Music Composition and Piano at the University of Michigan.

“After I got my doctorate, I wanted to challenge myself.  Ann Arbor was a nice town, but it’s small, without many opportunities for me to seriously apply my education.  My choices were to go to either New York, Los Angeles or Chicago.  Coming from Pitts burgh, I was already a mid-Westerner and I thought I’d be more at home in Chicago.  It wound up working great for me and I’ve been there ever since,” Dave Flippo shared in his press package.

Track 2 is titled “Finch House and was inspired by the finch birds that issue happy, cascading notes as they assault Dave’s bird feeder. Arranged in 7/4 time, he admits that his notes are half as many as the birds actually sang in their flurries of arpeggios. Dave dedicates this piece to his daughter-in-law, Anh and Dan Hesler lays aside his saxophone and adds a flute to the arrangement. 

Before Flippo began this project, he asked his musicians what kind of topics they wanted to include on this new album.  His reedman, Dan Hesler, asked for a song about giraffes.

“After almost thirty-years of playing sax and flute with my ensemble, this man deserves an Afro-Cuban song about a giraffe loping across the Savanna,” Flippo said.

“Jazz From Planet Flippo” is comprised of top Chicago-based jazz cats, all who have been playing with Flippo for ten to fifteen years.  They are like family. You hear their comfortable union in the way they interpret this music.  Heath Chappell takes an opportunity on Track 3 (“Giraffe Trek”) to showcase his mastery of the trap drums.  He also shares the spotlight with Aras Biskis on percussion during an exciting, duo percussive solo on the exciting “Syrotic,” another original tune.  

Dave Flippo displays a wide range of styles on this “Dedications” album, both as an arranger and a composer.  Inspired by the topic requests of his band members, they enriched his own composition talents.  He has written eight of the eleven songs on this project. On Track 4 (“Third Eye Open”) you actually hear the music open as one might expect a psychic eye to open with spiritual awakening. This arrangement gives bassist, Donn De Santo a platform to show his expert beauty when playing his bass instrument.  Other than the Wonder tune, Flippo has included the hit song by Amy Winehouse, “Rehab,” giving it an up-tempo, shuffle, New Orleans groove.  It just makes you feel happy inside when they play this one!

“Jazz From Planet Flippo” also covers the Radio Head tune, “Karma Police” dedicated to his daughter Gillian.  Additionally, for his son Gabriel, Dave Flippo has composed and arranged “Freewheelin’,” an interesting tune based on a cycle of minor 7 chords, in the circle of fourths instead of the circle of fifths.

This is a musical platform for Dave Flippo to showcase inventiveness and expansive imagination, while writing, arranging and performing a list of “Dedications” to loved ones and his musical family.

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MUSIC OF POWER AND ENDURANCE: JAZZ KEEPS HOPE ALIVE

June 22, 2021

By Dee Dee McNeil

June 22, 2021

June is Black Music Month and jazz was created and established by black people in America.  Jazz is the music of power and endurance.  It epitomizes America’s constant aspiration towards freedom for all.

CURTIS J. STEWART – “OF POWER” – Outside In Music

Curtis J. Stewart, violin/vocals/prose/electronics/co-producer/engineer; Nick Revel, engineer; Louis Levitt, co-producer.

This album opens with a solo violin, singing like a joyful bird at a classical concert and interjecting folk and jazz improvisation into the scheme of things.  Curtis J. Stewart spreads wide wings over various genres of music and poetry.  He is brave and flamboyant, stepping forward with his violin, his bow, his imagination and a mastery of his instrument.  This violinist uses electronics and his voice to grapple with themes of resilience, resistance and the nature of power juxtaposed to the powerless.  He weaves a confessional narrative about revolution and protest during his production.  Stewart plays his music, solo, transcribing it through the eyes of a black man in America who is searching for authenticity and the answers to unanswered questions.  This is the kind of art and beauty that is both emotional and brilliant; classical and hip hop; R&B, jazzy and folksy.   Obviously, Mr. Curtis J. Stewart is an extraordinary musician, a master of technique on his violin, but also a deep thinker.  Using prose to spice his musical stew, Stewart bares his soul vocally as well as musically.  He throws music into a blender and spins compositions by Bach, Stevie Wonder, John Coltrane, Paganini and Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson together.  The result is a culturally rich concert. 

Curtis J. Stewart pulls every nuance out of James Weldon Johnson’s Negro National Anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”   Inspired by the untimely and unforgivable murder of George Floyd, and the continuing rise of a movement that shouts, “Black Lives Matter,” Mr. Stewart has also composed a number of original songs that shout truth to power.  He has written prose poetry that echoes frustration and encourages change. His songs pump like blood, feeding our consciousness. He shows that he can play Beethoven with the same energy and genius as he plays Hip Hop arrangements or rot-gut blues.  Clearly, Stewart pulls from the deepness of his soulful life experiences. 

This musician is not just a jazz player.  Curtis J. Stewart can perform with classical perfection.  He also offers his take on Pop music classics.  “#HerName” is based on the J.S. Bach Sonata No. 3 in C major, but his original composition celebrates the untimely and inexcusable death of Breonna Taylor, shot in her own home by police who raided her house mistakenly.  “Mangas” is a tribute to his mother, that celebrates a ‘man of the hood’ or leader of people and the strength a mother offers her son.  It’s a song with a reggae twist.  “Our Past is a Privilege” speaks to a health issue he and his mother faced together and also speaks to ignoring a past we are ashamed of, instead of being prideful of our history and the ‘now’ that we live inside. This song moves flawlessly into an interpretation of John Coltrane’s “After the Rain.”  We are offered hope with Stevie Wonder’s “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing” and celebrate a woman we love and respect with “Isn’t She Lovely.”   Here is an album of music that speaks proudly “Of Power” and is totally unforgettable, pulsating with freedom and art.

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ROY HARGROVE & MULGREW MILLER – “IN HARMONY” – Resonance Records

Roy Hargrove, trumpet/flugelhorn; Mulgrew Miller, piano.

Resonance Records is appreciated for their historical recordings and distinguished catalog of great jazz artists.  Roy Hargrove and Mulgrew Miller, these two iconic artists, joined the ancestors much too soon and have left a bright and brilliant catalogue of work behind for us to admire and enjoy.  Hargrove was born in 1969 and died on November 2, 2018.  Mulgrew Miller was born in 1955 and passed away on May 28, 2013.  This album is comprised of thirteen duo performances that were culled from two ‘live’ concerts they performed.  It’s the first time ever that Roy Hargrove has delivered an album of music without a drummer.

Opening with “What is This Thing Called Love” each dynamic musician exhibits their personality and technique, moving at a brisk pace and speaking, as if their instruments were in verbal conversation.  At first, with Hargrove leading the conversation in a stream of notes and improvisation and the piano supports and overlaps the stream of trumpet majesty, with Miller bringing his own royal perspective. Mulgrew Miller floats strategically over the eighty-eight keys.  After Miller’s substantial solo, the two master musicians trade fours with agility and creativity bursting at the seams during their spontaneous performance.  It’s magical to behold!

Hargrove and Miller bring lush, Southern United States roots to the surface during this project.  Hargrove is a son of Dallas, Texas and Mulgrew Miller was born in Greenwood, Mississippi. Their African American Southern heritage shines brightly, infusing their styles and musical attitudes.  They combine talents with a respect for the younger jazz generation and their admiration for the traditional and magnificent elders who paved the way for these young musicians to thrive. You clearly hear their black cultural influences on tunes like “Monk’s Dream” and “Blues for Mr. Hill.”

 “This is Always” begins with Miller’s hands floating up and down the piano, caressing the introduction from the black and white keys in preparation for Hargrove’s entry.  Mulgrew Miller pulls open the curtains with busy arpeggio scales and Roy Hargrove steps forward, exhibiting a rich, melancholy sound on his horn; one so beautiful I can hardly breathe for fear of disturbing the flow of his solo melody.  Clearly, this is a master class in duo dynamics and jazz spontaneity.  Mulgrew Miller takes his time during his solo performance, peeling the fruit of the melody from the piano and wrapping us in the sweetness.  “Triste” manages to hold the Latin rhythm tightly in place, with no drums and only the genius of Mulgrew Miller’s rich piano chops.  Mulgrew keeps the Latin beat in place, even while he’s improvising, with staggering lines of creativity dancing on top of his left hand’s constant rhythm development.  It’s so impressive!

Hargrove cut his musical teeth sitting-in at Bradley’s, a Greenwich Village piano room and space where musicians gathered after their gigs to drink, play and ‘conversate.’  There was one night Roy Hargrove claims he will never forget, when he sat in with George Coleman and Walter Davis, Jr.

“We went through the keys on “Cherokee” which was a lesson on harmony and then another lesson on rhythm.  Then we played “Body and Soul” and George started changing up the meters.  He played in three and then in five and then BLAM, really fast!  Then he turns around to me and goes; you got it.  I go, what am I going to do after all of that?  It was like your master’s degree.  You go in there and you’re playing and there’s Freddie Hubbard at the bar.  What do you do?  Everything I’m playing right now I owe to that whole scene,” Roy Hargrove recalls, talking about his growing pains.

Accompanying this ‘must-have’ CD is an intriguing book of liner notes. The glossy book includes several pages of great jazz musicians singing the praises of both these amazing musicians.   You will read how each master recalls first meeting, hearing and even working with Roy Hargrove and Mulgrew Miller.  There are impressions from Sonny Rollins, Christian McBride, George Cables, Kenny Baron, Victor Lewis, and many others.  Better yet, hear this awesome recording for yourself.  It’s a double-set that captures    No do-overs, no retakes or studio punches and edits.  You will hear, enjoy, love every brilliant nuance of these two unforgettable jazz musicians.  May their legacy live on forever!

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THE MARK MASTERS ENSEMBLE FEATURING ART BARON & GUEST, TIM HAGANS PLAYS THE MUSIC OF THE BLANTON/WEBSTER BAND (1940 – 1942) – Capri Records.com

Mark Masters, arrangements; Mark Ferber, drums; Bruce Lett, bass; Les Benedict, Dave Woodley & Art Baron, trombone; Scott Englebright, Les Lovitt, Ron Stout & Tim Hagans, trumpet; Adam Schroeder, baritone saxophone; Danny House, alto saxophone/clarinet; Kirsten Edkins, Jerry Pinter, tenor & soprano saxophone.

Art Baron was the last to occupy the plunger trombone chair in the Duke Ellington Band.  He was a long-time member of Duke’s band from 1973 until Ellington died.  After that, Baron stayed on when Mercer Ellington took over the band.  Mark Masters wanted to show the classy and substantial status of Ellington’s amazing compositions, while spotlighting the richly popular years between 1940 and 1942. This was when Ben Webster was in the band and Jimmie Blanton was heralded as their groundbreaking bassist.    Those early 1940-years highlighted the rich, cultural legacy Duke Ellington left with us, offering his wonderful orchestra arrangements and unforgettable compositions.  Mark Masters thought, what better person to showcase than Art Baron, who knew Duke’s music so well?

Masters ensemble opens with “All too Soon” that brightly features the bassist, Bruce Lett, spotlighted as the orchestra trades fours with him. Bruce competently represents the legacy of Jimmie Blanton.  Art Baron’s trombone is also featured along with Kirsten Edkins on tenor saxophone.  “I Got It Bad (And That Ain’t Good)” again features the warm, intoxicating sound of Baron’s trombone and Adam Schroeder’s baritone saxophone.  Strayhorn’s “A Flower is a Lovesome Thing” opens as an unexpected waltz and Ron Stout’s muted trumpet sounds like a human voice.  It’s a beautiful arrangement.  Throughout the entire production, Bruce Lett and Mark Ferber lock tightly as the ensemble’s rhythm section groove masters and Lett is super creative on bass.  The horns add the harmonics and you hardly miss the piano.  “Perdido” features Danny House, smooth as silk on clarinet.  The horns in the background sound very much like human voices singing, doo-wap, doo-wap, in a very cool way.  It’s those little nuances that call attention to Mark Masters’ creative arrangements.  On “Ko-Ko” special guest Tim Hagans is featured on trumpet and Art Baron is consistently impressive on his trombone.

“Art is one of a kind as a player and as a person.  He’s a great student of the music and knows all the history, plus he’s an original with a unique sound.  It was a joy to be able to craft my writing specifically for him and that plunger mute specialty,” Masters says in their press package.

Mark Masters is recognized as one of the great jazz arrangers of the last few decades.  He formed his first ensemble in 1982.  Masters founded the non-profit American jazz Institute and this is an album full of compositional gems that Duke Ellington blessed Earth with, along with the fine arrangements of Mark Masters, competently played by his ensemble of master musicians.

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RALPH PETERSON – “RAISE UP OFF ME” – Onyx Records

Ralph Peterson, drums/trumpet/Kalimba/Tounge drum/Rain stick/Frame drum/Djimbe/ Cajon/ tambourine/cowbell; Zaccai Curtis, piano/keyboards; Luques Curtis, bass; Jazzmeia Horn, vocals; Eguie Castrillo, conga/timbale/cowbell/cymbal.

This project, “Raise Up Off Me” is the final full-length album from master drummer, bandleader and composer, Ralph Peterson Jr., released in late May, one day after what would have been his fifty-ninth birthday.  Peterson’s latest release on his Onyx Label features a handful of original compositions and some of the up-and-coming important jazz musicians on the East Coast.  They include brother’s, Zaccai Curtis and Luques Curtis.  Zaccai is brilliant and noteworthy on piano and Luques is solid on double bass.  Eguie Castrillo adds his colorful percussive touches.  He is brightly spotlighted on Peterson’s “Blue Hughes” tune.  One of my favorite young, jazz vocalists on the scene today is Jazzmeia Horn.  She brings poignant and emotional sustenance to Peterson’s original composition “Tears I Can Not Hide.”  This song actually brought tears to my eyes.  Jazzmeia also slays the John Hicks tune, “Naima’s Love Song.” This production is music that celebrates Ralph Peterson’s composer skills, his drum mastery and his political consciousness.  Before his death, on March 1, 2021, Peterson was determined to make a societal statement on issues he found important.  Among them were drug addiction and recovery, the complexities of mental health, the Black Lives Matter movement and his daily struggle for life, while fighting cancer for the past six years.  Peterson gives us a spirited rendition of the Patrice Rushen tune, “Shorties Portion,” at breakneck speed and brightly spotlights Zaccai Curtis on piano.  Ralph Peterson takes his own solo adventure and shows off why he is such a celebrated drummer and master technician. 

His statement on the title of this project was, “In this era, where we still feel the foot on our necks, the pepper spray and mace that burns our eyes and face, the bullets and the batons, I find it necessary to remind you that Black Lives Matter … and for my life to matter, you have to raise up off me.”

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HAYS STREET HART – “ALL THINGS ARE” – Smoke Sessions Records

Kevin Hays, piano; Ben Street, bass; Billy Hart, drums.

These three musicians have been some of the busiest in the business of jazz for decades. Kevin Hays, Billy Hart and Ben Street joined hands and hearts to create this album.  Here is a unique trio, drawn together during the frustrating and intimidating time of the pandemic lock-down, joined in celebration of Billy Hart’s 80th birthday.  Although Hart and Ben Street were in a quartet together and comfortable with their musical camaraderie, playing with well-respected Kevin Hays was new.  The three musicians met at the Smoke Jazz Club, in New York City, for the gig.  It was December 4th and 5th of 2020 when they ‘livestream’ recorded this music. It was challenging, only because all three had been quarantined for so long, there was concern by each musician about playing in a ‘live’ interactive group setting.  This album is proof that everything worked out quite well. 

They open with “New Day,” one of six original compositions by pianist, Kevin Hays.  Hays describes the tune as moving from ‘one/four’ to ‘two/five,’ (referencing chord changes) which isn’t necessarily typical as a song form.  He also has written the bridge with an odd five bars.  It’s a moderate tempo’d piece, with some time-changes that fall unexpectedly, letting the spotlight bathe warmly over Hays at the piano.  When Street and Hart re-enter the arrangement, they swing hard.  So, the session began with the musicians wearing masks and surrounded by protective plexiglass, letting their individual talents meet like old friends enjoying the birthday party; music bounced around the room like helium balloons.

“I thought that with no rehearsal, because of COVID, it would help for us to just hit,” Kevin Hays recalls.

Hart and Street had roots in the Billy Hart Quartet, so they quickly locked into a well-oiled rhythm unit; fluid and familiar with each other.  They also had history, working together as a trio with pianist Aaron Parks.

“Kevin has always been one of my very favorite piano players, but I never get a chance to play with him.  He doesn’t get nearly enough credit, compared to how gifted and original he is and Ben’s arguably, in today’s world, my favorite bass player,” Hart affirms.

Track 2 is titled, “Elegia.”  It’s romantic, ethereal, and Hays creates lots of space during the introduction, setting things up until Hart and Street enter and subtly drive the music forward.

“What he has, … you see it in Hank Jones and Tommy Flanagan.  It’s a depth of feeling. … His choice of notes is very moving to me,” Billy Hart compliments Kevin Hays. 

On “Elegia,” Ben Street holds the center of the music strongly in place and knows just when to go with the flow and when to quietly lay out and let the music untangle itself on the eighty-eight keys. 

“Hays is one of those everybody’s favorite pianist,” Ben Street speaks about Hays.

“And Billy really focused it for me.  He seemed to be hearing Kevin as a singer,” Ben Street added.

For familiarities sake and perhaps to challenge himself, Kevin Hays re-composed Charlie Parker’s “Scrapple From the Apple” into a tune he calls “Unscrappulous.”  It’s recognizable enough for Street and Hart to jump into deep water with both feet, but the tune is completely redressed, wearing a similar form but a different swim suit.  Ben Street is quite melodic, on bass, during this up-tempo, but brief three-minute and thirty-six second excursion. One of my favorites on this album is the lovely way Hays plays the standard jazz ballad, “For Heaven’s Sake.”  The piano harmonics are so rich, colorful and often unexpected. Ben Street builds a solid basement for the structure to stand upon playing his double bass.

“And to play with someone like Billy, who is such a responsive musician, I noticed some little telepathy-type things that were going on.  How did we both do that at the exact same time?”  Hays marveled.

The title tune is based on Jerome Kern’s chord changes for “All the Things You are” and it dances along at a brisk, but comfortable pace.  Hays has a piano style that flutters.  His fingers fly across the keys in spurts of genius and creativity.  On “Sweet Caroline” Hart and Street open the piece, establishing a blues groove.  I know where Gene Harris or Monte Alexander would have taken it, but Kevin Hays is more about the beauty than the blues.  All in all, this is a musical art exhibit awaiting the listener’s provocative review and appreciation.  Each song becomes its own unique and intriguing sculpture, built before our very eyes, in the imitable way that jazz grows; through improvisation, freedom and creativity.

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REBECCA ANGEL – “LOVE, LIFE, CHOICES” – Timeless Grooves Records

Rebecca Angel, vocals/background vocals; Jason Miles, keyboards/drum programming/Moog synthesizer bass; Dean Brown, Romero Lubambo, Nir Felder, Christian Ver Halen, Ira Siegel & Jonah Prendergast, Guitar; Reggie Washington, bass; Gene Lake & Brian Dunne, drums; Bashiri Johnson, Richie Morales & Cyro Baptista, percussion; Mark Rivera, congas; Jimmy Bralower, drum programming/percussion; Butterscotch, beatboxing; Dennis Angel, trumpet/flugelhorn; Maya Azucena, background vocals; Ada Rovatti, tenor saxophone; Hailey Niswanger, alto saxophone; Pamela Driggs, vocals; Jay Rodriquez, flute; Gottfried Stoger, soprano saxophone; Steve Wolf, drum programming.

Rebecca Angel has a whispery, warm quality to her voice.  This album is Pop/Jazz that uses synthesized programming and the talents of producer, keyboardist and drum programmer, Jason Miles, to lay down tracks for Angel to vocally dance upon.  It features her soft soprano voice pirouetting across the chord changes.  Rebecca tackles standard pop songs like the familiar Bill Withers tune, “Just the Two of Us,” and has released this song as her current single from this album.  It’s Ada Rivotti, on tenor saxophone, who puts the ‘J’ in jazz during this arrangement and gives us a splendid sax solo to enjoy. 

“Waiting in Vain” is a reggae song written by the late, great Bob Marley.  Rebecca Angel applies her own unique delivery.  Jobim’s famed “Corcovado” gives us a brief peek into her jazzier side.  However, for the most part, this is easy-listening, sleepy-time music.  Even the funky arrangement on “Waters of March” doesn’t lift us from that relaxed, laid-back vibe.  Her take on the Sade song, “Maureen” continues the moderate tempo saga of this album, with an improvised fade that is sometimes slightly off-key.  The last two songs are original compositions by Rebecca Angel.  One is titled “thoughts and Prayers,” a protest song that mirrors the tragic violence that is staining our nation’s reputation with too many mass murders.  The final song of this production is “Summer Song,” another Angel original composition.  After listening, I recognize that Rebecca Angel has a good voice, however she is not a jazz singer.  Two things are missing.  Unless she can ‘swing’ and sing the blues, this young and talented vocalist cannot claim to be a jazz vocalist.  However, her pop music potential is clearly visible.

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THE CHRIS SAUNDERS BAND – “DANCING WITH THE WIDOW ST. JAMES – Independent label

Chris Saunders, vocals/cornet/flugelhorn; Ken Cook, piano/organ/arranger; Michael Aragon, drums; Rob Fordyce, electric bass; Luis Carbo, percussion.

If blues is your thing, pop this CD into your player, settle down and enjoy their opening tune, Percy Mayfield’s standard, “River’s Invitation.”  Chris Saunders has a voice steeped in the down-home, Southern blues flavor.  He’s a songwriter/singer, unpretentious and raw.  His co-writer is Ken Cook, pianist, arranger and organist of the group. The multi-talented Saunders is also a cornet player and trumpeter.  His vocals are reminiscent of Mose Allison phrasing.  Some of Saunders home-grown lyrics have a comic truth at their base, similar to Allison’s songwriting.  For example, his song “Butterflies and Chicken Wings” longing for those simple things sums up his desire to live simply and enjoy his life.  That song is steeped in blues changes with a shuffle drum provided by Michael Aragon and complimented by Luis Carbo’s percussion touches.  “I Wonder” is another blues, but this time it’s a ballad.  What Saunders lacks in vocal technique he makes up for with his emotional delivery.  His sad blues song is believable and his horn solo is a definite, well-played plus.  Arranger, Ken Cook, is a notable addition on piano.  He has a sweet touch and offers a jazzy solo on the 88-keys.  A big part of these arrangements is quite Latin oriented and the old American songbook standard “Am I Blue” is reimagined with a cha cha beat.  He also covers the Ray Charles recording of “I Don’t Need No Doctor” with Rob Fordyce playing a mean electric bass line and Ken Cook adding his bluesy piano licks.  I enjoy Chris Saunders playing his flugelhorn and cornet.  I appreciate his blues vocals.  However, when he steps outside of singing within the blues niche, I get lost. 

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