August 15, 2022

By Dee Dee McNeil

August 15, 2022


Ben Paterson, piano; David Wong, double bass; Kenny Washington, drums.

Here is a young jazz vocalist who embodies Ella Fitzgerald’s smooth style, adding her own succinct and unique vocal qualities to captivate our ears as she sings, “Can’t Get Out of This Mood.”   This Is Samara Joy’s single release from her upcoming album, scheduled for a September 2022 release and titled, “Linger Awhile.”   

Samara Joy is a vocalist to watch.  I am certain she will climb the ladder to fame and fortune and her voice will carry the true jazz vocal torch straight up to the stars.  She is a product of a musical family.  Her grandparents, Elder Goldwire and Ruth McLendon, led the well-known Philadelphia-based gospel group “The Savettes.”  Her father toured with Andrae Crouch.  Consequently, her early musical influences are gospel based, but also include the inspiration from genius artists like Stevie Wonder, Lalah Hathaway, George Duke and Musiq Soulchild.  It wasn’t until she attended Fordham High School for the Arts that she discovered and fell in love with jazz.  She has already won Best Vocalist at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Essentially Ellington competition and recently graduated as the Ella Fitzgerald Scholar.  Let me introduce you to 22-year-old Samara Joy, who gives me hope that jazz is alive and secure in the hands of a new, young, talented generation.

* * * * * * * * * * *

DO’A – “HIGHER GROUND” – Outside In Music

Do’A, Vocals/guitar/piano/composer; Harold Lopez-Nussa, piano/vocals; Nando Michelin & Syhai Maestro, piano; Julio Cesar Gonzalez, bass; Shango Dely & Ruy Adrian Lopez-Nussa, percussion; Mayquel Gonzalez, trumpet.

Do’A is a vocalist with a haunting voice and a style all her own.  Her music is interesting and unique, blending Brazilian and Columbian cultures with her Albanian upbringing and elements of Albanian folk music. She sprinkles in jazz, samba and African rhythms to tantalize us with her multi-languages and honey-warm voice.  Currently, she is an artist-in-residency at the Music Center of Strathmore in North Bethesda, Maryland.  This project introduces us to Do’A who sings, plays piano, guitar and composes.  I am enamored by her composer talents. As soon as I heard this album, I thought the hit record, the crossover, commercial, original song written by Do’A  is “Lampara.”   Not only do I think “Lampara” is a hit, but I also think “Unidad” is a strong second. Both are sung in Spanish. Her melodies are hypnotic and, although I don’t understand the language, I am still intoxicated with the songs of Do’A.  On her opening song, “Flor de Lis” she sings in Portuguese.  Shai maestro’s piano playing introduces us to an Albanian Folk Song, “Pranvera” along with Do’A’s smooth and intimate vocals in her native language.  It’s my first time hearing Albanian folk music and I find it truly delicious to my ears. On the final song, Do’A sits at the piano to play her original composition called, “Krijim,” also sung in Albanian.  This is world music with an international theme.  She sings in English, Portuguese, Spanish and Albanian to interpret the theme of her album, “Higher Grounds.” Do’A hopes that her music is reflective of the interconnected nature of the human spirit. This is her debut album and it transcends borders, genres and traditions to introduce us to Do’A the artist. Her music also calls attention to the power and to the love that music can transmit. I look forward to hearing, not only her husky, emotional voice in the future, but more Do’A compositions. 

* * * * * * * * * * *                        


John Minnock, vocals; Dave Liebman, soprano saxophone; Mathis Picard, piano/composer; Sean Mason, piano; Mark Lewandowski, bass; Pablo Eluchans, drums; Carolos Mena, bass.

There is nothing simple about John Minnock’s “Simplicity” album.  The songs are challenging, with technically difficult melodies, but Minnock sings them easily, fooling the listener into believing they are simple.  His vocal timbre somehow reminds me of Al Jarreau’s tone, although he has a completely different style and presence.  His band is smokin’ hot with master reedman, Dave Liebman, always a joy to hear on saxophone. The arrangements are interesting and for the most part, compliment his creativity. Pianist, Mathis Picard has composed several of these songs with lyricist Erick Holmberg and sometimes John Minnock contributing words. I love their bluesy “Cape’s End” and I’m intrigued with “Bordeaux” a song about a faraway place and a distant love that teases Minnock’s range and has a provocative melody with unusual intervals.  John sings a few standards you will recognize like “Angel Eyes,” “Maiden Voyage” and “You Don’t Know What Love Is.”  On both the Matt Dennis tune and Hancock’s composition, Dave Liebman is given free rein to explore all the nuances of the tunes before John Minnock takes center stage and does his own unique interpretations. On the Herbie Hancock tune, he improvises without lyrics and leaves the soloing to Liebman and Mathis Picard on piano. The voice becomes a human instrument that simply colors the tune at various points.  This is art for art’s sake and since jazz reflects freedom and creativity, this is a perfect example of just that.

* * * * * * * * * *


Sheila Jordan, vocals; Alan Broadbent, piano; Harvey S., bass.

On a cold, wintry, October twenty-fifth evening, the jazz luminary, Sheila Jordan, took to the stage of the intimate Mezzrow Jazz Club. She opens with the Abbey Lincoln composition, “Bird Alone,” accompanied by two-time GRAMMY winner, Alan Broadbent on piano and Harvey S., on bass.  Harvey S. was one of the members of the quartet she established in 1979.  That ensemble included Steve Kuhn and Bob Moses. On this project, Sheila and Harvey come full circle. Sheila Jordan’s album becomes the inaugural release of the SmallsLIVE Living Masters Series with the Cellar Music Group.  It marks the first ‘live’ recording of Sheila Jordan in nearly a decade.

Born in November of 1928 in my hometown of Detroit, Michigan, Jordan has a rich legacy in jazz. Now ninety-three years old, she still can swing with the best of them. Jordan is one of the pioneers of bebop and scat singing.  In her prime, she made her mark in the jazz world by performing her unique vocal style with only the double bass.  It is said that the great Charlie Parker paid her an amazing compliment by calling her “the lady with the million-dollar ears.” Sheila Jordan dared to put lyrics to the tumbling and exuberant notes of Charlie Parker’s improvised horn parts.  Sheila went to New York where jazz was thriving and studied harmony and music theory with Lennie Tristano and Charles Mingus. She was always in the company of jazz greats and striving to break musical glass ceilings for vocalists.  In New York, she was a familiar face in Greenwich Village performing with pianist Herbie Nichols. Jordan recorded with icons in experimental jazz music like George Russell.  You can hear her on his album “The Outer View” singing “You Are My Sunshine.”

In the 1960s she released her own album called “Portrait of Sheila” on the popular Blue Note label.  She also played with Don Heckman, Lee Konitz, Carla Bley and Roswell Rudd. In 1975, she recorded “Confirmation” and a year later, recorded a duet album with Arild Anderson.  But her work with George Russell gives an example of her musical direction and groundbreaking vocal attitude early in her career.  That crystal clear, emotional delivery developed with nurturing from dynamic musicians like Charlie Parker, George Russell and her husband Duke Jordan.  Below, here is her interpretation of “Confirmation” on her 1975 presentation.

As a lyricist, songwriter, and for twenty-eight years as an Adjunct Professor of Music , Sheila Jordan inspired students at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and the Vermont Jazz Center, InterplayJazz and Arts, as well as sharing her knowledge and creativity at International workshops.  This historic album become the twentieth she has recorded as a bandleader.

* * * * * * *


Patrisha Thomson, vocals; Mon David, guest vocals; Steve Rawlins, piano/arranger/producer; Grant Geissman, guitar; Ken Wild, Jennifer Leitham & Bob Feldman, bass; Bernie Dresel, Bob Leatherbarrow & Gordon Peeke, drums; Brad Dutz, percussion; Scott Mayo, flute/alto flute; Tom Peterson, tenor saxophone; Michael Stever, trumpet; Ira Nepus, trombone.

Patrisha Thomson loves to sing, although she chose a career as a visual artist first and then became an educator.  Still, music and jazz were rooted deeply in her heart.  When her father passed away, Patrisha took over the presidency of his company.  With all those careers intermingling, she somehow found time for her passion to sing.  But it was much later in life that she decided to pursue becoming a recording artist.  Patrisha Thomson’s singing style is more cabaret than jazz, but she’s chosen a Bakers Dozen of familiar jazz standards to interpret. All the songs are pulled from the late 1930s through the 1940s.  Patrisha opens with the popular Ellington tune, “In a mellow Tone” where Michael Stever’s trumpet swings hard. She and her band of L.A. based musicians also cover “Dindi” and crowd pleasers like “Route 66” where Grant Geissman shines on guitar and jazz vocalist Mon David joins her as guest. Mon David puts the “J” in jazz.  Jennifer Leitham is featured on the title tune and lays her rich bass tones beneath Patrisha Thomson’s emotional delivery. Scott Mayo adds flute to the mix. Patrisha and Ken Wild open the tune, “Just Squeeze Me” made popular back in 1941, another Duke Ellington gem. “This Can’t Be Love” has a lovely Latin arrangement by Steve Rawlins. Ms. Thomson persuasively delivers Great American Songbook tunes, like “I Can’t Give You Anything but Love” that the band swings and “Autumn Leaves,” as a slow ballad. Sometimes Patrisha Thomson’s voice reminds me of days I spent in Paris, listening to the emotional female jazz singers in those blue-lit European nightclubs. She even sings Autumn Leaves in French. Her finale song is an original ‘Happy Birthday Song’ she has penned herself.

* * * * * * * * *


Natalie Cressman, tenor trombone/bass trombone/composer/arranger; Ian Faquini, guitar/ vocals/composer.

Natalie Cressman’s mother, Sandy Cressman, is a jazz vocalist, steeped deeply in the traditions of Brazilian music.  Natalie’s father, Jeff Cressman, is a recording engineer and trombonist who recently concluded a two-decade run with Santana. They say the apple does not fall far from the tree.  In this case, that’s absolutely correct.  The twenty-something Natalie Cressman has honed her skills singing (like her mother) in Portuguese and is quite proficient, like her father, on the trombone. She’s also a composer and lyricist. Her partner on this album is Brazilian composer and guitarist, Ian Faquini. Cressman has studied at the Manhattan School of Music and Ian Faquini studied at the California Jazz Conservatory in Berkeley and after graduating joined the faculty there. He is also on the faculty at California Brazil Camp. Clearly, both artists are super talented. Together, this duo offers a world music album of original music, with both artists contributing to the songwriting. I found their songs to be quite melodic. However, the over-dubbing of horn parts that are all quite legato often drags the music down. For example, on Track #11, “Hood River” the legato horn lines distract from what could have been a joyful, moderate-tempo tune. Some points of staccato horns could have lightened the mood and brightened the arrangement. Cressman has a light, soprano voice that is quite beautiful and Ian’s voice is a smooth baritone.  When they blend, together their sound is beautifully hypnotic. Track #2, “Rear Window” seems to be based on the chord changes of Mona Lisa, but Cressman’s voice interprets a very different melody once she sings the song and it’s lovely. When I listen to “Afoxe Pra Oxum” her voice is airy and joyful.  I wish she had incorporated some of that lightness and joy into her horn arrangements.

* * * * * * * * * * *


Anne Walsh, vocals; Tom Zink, piano/arranger; Mitchell Long, guitar/cavaquinho; Kevin Winard, drums/percussion; Chris Wabich, drums; Mike Vacarro, flutes/clarinet/bass clarinet; Gary Meek, flute solos; Tony Guerrero, trumpets/flugelhorns; Andy Martin, trombone; Charlie Bisharat, violin; Tom Lea, viola; Irina Chirkova, cello.

In celebration of Brazilian jazz singer, Astrud Gilberto, Anne Walsh takes to the microphone. Astrud’s bright, clear tones helped to introduce the Bossa Nova movement of the 1960s to American audiences.  Anne Walsh, originally born in Boston and now living in Long Beach California, has a similar vocal style.  On the opening tune, “On My Mind” the happy melody dances from Anne’s lips triumphantly.  The trumpet of Tony Guerrero shares a joyful solo.  Gary Meek shines on flute during this arrangement. “Call Me” is a familiar pop tune.  Anne Walsh sings it rubato on the top and then steps into a Brazilian arrangement of this tune that is pleasant and danceable.  “Crickets” is a challenging song with swiftly moving lyric and a tempo that demands attention to both enunciation and the beautiful Latin rhythms that celebrate Brazil so naturally. Anne Walsh handles both the tempo and the Portuguese language very comfortably.  On the composition, “Take Me to Aruanda” Walsh is playful and duets with the horn.  On “Dindi” Tom Zink’s piano and the addition of Charlie Bisharat’s violin, Tom Lea’s viola and Irina Chirkova’s cello add delicate and lush beauty to this arrangement. Anne adds her own original song lyrics to the “Beach Samba” song, then scats her way through the tune.  This is Easy Listening Latin Jazz and Anne Walsh has a soothing, clear and compelling voice.

* * * * * * * * * * *


Cathy Segal-Garcia, vocals/composer; Phillip Strange, piano.

This is a project recorded nearly thirty years ago, (1992) but it’s still fresh and exciting.  The ‘live’ performance shows off the very best of Cathy Segal-Garcia’s range and style.  It also features the wonderful and inventive piano playing of Phillip Strange.  It’s a 2-CD set, opening with “I’m In the Mood for Love” where Cathy sings the original melody, with quite a few of her own twists and complimentary turns, then stretches out to sing James Moody’s famous rendition (Moody’s Mood for Love).  This is a jazz duet that is fresh and complimentary with both artists innovative and improvising on a theme spontaneously. After all, that’s what makes jazz so wonderful.  The freedom it reflects and the intricacies of transforming the music into something fresh and new can be quite exciting. For example, they play “You’ve Changed” as an upbeat Latin number.  I enjoyed their take on “When You Wish Upon a Star.” The two musicians, offer us twenty-three songs in this double CD set. Cathy is constantly playing with time, stretching meters like taffy, but you can clearly hear the comfort level and warm camaraderie between these two musicians during this ‘live’ performance.

* * * * * * * * *


Maria Mendes, vocals/composer/arranger; John Beasley, conductor/arranger/orchestrator/ KeyWi/keyboards/producer/composer; Cédric Hanriot, piano/keyboards; Jasper Somsen, double bass; Mário Costa, drums/percussion.  METROPOLE ORKEST: 1st VIOLINS: Vera Laporeva, Jasper van Rosmalen, Sarah Koch, Pauline Terlouw, Christina Knoll, Saskia Frijns. 2nd VIOLINS: Herman van Haaren, Willem Kok, Ruben Margarita, Robert Baba, Xaquin Carro Cribeiro, Lonnid Nikishin; VIOLA: Norman Jansen, Mieke Honingh, Iris Schut, Isabella Petersen; CELLO: Joel Stepmann, Emile Visser, Annie Tángberg, Jascha Albracht. FLUTE: Mariël van den Bos, Janine Abbas; OBOE/ Cor anglaise; Maxime Le Minter; CLARINET: Christof May, Max Boreree; FRENCH HORN: Pieter Hunfeld.

There are few things as exciting and as challenging as singing with a full orchestra.  Maria Mendes has a voice, toned by technique and colored with emotion, that soars like another instrument atop the awesome arrangements of the Metropole Orkest conducted by John Beasley.  Mendes explores and explains the Portuguese word ‘saudade.’ This word refers to one’s desire to regain the past, hoping it will become the present again. It also represents the belief that destiny is something no one can escape. Some things are just meant to be.

“Surprisingly, I find these (meanings) comparable with love, as love can strike at any moment leaving us powerless, coloring our lives with grey as well as bright rainbow colors,” Maria Mendes explains in her liner notes.

‘Fado music’ has fused this project. It’s a music form familiar and popular with Portuguese people and fuels all those who seek nostalgic love of the past or, for that matter, love in the present. So that title of ‘Fado’ is almost a twin to ‘saudade.’  Mendes has embraced the two words during this project, combining jazz with the wonderful world of Portugal and her affection for that culture.  She offers us Portuguese Folk songs, colorfully arranged and plush with orchestration. The mastery of John Beasley as arranger and conductor shines like gold. This project is Maria Mendes’ dream-come-true album, recorded, May of 2022 in Amsterdam.  Her voice is as natural and multi-layered as the orchestra and her exquisite range soars above the instruments like a powerful bird in flight.  Maria’s range is astounding and the way she weaves jazzy scat sounds into the production is both unique and ear-catching.  John Beasley builds the production around her vocals beautifully, attentive to the details of her delivery, while all the time, enriching this amazing orchestra with his sensitive, dynamic arrangements. 

There is a photograph inside the album jacket, of a song penned expressly for Maria Mendes by Hermeto Pascoal.  He has written original, musical notes on the back of a plastic emergency exit instruction card for Maria to keep and treasure, the same way she treasures his talent and musical sensibilities. It’s a song he penned exclusively for her titled, “Hermeto’s Fado for Maria.”  She opens this arrangement with vocal scats and melodic tones, an instrument in her own right. Another favorite is track #6, the emotional ballad, “E Se Nao For Fado,” featuring Cédric Hanriot on piano. 

Here is an artistic and unusual project, infused with jazz, rich with classical overtones and culturally prominent.  it represents the Portuguese, historical, Fado folk music and the talent of Maria Mendes.  Perhaps she explained this musical experience best when she said:

“This is no Fado album.  This is no traditional jazz music.  This is an adventure that is real and can be felt by everyone, as love is.”

* * * * * * * * * * *


August 5, 2022

By Dee Dee McNeil

August 6, 2022

One thing I know about jazz, it’s respected and revered all over the world.  It’s our sacred American folk music, created by African Americans and embraced by all cultures who appreciate the concept of pure art and freedom. The albums I have reviewed for this column, each in their own unique way, musically reverberate this notion.


Miguel Zenón, alto saxophone/composer; Luis Perdomo, piano; Hans Glawischnig, bass; Henry Cole, drums; Emil Martinez, Edwin ‘Wechin’ Avilés, Joshuan Ocasio, Joseph Ocasio & Jeyluix Ocasio, Panderos/percussion/vocals; Paoli Mejias, percussion; Victor Emmanuelli, Barril de Bomba; Daniel Diaz, congas.

Because of this renowned saxophonists’ deep love of music, geography and history, Miguel Zenón has often wondered what the Americas, post-colonization, were like?  What did this part of the world look like before 1491?  Who lived here and how did they arrive on these lands?  His album pays tribute to that concept. Best known for his ability to blend and enhance American jazz with modernism, soaked in folk and traditional Puerto Rican music, this new music is meant to reflect Americas various cultures and their encounters with European colonists.  Often, the tunes seem to portray two instruments sparring with each other. This is extremely evident on “Opresion y Revolucion.”  The percussive excitement is palpable throughout this album.

On the opening tune, “Tainos y Caribes,” Luis Perdomo’s piano solo is fluid and energy driven. Henry Cole’s drums are an amazing source of spirit and drive as Perdomo’s fingers race up and down the 88-keys. Miguel Zenón is inspired on his alto saxophone.  The melody unfolds, rolling like a rich red carpet down the jazz improvisation path. There is the feel of native American Indian music playing beneath Miguel’s solo, beating like a tom-tom, expressed by the piano and bass.  Then Hans Glawischnig steps into the spotlight with his double bass, continuing that rhythmic mix of cultures. At the tune’s ending, Miguel Zenón’s saxophone is a bird, an arrow, a prayer whispering across a moonlit sky. 

“… two predominant societies, who were very different; the Tainos were a more passive agricultural society, while the Caribes were warriors who lived for conquest,” explains Zenón, who endeavors to capture the clashing of societies in this arrangement.

The Western exploitation of South America’s resources became Zenón’s inspiration for composing “Venas Abiertas.” He composed this song after reading the classic Eduardo Galeano’s “Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent.” This is told to us in the press package, but for this innocent listener’s ears, I only hear the complexity of the arrangement, the beauty of Miguel’s alto saxophone and the dynamic percussive contributions.

Victor Emmanuelli introduces us to Track #6 with his awesome ‘Barril de Bamba’ percussion solo. He really snatches my attention. The term ‘Bambula’ is a reference to a dance brought to American shores by African slaves. Over time, ‘Bambula’ became the term for a rhythm commonly called “habanera.”  It’s prominent in much of Latin American music today. 

“It’s a thread from New Orleans to Brazil to Central America, back to Africa and across all these eras from the past to contemporary pop,” Miquel Zenón teaches us with his music.

Six minutes into the song, he arranges a sultry, sexy ballad to step forward into the mix, giving us just a surprising minute of relief from the intense energy and then races back into the original tempo, carrying us along with the band on a musical train to outer limits. His alto saxophone ends the piece with a repetitive call to action, like a warning bell from the past, flashing red light signals to the dangerous and aggressive present.

As a multiple Grammy nominee and Guggenheim and MacArthur Fellow, Miguel Zenón is one of a select group of musicians.  His goal of blending the often-contradictory poles of jazz freedom, creativity and tradition is to be applauded.  Zenón’s unique voice, both as a composer and on his tenor saxophone, continue to startle our senses alive.  Miguel Zenón’s music awakens something deep within the soul and human spirit. He invites us to just sit still, listen, contemplate and be open to change.

* * * * * * * * * * * * 


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

Dennis Mitcheltree has composed all nine songs on his recent release and the quartet opens with a jazz waltz he wrote for his son “Tai.” It’s a pleasant listen. This is Mitcheltree’s sixth album as a bandleader. He has named Track #2 after the COVID virus.  It’s called “Omicron” and gives drummer Bill McClellan a platform to showcase his percussive skills. “Sarah” is a pretty but sad ballad, with an introduction by Johannes Wallmann’s piano.  Dennis Mitcheltree has a warm tone on his tenor saxophone. He reminds me a little bit of Stan Getz.  Mitcheltree delivers this “Sarah” tribute to his girlfriend in a very pensive way, coloring the sweet and interesting melody with saxophone tenderness.  One of my favorite tunes on this album is the Mitcheltree composition “Via Dance” where the quartet lays down a moderate swing in a very finger-snapping sway. 

His tune “Bling Tone” sounds like it’s based on the standard tune “If I Were A Bell” and becomes another vehicle to allow Mitcheltree to take flight with tenor saxophone improvisation. His “Golden Rule” album speaks directly to doing unto others as you would have them do unto you.  If people paid more attention to this one passage from the bible, it would quickly solve most of the world’s problems. Dennis Mitcheltree’s album is scheduled for an October 2022 release.

* * * * * * * * * * *


Dave Slonaker, composer/arranger/bandleader; Larry Koonse, guitar; Ed Czach, piano; Edwin Livingston, bass; Peter Erskine, drums; Brian Kilgore, percussion; REEDS: Bob Sheppard, alto & soprano  saxophones/flute; Brian Scanlon, alto & soprano saxophone/flute/clarinet; Rob Lockart, tenor saxophone/clarinet; Tom Luer, tenor saxophone/clarinet; Adam Schroeder & Jay Mason, baritone saxophone/bass clarinet; TRUMPET/FLUGELHORN: Wayne Bergeron, Dan Fornero, Ryan Deweese, Clay Jenkins & Ron Stout. TROMBONES: Alex Iles, Charlie Morillas, Ido Meshulam & Bill Reichenbach, bass trombone/tuba.

This album of quality music opens with what sounds like a country/western music gathering and then explodes into a rich, boisterous jazz big band arrangement. It’s the title tune of Dave Slonaker’s latest recording, “Convergency,” and it’s a wonderful way to open-up this impressive production. The horns dance and sway like curtains in the wind.  Then Adam Schroeder steps into the spotlight on baritone saxophone, shining bright as sunshine. The light touch of Ed Czach’s fingers across the piano keys gives a few seconds of sweet tension release, after the much-appreciated baritone sax solo.  The amazing Peter Erskine drum solo closes this piece out with finality and brilliance.

Here is an artistic production that celebrates big band beauty in an unforgettable way.  Part of the reason for this masterpiece are Dave Slonaker’s compositions and arrangements.  The other part of the brilliance is thanks to the A-list of Southern California jazz cats.  They bring their own mastery to the party, interpreting each of Slonaker’s original songs the way a diamond cutter polishes his stones. Just listen to Larry Koonse, on guitar, deliver his solo on “Uncommonly Ground” or Bob Sheppard fly around the chord changes of “Duelity” on his alto saxophone with mad improvisation, dueling with Stout’s trumpet interpretations.  Ron Stout’s trumpet brings out his own “Inner Voices” during this composition along with Rob Lockart’s tenor sax. The trumpet of Clay Jenkins takes “A Curve in the Road” and makes me feel like I’m riding with him in his sporty coupe, speeding down an open highway. Clay’s horn is expressive, fluid and creative.  When Tom Luer’s tenor kicks into the tune, it feels like that coupe I visualize just had a gear change. The harmonic horn parts blow like a hot summer breeze and Brian Scanlon’s alto saxophone infuses this piece with very cool tones. Once again, Erskine’s tumultuous drums infuse the arrangement with high energy and slap the ending into place like the screech of brakes. Slonaker’s “A Gathering Circle” was inspired by a visit to a Native American Indian village museum.  It’s meant to epitomize a meeting place where people gather and that idea of ‘coming together.’  In a nation that currently seems so polarized, Brian Scanlon’s soprano saxophone sings like a bird of peace. The guitar improvisation of Larry Koonse is warm and wonderful. I love the circular feel to the rhythm that reminds us of the American Indian culture and propels this piece throughout Slonaker’s entire arrangement. It’s one of my favorite tunes on this album.

Every original composition and each awesome arrangement by Dave Slonaker offer intrigue and surprise. Slonaker’s arrangements are well-written chapters of a musical book. Like any good novel, this album has me totally engaged. Each tune becomes another intriguing page for me to read, turn with great expectation, and enjoy.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

CALVIN KEYS – “BLUE KEYS” –  Wide Hive Records

Calvin Keys, guitar/composer; Henry Franklin, bass/composer; Scott Brown, bass; Mike Blakenship, piano/composer; Gregory Howe, organ/piano/percussion/composer; Mike Hughes & Thomas McCree, drums; Gary Bartz & Doug Rowan, saxophones; Mike Renta, trombone; Steve Turre, trombone/trumpet shells; Babatunde Lea, congas/percussion.

Calvin Keys always brings something fresh and creative to the studio. This album is no exception to that rule. I remember him from his music on Gene’s Black Jazz Record label. Calvin Keys has always been able to blend jazz with funk, strong R&B grooves with Straight-ahead power, and his extraordinary and unique guitar style.

The songs on this new album are inspired and the arrangements kept me entertained and surprised. That’s what jazz is about. Reinventing music with new perspectives. Opening with “Peregrines Dive,” the saxophone mimics a falcon winging its way across the skies. The music dips and dives, with the drums propelling the energy forward. Composed by Calvin Keys with co-writers, trombonist Mike Renta, piano man, Mike Blankenship, and the multi-talented Gregory Howe, this is a brilliant way to begin a musical escapade that celebrates various grooves, moods and genres. I would have enjoyed crediting each musician for their contributions, but there are multiple bass players, drummers and pianists listed on this wonderful album of original music. I can’t tell who is playing on which tune, thanks to the CD cover design. The fault lies with the album designer, and I might add, all those low-level blue tones on the cover make it impossible to see the artists and difficult to read their names on the CD cover. What a shame! And is Babatunde’s name misspelled? Despite this less-than-stellar design of the CD jacket, the music is spectacular. Track #2, “Ck 22” is an exciting and funk-based jazz tune with a prominent bass line that becomes the melodic backbone of the tune by Calvin Keys. “Ajafika” was written by Gregory Howe, and I love the way those drums and percussion parts color this creative music. Calvin adds his electronic guitar sounds to the mix, with an undercurrent of rock and roll. Still, this arrangement makes perfect sense, even though it’s not like anything I’ve really heard lately, and I listen to music every single day.  That’s a nod and a fist pump to the genius of Calvin Keys. Many of his band members are also composers and contribute to this project in a very positive way.  That blues guitar on “Making Rain” just thrilled me to the bone. Composed by Henry Franklin and Calvin Keys, these two expert musicians shine in a trio situation, with the drummer placing tasty licks of rhythm at all the appropriate places. The title tune is another blues, with Calvin Keys wailin’ on the guitar and the horn section moaning harmonically in the background.

It’s nice to have Calvin Keys back on the recording scene. For a short while, he had to lay low and recuperate after a quadruple bypass surgery on his heart, back in 1997. However, he quickly rebounded and was on the road again promoting his album ‘Detours into Unconscious Rhythms,’ another Wide Hive Records release.  Three other albums followed. In 2005 his ‘Calvinesque’ album climbed up the jazz charts and reached #30. Calvin Keys remains relevant and working in Northern California, where he is a teacher at the Oakland Public Conservatory (OPC) and Calvin also gives private lessons. This is a strong production of creative, original jazz music and creme-de-la-crème of seasoned jazz players.

* * * * * * * * * * *

GLENN DICKSON – “WIDER THAN THE SKY” – Naftule’s Dream Recordings

Glenn Dickson, clarinet & live loops.

Glenn Dickson’s music sounds open and ethereal, like space itself.  His music personifies the title of this unusual recording where Dickson is playing his clarinet along with recorded loops and exploring the outer limits of his own creativity. He opens with “Introit” and his clarinet sounds like a flute, like a bird, like a Leprechaun dancing through Irish fields. He inspires my imagination.  His composition, “Gentle Touch” is music that is quite meditative.  With the use of electronics and over-dubbing on work by guitarist Robert Fripp, flautist, Paul Horn and various klezmer clarinetists, Glenn Dickson builds layers of music, as sweet as cake, letting his silky clarinet tones drip like icing over the melodic dessert.  His compositions sooth and relax me. On Track #4, “Memories Lost” I get the feelings that I’m floating in space, surrounded by galaxies and stars, moons and planets.  No wonder Glenn Dickson titled this work, “Wider Than the Sky.”  His music has a feeling of spaciousness.

As a bandleader and creative artist, Glenn Dickson has recorded albums, played major jazz festivals worldwide, played with the Philly Pops and on Woody Allen and Sidney Lumet’s movie soundtracks.  He has created award-winning collaborations with Maurice Sendak (i.e., “Pincus & the Pig”) and NPR’s Ellen Kushner’s (“The Golden Dreydl”).  As a composer he has received a Massachusetts Cultural Council Artist Grant.  Always looking for new and fresh ways to explore his instrument and his creativity, Dickson has toured with an eclectic rock band called Hypnotic Clambake and with Greek bands Revma and Taximi.  He uses his imagination to push the boundaries of jazz, blowing down the walls with his clarinet creativity. Glenn Dickson encourages us to think outside the perimeters that bind us.  He wants us to think “Wider Than the Sky.”

* * * * * * * * * * * *

STEVE KNIGHT – “PERSISTENCE” – Independent Label

Steve Knight, guitar/composer; Justin Peterson, bass; Jeff Stitley, drums.

Steve Knight is a Chicago-based guitarist and composer.  “Persistence” is the title of this, his debut album, and perhaps he says it all in the title.  Knight says it took him 18-COVID locked-down months to compose the opening track, “Suspects” but only twenty minutes to pen his composition, ”Real Type Things.”  He mused in his liner notes, that the tune seemed to write itself. The “Suspects” song is catchy and reminds me of Wes Montgomery’s “Tequila” hit record with his first few notes.  It soon melodically changes to offer us Knight’s own melodic path, but I can hear, in his playing, that he studied Montgomery’s guitar style. “Real Type Thing” is soaked in the blues, with Jeff Stitley pumping a funk drum lick underneath the arrangement to spur it forward. Justin Peterson, another respected Chicago jazz cat, takes a bass solo, but it’s Steve Knight’s bright guitar lines that carry this debut album into the new-artist spotlight.  His music is a mix of jazz and commercial viability. Steve Knight and his trio began working on this album during the pandemic shutdown, presenting weekly concerts from Knight’s backyard and later, their popularity inspired the city council to invite them to perform in the local park for the pleasure and appreciation of the neighborhood.

“I don’t like music that seems to be written just for other musicians.  A jazz guitarist is part poet and part athlete.  I think (George) Benson strikes the perfect balance.  He’s an incredible technician on the guitar, but his music is very accessible for a general audience,” Steve Knight explains his purposeful recording goal. 

Knight began to play guitar at twelve-years old.  He stepped off his skateboard and into music, when he became fascinated by a Sears electric guitar with a built-in, 9-volt powered amp.  He was encouraged to practice and dive into mastering his guitar chops when he was grounded by his parents for six long months.  Knight says it was a totally legitimate punishment, but the boring hours at home helped him to practice and improve his guitar playing. Knight attended  Emporia State University in Kansas and majored in theater.  But because he could play guitar and read music, he was soon invited to join the college orchestra and the school’s big band.  Always in search of artistic outlets, Steve Knight graduated college and worked in theater as a director.  He also became a professor who played jazz gigs on the side. He moved to New York City and before he could get his feet properly grounded in the Big Apple, Knight was hired by Carnival Cruise Lines to play in their dance and theater bands while sailing around the world. That’s a wonderful opportunity to tighten up your ‘chops.’ Once he planted his feet on solid ground again, Steve Knight began studying with guitar masters like Mark Sherman, Mark Whitfield and Jack Wilkins. Inspired by Herbie Hancock, George Benson, Wes Montgomery, Jim Hall and Grant Green, he enjoys teaching guitar, composing and performing.  He moved to Chicago, Ill in 2016 and joined their vibrant and demanding jazz scene.  His composition, “Chop Chop” reflects the excitement and fast tempo that Chicago always inspires.  It also showcases the technical tenacity of all three musicians, giving each one an opportunity to solo and strut their stuff. This is an enjoyable listen with the persistent spotlight shining brightly on Steve Knight and his guitar.

* * * * * * * * *


Frank Kimbrough, piano/composer; Ben Allison & Masa Kamaguchi, bass; Matt Wilson & Paul Motian, drums.

This is a tribute album that celebrates the life and musicianship of the late pianist and composer Frank Kimbrough, recorded in a trio setting.  Kimbrough unexpectedly passed away in December of 2020.  This is a compilation, double-set album that celebrates his art from 2003 through 2006. It’s a beautiful listen, featuring two different trios and Kimbrough’s exquisite composer skills.

“Everytime I play music it is a special occasion, especially when I’m playing with these gentlemen,” Frank Kimbrough once said about his choice of trio players.

You will hear Kimbrough’s comfort-level on these two CDs with his choice of two sets of bandmates.  His piano mastery is both subtle and melodic; thoughtful and creative.  Kimbrough is well-known for his 25-year tenure with the Maria Schneider Orchestra.  Soon after he arrived in New York City, during the early 1990s, Kimbrough and bassist, Ben Allison co-founded the Jazz Composers Collective. When Frank Kimbrough merged talents with the Herbie Nichols Project, that brought him to Palmetto Records and they recorded his 2001 album, “Strange City.”

Frank Kimbrough had the ability to present something that sounds quite simplistic in a rare and deeply intricate way. Take, for example, the title track of “Lullabluebye.” His composition is a 22-bar blues (not the eight or twelve-bar-blues you might expect) in the simplistic key of C.  But don’t get it twisted.  There is nothing simple about the way Kimbrough composes or arranges his music.  He just makes it sound easy.  This tune opens volume one of Kimbrough’s two-set CD and clearly introduces us to Frank Kimbrough, the pianist. I note that he is quite succinct with his musical ideas. I enjoy the way Ben Allison plays tag with Kimbrough’s piano, especially on the fade where they seem to be playfully chasing each other, using spontaneous improvisational lines. I enjoyed his composition “Centered” which is based on an augmented triad that he centered over the chord changes in various and unexpected ways. That may not mean much to you, if you aren’t a musician, but for layman ears this song sounds pensive and exploratory, perhaps like someone trying to find the center of themselves. His tune “Ode” is a tribute to Kimbrough’s friend and inspired musician, Andrew Hill. Kimbrough said this composition is based in perseverance and dignity, a high compliment to Mr. Hill. On the funk-based song “Eu Bu,” Matt Wilson is given an extended drum solo and the bass of Ben Allison is prominent, not only in the rhythm section but also as a featured instrument. Allison contributed one well-written, original song to this Vol. 1 titled simply, “Ben’s Tune.” 

On Volume Two, the disc is titled “Play.”  Track #2 is called “The Spins” and sounds like it was inspired by Thelonious Monk. It’s an uptempo waltz and Kimbrough says he wrote it in memory of Steve Lacy, but it’s very Monkish. On this second CD, Paul Motian’s drums propel the music forward and Masa Kamaguchi takes a significant bass solo during the track-two arrangement.

This is a lovely recording that musically memorializes the talented composer/pianist Frank Kimbrough. I will enjoy playing it again and again because of the peace and tranquility it exudes.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *


Geoffrey Keezer, piano/composer/arranger; Shedrick Mitchell, Hammond B3 organ/composer; Ron Blake, tenor & soprano saxophones; Richie Goods, acoustic and electric basses; Kendrick Scott, drums; Munyungo Jackson, percussion; Nir Felder, guitar; Aayushi Karnick, guitar; Elizabeth Steiner, Harp; Rachel Drehmann, French horn. VIOLINS: Lady Jess (lead/ contractor); Sara Caswell, Claire Chan, JD Hunter, Hajnal Pivnic, Curtis Stewart, Tiffany Weiss, Orlando Wells. VIOLAS: Tia Allen, Andrew Griffin, Celia Hatton & Trevor New. CELLOS: Maria Jeffers, Sasha Ono & Zsaz Rutkowski.

A sweeping string section introduces us to Geoffrey Keezer’s first original tune called “Refuge.” When the horns enter, it becomes a full-fledged orchestra.  Then the spotlight moves to pinpoint Geoffrey Keezer, sitting at the piano.  It’s a thrilling moment. His piano solo changes the entire texture of the tune and puts the “J” in jazz.  Talk about ‘opening a window to change,’ in the first twenty-four bars of this song, Keezer and his amazing ensemble of musicians take us on a magic carpet ride. Fasten your seatbelt.  Keezer and friends cover all the nuances that you look for in jazz; melody, harmony, improvisation, surprise and technical skill.  It’s all here.

“I want there to be moments on this record that make you do a double take.  I want it to be unpredictable and exciting and fun to listen to,” Geoffrey Keezer shares.  

Well mission accomplished, Mr. Keezer!  When Shedrick Mitchell appears on his Hammond B3 organ, letting Ron Blake introduce him with a straight-ahead and inventive tenor solo, I am already captivated by the variations in this arrangement.  Aayushi Karnik continues the pleasant surprises with his fusion guitar solo and Munyungo Jackson adds percussive brilliance throughout, locked in with Kendrick Scott’s drums and fattening the rhythm.  This opening song was such a mind-blowing surprise that I had to play it twice.

Track #2, I.L.Y.B.D. is spurred by the blues and there is nothing I love more than an organ playing the blues. It reminds me of nights I spent sitting in Jimmy Smith’s historic club on the West Coast and soaking up his rot-gut, jazzy organ blues. Blake swings hard on saxophone and then Geoffrey Keezer enters. His technical and spiritual merge, like coffee and cream.  I just want to drink up his amazing talent.  I know that part of the title of this tune means “I Love You Because…” but what does the ‘D’ stand for?

Shedrick Mitchell has composed the very beautiful ballad, “Her Look, Her Touch.”  We get an opportunity to hear Geoffrey Keezer expand his ferocious talents in a slow and emotional way. Ron Blake’s interpretation on tenor is both tender and expressive. The ensemble’s interpretation of Quincy Jones’ hit record composed by the Johnson brothers and singer, songwriter Siedah Garrett is beautifully reinterpreted.  “Tomorrow” never sounded so good.

This album has Grammy written all over it.

* * * * * * * * * *

ROGER LEWIS “ALRIGHT!” Irresistible Revolutionary Records

Roger Lewis, alto/baritone/soprano/tenor saxophones; Herlin Riley, drums; Kirk Joseph, sousaphone; Don Paul, spoken word vocals; Erica Falls, singing vocals; Michael Torregano Jr., keyboards; Mario Abney, trumpet.

Roger Lewis first saw a saxophone in his cousin Alvin Bailey’s room, sticking out from under his bed. Curious, the young boy picked it up and tried it out; blew into it; examined it; ran his fingers along its length.  The instrument stirred something deep and emotional inside of Roger.  He began to craft saxophone shapes out of rolled-up newspapers. So began his infatuation with music.

Born October 5, 1941, Roger Lewis is in his eightieth year and still going strong.  He has dedicated sixty years to music and this is his debut album as a bandleader.  It’s stuffed with spirit, memories, poetry, ghosts of the past and hope for the future. Roger is playing all four saxophones to express himself.  He’s a native of New Orleans and his music reflects that soulful, Louisiana jazz legacy.  He toured with Eddie Bo and a plethora of bands. Roger started gigging around the New Orleans scene before he was seventeen. He worked with Deacon John and the Ivories.  As part of the DDBB, George Wein signed them to Concord Records and they travelled to Europe, moving from a lounge band to playing at the Montreux Jazz Festival. DDBB recorded four albums for Columbia from 1989 to 1992. Herlin Riley brings youth and excitement on his drums and the soothing voice of Don Paul on spoken word is an unexpected addition to the recording. I enjoyed the sensitive interaction of Don’s voice with Roger’s expressive saxophone improvisation. Roger Lewis has interwoven poetry, history and spirits into his horn-playing like knitting needles weaving a shawl.  His music covers us, warms us and surprises us with both its intensity and rawness.

* * * * * * * * * * * *


July 25, 2022

By Dee Dee McNeil

July 25, 2022


Elsa Nilsson, flutes/composer; Jon Cowherd, piano; Chris Morrissey, bass.

Elsa Nilsson is a sensitive and technically astute flute player and composer.  This album is her first in a series she is calling, “Atlas of Sound.” It is inspired by the human connection to locations in the natural world.  She refers to coordinates she used to record a ten-movement suite that is a tribute to nature.

“The secret is in the tempo. How slow the redwoods move.  For me to hear them, I have to slow down, stay still; really, really listen.  When I do, I find music in every movement.  There’s a melody in the rustle of leaves as the wind blows through them and they release and float to the ground; a groove in the sound of footsteps, real or imagined,” she explains.

If this description sounds abstract, like the music, it is. What I feel when I listen to Elsa’s unique original compositions is a sense of peace and tranquility.  I float away with her trio on imaginary clouds that feed the Redwoods with sheets of moisture and filter the sunrays beaming over the huge trees. On their single, “Catching Droplets” there is a touch of Arabian music in the flute solo and Jon Cowherd’s piano playing is interesting with his jazzy, swing-infused solo framed in classical technique.  On “Proof of the Unseen” I enjoy Chris Morrissey’s bass solo sparkling brightly in the spotlight.  Elsa’s original tune, “Epicormic” is more modern jazz with each musician freely improvising.  They listen to each other and are inspired by each one’s musicality.   This is the longest song of the ten she has chosen to showcase here.  They play it for over ten minutes and captivate me with their creativity, tempo changes and mood swings. Epicormic is a word that describes a shoot or branch growing from a previously dormant bud on the trunk or limb of a tree.  Nilsson’s flute almost lets you see that tiny bud grow and blossom.  This is delightful music to both meditate by and relax. It’s Elsa Nilsson’s tribute to the beauty and magnificence of the Redwood tree.

* * * * * * * * * *


Roxy Coss, tenor & soprano saxophones/composer; Alex Wintz, guitar; Miki Yamanaka, piano/Fender Rhodes/composer; Rick Rosato, bass; Jimmy Macbride, drums/composer.

This is an album sparked with energy that merges jazz with rock on Miki Yamanaka’s opening song.  “February” is one minute and eleven seconds of pure excitement. For this “February”suite, Roxy Coss had written four songs that exemplify “The Body,” “The Mind,” “The Heart,” and “The Spirit.”  These four original compositions make up Track 2, 3, 4 and 5.  Roxy expresses her inspiration for creating this, her long-awaited follow-up album to her successful release of “Quintet” back in 2019:

“Everything for me goes back to being a woman in jazz.  That is my identity. … The different things that I do in my life are either for a certain part of me or accessing a certain part of me and they’re not integrated. Each of these pieces of the suite are the ‘Disparate Parts.’  As the project progressed, I went through the life changes of being pregnant and now, being a new mom, and felt that concept manifesting itself even more so in my own life.” Roxy Coss explained.

 “The Body” is high energy and very melodic, with a wild and fuzzy guitar part by Alex Winatz and Rick Rosato’s bass predominate and rich in the mix.  Roxy’s tenor saxophone flies above the fray, like a paper plane caught in a wind tunnel.  “The Mind” another part of her suite, is ethereal and cerebral where she and the pianist play tag with each other at the top of the tune.  Then the spotlight swoops to Miki Yamanaka on Fender Rhodes, who delivers a solo draped lightly in the blues, but is heavily saturated with modern jazz. This song screams freedom at the top of its lungs.  “The Heart” is all a flutter, with Jimmy Macbride’s drums pumping life into the arrangement.  Roxy Coss is the blood coursing through the veins of the song on her saxophone, establishing the melody.  Yamanaka is like the heart muscles driving the piece forward with improvisation. The tempo is how my heart feels after I’ve run a mile. My favorite part of this suite is “The Spirit” that gives Rick Rosato a time to shine on his bass and boldly features Roxy Coss on her tenor instrument. She offers her listening audience fourteen original compositions, inclusive of six written by her pianist, Miki Yamanaka and one composed by drummer Jimmy Macbride and “Ely, MN” composed by guitarist Alex Wintz.  The title tune, “Disparate Parts” meaning parts being essentially different in kind or incomparable, is the first composition that is truly Straight-ahead.  This tune pleases my artistic heart and becomes another favorite on this album.  Wintz takes the opportunity to solo on this one and make quite an impression, as does Macbride when they trade fours. Roxy Coss offers a little something for everyone during this production.

She says in her press package, “I’m still feeling this idea of having disparate parts of myself represented in different areas of my life, but it is even more prevalent now that I’m a new mom.”

Coss offers us musical pieces of her life journey, as interpreted by her quintet and their compositions. Like a diary, it unfolds in a very personal way.

* * * * * * * * *


Beverley Church Hogan, vocals; Grant Geissman, guitar; John Proulx, piano; Lyman Medeiros, bass; Clayton Cameron & Dean Koba, drums; Kevin Winard, percussion; Bob Sheppard, saxophone.

Here is a singer I can tell has been singing jazz through a number of gigs and life experiences.  I believe Ms. Beverly Church Hogan when she sings, “Don’ Cha Go ‘Way Mad” and “Falling in Love With Love.” She swings and her amazing band inspires and pumps the hard bop music into John Proulx’s arrangements.  They solidly support her. This Montreal, Quebec native grew up enthralled with recordings by Frank Sinatra and Joe Williams.  She began singing as a pre-teen and was winning amateur contests at the age of twelve.  That win landed her a weekly gig singing on a local radio station.  The entertainment bug bit Beverly Church Hogan early.  She relocated to Los Angeles at twenty-one and almost immediately landed a recording contract with Capitol records.  Funny, how life can sometimes get in the way of dreams.  She was married with a baby at home when she finally secured that contract offer, but of course the record company wanted her to tour for the next 58 weeks to promote the record.  Consequently, she turned the offer down to be a stay-at-home wife and mother.

John Proulx’s piano magnificence shines during her delivery of “I Got Lost in His Arms.”  During the arrangement of “Invitation,” Bob Sheppard’s tasty and beautiful saxophone lines compliment her vocals sweetly, like hot tea and honey. Clayton Cameron tap-dances across the drums with his supple sticks on the “I’m Just Foolin’ Myself” tune and Lyman Medeiros steps forward to share a swinging bass solo.  Beverly Church Hogan seems to love singing beautiful ballads like, “When October Goes,” and “Why Try to Change Me Now,” but I particularly enjoy her ‘swing’ side the best.  You can tell she has lived these songs in her own, eighty-six years on earth. There is a believability to her melodic storytelling and what her vocals lack in control, she makes up for with emotional feeling and honesty. 

“This is the only life we’re granted and you have to take chances and follow your dreams no matter your age,” Beverly Church Hogan muses in her press package.

Bravo to that!

* * * * * * * * * * *


Xiomara Torres, vocals/Guasa; Dan Neville, vibraphone/marimba/arranger; David Obregon, bass; Giovanni Caldas & Santiago Melo, piano; Miguel Salazar, accordion; John Benitez & Miguel Sanchez, bass; Adrean Areas, quinto; Marcel Mindinero Boku, conga/cununo/percussion; Miverr Andrés Mina Grueso ‘Timba’, Timbales/bombo; Yemayá Balafon & Ciro Silva, bamboo; John Santos & Omar Torres, Maracas; Rebecca Kleinmann, flute; Omar Julian Trujillo & Jhon Filteo, trumpet; Harlinson Lozano, saxophone; Wayne Wallace, Carlos Latoche, Adam Theis, trombone; Alejandro Escobar, cello; Maria Del Mar Castano Duque & Maria Del Mar Goyes Rojas, violin; Edmar Castaneda & Destiny Muhammad, harp; CHORUS: Nidia Gongora, Gloria Torres, Dayfa Torres, Victor Hugo Rodriguez, Mayssy Cundumi Montano, Michel Obregon, Ciara Medina Obregon, Paola Ponce, Jhon Edinson Garcia Sanchez & Ciro Silva.

Xiomara Torres sings in Spanish with passion and sincerity. Her voice is satin smooth and slides over the notes like hot oil.  The first song is “Me Quedo Contigo,” a spirited, up-tempo composition that had me dancing around the room.  It features John Benitez pumping his Latin bass line to propel the rumba rhythm. This album, “La Voz Del Mar,” has been recorded to share an extraordinary cultural heritage of a little-known region in Colombia. Dan Neville is a jazz vibraphonist and marimba player, who has spent years studying with master musicians in both Cuba and Colombia. The vocalist he features on this project is Xiomara (pronounced See-o-mar-a) Torres.  She comes from music royalty.  This album is a tribute to Xiomara’s uncle, the departed maestro and marimba player, Diego Obregon. This talented vocalist is acclaimed in the Pacific region for personifying her traditional roots and incorporating them with more contemporary musical styles including salsa, bolero, cumbia and vallenato. She was born in Guapi and based in Cali, Columbia.

“Cali is this place where there’s a unique confluence of folkloric Pacific coast traditions; salsa, jazz, reggaeton, vallenato and all these other styles.  It’s very unique and inspiring.  I think the songs on the album reflect that.  Xiomara is from Guapi and she sings with a certain swing that comes from folkloric music,” Dan Neville explained.

“Como Una Hoguera” includes the chorus, lifting the song higher and enthusiastically. The arrangement is inspired by bright, happy horn lines.  Giovanni Caldas shines on piano. On the tune “Tio,” Dan Neville soaks up the spotlight on his marimba and the ensemble supports the arrangement with jazzy Afro-Cuban or Afro-Colombian 6/8 time, a tempo that makes your hips sway and your feet pat. This album is just pure happiness and joy from start to finish. Xiomara’s interpretation and Neville’s arrangement of the Beatles hit song, “Let It Be” is the only song performed in English, but that doesn’t matter.  Music is a universal language and every song recorded here is splendid and touches my heart. Her voice is like a sweet, soothing balm.

Dan Neville’s deep commitment to Afro-Colombian culture is evident and sparkling on this project. Xiomara Torres is the diamond in his musical crown. This production reflects Neville’s in-depth studies with Diego Obregon. Dan Neville is an award-winning multi-instrumentalist, a prolific composer, performer and jazz big band arranger, who composed and arranged for the San Francisco Jazz Center’s Monday Night Big Band for seven seasons; from 2013 through 2016. He won first place in the Jazz Search West competition in 2017.  That same year, Neville released his “Tenerife” album that became a critically acclaimed success.  I believe this album will be another triumphant achievement for Xiomara and Neville.

* * * * * * * * * *


Satoko Fujii, piano/composer; Joe Fonda, bass/cello/flute/composer.

Whenever I see Satoko Fujii’s name, I know I am in for an exploratory rocket ship ride across the musical universe.  Her creative, Avant-garde arrangements, interwoven here with Joe Fonda’s composer skills and musical talents will suck you in like a black hole in space.  Their album cover even celebrates this concept with a thread of light encircling the moon, or perhaps that’s a photo of an eclipse of the sun.  Either way, that photo like their original music, invites us to question and explore the unknown and the beautiful. Both of these musicians collaborated during the pandemic. Fonda listened to Fujii’s solo piano creations posted on her Bandcamp page and came back with an interesting proposal.

“He emailed me saying he really enjoyed “Step on Thin Ice” and he actually could hear a way to create his own part to go with it.  Originally, I had played it as a solo, not as part of a duet, but he found the space to add to it and make it more perfect.  I was amazed at how great it sounded with his part added,” Satoko explained how this duo project was born.

“This is the first time I have ever done a CD like this.  I studied her tracks for weeks, making notes and tuning in to where she was coming from on each piece; what the vibe was, what the feeling was.  Then I started to play along, looking for how I might approach each song.  Every track was different,” Joe Fonda talked about his creative process.

The result is this incredible and freedom-fanned project. With the addition of bass, cello and flute, Joe Fonda boosts the spontaneity and excitement that Satoko always brings to her work.  They co-write all of the compositions but two; “My Song” is a Fonda composition and “Winter Sunshine” is Fujii’s composition. All the rest of these songs were created together.  Their ideas flow collectively, naturally, like salt and water. From the first co-written composition, “Kochi” I am fascinated by their intriguing blend of ideas and concepts.  Fonda’s basement of sound is a strong foundation, like a hundred-year-old redwood tree. Satoko Fujii’s busy piano flies about the production like a restless bird, settling on the Redwood’s branch to peck at the wood and then flying off again into space. On “Fallen Leaves Dance,” her fingers move hummingbird fast. Another of my favorites is titled, “Anticipating” where the two musicians tease space and improvise freely, often sounding like they are chasing each other, the way children do when playing tag. The sudden ending simply screams, “You’re it!”

Satoko Fujii has been challenging musical concepts and stretching boundaries since 1996, when she first burst on the scene. The beauty and freedom she and Joe Fonda have found in this duet project is stellar. Their astral association creates a solar atmosphere that invites the listener to let go and climb aboard their creative spaceship.  You can fasten your seatbelt or just float and enjoy the ride.

* * * * * * * * *

HANKA G – “UNIVERSAL ANCESTRY” – Culture Bridge Records

Hanka G, lead vocals; James Hurt, piano/Fender Rhodes/co-producer/arranger;  Shedrick Mitchell, organ/piano/co-producer/ arranger; Rodney Kendrick, piano/co-producer/arranger; Rashaan Carter, electric & double bass; David Ginyard, electric bass; Sherrod Barnes, electric guitar; Marvin Sewell, guitars; Taru Alexander & Nathaniel Townsley, drums; Antoine Roney, tenor & soprano saxophone; Sisa Michalidesova, flute; Veronika Vitazkova, fujara; Keesha Gumbs & Terelle Tipton, background vocals.

Hanka G is a Slovakian vocalist. Although she has recorded other albums, this is her debut album recorded and released in the United States.  She is surrounded by a stellar group of New York-based musicians who bring their A-game to this project.  Hanka is no newcomer to the music business.  She’s a respected artist in Slovakia and other parts of Europe. Her last two albums were both nominated for “Best Jazz Album of the Year.”  Hanka G is a multi-racial Slovak nationalist and one of the first Slovakian singers to fuse Slovak folk music with jazz.  On this recording, co-producer and arranger, James Hurt, assisted her in transforming three Slovak folk songs into jazz. My favorite arrangement is on their interpretation of “Bird Has Started Singing.” It’s a beautiful tune and I think Mr. Hurt supported the melody and subject matter with his lovely arrangement.

“My latest project was framed through the lens of an immigrant in the USA trying to unite people with different musical heritages.  Regardless of our backgrounds, we all dream about love, happiness and freedom,” Hanka G reflects.

Her choice of repertoire mirrors Hanka’s deep spirituality and her love of gutsy, power-house voices like R&B diva, Chaka Khan, gospel composer/singer, Walter Hawkins and the late, great Whitney Houston. Hanka sings about universal love, relationships and the concept of being grateful.  One of her Slovak folk songs is titled “Dance Dance” and she sings it in her native tongue combined with English.

Hanka spent her childhood years in the Mongolian desert with parents who were geologists.  Some of the first melodies she learned were Mongolian.  Her father played guitar and sang. He loved American rhythm and blues, including artists like Chuck Berry and Aretha Franklin.  Once her country was liberated from communism, Hanka heard and became enchanted with Motown music.  Hanka G and Cassandra Wilson became friends after Wilson heard Hanka G’s “Essence” album.  Cassandra asked Hanka G to become her opening act for Wilson’s concert in Bratislave, the capital of Slovakia.  Wilson later suggested she relocate to the United States. In 2016, the talented vocalist did just that. Hanka now resides in New York City. 

I particularly liked her rendition of Donny Hathaway’s hit record, “Someday We’ll All Be Free” with just her vocals and the accompaniment of Shedrick Mitchell. I needed nothing more than to hear her amazing voice, uncluttered by a production and powerfully sensitive.

Rodney Kendrick plays piano for her on the Abby Lincoln tune, “Throw It Away.”  The production is very funky and I enjoy Hanka’s expressive vocals, but the musical arrangement was odd in places. She swings hard on “Them There Eyes” and holds solid on her pitch, no matter what the bassist played. Here is a vocalist, greatly influenced by Chaka Khan, who manages to hold her own, flying like a beautiful, wild bird on top of tracks that sometimes challenge instead of complimenting her rich vocal style. This made me think about Betty Carter and a conversation we once had.  She told me the reason she learned to pen and arrange her own charts was because the musicians never played the tunes the way she heard them in her head. She wanted arrangements that supported and complimented her vocals as a lead instrument. I found that to be a challenge here. However, I look forward to hearing more from this talented and dynamic vocalist.

* * * * * * * * *

JOY LAPPS – “GIRL IN THE YARD” – Independent Label

Joy Lapps, tenor, bass, double guitar & alto steelpan/percussion/background vocals; Andy Narell, alto, tenor & bass steelpans; Shaquila Alexander, alto steelpan; Asha Lapps, double guitar steelpan; Courtenay Frazier, organ/Fender Rhodes/background vocals/melodica; Jeremy Leadbetter, clavinet/piano; Michael Shand, piano/Fender Rhodes/background vocals; Eddie Bullen, piano/synth.;Elmer Ferrer, guitar/tres; Eric St. Laurent, guitar; Kobena Aquaa Harrison, guitars/percussion; Andrew Stewart, programmer/bass;Bruce Skerrit, melodica; Larnel Lewis, drums/background vocals; Rosendo Chendy Leon, Brian Edwards & Diego Las Heras, percussion/congas; David Richards & Magdelys Savigne, percussion; Marito Marques, balafon/kalimba; Cheliz, surdo/cuatro; Mario Allende, pandeiro; Rob Christian, tenor & Soprano saxophone/flute/bansuri; Jesse Ryan, alto saxophone; Shelka Francis, alto saxophone; Marcus Ali, wooden flute; Colleen Allen, clarinet; Tara Kannangara, flugelhorn; Dionne Wilson, lead & background vocals; Elena Rawlins, background vocals. VIOLINS: Elizabeth Rodriquez, Alaksandar Gajic & Janetta Wilczewska; Aysel Taghi-Zada, viola; Jonathan Tortolano, cello.

Joy Lapps-Lewis is a composer and steelpan master who has been called a multi-modal artist.  This is her fifth album release as a bandleader, featuring her original music and her own arrangements. Joy is a celebrated Steelband players who won the treasured Canadian Juno Award in 2016. As an artist, she has made an international statement, performing with the Calypsociation in Paris, the Birdsong Steel Orchestra in Trinidad and Tobago, and this current ensemble, Pan Fantasy, in her native Toronto, Canada.  This album is a tapestry of West African influences, Afro-Caribbean music and her soaring arrangements create a rich fabric of world music that features Ms. Lapps’ mastery playing the steelpans.  This album paints bright, happy music in lovely, loud colors. Joy Lapps is the daughter of a mother and father who came from Antiqua and Barbuda to settle in North America.  This music is saturated with her cultural roots and infused with percussive brightness. Tunes like “Morning Sunrise” cross over and are arranged in a more ‘smooth jazz’ vein. Elmer Ferrer’s guitar provides a plush pillow of rhythm for Joy Lapps to lay down her creative solo. Rob Christian’s flute happily sparks the piece, while the background voices fuel the energy. This composition sounds like a crossover hit. Elizabeth Rodriquez shines like a star playing violin during their presentation of Joy’s composition, “Serena.”  On “Sharifa the Great” Larnel Lewis shows his powerful mastery of the trap drums with a very engaging solo. The producer of this album of unique music must be acknowledged, Andrew W. Stewart, who also had a hand in arranging.  Joy Lapps is a melodic composer. If her music is a reflection of her personality, Ms. Lapps is a very happy person, indeed! This album of music is a joyful listen!

* * * * * * *


Katherine Farnham, vocals/piano/keyboards/percussion/arrangements/guinga/background vocals; Denny Jiosa & Andrea Canola, acoustic & electric guitars; Guinga, guitars/vocals; Roy Vogt, bass; Marcus Finnie & Rich Adams, drums; Andres Canola & Rich Adams, percussion; Nestor Torres, flute;   

If you like a boisterous, joyful production, blended into Brazilian culture with spicey Spanish influences, you will enjoy award-winning artist, Katherine Farnham.  Ms. Farnham plays piano, percussion, composes and arranges her own music.  Add to this her powerful vocals and you get the picture of a multi-talented woman.  She is a nine-time, Global Music Award winner.  The first track on this project is a “Tango” sung in English with a teasing, provocative lyric that reflects her passion for love and life.

Track two, “Onde Esta Meu Amor” is sung in either Spanish or Portuguese. Katherine “Kool Cat” Farnham is fluid in both languages and sadly, this journalist is not. Farnham is a third-generation musician who fluctuates from her foreign languages to English, giving us a hint of what this love song is about, singing: “I am so jealous of the others.  I wanted to make you jealous too.  Just so you would kiss me.  Just so you would hold me.”  She’s no newcomer to the stage or studio.  At five years old she became the leading lady in her school play and also began to sing jazz.  Her mother was a concert pianist and vocal coach for the Sante Fe Opera company. So, Katherine Farnham has deep roots and early training in music.

On this “Alquimia” album, she premieres her first duet on her composition, “A Vox do Mundo” featuring famed Brazilian guitarist Guinga, who plays and sings with her. He has a smokey, sexy voice that caresses the lyrics and is in stark contrast to her powerhouse vocals. Katherine’s elegant version of “Besame Mucho” features four-time Grammy nominee, guitarist Denny Jiosa. The piano line is a surprise and supportive of her voice during this refreshed arrangement.  Consistently, Katherine Farnham’s band is plush with excellence and energy.  The “Kool Cat” (as she is fondly referred to) was classically trained and sports a four-octave vocal range.  She has appeared on Good Morning America, NPR Public Television and Telemundo television, as well as staying busy touring internationally.  In the past few years she has garnered a staggering twelve music awards and is one of the youngest recipients of the Albert Nelson Lifetime Achievement Music Award.  I have no doubt this “Alquimia” project will also win notoriety and accolades.

* * * * * * * * *


July 11, 2022

By Dee Dee McNeil

July 11, 2022


Christian Jacob, piano; Darek Oles, bass; Joe Labarbera, drums.

Trumpeter Carl Saunders is one of the jazz world’s great technicians, a composer and improviser. 

“I have been writing tunes all of my life.  I had many of them sitting by the piano, unorganized and looking like a bit of a mess.  I finally decided to print them out and organize them in a folder. … Finally published them into a book which I call New Jazz Standards, which has over 300 songs. I let the artists pick whatever tunes they want to do from the book and interpret them in their own style,” Carl Saunders explained.

That’s how this wonderful album of music was created by French classical and jazz pianist, Christian Jacob, talented bassist Darek Oles and legendary drummer, Joe LaBarbera.  They open with “August in New York” at a moderate but swinging pace.  Another of the twelve Saunders’ tunes is one called “A Ballad for Pete Candoli.” It’s a very beautiful ballad celebrating this iconic jazz trumpeter who played with both the Stan Kenton and Woody Herman big bands. I enjoy the sensitive, light, airy touch Jacob has on piano.  His fingers seem to be skipping over the notes, free as uninhibited children at play.  Next, the trio breaks into a three-four tune titled “Zig Zag Waltz.”  All the Saunders’ tunes are melodic and leave plenty of room for the musicians to explore, improvise and express themselves. Oles offers a brief but awesome bass solo.  LaBarbera solidifies the waltz, first with brushes and then builds the excitement, ending with cymbals ringing and sticks flying. 

The composition titled, “The Hipper They Are the Harder They Fall” is straight-ahead bliss.  In fact, every tune on this CD is brilliantly interpreted and the trio arrangements offer something for everyone’s pleasure and enjoyment.  Other Favorites are: “A Pill for Bill” that races across space like lightening; “Dark Blanket” is a composition warm as a wool poncho and “Sweetness” is a sugar-soaked ballad begging for lyrics. Each of the Saunders compositions light up the universe, bright stars on the horizon. To me, they sound like jazz standards.

* * * * * * * * *

BILL ORTIZ – “POINTS OF VIEW” – Left Angle Records

Bill Ortiz, trumpet/flugelhorn; Matt Clark, piano/Fender Rhodes; Brian Jackson, piano; Carl Wheeler, Hammond B3 organ; Marcus Shelby, bass; Marc van Wageningen, electric bass; Dennis Chambers, drums; John Santos, percussion/lead & background vocals; Javier Navarrette, percussion/background vocals; Azar Lawrence, tenor saxophone; Terrie Odabi & Christelle Durandy, lead & background vocals; Juan Luis Perez, Larry Batiste & Sandy Griffith, background vocals.

The first music arrangement of Bill Ortiz is robust and rolls out with the propulsive rhythm of Dennis Chambers, on drums, punching the funk into place.  They introduce the Eddie Henderson composition, “Sunburst” and it’s a great way to begin this album.  The trumpet of Ortiz announces the melody like a breath of fresh air and calls my ears to attention.  The arrangement dips and dives, with interludes that calm the tempo, until the drums become prominent again and continue driving the piece forward.  On Track #1, these musicians create a lovely blend of fusion with the more traditional, straight-ahead jazz.

Ortiz has his feet solidly planted in several jazz styles.  This is not surprising since he has spent forty-plus years playing a variety of music.  He toured for sixteen years with Santana and was part of that ensemble when they walked away with their multi-Grammy winning “Smooth” album. 

Bill Ortiz has recorded or performed with a long list of iconic names like Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Chick Corea, Tito Puente, Pete Escovedo, Boz Scaggs, Buddy Guy, as well as R&B stars like Tony Toni Tone, TLC, En Vogue and Destiny’s Child. Each of the ten pieces of this Ortiz repertoire was chosen to become a vehicle that showcases the Ortiz personal voice on trumpet.  He explained:

“…Music makes people feel something. I wanted “Points of View” to feature important pieces that have been overlooked or forgotten; songs I felt could document the sounds and artists that were important to me in forming my voice, while updating and bringing my personal style to them,” Ortiz said.

To assist him, Bill Ortiz has selected a stellar ensemble of musicians including the flying fingers of Matt Clark on piano.  Clark is always innovative as a soloist and complimentary as a solid rhythm player and accompanist. You hear this on Track #4, “In Search of Truth,” a sweet and lovely ballad with piano lines cascading like small waterfalls. Azar Lawrence, on tenor saxophone, sings the melody in unison with Ortiz on trumpet.  On Track #6, “A Toast to the People” written by Brian Jackson and Gil Scott Heron, features Terrie Odabi on lead vocals.  She adds her special flavor to the mix and rejuvenates this Gil Scott Heron gem of a tune.  Track #9 is a favorite arrangement of mine, composed by Wayne Shorter, and titled, “Oriental Folk Song” and inclusive of the “John Coltrane” melodic line dancing through the melody.  It makes me want to sing, “John Col – Trane” over and over again. Fueled by percussive spirit, Azar Lawrence takes a star-studded tenor solo. I also enjoyed Track #3, the Wilton Felder tune, “Ain’t Gon Change a Thang” that features another inspired solo by Azar with Bill Ortiz spicing it up by adding various effects to the arrangement.  All in all, this is a delightful mix of talent and repertoire. The mastery of Bill Ortiz on trumpet and flugelhorn is consistently obvious, awesome and spellbinding.  Perhaps Ortiz described his project best when he said:

“I like players who, like me, color outside the lines and strive for exciting interactions that make people listen and react, so that every time they play it, it tells a different story and goes to fresh, unheard places.  I wanted these guys to play off each other and jump into the oblivion of the unknown.  Afro Cuban music is a huge part of my life, and I welcomed genre greats like John Santos, who could inspire me to take that passion to the next level.”

* * * * * * * *

EVAN DRYBREAD – “TIGER TAIL” – Independent Label

Evan Drybread, tenor & soprano saxophones/composer; Mark Buselli, trumpet/flugelhorn; Christopher Pitts, piano/Fender Rhodes/composer; Scott Pazera, electric & upright basses; Kenny Phelps, drum/percussion.

Evan Drybread reflects the era of bebop, inspired by the hard bop records from back in the early popular Blue Note years.  He admires musicians like Wayne Shorter, Freddie Hubbard, Lee Morgan, Hank Mobley, Jackie McLean, Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers.  These musicians inspired Drybread to compose and pursue an album that reflected his love of saxophone and straight-ahead jazz.  Drybread opens this album with a wonderful original tune he wrote titled, “Blackball.”  Although he obviously has a deep love for bebop, Drybread was actually raised on fusion.  He wrote and included a tune to express that side of his jazz affections titled, “High Priestess” incorporating electronics.  He replaces the piano with a Fender Rhodes and Drybread pulls out his soprano saxophone during this arrangement. Kenny Phelps is absolutely inspirational on drums, taking a long and exciting solo.  The composition, “The Queen of Cups” slows the energy down and invites the trumpet of Mark Buselli to express himself.  He brings a warm, lovely tone to the party.

“Tiger Tail is my most recent composition.  I have been greatly inspired by the John Coltrane Quartet and wanted to capture the energy and spirituality of his music of the 60s.  I wanted to have a big, driving bass line in 6/4 with a soaring tenor melody.  This tune, in many ways, feels like my self-portrait, especially from the last seven years of my life. It has been a period filled with both personal and musical growth, but also great pain physically and emotionally.  Like a tiger, this song shows great strength, but also vulnerability,” Evan Drybread describes the title tune of his album.

In summary, I found Drybread’s album to be both innovative and enjoyable.  His composer qualities shine. 

* * * * * * * *


Peter Erskine, drums/composer; Alan Pasqua, piano/composer; Darek Oles, bass/composer.

The first original composition by Alan Pasqua, “Agrodolce” is sultry, pensive and drenched in classical music.  Pasqua opens, playing solo piano for the first half of this arrangement.  When the other two musicians join him, Peter Erskine’s brushes brighten the tempo and Darek Oles steps up to offer us a salty bass solo that’s both lyrical and relaxing. There is something comfortable and warm about this Peter Erskine Trio.  Their ‘live’ concert music draws me in.  Their repertoire is listed on the CD in the format of a restaurant menu.  Track #2 is titled “New Hope.” It’s another Pasqua original with a laid-back tempo, but beautifully written and played. “Old School Blues” struts onto the concert scene with Darek’s bass walking briskly beneath the groove that Peter Erskine’s drums lay down. Erskine’s drumming is strong and flavorful, like a thick Italian red sauce on fresh spaghetti. It’s a delicious arrangement. I tap my toes along with his swinging beat.

This is an easy listening trio of jazz played by three iconic gentlemen and recorded before a ‘live’ audience in Camogli, Italy on November 19, 2021.  The trio was in the midst of a two-week Italian tour. It was their first tour since the coronavirus lockdown. The Peter Erskine Trio offers a lip-smacking, toe taping menu of mostly original compositions. Erskine’s pepper-hot drums splatter across their arrangements with masterful sticks and brushes. He takes several solo spaces to sprinkle his talent over the captive audience. They reward him with appreciative applause. Erskine has composed “Three-Quarter Molly” that gives another platform for Pasqua to showcase his skillful piano creativity.  The tune “Turnaround” by Alan Pasqua is more energetic and tumultuous; a perfect platform for Erskine to shine, tap and tickle his drums.  Peter’s percussion opens the famed Dizzy tune, “Con Alma” tap-dancing on skins that double time beneath Pasqua and Oles. Darek Oles spotlights his bass in a dramatic solo during this tune. As the concert comes to an end, their audience responds with explosive hand claps.  The people demonstrate how much they appreciate what they heard.  I strongly concur.

* * * * * * * * *


Dawn Clement, piano; Elsa Nilsson, flute/vocals; Emma Dayhuff, bass; Tina Raymond, drums.

This is a spirited, all-female quartet.  The first tune on the ‘Esthesis’ album is titled, “Cricket.” However, it sounds more like a boxing match than a chirping cricket.  I do enjoy the energy and excitement that this quartet produces. At the intro, Elsa Nilsson chirps like a cricket on her flute and Emma Dayhuff, on bass, mimics the cricket sounds briefly. But very quickly, Tina Raymond punches the drums in all the vulnerable spots and the staccato breaks remind me of gloves swinging and colliding with flesh. Dayhuff solos on bass and the energy grows. Nilsson’s flute flies in a flurry of punches and I’m caught up in the splendid excitement these four musicians create.  When Tina takes an extended drum solo, I can clearly see the two boxers duking it out at the end of the tenth round and then, boom!  Knock-out!  The song abruptly ends. “Two Moons” is track two. The moody melody is played sweetly on Elsa Nilsson’s flute.  This arrangement is burrowed in thigh deep blues.  The story behind the title is one that celebrates an American Indian Cheyenne chief.  He traveled to Washington, D.C. many times to discuss and negotiate a future for his Northern Cheyenne people. In fact, it is “Two Moons” who is featured on the American Buffalo Nickel coin.  Dawn Clement is brightly featured on piano during this arrangement, shining with creativity. Clement and Nilsson have collaborated on “Partial” with Nilsson writing the music and Clement has penned the lyrics.  Nilsson sings.

The quartet adopted the name ‘Esthesis’ which means: elementary sensations of touch.  They were formed as a creative support group to keep compositions coming and creative juices flowing during the awful COVID-19 pandemic.  After spending several sessions together on the Zoom app, the members headed to Los Angeles and recorded this, their debut album. Dawn Clement is a Denver, Colorado-based pianist and educator.  Currently she holds the role of Assistant Professor and Area Coordinator of the Jazz and American Music Department at Metropolitan State University in Denver.  Drummer, Tina Raymond is currently Assistant Professor and the Director of Jazz studies at California State University, Northridge.  Raymond blends traditional jazz percussion vocabulary with African polyrhythms and classical percussion techniques.  You hear this powerful blending on the quartet’s arrangement of “We Watch It All Burn” written by Nilsson.  Nilsson, who is now New York City based, originally came to the States from Gothenburg, Sweden.  She is an adjunct professor at the New School Paul Rauch and performs regularly at various New York venues.  Bassist, Emma Dayhuff, is a graduate from the Herbie Hancock Institute of Jazz Performance and only the fifth woman to ever participate in this prestigious program.  Dayhuff lives in Chicago and is pursuing a DMA at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, Illinois.  She takes an extended solo journey during the “We Watch It All Burn” tune, exploring the full range of her upright bass and her unique creative instincts.  Raymond is by her side the entire way, fueling the solo piece with percussive intensity.  The song ends, like someone just blew out a candle and the burn abruptly stops.  Drummer, Tina Raymond, has composed “The Gardener” and it’s passive and precious introduction by Nilsson’s sensuous flute makes me want to gather my watering can and my spade to venture into my own garden. Like this music, there is a peacefulness to working with the earth.  The sixth and final tune on this very enjoyable musical concert is titled “Finding What’s Lost.” This song tributes Elsa Nilsson’s father, who passed away and her journey to finding a path back to life out of grief.  She vocalizes the melody, without words, in a scat-like way, dancing above the track in melodic whispers. This album was released May 27, 2022.

* * * * * * * * *


Hendrik Meurkens, harmonica/composer/arranger; Michael Philip Mossman, conductor/composer/ arranger; SAXOPHONES: Johan Hörlén, Pascal Bartoszak, Olivier Peters, Paul Heller, Jens Neufang. TRUMPETS: Andy Haderer, Wim Both, Rob Bruynen, Ruud Breuls. TROMBONES: Ludwig Nuss, Raphael Klemm, Andy Hunter, Mattis Cederberg. RHYTHM: Paul Shigihara, guitar; Billy Test, piano; John Goldsby, bass; Hans Dekker, drums.

Hendrik Meurkens is a German born, New York City based composer and harmonica player, with his own unique, recognizable sound and inspired by a deep love of Latin jazz.  Over his illustrious career, he has traveled to a number of countries and those influences of cultures and historic experiences is reflected in this album, “Samba Jazz Odyssey.” The big band opens with the Meurkens’ flamboyant composition, “A Night in Jakarta.” In my mind, I can still picture the colorful garments of Indonesian women with covered heads and I can hear the angklund instruments of Indonesia, locked melodically into my memory.  Meurkens competently captures the colors and energy of this Indonesian capital with the arrangements conducted by Michael Philip Mossman, a Grammy-nominated arranger.  Paul Heller on tenor saxophone and Raphael Klemm on trombone are brightly featured soloists, along with the harmonica brilliance of Meurkens himself. This is the beginning tune of a vivid voyage through samba jazz, featuring the composer skills of Meurkens.

Track #2 is titled “Manhattan Samba” and dances its way onto the scene, propelled by the able drums of Hans Dekker. Pascal Bartoszak on flute adds a light touch to the piece, with the horns pumping staccato beneath the excitement.  The Meurkens original tune, “Prague in March” is one of his compositions that has been ‘covered’ by many accomplished artists including Claudio Roditi, the popular Brazilian trumpet player. It’s a slow, sexy samba with a lovely melody that Meurkens wrote just before he immigrated to the United States and one year after the Berlin Wall fell.   “Sambatropolis” is a joyful composition, arranged so that Johan Hörlén, on alto saxophone, can engage in a lilting conversation with the harmonica of Meurkens.  I also love the baritone saxophone lines written into this arrangement that help keep the mood buoyant and happy. Meurkens was on a ride from Denver to Aspen, Colorado and while travelling through the American West, he was so inspired by the Rocky Mountains and their natural beauty that he composed “Mountain Drive.” The motion and movement of this tune makes me want to get in my car and head for the highway.  Conductor Mossman has composed a tune that lets the big band act as if they are a local jam session.  “You Again” spotlights Andy Hunter on trombone and Mattis Cederberg on bass trombone.  Jens Neufang, on baritone sax, gives us a true bebop influenced solo and Hans Dekker pushes the band forward on his powerhouse drums.  Paul Shigihara takes a noteworthy guitar exploration and Rob Bruynen soars on trumpet.  It sounds like a true jam session.

Every composition, every arrangement and each of these competent and talented musicians make this an album meant for your listening pleasure.

* * * * * * * *

DAN OLIVO – “DAY BY DAY” – Ava Maria Records

Dan Olivo, vocals; Ian Robbins, guitar; Lyman Medeiros, bass/ukulele/vocals/arranger; Joe Bagg, piano/Hammond B3 organ; Kevin Winard, drums/percussion; Kyle O’Donnell, tenor saxophone; Jamelle Adisa, trumpet; Garrett Smith, trombone; Renee Myara Cibelli, vocals.

Dan Olivo has a smooth, comforting voice; one you might hear and enjoy at a supper club or an intimate jazz room.  He has surrounded himself with an amazing cast of musicians who create tight, jazzy tracks and feature bright, outstanding instrumental solos.  Dan has chosen a dozen familiar songs for his repertoire.  He sings each one with sincerity and the well-written arrangements by Ian Robbins compliment Olivo’s vocal delivery.  Dan Olivo opens with the title tune, and the band swings as hard as a big band.  Olivo has a strong handle on music, having played saxophone in his Junior high school band and beyond.  It was during that period of his teen life that Dan was introduced to Harry Connick Jr.  Young Olivo watched and listened in awe as Connick Jr. fronted his big band and the teenager felt that he could do that too.  Soon he was also listening to Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Tony Bennett, Nat ‘King’ Cole and Michael Bublé. You clearly hear these influences in this album presentation. I enjoyed his rendition of the Latin flavored tune, “Sway” competently colored by the drums of Kevin Winard.

Olivo is also an actor with work in theaters, on film projects and appearances on television shows.  He blends his love of acting with his love of music, picking tunes like the 1924 song, once performed during Vaudeville stage acts called, “How Come You Do me Like You Do?” and the popular tune from the Broadway play, “The Great Magoo” titled “It’s Only a Paper Moon.”  He delivers each composition with crystal clear enunciation and this male vocalist could be categorized as a new-comer to the ‘crooners’ society.  By the way, he also does a good job of swinging his way through tunes like “L.O.V.E.”, “I’m Walkin’” and the up-tempo version of “Time After Time.”

* * * * * * * * * *


Nate Wooley, trumpet/composer/amplifier. COLUMBIA ICEFIELD: Mary Halvorson, guitar; Susan Alcorn, pedal steel guitar; Ryan Sawyer, drums. Mat Maneri, viola; Trevor Dunn, electric bass.

In the wake-up call of the 2022 Supreme Court of the United States, the determination to expel environmental protection laws, this album seems particularly important.  Trumpeter, Nate Wooley, has joined forces with Mary Halvorson’s dynamic guitar, Ryan Sawyers power-house drums and Susan Alcorn’s creatively played pedal steel guitar.  They copiously interpret his original compositions. 

“I Am the Sea That Sings of Dust” is eighteen-plus minutes of sounds and music that seem to reflect nature and predict some kind of bleak destruction or disintegration. You will hear the seagull’s song in this composition and the wind; the sea gently roaring like a sleeping giant and even raindrops.  It was such an interesting production, I played it twice.  According to Nate Wooley’s press agent, this music is meant to describe the gravitational force of a shifting glacier.  It utilizes an hour-long platform.  The production seems to be warning us about the possible catastrophic results of not loving and protecting mother earth.  Are we simply watching the natural beauty of our planet unravel? Are we ignoring glaciers melting, shifting, floating away?  Mat Maneri adds his viola to the mix and the screech of strings against the Ryan Sawyer drums becomes cataclysmic, with instruments sounding like wind gusts in an ice storm.  Ten minutes into this suite of music, the mood changes to a pensive, quiet alternate universe, where Nate Wooley’s trumpet appears, muted, like sunrays through a shuttered window.

This production features a suite of compositions, interpreted as three titles.  “A Catastrophic Legend” was penned by Wooley as a love letter to his mentor, Ron Miles, who passed away in March.  The final title is called “Returning to Drown Myself Finally” and is based on a Swedish religious song called “Nu ar midsommar natt.” All in all, this project, like the album cover itself, is dark and ominous.  The Wooley compositions and improvised trumpet parts melt into amplification, feedback, vocalization and sometimes disturbing music that ruffles the spirit and tickles the brain.

* * * * * * * * * *


Matthew Muñeses, alto saxophone/composer; Miguel Zenon, tenor saxophone; Zubin Edaji, trumpet; Stu Mindeman, piano; Clark Sommers, bass; Dana Hall, drums.

According to reedman, composer and educator, Matthew Muñeses, he has composed music to interpret his impressions of the Phillipines’ revolt against Spanish control in 1896.  The opening track, “Alin Mang Lahi” expresses the 19th Century Filipino desire for sovereignty. Both this track and the second track are based in minor keys and brightly powered by the drums of Dana Hall and the saxophone of Matthew Muñeses. “Kundiman ni Rizal” is a love song generally sung by a young man to the desired woman of his dreams. Both compositions are written by José Rizal.  This ballad had a melody penned by Francisco Buencamino, who put music to the poetry of Rizal. Clearly Matthew Muñeses admires Jose Rizal, who is a poet, novelist and National hero of the Philippines.

Four songs on this production are composed by Matthew Muñeses and represent parts of the suite he wrote.  The Muñeses publicist says that a Rizal Novel titled “Provoked” inspired Matthew to write this suite of music in 2019. Those four compositions blossomed into this recording. Not only does this music intend to call attention to the early Filipino revolution, it also is a musical means of calling attention to continuing racism and separatism that Muñeses has experienced as a Filipino man growing up in America.  Songs from the composer’s suite titled, “Noli me Tangere” features compositions like “A Son Returns” and “Cruelty and Injustice.”

This suite refers to Matthew’s own soul-searching and him coming to terms with his racial mix, being half Filipino and half American. The piano solo by Stu Mindeman is quite stunning and inventive on Cruelty and Injustice (the second tune in the Muñeses suite).  Dana Hall also takes a notable drum solo during this arrangement. Matthew Muñeses hopes to connect the history of Philippine independence from Spain to the post-colonial Phillippines and finally, to the current battle for justice in America existing in the 21st Century.  His suite, “Noli Me Tangere” is a musical call for a more equitable and fair society.  Part three is titled “Education for All” and the fourth and final part of the suite is “Revolution and Liberation” which seems to take us back to the original premise of the 1896 through 1898 revolution.  Sadly, the circle of discontent just seems to repeat itself, whether on European soil, in the islands, in Asia, in America or in this music.

This is modern jazz, with the Muñeses and Rizal compositions providing chord changes that encourage improvisation and freedom.  The music is the revolving door we keep pushing forward.

* * * * * * * *


July 1, 2022

By Dee Dee McNeil

July 1, 2022

ALEXANDER SMALLS – “LET US BREAK BREAD TOGETHER” – SmallHouseProductions/Outside In Music

Alexander Smalls, vocals; Joseph Joubert, piano/Hammond B3 organ; Cyrus Chestnut, piano/B3 Hammond organ; Kevin Hays, piano/Fender Rhodes; Reuben Rogers & Ben Williams, upright & electric bass; Ulysses Owens jr., drums/percussion/co-producer; John Ellis, tenor & soprano saxophone/bass clarinet.

A deep spiritual bass line opens the song, “Wade in the Water” until Alexander Small’s emotional, baritone voice takes stage center.  His vocals are rich and remind me of the ferocious male choir soloists I heard in church; the ones who sang spiritual tunes with gusto, love and power; the ones who had backgrounds in operatic singing.

The second and third tracks feature instrumentals. They highlight the outstanding musicians on this recording, who make the music shine. One of my favorite tunes by Sonny Rollins is “St. Thomas.”  The band has arranged this jazz standard with joy and tenacious energy; first featuring a solo by Kevin Hayes on piano and then Ben Williams on bass.  John Ellis sings his reed song on saxophone and Ulysses Owens Jr., takes a spirited solo on drums.  They follow this with the familiar “Watermelon Man” composition by Herbie Hancock. John Ellis makes a thrilling bass clarinet appearance on “God Bless the Child.” Cyrus Chestnut is featured pianist on this recording and has added his original composition, “Rent Party” as a delightful solo piano piece.

The artist and vocalist, Alexander Smalls, was once a highly respected opera singer. In 1977, he gained international attention, winning a Tony Award and a Grammy for his contributions to the Houston Grand Opera cast that recorded “Porgy and Bess.” Then, his life journey suddenly turned up a path towards becoming a culinary artist.  His love of spiritual music perhaps inspired the title of this album (Let Us Break Bread Together) and also reflects his transformation into the professional world of cooking.  Today, he is celebrated as a renowned chef.  Consequently, this inspired project embraces jazz as a spiritual bridge between Alexander’s love of cuisine and his vocal interpretation of spiritual music.  When he sings, “Let Us Break Bread Together” it is both a prayer and an offer to share the intimacy of both his music and a meal. He makes it comfortable to take a seat at his musical table. 

Small’s rendition of the traditional spiritual “Hush” is beautifully delivered, as is “Poor Little Jesus” with the piano accompaniment of Kevin Hayes tasty and creative.  Ben Williams provides a stunning bass background during the spoken word of Alexander Smalls as he recites the Langston Hughes poem, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers.”

“Think about the richness of a melody,” Smalls encourages our introspection. “Think about how a melody starts in one’s soul, one’s mind, one’s spirit. People bring these extraordinary sounds sometimes from the depths of who they are,” the artist explains.

Surely Mr. Alexander Smalls has done just that; pulled from the depths of his own soul, exhibiting infectious emotion and talent during this presentation. He shares his spiritual experience with us and inspires the listener with both this spiritual recording and his formidable voice.

* * * * * * * * *

BRIAN LANDRUS – “RED LIST” – Palmetto Records

Brian Landrus, baritone saxophone/bass clarinet/flute/alto flute/bass flute; Nir Felder, guitar; Geoffrey Keezer, Fender Rhodes/organ/piano/synthesizers; Lonnie Plaxico, electric & acoustic bass; John Hadfield, percussion; Rudy Royston, drums; Jaleel Shaw, alto saxophone; Ron Blake, tenor saxophone; Steve Roach, trumpet/flugelhorn; Ryan Keberle, trombone; Corey King, vocals.

Often times, music is used as a method of calling attention to some cause or life challenge.  Baritone saxophonist, reed master and bass clarinet player, Brian Landrus, has composed and arranged fifteen tunes dedicated to the preservation of some of our endangered, Earth creatures. This is Brian’s eleventh album released as a bandleader. It reflects his spiritual connection to earth and the animal kingdom in a warm, jazzy way.

“I’ve been an animal lover since I was a little kid.  I recently began researching the many endangered species on our planet.  It broke my heart to learn that there are only eight vaquitas, sixty-seven Javan rhinos and fewer than 850 mountain gorillas left on earth. Spreading awareness of this tragic global situation is part of the impetus for this album,” Landrus explains in his press package.

Each composition title exemplifies this purposeful album of music.  Landrus opens with “Canopy of Trees” that has a very orchestrated, smooth-jazz feel.  You can picture a forest of green, with the Landrus horn becoming the prowling creature beneath the lush canopy. On the title tune, “Red List” John Hadfield’s driving percussion energy fuels the arrangement, along with Rudy Royston on drums. Landrus delivers strong melodies and arranges the horns with tight harmonies that balloon the music like helium. The small ensemble sounds much bigger than it is and lifts me.  As I listen to the “Giant Panda,” composition, tenderly featuring a delightful Landrus bass clarinet solo, or “Tigris” pumping us up with a bright tempo and featuring the beautiful guitar talent of Nir Felder, the composer transmits the beauty and importance of protecting all life on earth with his music. He gives us a taste of his flute talents on “The Distant Deeps” and features the warm, husky vocals of Corey King.  I note that His arrangements exhibit the diversity of genres, embracing Straight-ahead jazz in some parts, (especially when Landrus is soloing) blending in easy-listening horn arrangements to buoy the tracks, along with smooth jazz grooves. For example, when he arranged “Save the Elephants” the jazz arrangement embraces a reggae beat. As I soak up this music, my imagination conjures up the elephant families lumbering along towards a drinking pond. Brian Landrus offers us music that is much like life itself, multi-faceted, colorful, uniquely different and beautiful. 

When he’s not composing or recording, Brian Landrus has taken his saxophone talents on the road with other jazz acts such as Esperanza Spalding, Fred Hersch, Billy Hart, George Garzone, the Maria Schneider Orchestra and his mentor Bob Brookmeyer. Landrus is not only a multi-talented musician who has mastered several reed instruments, but he’s adept at various musical genres.  Brain has toured with national pop acts like The Temptations, The Four Tops, The Coasters, The Drifters and Martha Reeves.  He holds a doctorate from Rutgers University and is currently on faculty at the School of Music, California State University Sacramento.

* * * * * * * *

JAKE LECKIE – “THE GUIDE” – Ropeadope Records

Jake Leckie, double bass; Nadav Peled, acoustic guitar; Elizabeth Goodfellow, drums.

“The Guide” is an acoustic folk-jazz trio with bandleader Jake Leckie at the helm on upright bass.  They open this recording with the title tune, bathed in the blues and slowly unfolding like a lyrical love ballad. Track two is titled “Patience” and features Nadav Peled on his acoustic guitar, dancing across the strings like an acrobat.  All eight of these compositions are composed by Jake Leckie and were recorded old school, on 2-track analog tape. They used no headphones, no isolation booths or overdubs.  This is live music that’s interactive, creative and improvisational.  This trio of musicians play spontaneously. On the “Patience” tune, Elizabeth Goodfellow is given a platform to shine on her trap drums.  This recording celebrates organic, acoustic music, along with creative compositions that are melodic and pleasant to the ear, like the tune “A Thing of Beauty.”  Track #6, “The Good Doctor” allows Jake Leckie to step out front and explore his rich, deep, double bass instrument.  This is a very Latin sounding composition.  The guitar is drenched in Spanish-sounding lyricism.  I wish the drummer had double-timed the rhythm to lift the arrangement and to move away from the same kind of tempo as the songs before this one.  A Samba or Cha Cha groove would have enhanced this well-written, original song, and would have accentuated the unexpected but tasty breaks in Jake’s arrangement.  A fresh, Afro-Cuban 6/8 rhythm dancing beneath Leckie’s bass solo could have been brilliant.  What I found missing in some of these songs was ‘the groove’ that my listening ears kept longing to hear.  The tune, “Adobe” finally slams into a funk groove with Leckie walking his upright bass and Goodfellow slapping the swing into place. Leckie’s composer skills are continuously impressive. The final tune could have been a real show-stopper with its up-tempo racy speed and strong jazz changes.  A spotlight is provided for Elizabeth Goodfellow to shine in, highlighting her drum skills.  However, the jazzy momentum and spiritual excitement that this composition inspires gets lost in the production.  I think a jazz drummer like the late, great Ralph Peterson, or like cutting edge female drummer, Terri Lyne Carrington or the iconic Jeff Hamilton could have elevated this project to a higher level.

* * * * * * * * *


Tom Collier, vibraphone/marimbas.

Tom Collier has been heralded as “One of the best jazz vibraphonists on the planet” by Scott Mercado, a Modern Drummer Magazine contributor.  Collier offers us a solo album, exploring his talents and creativity on three different marimbas; a 1948 Musser Canterbury marimba, a Adams Soloist Model and a Yamaha Model 6100 marimba.  Each song unfolds, like the path amid a forest of tall trees.  His concept is warm and brown, “like the color of wood,” also the title of this album.  Beginning with five reflections on wood, he plays a suite of music that explores his talents as both a marimba player and a composer.

“Inspiration for ‘Five Reflections on Wood’ is based on art and activities from Ruthi Winter, Cindy Kelsey, Jim and Mary Burdett and Adelle Hermann Comfort. … and musical inspiration for over fifty-one years (and still counting) from my lovely wife, Cheryl,” Tom Collier expresses in his liner notes.

This artist shows how layering his marimba talents and expanding his solo horizons, demonstrates he can paint an album with the brilliant colors of a sunrise or capture the sounds of nature with his mallets.  When I listen to Tom Collier’s music, I see vivid images of raindrops kissing the petals of Bluebells and purple Irises.  He inspires me to look for stardust sprinkling down from the big dipper and his songs glimmer like moonglow in love-filled eyes, especially when he interprets Freddie Hubbard’s “Little Sunflower” composition.  With songs like the Hank Williams favorite, “I’m So Lonesome, I Could Cry” Collier reminds us that a well-written song crosses genres and can easily relax in the lovely arms of a jazz arrangement.  His original songs, like “Genesee” and “I Haven’t Seen the Rain” wrap the listener in a blanket of comfort and warmth. 

His song “Hopscotch” is happy and carefree, like a child jumping between the chalk lines on a city sidewalk. This is a musical tribute to the higher good in us all and the spiritual beauty that a master marimba player can bring to his instrument.  In so doing, he lifts us all to an elevated standard of peace, joy and happiness. 

* * * * * * * * *


João Luiz, guitar: Sergio Abreu, 1997; Strings: Augustine Regal Blue.

I always have great admiration and respect for an artist who records an album of solo work.  In this case, not only is João Luiz performing solo, he is also covering famous, classical compositions and doing so displaying mastery on his classical Sergio Abreu guitar.  Sergio Abreu is a Brazilian guitarist and respected guitar maker. Almost all of this classical repertoire are originally written for guitar.  Although I rarely review classical music, this album was so striking and beautiful, I felt compelled to sing praise to the talents of Mr. Luiz.  Particularly since my article is titled “The Spiritual Side of Jazz” and surely this solo guitar music is sparked by spirit and jazz is inclusive of European classical music, along with Blues, American slave songs and the gift of improvisation. That is the one thing missing in this awesome recording; the beauty of improvisation.  In classical music, most of the time the pieces are played as written, without venturing off into improvisation.

This album opens with “Largo non Tanto, Op. 7” written by Fernando Sor, a nineteenth century Spanish composer.  João’s intimate interpretation of both this opus and the “Minueto Op. 25” that follows becomes a wonderful way to introduce us to his mastery of the guitar. The Luiz performance seems effortless and precise.  It is quite amazing to hear a solo guitarist perform with such sincerity and power, yet never echoing a squeak on the fretboard. This is the sign of a master musician. Guitar players will know exactly what I mean.  Some of these songs have been arranged by João Luiz, like “Serenata Espanola” that was composed originally for piano by Joaquin Malats, who was a Barcelona-based pianist.  João Luiz’s chords roll and the ascending lines are quite different from the original arrangement of this familiar classical composition. Perhaps there is a bit of jazz improvisation in this album.

Whether you are a jazz lover or an appreciator of classical music, here is a magnificent guitar presentation that celebrates music “From Spain to Sao Paulo” and pays homage to Spanish composers from the 19th and 20th century.   Two-time, Latin, Grammy-nominated guitarist, educator and composer, João Luiz, began to play the popular music of his native Brazil professionally during his childhood.  He was later trained in classical guitar by his mentor, Henrique Pinto. João’s interests include bridging Classical, Jazz, and Latin American music as a performer and composer.   João is equally at home with classical, Brazilian, jazz and world music. 

* * * * * * * *


Dana Fitzsimons, drums; Bill Graham, piano; Brandon Boone, bass.

Dana Fitzsimons has been an ardent fan of free-style jazz for years.  Although he started out as a touring musician, the drummer soon had a young, growing family and decided to get his degree from William and Mary Law School. He then pursued a legal career.  However, Fitzsimons never discarded his love of music and today he is both a recording artist and a successful trusts and estates attorney. 

His trio includes two popular musicians who are mainstays on the Atlanta jazz scene.  Pianist Bill Graham has been teaching jazz, improvisation and composition for nearly fifteen years.  As a composer, he has contributed several songs to this album. Bassist, Brandon Boone is a touring musician with both Colonel Bruce Hampton’s Band and the Tedeschi Trucks Band. 

“The music we wanted to make requires a lot of close listening and allowing the music to take you wherever it wants to go, untethered from strict ideas about time, form and harmony.  With all this freedom, it was important to me that the music still be rhythmic and lyrical so that the music invites the listener in, even for people who are not accustomed to free jazz,” Dana Fitzsimons explained his musical concept.

“Slant Anagrams” is the opening track of this project.  It was composed by Bill Graham and is a sort of tribute piece to the iconic Chick Corea, Keith Jarrett and Paul Motian.  It’s the most Straight-ahead jazz track on the Fitzsimons album.  Rodgers and Hart’s famed “Where or When” tune is the only standard they cover.  The trio also plays the Joni Mitchell tune “Amelia.”  However, the other nine tunes were composed by either Graham or Fitzsimons. Track #3, titled “Crystals” was composed by all three musicians of the trio and it stretches imaginatively, each member contributing their own slice of creativity and improvisation.  The result is as sweet as a piece of fresh-baked pie.  “Ice Bridges Before Road” is dramatic and Graham plays with the upper register of the piano, using it to paint images of ice into the arrangement, along with the colorful drums of Fitzsimons.  With the exception of “Where or When”, arranged beautifully as a ballad with drifting tempos and legato movement; these pieces of music are more abstract than structured.  The musicians play off of one another, reacting and improvising generously during these free-form exchanges.  Their songs are like moods, changing and growing provocatively without structured charts to hold the music tightly in place.  Time and tempos change and flood into each other with tsunami-like strength or soft and whispery like hummingbird wings.  The music on Fault Lines is inventive, spiritual and strikingly free.  Like the California Fault Lines themselves, it may shake something loose inside you, without a warning, and with the unexpected power of an earthquake.

* * * * * * * * *


Simeon Davis, Saxophone/Flute/Composer; Tyler Thomas & Rachel Azbell, vocals; Maria Wellmann & Alex Hand, guitars; Holly Holt, piano/keyboards; Jake Chaffee, Electric Bass; Josh Parker, drums; Aramis Fernandez, congas; Maxima Santana, trombone; Jonathan Shier, trumpet/flugelhorn; Jess Meadoer, violin.

This album is a collection of “Narratives and Nocturnes” brought to life by the Simeon Davis Group.  Exemplified by the titles of the Davis compositions, we are introduced to a cast of characters, places, moods and animals that live inside the mind of Simeon.  Opening with “The Diver” this arrangement is driven by a strong bass line and becomes part of a holistic storytelling experience that transcends genre norms.  The tune is structured more like a suite than a singular song.  It moves through moods and tempos like a restless bird exploring a foreign forest or perhaps a “Diver” searching through a ship wreckage beneath the sea.  There are lots of synthesizer accents and horn lines that leap and jump like notes on steroids.  In the same breath, there are some very beautiful parts to this arrangement that are soothing and melodic.  A voice accents the melody at the beginning and towards the end of the piece, singing wordlessly along with the instrumentation.  I am extremely impressed with the Davis composition, “Seven Come Wednesday” that recalls the brilliance of Chick Corea.  The addition of Tyler Thomas on vocals, singing throughout like a horn and the percussive brilliance of Aramis Fernandez coloring the arrangement along with the effective drumming of Josh Parker, turn this tune quickly into one of my favorites on this project.  The composition “Eden” features the sweet tenor voice of Tyler Thomas singing the melody in unison with the instrumentalists.  It explores the funk genre, with Parker’s drums slapping the groove into place and in your face. “Pleiades” uses handclaps and rhythm to propel the violin stage center. It’s a very lovely composition and continues to herald Simeon Davis as a gifted composer.  Holly Holt uses the piano to compliment and buoy the delicious violin solo by Jeff Meadoer.  I am absolutely captivated by the creativity and unique production that this Simeon Davis Band brings to his project. Simeon Davis lends several bars of his saxophone talent to this tune and “Pleiades” quickly becomes another one of my favorites. I listen to music all day, every day, but I’ve not heard something like this band in many moons. It’s refreshing! 

* * * * * * *


Caleb Wheeler Curtis, alto & soprano saxophones/composer; Orrin Evans, piano; Eric Revis, bass; Gerald Cleaver, drums.

The title tune “Heatmap” is a reference to where the action is happening.  Curtis composed the music for “Heatmap” during an artist residency and retreat in 2021.  Perhaps it was the get-away inspiration, the natural splendor of nature surroundings or the solitude that inspired him to write these ten, amazing jazz tunes. The result of that retreat is formidable music.

“…I like music with space in it.  It’s easy to get wrapped up in the idea of throwing everything at the wall, which, in theory, sounds bigger and more confident.  But I wanted to appreciate the sound of the music in the air.  You can hear the detail in the playing and really hear the musicians as people.  And I’m working with three singular musicians whose playing has real weight,” Caleb explained.

Pianist, Orrin Evans, opens the title tune with a very classically colored introduction.  The thrust of Gerald Cleaver’s drumsticks pushes the arrangement forward and creates momentum.  Once the excitement has soared, Caleb Wheeler Curtis enters with an energetic and restless saxophone.  His solo is both melodic and innovative.  The group cools down with Track #2 titled, “Tossed Aside.”  Cleaver keeps the rhythm light and double-time, dancing beneath the melody like gently moving ocean waves, along with Eric Revis, perfectly in-step on bass.  This celebrated bassist has history with the pianist (Evans) and this musical relationship led Caleb Wheeler Curtis to Eric.  Prior to meeting Caleb, Revis played with Luques Curtis his Brother, recording on his CD. After that, Revis expressed interest in working with this saxophonist and artist. They are a good match.

There is freedom and fluidity throughout this album of original Caleb Wheeler Curtis music.  He allows his bandmates to dance on the chord changes, like acrobats at the circus, swinging from one bar to the next in perfect precision and astounding us with their various twists and turns.  For example, on “Limestone” the Curtis saxophone tumbles over the rolling drums of Cleaver in staccato reed notes and streams of improvisation.  His soprano sax sounds almost flute-like on “Trees for the Forest,” a ballad where Caleb and Orrin (on piano) duet quietly out-front. Cleaver percussively colors in the background and Eric’s bass falls like dark, green leaves on a forest floor. “Trembling” leaps into a speedy tempo, with four musicians racing around the CD like cars on a track. Caleb’s saxophone ‘cuts time’ on top of the energy. The music of Caleb Wheeler Curtis takes you on an adventure. This production is an unexpected rocket ship ride.  Just give yourself to the music and watch the universe explode with promise.

* * * * * * * *


June 25, 2022

By Dee Dee McNeil

June 25, 2022


Clemens Grassman, drums/composer/arranger; Cole Davis, bass; Chris McCarty, piano; Chris Bittner & Sam Dillon, tenor saxophones; David Milazzo, alto saxophone; Aaron Bahr, trumpet.

The path of jazz has widened and merged; forked and wandered to new and various places along the pandemic way.  But the road ‘Straight-ahead’ remains one that I love the most.  This new project by Clemens Grassmann and his Grass Machine takes us on the long and precious road to ‘Straight-ahead’ jazz.  Starting from the very first tune titled, “Re.Cursive Op.Timization” I am in love with this recording.  Lately I’ve been inundated with music by drummers who not only play music but title themselves composers.  I have to say this is the best album composed by a drummer that I have heard in the past two years.  Many of the other projects I listened to had troubled melodies, no bridges, and were more like ‘loops’ than songs.  Clemens Grassmann has developed each song to its maximum creativity, with chords that allow his fellow musicians to improvise comfortable and creatively.  This first song holds my ears prisoner and then comes “Chicken on a Trane.” I assume this is a testament and a nod to the talents of John Coltrane.  It is a bright and boisterous tune that features Aaron Bahr on trumpet, David Milazzo on Alto Sax and Bittner and Dillon on tenor, blowing their hearts out with intricate harmonics.  Bahr steps out from the ensemble to solo and we are off and running at a vigorous pace.   He is followed briskly by the saxophone players, each stellar in their own spotlight.  Cole Davis takes a noteworthy solo on bass and all the while, Clemens Grassmann does what he seems to love.  He pumps the music up on his drums.  Grassmann never allows the rhythm to slack up, the tune to become boring or the energy to dive.  I am swept along with the musicians, enjoying every creative moment.  Chris McCarthy shows his superb talents on piano and then the bassist and Grassmann hold court, talking to each other like an attorney with his client.  Oh yes – throughout these arrangements you will hear musical conversations and arrangements that are both challenging and energized.

I must also compliment the art director and designer, Hollis King.  The CD cover is a winner!  I would pick this up and want to listen to it any day of the week.  I do wish the credits on the back cover had used a larger font for seasoned eyes.  All of the musician names should be in bright lights, because they all deserve it!

When Clemens Grassmann walked into the studio to record this project, they told him:

“We left the drums the way Billy Hart had set them up,” Grassmann recalled. 

“As I entered the drum booth, I had never felt such a sensation; a magical mix of devotion, humility and excitement.  To record my music at Rudy Van Gelder’s Studios, in the exact same room that gave birth to John Coltrane’s ‘A Love Supreme,’ Herbie Hancock’s ‘Maiden Voyage’ or Wayne Shorter’s ‘Adams Apple’ … ,” the young drummer shared his awe in the liner notes and I could almost hear him sigh. 

“As the pandemic shut down NYC, it offered a vessel to pour my emotions into, assemble a group of extraordinary musicians and create a connection back to the roots…” Clemens Grassmann summed up exactly what this jazz journalist was feeling. 

Straight-ahead and back to the roots!

* * * * * * * * *

PECK ALLMOND QUARTET featuring ED KELLY – “LIVE AT YOSHI’S 1994” – Eastlawn Records

Peck Allmond, tenor saxophone/trumpet/producer; Ed Kelly, piano; John Wiitala, double bass; Bud Spangler, drums; SPECIAL GUEST: Kenny Brooks, tenor saxophone; R.J. Spangler, co-producer.

Peck Allmond is proficiently multi-talented.  He plays trumpet, saxophone, flute and is often in demand for his valve trombone talents, clarinet and bass clarinet mastery. This is an historic album, tracing back to 1992 when Peck made a move from the Bay Area to Brooklyn, New York.  With all his skills and himself, a competent band leader and composer, he quickly became a highly sought-after sideman.  A year later, on July 5, 1994, Allmond returned to the San Francisco Bay Area to perform at the famous Nightclub, Yoshi’s.

“Hearing this lovely music now, with a distance of three decades and 3,000 miles, I’m grateful.  Grateful I grew up in the SF Bay Area, where an incredible public school music program allowed me to fall in love with jazz,” Peck Allmond wrote in his album liner notes.

This magnificent tribute to the straight-ahead jazz of the 1990s opens with Peck Allmond flying through the changes of the Sonny Rollins tune, “Tenor Madness” quick as a 747-jet plane.  Ed Kelly takes a spirited piano solo.  Ed was a highly respected musician on the Bay Area jazz scene who performed with Pharoah Sanders, Bobby Hutcherson, John Handy and many other iconic names.

“Ed Kelly was … a mentor. He, of course, is one of the giants of Bay Area jazz; true royalty. I had been listening to him since high school.  When he began hiring me a lot around 1987, I felt unready to play with him.  But he was patient.  Playing with him and just hearing him each night was a masterclass,” Peck Allmond recalled.

The band is inspired by Allmond at the lead and the able drums of Bud Spangler.  Spangler made his debut in Detroit, Michigan first, as a radio personality and music producer.  He added musician to those credits, playing and producing for such labels as Strata Records and Tribe Records.  In the Bay area, Bud Spangler continued his radio career at both KJAZ and later, KCSM radio as a disc jockey, producer and engineer. Spangler produced several Grammy-nominated recordings, including work with Shirley Horn, Denise Perrier, Mimi Fox, Ed Reed, Mary Stallings, Cedar Walton and more.  His drum talents are a welcome addition to the swing and straight-ahead spirit of this music. 

The bass solo on “Like Someone in Love” showcases John Wiitala’s awesome creativity and talent. John was a member of Peck’s regular working band for years.  There is a special camaraderie and comfort between the two.  Wiitala has also performed with James Moody, Jessica Williams, Arturo Sandoval and Joe Henderson to list only a few.  Peck’s solo on this tune, as well as all the others, is clever and hard-bop to the bone.  Allmond weaves in a piece of “Surrey With the Fringe on Top” seamlessly.  Listen for it. When the band silences, to let Ed Kelly soak up the spotlight, he mesmerizes me and the ‘live’ audience with his solo piano brilliance.  This band is smokin’ hot!  Everything on this album is dynamically played and soulfully infused with each musician’s raw emotions.  For example, their interpretation of the blues ballad, “I’m confessin’ (that I Love You)” with Allmond’s sexy saxophone caressing our ears, hearts and minds is impressive.  Wiitala’s upright bass dancing beneath the mix in the sweetest way.  At the second half of this tune, Allmond picks up his trumpet and blows our minds with his brilliant talent on this horn too. I am totally entertained by the follow-up of Ed Kelly’s solo piano arrangement on “Moment’s Notice” and the group’s unique interpretation of the familiar tune “Invitation.”  This is an album of music I will play over and over again.  What a sparkling, historic gem for any jazz collection!

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

NYO JAZZ – “WE’RE STILL HERE” – Carnegie Hall Weill Music Institute

Sean Jones, Artistic Director/trumpeter/bandleader; Melissa Aldana, tenor saxophone; Wycliffe Gordon, trombone; RHYTHM: Tyler Bullock II & Hannah Mayer, piano; Kai Burns, guitar; Aidan McCarthy & Ryoma Takenaga, bass; Colman Burks & Koleby Royston, drums. REEDS: Ebban Dorsey, Alto & baritone saxophones; Connor MacLeod, alto saxophone/flute; Emre Tekmen, alto saxophone; Ephraim Dorsey & Matthew Garcia, tenor saxophone; Noa Zebley, baritone saxophone. TROMBONES: Braxton Hart, Denali Kauffman, Oliver Tuttle, Kenji Wagner & Darien Baldwin, bass trombone. TRUMPETS: Cameron Davidson, Kellin Hanas, Nathan King, Levi Rozek, Ace Williams & Jonah Hieb, trumpet/flugelhorn. Gianna Pedregon, violin.

“The big band has always been America’s orchestral format and one of the most wide-ranging ensembles ever devised,” said Artistic Director and bandleader of NYO Jazz, Sean Jones.

Here is a rich, swinging basket full of original tunes and delicious arrangements performed by NYO Jazz (an extension of the National youth Orchestra) in all their big band beauty.  Opening with a Miguel Zenón composition entitled, “Oyelo” this group of outstanding music makers lets us know, right off the bat, that they are not only still here representing big bands, but they are swinging as hard as ever.  The energized Zenón composition features Melissa Aldana on tenor saxophone, singing her song atop the ever-spirited drums of Colman Burks and a horn section that swells and fills the piece with energy.  Kenji Wagner is featured on a notable trombone solo and Jonah Hieb adds his sweet trumpet talents to the mix.  Track #2, “Mr. Jones and Co.” was commissioned by Carnegie Hall and composed by Ayn Inserto.  It moves like the fast-pasted Pennsylvania turnpike, with the horns hitting their harmonic, hard-bop chords with precision and gusto.  The curtains part and Sean Jones steps out front featuring his exciting trumpet solo.  It is with the Sean Jones leadership that NYO is showcasing the astonishing potential of these super talented, young musicians; many who are only between sixteen to nineteen years old.  These special, youthful talents will soon find themselves touring and carrying the ever-evolving tradition of big band jazz around the world. Their goal is to impart knowledge and the pride of playing jazz, a music that is America’s indigenous musical artform.  Sean Jones realizes it is up to those who have come before these young people, to inspire and help them climb securely upon the shoulders of jazz veterans like himself.

“I try to make sure that the students bring their whole selves to jazz – – their minds, bodies, souls, spirits; so that they can offer the best versions of themselves in the music. Jazz is ultimately about individualism. I try to make sure they are being themselves, while respecting the tradition of jazz … making sure it is preserved for generations to come,” Sean explains some of his technique.

Under the direction of Jones and sometimes joined by Dianne Reeves and Kurt Elling, the NYO (launched in 2018) has already toured Europe.  These gifted students have already performed in some of Europe’s most prestigious concert halls and festivals. They’ve also toured Asia, debuting their big band jazz in Taichung, Beijing, Shanghai, Zhuhai and Hong Kong.  Their energy and enthusiasm are contagious.  When you listen to this album, you will not think that these are students of jazz.  They sound seasoned and confident.  The title tune, penned by the iconic trombonist, Wycliffe Gordon, is expressive.  It includes orchestra, vocal participation as Wycliffe prods and inspires the band to repeat after him on this Mardi Gras influenced music.  Music that makes you want to dance and shout. The “Hambone-hambone, have you heard” line is offered by the horns.  Then Wycliffe sings out and the voices repeat after him, letting the listeners know (with syncopated handclaps and a band that swings hard) this NYO Jazz group means it when they say, “We’re Here to Stay!”

Below is a video of the NYO Jazz performing the great Ralph Peterson piece “The Art of War.”  See for yourself why I’m so excited about this magnificent organization.

* * * * * * * *

JOHN LEE – “THE ARTIST” – Cellar Music

John Lee, bass/composer; Carl Allen, drums; Miles Black, piano; Cory Weeds, tenor saxophone.

Bassist John Lee is an in-demand player on the Vancouver, Canada jazz scene.  South Korea born, John Lee has established himself as a respected multi-instrumentalist in his Canadian community and beyond.  It was time for him to record an album.  He questioned himself about which instrument to choose and showcase on his debut recording project, because he is a master of many instruments.  Lee plays not only double bass but is quite proficient on drums, piano, organ and guitar.

“I’ve never considered any instrument to be my main instrument.  So, it was very difficult to choose what I would play on my first record,” he admitted in his press package.

Only twenty-eight years old, John Lee demonstrates a musicality and talent far beyond his nearly three decades on this earth.  He is sensitive and creative on the bass, while also proffering his composer skills and arranging strengths for our consumption.  The result is an album that is both delicious, refreshing and delightful.

Surrounded by brilliant sidemen, who are also independent artists in their own rights, the group opens with Mulgrew Miller’s “Soul Leo” tune.  John Lee’s acoustic bass sets the groove with Carl Allen joining him on drums.  This tune is the whistle that sets the quartet off and running.  They are competent and straight-ahead.  Cory Weeds races around on his tenor saxophone.  Weeds is a frequent collaborator with John Lee and also a respected mentor. He appears on only three of the eight songs recorded.   Miles Black brings brilliance to the party, his piano notes dancing like confetti sprinkled around my listening room.  John Lee takes a big, beautiful, but brief, bass solo and also closes the tune out soloing.  His music reminds me of a guest leaving the party feeling happy and fulfilled.  Track #2 is “Carl’s Blues” and spotlights the power and drive of Miles Black at the piano.  Carl Allen is fluid and driving on the drums, a percussive inspiration, continuously inspiring his fellow players.  He solos brightly during this trio track and, for our listening pleasure, let’s his awesome talents soar. I can see that John Lee relishes hard bop, swing and straight-ahead jazz in a most obvious way.  His music infuses me with energy and joyful feelings.  Each one of these players is absolutely and uniquely gifted. They make this project one that thrills and satisfies the listener.  I enjoyed the blues tones they added to “Softly as in a Morning Sunrise.”

“The musicians I chose to play with me all understand where I am coming from musically and not much had to be worked out in the studio.  We just went in and swung our asses off,” John Lee boasted.

I absolutely agree with him!  This quartet swings non-stop.  When they do take a breath, for instance, on the composition “Life is a Beautiful Thing” (an original song by John) their tenderness and attentiveness to detail and each other touches me like a warm hug.  John Lee is given an opening solo to establish the lovely melody and then hands the torch to Miles Black.  His sensual approach to this John Lee composition is admirable.  However, it’s the sweet and very poignant solo of Lee’s double bass that sings this well-written melody into my heart.  The trio is swinging again on one of my favorite tunes, “September in the Rain.”  Carl Allen’s drum licks sound like rhythmic raindrops on a tin roof and Miles Black is stormy and succinct on piano.  When John Lee enters to sing his solo, his bass becomes sunshine after the storm.  The title tune, “The Artist” is a great way to describe this multi-talented musician.  John Lee’s album introduces us to a young man on the rise.  Like a many-faceted diamond, Lee is bound to show us his multi-musical sides (on this project and those in the future) shiny and sparkling inside a jazz universe that eagerly awaits his promise.

* * * * * * * *


Felipe Salles, tenor saxophone/arranger; Zaccai Curtis, piano; Avery Sharpe, bass; Jonathan Barber, drums. Tiyo Attallah Salah-El has written every composition.

It takes strength and determination to be imprisoned without the possibility of parole, and to still develop a creative outlet while keeping your self-respect. The late saxophonist, Tiyo Attallah Salah-El managed to become a prolific composer, author and activist while serving a life-long sentence inside a Pennsylvania State prison. He spent nearly half a century incarcerated before dying in 2018. Somehow, with the efforts and determination of a prison abolitionist named Lois Ahrens, today we can hear Salah-El’s music.  Ms. Ahrens is the founder of the Real Cost of Prisons Project and they provided blank sheets of music paper to Mr. Salah-El in 2005.  The composer quickly reciprocated by filling those blank sheets with his original compositions. 

Now, thanks to the talented tenor saxophonist and arranger, Felipe Salles, with Zaccai Curtis on the piano, Avery Sharpe on bass and Jonathan Barber stroking the drums, the music of Tiyo Attallah Salah-El is available today for public ears.  This is an album of extraordinary music, personifying straight-ahead jazz.  This quartet of musicians brings the composer’s work to life in a brilliant way. 

Starting with “Toetappin’ Tastey,” this composition is seven minutes and six seconds of a hard swinging jazz waltz.  Avery Sharpe walks his double bass into the spotlight, singing his creative solo until Zaccai Curtis takes over on piano.  Jonathan Barber’s powerful drums hold the piece rhythmically in place.  On Track #2, a “Blues to Change Your Views – On Stage in a Cage” we hear music that embraces bebop and offers the listener a well-written, sing-along melody. Salles is brilliant on tenor saxophone, establishing the melody and stretching out with his own unique improvisations on the theme.  The quartet swings harder than a Joe Louis punch. 

“When Lois contacted me, out of the blue, what interested me was the opportunity to make a musical connection to things that I actually cared about that were not necessarily musical.  We refer to incarceration as a correctional system, but it’s really just a punishment system, one that doesn’t treat people with dignity,” Felipe Salles expressed in his press package. 

“The system is so distorted that it becomes very difficult for anybody to succeed in being reformed.  So, prison just becomes a place where people rot and get worse and worse,” Salles concluded.

In the case of “Tiyo’s Songs of Life,” this composer was not the average prisoner.  He never gave up and the prison system did not break him.  His music is extraordinarily potent, with original songs that sound like jazz standards and titles that reflect hope, love and fortitude. Felipe Salles, a native of Sao Paulo, Brazil, uses his tenor saxophone to interpret these songs with sincere emotion and tenacious talent.  “Steppin’ Up” is arranged in a Latin format and “Live a Life of Love” recalls the days of John Coltrane’s inspired music at the arrangement’s introduction.  “My Love is Deep Inside” was composed for Lois Ahrens and it’s a lovely ballad.  On the tune “12 in 5” Avery Sharpe is brightly featured on bass and the ensemble challenges us to count the time.  This production is full of surprises and the arrangements by Salles are inventive and entertaining.

Felipe Salles is a professor of Jazz and African-American Music Studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.  He has been teaching there since 2010. Salles is also an active musician with his musical credits embracing a long list of major names who he has played or recorded with since 1995.  Salles has released eight critically acclaimed recordings as a bandleader. I found his ambitious CD/DVD set titled, “The New Immigrant Experience” to be groundbreaking and inspiring. That work took on an activist tone and dealt with the topic of immigration, employing an explosive big band to interpret the topic. Lois Ahrens made a wise choice sharing Tiyo’s song charts and original music with Felipe’s magnificent quartet.  These four gentlemen have certainly honored the spirit and artistic brilliance of Salah-El’s music.

* * * * * * * *   


Kali Rodriguez-Peña, trumpet/composer/arranger; Gabriel Chakarji, piano/keyboards/Fender Rhodes; Bam Bam Rodriguez, acoustic & electric bass; Zack O’Farrill, drums; Victor Pablo Garcia, congas/barril/percussion; Kazemde George, tenor saxophone. SPECIAL GUESTS: Gina D’Soto & Jeremy Bosch, vocals/ Aruan Ortiz, piano.

Cuban born trumpeter, Kali Rodriguez-Peña, showcases his composer talents during this beautifully produced Straight-ahead jazz album.  His passion and tenacity fuel this project.  His power-driven group opens this album with a Wayne Shorter tune, “Yes or No.”  These musicians come out the gate like Kentucky Derby racehorses.  Track #2 reminds me of the music of Thelonious Monk combined with something Charles Mingus might compose.  It is an original composition by Kali titled, “A Student is Not a Disciple.”  Kali Rodriguez-Peña, currently based in the New York City area, has been polishing this band for the past five years.  The title of his album, “Mélange” is a French word for ‘mixture’ and Kali feels it succinctly describes his music, drawn from bebop and post-pop, Cuban timba, salsa and rumba and the world music of India and the Caribbean.

“They say most people listen to music today – the playlist – is a mélange of different albums and artists,” explains Kali. “I call it 21st century music, millennial music or playlist mode music,” he says.

As I soak up Kali’s music, the arrangements of his original tunes stretch the boundaries of just Straight-ahead into the freedom of modern jazz.  On his “La Historia de Erendira” composition, Kali’s beautiful trumpet playing takes the spotlight.  This song is full of energy and ebullience, inspired by Kali’s wonderful mastery of his instrument.  When he hands over the solo position to Gabriel Chakarji, on piano, he offers us a moment of brilliance and energy-driven improvisation.  On the traditional tune, “Drum Mobila,” I enjoy the lead vocals of Gina D’Soto singing in Spanish with Kali Rodriguez-Peña tastily interjecting his trumpet voice into the mix.  It’s as though Gina and Kali are having a serious and very personal conversation. This arrangement is hypnotic. On the familiar standard, “Like Someone in Love” Kali offers a very Cuban musical take on this arrangement, with a hot, percussive, double-time drive and Kazemde George sings his tenor saxophone song atop the rhythmic joy.   Chakarji’s piano solo cools the heat, but never lessens the energy.

Kali Rodriguez-Peña is a fresh voice on the jazz horizon, beaming like an orange and gold sunrise and promising us new music, fresh ideas and determined excellence.

* * * * * * * *


Michael Zaporski, piano; Matt LoRusso, guitar; Shannon Wade, string bass; RJ Spangler, drums/bandleader/background vocals/announcer; Justin Jozwiak, alto saxophone; Jim Holden, tenor saxophone/musical director; Goode Wyche III, baritone saxophone; James O’Donnell, 1st trumpet/co-leader/background vocals; Charlie Miller, trumpet; Tbone Paxton, trombone/lead vocals; Camille Price & Leonard King, vocals.

One ‘swinging’ afternoon in Detroit, Michigan, at the Scarab Club, drummer RJ Spangler led an all-star band of Motown musicians in a ‘live’ performance concert.  The thing that made this concert so unique was that the group, “Planet D Nonet” was performing songs by 1940’s popular pianist, singer, songwriter and big band leader, Buddy Johnson.  It was 2018 when this album became a tribute to Buddy Johnson as these musicians recorded sixteen of his original tunes.  These songs were radio and dance hall favorites back-in-the-day.  Buddy Johnson was popular during the evolution of rock and roll, a music that borrowed from rhythm and blues.  Johnson’s music was a bridge between original R&B and the new rock music that became popular in the 1960s.  He employed big band jazz harmonics, swing and shuffle rhythms, along with catchy lyrics that please enthusiastic audiences and dancers alike. 

Planet D Nonet has contracted Camile Price, Leonard King and Tbone Paxton to sing some of these lyrics that helped make Buddy Johnson’s songs so popular.  The trumpet of James O’Donnell invites the first song, “South Main” to shuffle into the Scarab Ballroom.  The horns are arranged in a 1940 big-band-way and encourage swing dancers to the dance floor.  Michael Zaporski has a light, melodic touch on the piano and Shannon Wade makes a brief, but impressive double bass solo statement.  “Dr. Jive Jives” is a slow swing tune with bandleader and drummer, RJ Spangler, egging the ensemble on with his powerhouse ‘two and four’ rhythm.  The horns swing too, giving us a familiar, repeatable melody to sing along with.  Johnson’s music always offered his fans music they felt comfortable humming along with; melodies they could enjoy.  You clearly hear this in “Hello Sweet Potato” with vocals by Tbone Paxton.  In the 1940s, this was the popular and commercial music of the day.  You hear the boogie-woogie infused arrangement of “Walk ‘Em” next.  It features the guitar of Matt LoRusso with a warm, tight-knit horn section.  Goode Wyche III plays a spirited baritone saxophone solo on “Crazy ‘Bout a Saxophone” and the tune is just plain fun!  There’s a chorus of voices shouting, “Go – go – go” that the audience enjoys, shown by their loud, spontaneous applause.  Track #7, “Lil Dog” is a finger-snappin’, hand-clapping arrangement by Matt LoRusso and we get a generous taste of the blues on Buddy Johnson’s tune “Root Man Blues.”  It’s sung with emotional sincerity by Leonard King.   

This project is a wonderful, historic tribute to the talent and legacy of Buddy Johnson.  Although it is not ‘Straight-ahead’ jazz, Buddy’s music is a bridge between the 1930’s speakeasy jazz and the 1940’s rhythm and blues scene.  It’s what was happening just as Charlie Parker’s career was taking off, before Straight-ahead jazz was brought vividly to the public’s attention.  Things began to change after those trail-blazing arrangement Parker made to the tune “Cherokee” and I would say bebop developed and then Straight-ahead jazz.  Buddy Johnson came after speakeasies, when jazz was blossoming and just before bebop transformed and Straight-ahead was born.

* * * * * * * *


June 15, 2022

By Dee Dee McNeil

June 15, 2022


Joel Frahm, tenor & soprano saxophones; Dan Loomis, bass; Ernesto Cervini, drums.

“The Bright Side” is the debut record release for The Joel Frahm Trio.  Each trio member is a composer and contributes their talent featuring original music.   Joel Frahm first became acquainted with the piano-less trio concept as a teenager.  He felt this chord-less approach to music allowed a soaring freedom of expression.   After exploring this musical concept for the past decade, both as a bandleader and a member of various chord-less trios, Joel Frahm and current players, Ernesto Cervini on drums and Dan Loomis on bass celebrate the release of their debut album with a 2022 summer tour.  The Joel Frahm Trio is scheduled to appear on the West Coast of the United States in July at the following venues.  Catch them if you can.

July 16 – San Diego Jazz Ventures (https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/joel-frahm-trio-jazz-at-the-athenaeum-tickets-326434042007?aff=ebdssbdestsearch&keep_tld=1)

July 18 – Kuumbwa Jazz Center (https://www.kuumbwajazz.org/calendar/joel-frahm-trio/)
July 19 – Bird & Beckett (San Francisco) (https://birdbeckett.com/)
July 20 – Sac Yard Tap House (Sacramento) (https://sacyard.beer/)
July 22 – The Sound Room (Oakland) (https://www.soundroom.org/)
July 23 – Jack London Revue (Portland) (https://www.jacklondonrevue.com/)
July 24 – The Royal Room (Seattle) (https://theroyalroomseattle.com/)

* * * * * * * *


Kresten Osgood, Hammond organ; Fridolin Nordse, guitar; Ludamir Dietl, drums; Arto Eriksen, percussion.

“My introduction to the Hammond organ came in 1991, when I was a fourteen-year-old kid growing up on the West coast of Denmark.  One summer, lying on the beach and listening to my cassette Walkman, I heard the soundtrack from the film ‘The Commitments.‘ …  When I started high school in 1992, they had a Hammond X5 and I began turning it on and trying to copy some of the sounds I heard,” Kresten Osgood recalls his first infatuation with the organ.

Today, Kresten Osgood is a talented organist.  He has come a long way from those early realizations of an organ instrument he came to love; especially since Osgood was initially celebrated as a Denmark-based drummer. In that capacity, he has worked with Yusef Lateef, Sam Rivers, Wadada Leo Smith, Mouse on Mars, John Tchicai, Billy Preston, Dr. Lonnie Smith and Sam Yahel, just to list a few.  This is his debut album as an organist, although he sounds quite seasoned on the instrument.  He is joined by a drummer and guitarist who are both well-known pop producers and respected musicians on the Danish music scene. 

Kresten Osgood was inspired to jazz through some Lou Donaldson’s albums.  His first jazz heroes were Donaldson, Idris Muhammad, Dr. Lonnie Smith, (who he later played with as a drummer), Leon Spencer and Charles Earland. 

“I met Dr. Lonnie Smith in 2002 and recorded the now legendary album, ‘Hammond Rens’ (ILK Records – 2003) with him and Micael Blake.  Being right next to Lonnie and following his every move brought me closer to the source,” Osgood shares that experience in his liner notes.

Osgood’s current album is propelled by Ludomir Dietl’s drums with a strong funk, rock beat.  However, when I listen to the way Osgood approaches the organ, I hear so much jazz that I would love to hear him play with someone like the late, great Ralph Peterson.  I don’t mind the rock-fusion, electric guitar of Fridolin Nordso.  I think the fusion guitar solo adds to the arrangement of “Baby Let Me Take You in My Arms,” a song written by Abrim Tilman of the Detroit Emeralds; an artist from my hometown of Michigan’s famed Motown.  

Clearly, the percussionist is very talented.  His drum support on Ahmad Jamal’s historic “Poinciana” tune lends a thick, Latin base to the group’s arrangement and is very exciting.  Perhaps they chose to utilize the rock drums on some tunes to make the album lean more towards pop commercialism.  But undeniably, Kresten Osgood is a jazz organ player, with or without the rock-oriented drums. 

“… I transcribed a bunch of Grant Green, Lou Donaldson and Charles Earland tunes.  I formed a band.  We began performing around the town of Holstebro in Western Denmark,” Osgood recalls the early days of his playing organ.

Nearly thirty years after he first heard the organ instrument, while lying on a Denmark beach, Osgood claims he still gets goosebumps whenever he turns-on his instrument.  You feel that sincerity and excitement in this recording, along with Kresten Osgood’s dedication to respecting the legacy of great jazz organ performances. 

                                                                                * * * * * * * *


John Wasson, arranger/composer/producer/XOBrass performing artist/bass trombone; RHYTHM: Noel Johnston, guitar; Paul Lees, piano/B-3 organ; Eric Hitt, acoustic & electric basses; Mike Drake, drums; Mike Medina, percussion; WOODWINDS: Bruce Bohnstengel, soprano & alto saxophone/flute; Tim Ishii, alto saxophone/flute; Jeff Robbins, tenor saxophone/flute/clarinet; Michael Morrison, baritone sax/bass clarinet; Chris Beaty, tenor saxophone/flute/clarinet; TRUMPETS/FLUGELHORNS: Keith Jourdan, Miles Johnson, Jack Evans & Pete Clagett; TROMBONES: Tony Baker, David Butler, Chris Seiter, with Paul Birk & John Wasson on Bass trombone. 

That big, beautiful swell of excitement and glory that a big band brings to music is magical.  This album opens with that kind of energy on “Heat-seeker.”  The horns make a bright, tightly harmonized exclamation mark.  Then they crawl up the scale, offering their melody to my attentive ears and totally grabbing my attention.  Pete Clagett is featured on a brilliant trumpet and Jeff Robbins soars on his tenor saxophone solo.  John Wasson has composed and arranged this piece of music.  It’s melodic and cheerful.  In fact, he offers four original compositions to this delightful album, out of the nine songs in the big band’s recorded repertoire.  The bandleader’s song, “Funk City” exhibits that kind of funky energy, driven by the powerful drums of Mike Drake.  Chris Beaty is fluid and stellar on tenor saxophone.  And is that John Wasson on the bass trombone, dancing beneath the rhythm like a bassist?  I love this arrangement.  On “Senor Salsa” (another Wasson composition) the band will make you want to move and dance.  The musicians do a bang-up job of interpreting “Maria” from the popular West Side Story score.  I was eager to hear their arrangement of “Blues for Alice” by Charlie Parker.  I wasn’t disappointed in the least.  They fly through the arrangement on the wings of ‘straight-ahead jazz’ featuring three trombonists who solo like preening birds; David Butler, Paul Birk and Tony Baker.  The Yoko Kanno tune, “Tanki,” features Paul Lees on his organ and Bruce Bohnstengel strutting his stuff on alto saxophone, utilizing the entire range of his instrument.  It opens with the bass of Eric Hitt setting the mood and the quick tempo.  There are some smart tempo changes in this arrangement that call the listener to attention.  John Wynn’s “Song for Kate” is ethereal and dances along at a moderate pace.  It’s refreshing to hear Noel Johnston step into the spotlight on his guitar and the Robbins’ flute darts above the rich orchestration like a narcissistic bird, singing sweetly, look at me. Look at me!  Mike Drake is given several bars to show-off his drum skills.  On this final tune, “The Detective Chronicles” written by Wesson, was inspired by 1960 television shows.  I remember the Peter Gunn series around that time.  That was the first show I ever heard jazz featured as background music.  There is surprise and drama in this Wesson arrangement.

Here is an album of smart arrangements and incredible energy, sparked by the talented musicians who play the music.  John Wesson, composer, arranger, bandleader and extraordinary musician describes this project in his own words. I found them quite succinct, humble and honest.

“I consider all the musical influences in my life as unofficial teachers and mentors. … I am indebted to the great players in the band, who have brought this music to life.  As a creator of big band music, it is clear to me that the written page is only the beginning.  It’s the great performers that ultimately bring the music to life.  This band has given voice to sounds previously heard only in my imagination and I could not be more grateful.  Thank you, guys!”

* * * * * * * * *

OR BAREKET – “SAHAR” – Enja Records

Or Bareket, upright bass/composer/arranger; Morgan Guerin, tenor saxophone/EWI/organ/ arranger; Jeremy Corren, piano/Fender Rhodes/arranger; Savannah Harris, drums/percussion/arranger; Joel Ross, auxiliary percussion/co-arranger/producer.

Bassist, Or Bareket was born in Jerusalem and raised between Buenos Aires and Tel-Aviv.  Consequently, his music is infused with Mediterranean, South American and North African music styles. He incorporates those cultural elements in his jazz arrangements. Ten years ago, he won the International Society of Bassists’ Jazz Competition.  As a young bass player, he was highly motivated by the music of Jaco Pastorius and began his musical journey playing the electric bass at age sixteen. A few years later, he began to study the double bass and started his classical training with Teddy Kling, the principal bassist with the Israeli Philharmonic.  Bareket’s bass jazz study began with Avishai Cohen.  Currently residing in New York, this album, titled “Sahar,” translates to ‘crescent’ in modern Hebrew.  In Arabic dialects, “Sahar” means ‘just before dawn’ or early morning.  Sometimes it is translated as insomnia.   Bareket’s album becomes a vehicle to explore the poetic meaning of this title.

Bareket has composed all the music on this project, starting with the opening tune “Root System” featuring his bass, out-front and melodic.  I can imagine a new day dawning, with the orange, early morning sun rising in a burst of warmth.  On Bareket’s composition “Soil,” Morgan Guerin uses his EWI to infuse the music with fusion expression and Jeremy Corren answers the dips and dives that Guerin expresses on his wind instrument with piano conversation.  Savannah Harris pumps the drums beneath their musical exchange until the arrangement abruptly stops.  The composition, “Hiraeth” is more pensive.  The tempo slows and the melody drips like molasses poured in winter.  The bass sets the tone, repetitive and determined.  Perhaps this song reflects a dream-like state of mind, as if someone has stayed up all night and is now perplexed and foggy in the early dawn of a new day.  There are song titles that seem to reflect other languages like Track #4 titled “Oyen” and Track #7, “Kapara.”  I wish the liner notes had explained fully the meaning of these titles.  Thanks to Google I discovered ‘kapara’ means atonement and ‘Oyen’ is Dutch (or North German) to describe someone who lives by a water meadow.  In Spanish, it’s the verb ‘to hear.’  I prefer the water meadow description.  Corren finally steps forward on piano to solo during “Oyen.”  It’s a very modern jazz piece, with lots of room for Guerin’s saxophone to push musical boundaries. Savanah Harris is given a space to explore his drums near the end of the song, an arrangement that once again ends abruptly, the way Track #2 did.  “Temperance” is a pretty composition that seems to be part of “Oyen” with a similar melody and key, as though the two songs are part of the same suite.  Harris is brightly featured on drums, which helps to lift a redundant melody line. The atonement tune (Kapara) gives the listener an opportunity to enjoy Or Bareket’s mastery of the bass at the introduction and inside the belly of the tune.  The song “A Lullaby for Troubled Ancestors” quickly becomes one of my favorites with its warm melodic line.  The album “Sahar” is an artistic project that introduces us to Or Bareket as a bassist and blossoming composer. 

* * * * * * * * *


John Kolivas, bass/founder/composer; Tim Tsukiyama, saxophone/composer; Dan Del Negro, piano/ composer; Noel Okimoto, drums/composer.

Bassist, John Kolivas formed The Honolulu Jazz Quartet in September of 2001.  They have become Hawaii’s most enduring jazz quartet.  This is their fourth record release in celebration of twenty years together making wonderful music.  They open with “Scarborough Fair” drenched in blues and it’s one of the best arrangements I’ve heard of this familiar tune.  Their sax man has composed a tune called “Right Back with the Snack” that borrows licks from Eddie Harris and Cannonball Adderley to compliment this party tune.  The drums of Noel Okimoto drive this funk tune forward.  This ensemble reminds me of the Kahala Hilton where I spent many an evening in the 1980s enjoying the Hawaii-based live jazz.  It reminds me of enjoying nights out listening to pianist Betty Loo Taylor and her trio and my old friend, Jimmy Borges.  I was not surprised when I read that drummer Noel Okimoto used to work with the legendary entertainer, Gabe Baltazar, with Betty Loo and also satin smooth vocalist, Jimmy Borges. This is the type of group who plays a little bit of everything, all locked together with jazzy, original arrangements that refresh familiar Gershwin tunes like “Bess You is my Woman Now” or “Fascinating Rhythm” beautifully arranged as a Latin tune. 

Meantime, each member of the group is a composer and they offer us their best of both worlds on this album.  For example, Noel Okimoto, the drummer, has composed a tune simply called “Blues” that the group plays Straight-ahead.  The arrangement gives John Kolivas an opportunity to solo on his upright bass and Okimoto to cut loose on his drum set.  Dan Del Negro shines and sparkles on piano.  Surprise!  “Economic Blues” penned by Kolivas, is a jazz waltz with a catchy melody and some unexpected tempo changes in the arrangement.  Dan Del Negro has a piano style that is deeply rooted in the blues.  You hear that throughout this recording as he punctuates each solo with bluesy chops.  I also enjoyed John’s composition, “They Grow Up Too Fast” and the way Tim Tsukiyama’s saxophone interprets that tune.  

Here is an album that introduces us to a Hawaiian ensemble of jazz musicians and composers, who incorporate everything from blues to reggae; standards pulled from the American Songbook to Latin; pop tunes like “Wichita Lineman” and of course, a whole bunch of “Straight Ahead.”

* * * * * * * *


Jed Wilson, pianist/composer; Josh Sinton, reeds/composer; Tony Falco, drummer/composer.

Jed Wilson’s piano notes cascades across space like a splashing waterfall.  The notes tumble over each other; melodic droplets.  Josh Sinton plays his saxophone atop the rhythm section with purpose and sensitivity. Tony Falco stirs the sticks around his drum set, accenting generously while holding the rhythm tightly in place.  I feel as though these musicians have been playing together for a while.  There is a notable comfort level between them.

“These two musicians are dear friends of mine,” says Tony Falco in their press package. “There is no greater blessing, as a musician, than to play with those you love.”

The title of this album is “adumbration.”  Adumbration means to foreshadow vaguely; to suggest, disclose or partially outline a plan.

Rather than give titles, these musicians have simply numbered the six songs they’ve recorded.  Consequently, they refer to them as Adumbrations 1, Adumbrations 2, etc.  The album cover is as artistic as the music and was created by the multi-talented drummer, Tony Falco. The trio shares in all composing credits. 

These three friends have known each other since their student days at the New England Conservatory.  Although they kept in contact over the years, it wasn’t until autumn of 2021 that Wilson, Sinton and Falco joined forces to create this debut album.  Each of these players has worked with Avant-garde bands and expanded their creative and improvisational talents.  During their exploration of Adumbrations 2, reed player Sinton offers his first ever flute recording, flying like a bright, beautiful bird above the track.  On Adumbrations 3, Sinton puts down the flute and picks up his bass clarinet.  Jed Wilson uses the treble clef of the piano to creatively whisper beneath Sinton’s rich, bass clarinet notes.  It’s a very effective communication between two instruments.  Sinton is one of New York’s most striking baritone saxophonists and in 2020, he was named “Rising Star” in the baritone saxophone category of Down Beat’s Critics Poll.  Jed Wilson is a new England-based pianist, primarily expressing himself with free improvisation.  Drummer, Tony Falco, is a renowned improviser, recording and mixing engineer and visual artist based in Greenfield, MA.  He often works with Avant-garde guitar legend, Tisziji Munoz and has performed and recorded with a host of others.  One thing about these three musicians is consistent.  They listen, react, create and spontaneously adlib with each other in a very comfortable way. Their music is improvisational, impacting and original.  “Adumbration” gives rise to their new music, as fresh and diverse as a new sunrise. 

* * * * * * * *   

ALBARE & CO – “FREEDOM” – Alfi Records

Albare, guitars/composer; Phil Turcio, piano/composer/arranger; Phil Rex, bass; Felix Bloxom, drums; Randy Brecker, flugelhorn/trumpet; Ada Rovatti, alto & tenor saxophones.

Albert Dadon is better known by his stage name of Albare.  He began playing music at age eight, when his mother gifted him with a classic acoustic guitar for his birthday.  Consequently, he became one of the first guitar students in the newly opened Conservatory of Music in Dimona, Israel.  His love of the instrument was obvious by the time he turned ten.  Influenced by Django Reinhardt, Jimi Hendrix, Wes Montgomery and Antonio Carlos Jobim, Albare has spent his lifetime in study, composing and playing jazz.  In this time of political chaos in our country and a deep divide between people and belief systems, jazz continues to be a music that steps outside the boundaries of discontent to celebrate freedom.  Thus, the title Albare has chosen for this newly released music; “Freedom.”  Jazz has often been called the first music of activism.  It is the poster child for emancipation and liberty, which is why (in the past) so many communist countries banned jazz music, including Russia, Communist China and North Korea. 

Albare’s keen sense of purpose and melody is evident in all ten of his original songs.  He has composed, or co-written with pianist Phil Turcio, all the music included on this album.  With the talents of Randy Brecker on trumpet and flugelhorn, along with the tasty saxophone playing of Ada Rovatti, this is heartfelt music.  Each track is inspired by the busy drums of Felix Bloxom and a hearty rhythm section. Albare’s brilliant guitar leads the way.  I enjoyed their arrangement of “Adues” that let’s Phil Rex step in front of the curtain to briefly feature his power on the bass instrument.  On “Lost Compass,” Albare picks up his electric guitar and the jazz turns fusion.  This is another one of my favorite tunes, with Brecker’s bright trumpet a wonderful example of freedom.  The composition, “Love is Always” has a flare of tango music incorporated into its pretty melody and arrangement.  On The other side of the spectrum, “Randy Makes me Smile” is straight-ahead bliss.  The composition “Shimmozle” is a beautiful ballad that becomes an emotional platform for Albare’s awesome guitar tenacity.  “Sunny Samba” makes me want to cha-cha-cha across the floor and something about the title tune, “Freedom,” brings Wes Montgomery to mind in a sweet way.  All in all, this is happy music that makes me want to whistle, dance and smile.

* * * * * * * * *

SIDNEY JACOBS – “IF I WERE YOUR WOMAN” – Independent label

Sidney Jacobs, vocals/keyboards/percussion/composer/arranger; Gene Coye, drums; Solomon Dorsey, electric & acoustic bass; Josh Nelson, piano/keyboards; Ron Feuer, keyboards; Greg Poree, acoustic guitar; Josh Johnson, alto saxophone/flute; Chris Lawrence, trumpet; Nolan Shaheed, trumpet/flugelhorn; Joakim Toftgaard, trombone; Rickey Woodard, tenor saxophone; Munyungo Jackson, percussion.

Sidney Jacobs is a strong, baritone vocalist, who exhibits shades of Al Jarreau’s style during his  arrangement of “On A Clear Day.”  I can hear how Jarreau has influenced this singer.  Like Jarreau, Sidney Jacobs enjoys pushing the boundaries of music and challenging his vocal prowess.  He stretches and explores all the range and possibilities of his voice.  In fact, this entire project colors outside the lines and is still a very beautiful and artistic recording.  Jacobs has an amazingly powerful understanding of the language of ‘scat.’  He gives us a taste during his performance of the standard, “On a Clear Day” and also on his original composition, “Weave the Tale” that becomes a tour de force with a bebop infused presentation of Jacobs’ wordless clarity.  

Sidney Jacobs is a composer who has slipped in snippets of original tunes, like musical paper clips holding his repertoire in place.  He offers a thirty second rendition of “We All,” a twenty-four second snippet of “Stay Up” and a thirty-two second musical interlude that is encapsulated with smart vocal harmonies.  Jacobs gives us his own, fresh and creative interpretation of the hit song by Corinne Bailey Rae, “Like a Star.”  Surprisingly, He has chosen a group of songs for this album that reflects female-oriented songs. 

“I wanted to create a different listening experience and find songs that had personal relevance to me and songs that marked some very specific times in my life,” Sidney explained.

For example, he sings the H.E.R composition “Facts,” a song performed by Lalah Hathaway titled “I’m Coming Back” and “Been So Long” written and sung by Anita Baker in 1986.  But I really get a kick out of the Jacobs rendition of Barbra Streisand’s Broadway tune, “I Feel Pretty.”  It’s such a unique way of looking at this song, through the eyes of a guy. He also flavors the arrangement with scat singing, like hot pepper flakes in the soup.  He has his own spin on my friend and co-writer, Morris Broadnax and Stevie Wonder’s song, “Until you Come Back to Me.”  Sadly, the melody of the song, which is so beautiful, gets lost in the multi-layered vocal harmonics and Jacobs’ own melodic ideas change the tune beyond recognition.  This arrangement is disappointing.  His obsession with voice harmonies throughout this production probably are inspired by Sidney Jacobs’ time singing with the Fifth Dimensions vocal group.  Also, when he was eighteen, he became a principal singer with the Albert McNeil Jubilee Singers and travelled the world with that famous and formidable chorale group.  Another female oriented song he covers is the Gladys Knight gold record, “If I Were Your Woman.”  That was another surprising choice of songs.  I wondered why he didn’t sing, if you were my woman and I was your man? But no, he remains true to the composer’s original lyrics.  Not so much the melody.  I know jazz is celebrated for its freedom and individuality, however some songwriter melodies are important enough to be sung as written.  I do have to applaud Sidney Jacobs for being original.  It takes an artist with talent, a sense of daring, an attitude that’s sure of himself and emotional security to pull this project off.

Surrounded by some of the best musicians the West Coast has to offer, these smokin’ hot tracks celebrate the awesome talents of folks like Greg Poree on acoustic guitar, Nolan Shaheed on trumpet and flugelhorn, Josh Nelson on piano and keyboards, Rickey Woodard on tenor saxophone and Munyungo Jackson on percussion, to name just a few of the stellar players who infuse this project with excellence.  The complete list of participating musicians is noted above.

* * * * * * * * * *


June 1, 2022

By Dee Dee McNeil

June 1, 2022

STEVE DAVIS  – “BLUESTHETIC” – Smoke Sessions Records

Steve Davis, trombone/composer/arranger; Peter Bernstein, guitar; Steve Nelson, vibraphone; Geoffrey Keezer, piano; Christian McBride, bass; Willie Jones III, drums.

This album offers ‘straight-ahead’ trombone bliss.  Steve Davis is a master of his instrument and has encircled himself with other musicians who bring their A-game to this “Bluesthetic” project.

“We all had major fun working with Stevie-D on this new album,” Christian McBride gushed on the liner notes, calling Davis by his nickname, Stevie D.  “This was simply a musical family reunion playing great music written by Steve.  Willie Jones III, Geoff Keezer, Steve Nelson and Peter Bernstein are all top-notch, well-established giants on their respective instruments. … But Steve’s got blue fire coming out of his horn.” 

Opening with one of ten original compositions by Steve Davis, “Encouragement” is a perfect vehicle to showcase the Davis ensemble.  The melodic integrity of the tune makes you want to whistle along.  Steve opens things up on trombone followed by an inspired solo from Peter Bernstein on guitar.  One of my favorite additions to the Davis sextet is Steve Nelson on vibraphone.  Geoffrey Keezer explores the eighty-eight keys during his piano solo, followed by Christian McBride’s power-packed bass improvisation.  All the while, Willie Jones III makes the music dance and swing on his trap drums.

You hear the strength of a great composer when you listen to these Davis tunes.  “Silver at Sundown” is another melody that inspires me to hum along.  His compositions and chord arrangements create the perfect, melodic stage for these awesome musicians to blow, bounce and bow.  Perhaps Christian McBride described it best when he said:

“If you take any song from this album and put a soul groove on it, you potentially have a top-ten, R&B hit on your hands,” McBride asserted.

I get that!  As a former songwriter for Detroit’s Motown Records, I know a well-written song when I hear one and Steve Davis composes great songs.  A well-written song can be translated to jazz, country, reggae or pop along with any good arrangement.  I found each of these ten original songs to be well-arranged and beautifully composed.  In the liner notes, McBride echoed my feelings.

“The music went from hip and swingin’ like “Off the Cuff” to the hip and sublime, “Bluesthetic.”  Every song is strong with a rebar-like harmonic and melodic sense,” McBride described their production.

This album is delightful from beginning to end.   Steve Davis’s satin smooth sound on the trombone is as beautiful as these arrangements and the sextet showcases his mastery as a composer.

     * * * * * * * * *


Jonathan Barber, drums/composer; Taber Gable, Fender Rhodes/composer; Andrew Renfroe, guitar/ composer; Matt Dwonszyk, bass; Godwin Louis, alto saxophone/composer.

Jonathan Barber is such a dynamic drummer, you hear it right from the first four bars of his opening tune, “Poetic.”  The melody is introduced by Godwin Louis on alto saxophone, but the energy and poetry of the song is being played by Jonathan Barber on trap drums.  Track #2 titled “Gathering” is a composition penned by the group guitarist, Andrew Renfroe.  Taber Gable is spotlighted on Fender Rhodes piano during this arrangement and Renfroe also adds his own guitar solo, improvising freely.  The song by reedman Godwin Louis, “Give Us This Day” seems to be based on lines from the Lord’s Prayer with Barber’s driving drums peppering the rhythm.  “Acceptance” once again gives wings to Taber Gable on Fender Rhodes.  He also composed this song.  One of my favorite tunes on this album is “Denim” which has a well-constructed melody.  Otherwise, this seems to be an album made up of ‘loops’ and repetitive music phrases, mostly presented at a moderate tempo.

I would like to have heard more tempo changes to allow Jonathan Barber a stage to showcase his mad drum skills.  How about a jazz waltz, an Afro-Cuban 6/8 tune, a five/four piece or seven/four composition?  Jonathan did utilize the final tune to briefly spotlight his drum prowess, once again dancing brightly atop repetitive chord changes.  This is easy listening jazz, but I didn’t hear a tune that could become a standard like “A-Train” or “Misty;” “Hearts of Fire,” “You Are the Sunshine of My Life” or “Girl from Ipanema.”  Writing, producing and playing music the world wants to sing is a formidable goal.

* * * * * * * * *


RHYTHM: Sr. MSgt., Geoff Reecer, guitar; Tech Sgt., Chris Ziemba, piano; Tech Sgt., Ben Thomas, bass; Master Sgt., David McDonald, drums. VOCALS: Master Sgt., Paige Wroble & Diane Schuur (Special Guest). SAXOPHONES: Master Sgt., Kristian Baarsvik, lead alto flute; Tech. Sgt., Mike Cemprola, second alto flute; Master Sgt., Tedd Baker, lead tenor clarinet; Sr. Master Sgt., Grant Langford, second tenor/clarinet; Master Sgt. (Ret.), Doug Morgan, baritone/bass clarinet. TRUMPETS: Staff Sgt., Joshua Kauffman; Chief Master Sgt, Kevin Burns; Master Sgt., Luke Brandon/producer/Musical Director; Technical Sgt., Logan Keese; TROMBONES: Tech. Sgt., Matt Hettwer; Master Sgt. (Ret.), Jeff Martin; Master Sgt., Kevin Cerovich; Master Sgt., Benjamin Polk.

This is a swinging big band and they start off their Heritage Series by playing the very popular “Alright, Okay, You Win” that popularly featured vocalist Joe Williams back in the mid-1960s with Count Basie’s Big Band.  This time, MSgt Paige Wroble lends us her strong vocal rendition of this tune with gusto.  The second track titled, “Touch and Go” features the brilliant piano playing of TSgt Chris Ziemba and special guest trumpeter, Sean Jones.  There is also a star-studded space made for TSgt Mike Cemprola on alto saxophone and drummer MSgt David McDonald also offers a spirited solo on drums. 

This ‘Airmen of Note’ organization is the premier jazz ensemble of the United States Air Force.  They formed in 1950 to carry on Major Glenn Miller’s legacy.  They are an exemplary armed forces band and you will enjoy their high energy and professional musicianship throughout.

“Into the Sun” immediately caught my ear.  The horns fly and the excitement is palpable on this tune, penned by guest trumpeter, Sean Jones and arranged beautifully by Paul Ferguson. Special guest, Ted Nash is featured on saxophone atop a fusion jazz background propelled by the drums of David McDonald.  The band moves from fusion to straight ahead at the pop of a drum.  There is a flurry of interaction between trumpet and saxophone during the fade of this tune and a stellar, harmonic horn ending.  The Chick Corea composition, “Tones for Joan’s Bones” offers an opportunity for the horn players to step stage center and show-off their individual talents.  On the composition “You Can have It” award-winning vocalist, Diane Schuur steps forward.  The United States Air Force Band also has arranged and performed one of Ms. Schuur’s compositions, “Deedle’s Blues.”  They close with the familiar “Besame Mucho” tune that features Sean Jones on trumpet, Ted Nash on saxophone and Diane Schuur on vocals.  The ‘Airmen of Note’ performances on this disc represent a sample of the excellence and professionalism exemplified around the world in both music and in peace-keeping by the United States Air Force.

* * * * * * * * * * * *


Rique Pantoja, keyboards/piano/composer/arranger; Jimmy Earl, bass; Joel Taylor, drums; Ricardo Silveira, guitar; Cassio Duarte, percussion; Steve Tavaglione, saxophones/flute.

This artistic pianist has recorded and performed with some of the biggest names in both American and Brazilian jazz for over forty years.  The music of Rique Pantoja is a vision of peace, beauty and love.   In collaboration with his old friend, Juan Carlos Qintero, (owner of Moondo Music) this album became the perfect fit, representing the high-quality and artistically rendered jazz that Moondo Music distributes.

A native of Brazil, Pantoja attended a university to study engineering.  But this was his father’s vision and not Rique’s heart’s desire.  That’s strange, because both his father and his uncles all played musical instruments.  Maybe his father was trying to protect Rique from the rocky road of choosing music as a career.  After a frustrating year of engineering study, Rique’s father finally relented and sent his son to study in the United States and eventually at Berklee College of Music.  After all, Rique Pantoja had been studying classical guitar since the age of eight and switched to piano at thirteen years young.  By sixteen, he was already composing music. Rique Pantoja lived in the United States for a while as an exchange student.  During this time, the teenager won a talent show for his composing talents as a high school student. This encouraged him to keep composing.  The next step was attending Berklee School of Music. After graduating Berklee, the young pianist packed up his Fender Rhodes and relocated to Paris, France.  There, he formed a band consisting of French and Brazilian musicians that played all original compositions.  One night, the great Chet Baker heard the band playing in a club next door to where Chet was performing.  Baker popped into the club next door and was really impressed. In 1980, Rique’s band recorded with trumpet master Chet Baker, who, much to the surprise and excitement of young Rique Pantoja, came on board and decided to interpret Rique’s original songs.  That album is called, “Chet Baker and the Boto Brazilian Quartet.”

Once Rique Pantoja returned to Brazil, with success under his belt, he discovered his reputation burned like a five-alarm fire. He was in demand.  Pantoja toured two years with the great Milton Nascimento and became Musical Director for singer/songwriter, Djavan.  He was also an in-demand session player.  In 1991, at his wife’s insistence, the very busy Rique Pantoja needed a break and desired to spend more time with his family.  They moved to Los Angeles where the couple had many friends, including Ivan Lins. That short break turned into thirty fruitful years making music with California as his base.

Pantoja plays it all: classical, jazz, pop, gospel and of course Brazilian and international music.  Because of his diversity and excellent musical skills, Pantoja worked with a number of huge music names like Carlos Santana, Ernie Watts, Ricky Martin, classical guitarist Christopher Parkening, Gloria Estefan, Abraham Laboriel, Justo Almario, Lee Ritenour, Kirk Whalum and a score of others.  He has also written popular jingles for major brands like Coca Cola, Honda, Shell oil, Globo Reporter, DeBeers Diamonds, Pepsi, Nissan and Toshiba. 

Now, you can enjoy him on “Live in Los Angeles” working with some brilliant players like Steve Tavaglione on saxophone and flute, Jimmy Earl on bass, Joel Taylor, drums and Cassio Duarte on percussion.  He also includes Moondo Music labelmate, Ricardo Silveira on guitar.  This project shows Rique Pantoja’s exceptional visions on his instrument and spotlights his awesome composer talents.  Opening with “Arpoador” (that means harpooner in Portuguese).  Arpoador is also a small community, a peninsula, between Ipanema and Copacabana.  It’s an exciting and beautiful way to open this album, with changing moods and tempos, along with synthesizer brilliance during a solo that lifts the arrangement sky-high!

“Julinho” has a haunting melody interpreted by Steve Tavaglione’s sensual saxophone.  These two opening pieces quickly become two of my favorites on this album.  But let me say this.  Every Pantoja composition on this recording is brilliant.  Every arrangement is stellar and Rique Pantoja’s piano mastery infuses this music beautifully, giving each musician a musical palate to paint their hearts out.  “1000 Watts” is a tribute to Pantoja’s friend and popular, reedman, Ernie Watts and it’s drenched in funk.  His song, “Da Baiana” is based on an Afro-Cuban rhythm.  Pantoja’s composition “Be-Bop” kid introduces us to his vocal side.  Rique has a voice that’s honest and emotional.  I expected an up-tempo tune to exemplify be-bop.  Instead, this is a ballad and he sings the lyrical story in his native Portuguese with plentiful emotion. Then the arrangement changes, pendulum quick.  The ballad becomes a pop groove with Latin tinges.  Rique’s music is just pure fun!  As he plays the piano, he sings a scat line in unison with the melody.  His piano sparkles across each song, like sunshine on restless waves.  The flute solo by Tavaglione warms this arrangement, flying above the chord changes like a hungry seagull.  Also, the guitar solo by Ricardo Silveira is formidable.  For a moment, I am also captivated by the electric bass solo of Jimmy Earl.   Each song on this “Live in Los Angeles” album offers something more to entertain and surprise us.   It is a vision of complexity and artistic beauty you will enjoy listening to time and time again.

* * * * * * * * * *


RHYTHM: Ben Markley, piano/keyboards/composer/arranger/bandleader; Evan Gregor, basses; Steve Kovalcheck, guitar; Ari Hoenig, drums/composer. SAXOPHONES: Will Swindler, alto & soprano saxophones/flute; Scott Turpen, alto saxophone; Peter Sommer, tenor saxophone; John Gunther, tenor saxophone; Sam Williams, baritone saxophone. TRUMPETS: Peter Olstad, Alan Hood, Greg Gisbert & Dan Jonas. TROMBONES: Adam Bartczak, Rob Borger, John Gauer & Paul McKee.

Pianist, arranger, composer and bandleader, Ben Markley feels this album is one of his most ambitious projects to date.  It all began in 2019 when Ben Markley and Ari Hoenig found themselves performing together at the Tarleton Jazz Festival in Texas.  As Markley began learning Hoenig’s original music and preparing for their performance, he was intrigued by the drummer’s melodic compositions.  Woven into Ari’s keen sense of rhythm were the most beautiful melodies.  Now, three years later, Ben Markley has arranged a big band album featuring the music of drummer Art Hoenig with the composer solid and powerful in the drum chair.

They open with “Birdless” featuring Will Swindler on alto saxophone.  Ben Markley’s piano expertise is featured and Steve Kovalcheck’s electric guitar soars.  This Markley arrangement makes certain to spotlight Ari Hoenig, popping and explosive on drums.  The horns dance and are drenched in ensemble harmonics.  This song is the perfect way to open up an innovative Markley big band album.  It establishes the energy and excitement that these musicians bring to the public ear.  Every song on this album is composed by Ari Hoenig.  “Lyric” is another gem, with a sparkling, bright melody explored by tenor saxophonist, John Gunther and Kovalcheck on guitar.  Markley’s sensitive arrangements always leave space to feature the composer.  Hot and heavy on his drum set, Ari remains the catalyst of this band with all his technical, percussive brilliance on display.  Ben Markley’s production flies each song like a proud flag, featuring various band members.  Also, his arrangements richly saturate the pieces in horn harmonies and punctuate the presentations rhythmically.  That’s one of the interesting things about these Hoenig compositions; the way rhythms, unexpected breaks, staccato punches and drum solos propel this project forward. 

“Lines of Oppression” reminds me of a powerful locomotive plundering forward.  Track #4 is called “Bert’s Playground” and it’s a happy, joyful composition that gives bassist, Evan Gregor, an opportunity to dance stage center on his double bass. The background horns mimic the sound of ambulance sirens, grabbing my attention, and then they break into a joyful sound of their own.  Paul McKee’s trombone steps out of the fray, richly improvising on the theme.  Greg Gisbert’s trumpet introduces us to a lovely ballad titled “For Tracy.”  Ben Markley opens this piece up with a poignant solo piano at the introduction.  The background horns swell and are dynamic against the sweetness of Gisbert’s horn.  “Arrows and Loops” sounds like something the Whirling Dervishes would dance to and Ben Markley takes a rousing solo on piano. The Ben Markley Big Band closes with a funky arrangement of “Green Spleen” which embraces modern jazz, contemporary fusion jazz, with even a taste of Charlie Mingus brilliance.  You will be thoroughly entertained by these Hoenig compositions and the Ben Markley Big Band interpretations of “Ari’s Fun-House.” 

* * * * * * * * * *


John Yao, trombone/composer; Robert Sabin, bass; Mark Ferber, drums; Billy Drewes, soprano & alto saxophones; Jon Irabagon, tenor & soprano saxophones.

Trombonist and composer, John Yao, vividly captures a sense of risk-taking and improvisational invention to create this boldly unpredictable album.  His vision is captured in the title “Off-Kilter” as he reunites his three-horn ‘Triceratops’ from an earlier album debut in 2019.  Once again, saxophonists Billy Drewes and Jon Irabagon join Yao along with drummer, Mark Ferber and bassist Robert Sabin. Sabin and Yao are longtime collaborators, once merging talents in Yao’s 17-piece big band.  On this recording, John Yao aims to be even more open and free.  He implements more complex compositions this time around, using plenty of open space for his counterparts to improvise and engage each other. 

What strikes me, right from the first tune, is the chordless structure of the band.  Leaning heavily on Sabin’s bass and Mark Ferber’s outstanding drum talents, the horns flutter and dance to their own content.  “Labyrinth” quickly becomes one of my favorites of Yao’s original compositions.  The pop of horns, using staccato unison notes, give Ferber’s drums a space to roll, solo and soar.  When the piece finally settles in, there is Robert Sabin’s walking bass holding the group solidly in place.  You can hear Yao’s love of big band harmonies in the way he has arranged the horn parts, lacing through the space like a bright, red, harmonic ribbon.  Yao’s trombone marches steadfast and straight-ahead, letting the background horns cheer him on.  Ferber’s drum licks double and clap like an inspired audience.  When Robert Sabin steps forward to solo on bass, his solo is exacerbated by the exciting compliment of Ferber’s improvisational drums that sing and soar, never losing the rhythm or dropping the tempo.  There are two interludes on this album. The first acts as a bridge between “Labyrinth” and a composition called, “Quietly.”  Both interludes are warm with horn harmonies and fired by the Ferber drums.  When the ballad “Quietly” appears, like a shy queen peeking out at the world behind lush, velvet horn harmonies, John Yao’s trombone is king.  Sabin’s bass sets the tone and tempo and the groove is Latin-esque.  It makes me tap my toe and want to cha cha across the room. 

“I love this band’s ability to go wherever everyone collectively or individually feels like they want to go, … to be part of something you can’t predict when you write a piece of music,” Yao explains his experience with the ensemble’s exploration of his original tunes.

This is an inspiring and creative exploration into the mindset and vision of John Yao, who has formerly contributed his trombone prowess with various Grammy-award winning ensembles including the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra and the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra.  They have certainly inspired him creatively.  He has also performed with Paquito D’Rivera, Eddie Palmieri, Danilo Perez, Chris Potter and Kurt Elling.  You hear his love of Latin music in the introduction to his composition “Crosstalk” combined with his appreciation of funk music, jazz swing and the blues.  All four music genres are wrapped in a ball of energy and excitement that dares the Triceratop-horns to fly free.  Amid their openness and rich improvisations, the three horns still manage to merge together harmonically, repeating a melodic theme and stitching the piece together like a seamstress’s needle.  I find John Yao’s compositions to be innovative and diverse.  His trombone talent is formidable.  This is musical art, showcasing all five players like a Broadway spotlight on the red carpet.   This album release date is June 10, 2022.

* * * * * * * * *  

AARON SEEBER – “FIRST MOVE” – Cellar Music Group

Aaron Seeber, drums/composer; Sullivan Fortner, piano; Ugonna Okegwo, bass; Tim Green, alto saxophone; Warren Wolf, vibraphone.

This is drummer, Aaron Seeber’s first recording as a bandleader and it’s a powerhouse debut.  It was recorded ‘live’ in Brooklyn at the Ornithology Jazz Club in October of last year.  The band’s energy is palpable and Seeber has surrounded himself with some of New York’s best jazz musicians.  They are the new wave of jazz with a vision and perspective all their own.  Aaron Seeber has chosen seven jazz tunes by recognizable composers and added one of his own originals for good measure called, “First Move.” That, of course, is the title of this, his first album.  The tune “Brandyn” is a great way to kick off this production with excitement and allows each member of the quintet to step forward offering creative solos.  I enjoy Warren Wolf on vibraphone.  He’s an asset and punctuation mark to this ensemble.  Seeber first met Warren Wolf on a Bohemian Caverns Jazz Orchestra date.  Then, Tim Green, who shared many of Seeber’s first major performances with him, steps stage center on alto saxophone to woo the crowd.  Sullivan Fortner lays down the tune’s melody in unison with the vibes and sax.  Seeber has experienced a long association with the celebrated pianist, Sullivan Fortner since they first played together at New York City’s Fat Cat club.  They were both in the band of trumpeter Greg Glassman. Sullivan lays down a busy, but very tasty, piano accompaniment beneath the solo of Tim Green.  It’s almost as though the two instruments are wildly gossiping with each other, but in a very comfortable way.  Bass man, Ugonna Okegwo, began to play with Seeber several years ago and they are frequently heard together as part of the Pete Malinverni Trio.  Sullivan Fortner really stretches out on Track #2, “Out of the Past” by Benny Golson, a tune that calms the mood, but not the energy.  These musicians are pumped briskly by the drum mastery of Aaron Seeber, even on this moderate tempo.  Ugonna Okegwo is given his debut in the spotlight, making his double bass soulfully saunter and sing.  This is a really pretty tune by Golson that these musicians reinvent, celebrate and refresh in a most inspirational way. 

Aaron Seeber inspires excitement on the introduction to “Eleventh Hour.”  The alto sax and vibraphone speak in unison tones and Seeber answers them, sticks slapping across his drum set with a voice of their own.  These musicians are off and flying faster than a hungry hawk diving to catch its prey.  Wolf’s mallets race across his instrument and the audience spontaneously applauds, shouting words of encouragement and praise.  I want to do the same in my listening space. This group is on fire!  Green’s saxophone solo duets with Seeber’s drums being the catalyst.  It’s a wonderful arrangement that showcases both instruments simultaneously.  Towards the fade of this composition, Aaron Seeber steps forward to wildly display his incredible skills on the drums.  This is one of my favorite arrangements on this album, reminding us of the brilliance of composer Mulgrew Miller, and the live audience seems to agree, shouting their appreciation.

Aaron Seeber is a native of Washington, D.C. and is influenced by Billy Hart, Max Roach, Roy Haynes, Connie Kay, Mickey Roker and Otis “Candy” Finch to name just a few.  While attending high school in Washington, D.C., young Seeber attended Paul Carr’s Jazz Academy of Music (JAM) Camp.  Later, he attended SUNY Purchase, studying jazz drums with the renowned Kenny Washington and John Riley. Hungry for the music, he gobbled up opportunities to perform with greats like Eric Reed, Pete Malinverni, Cyrille Aimée, Freddie Redd, The Warren Wolf Trio and the award-winning group, The New York Voices to name only a few.  Currently, he leads his own quintet at the legendary Smalls Jazz Club. This debut album is bound to catapult this talented, young drummer into the stratosphere and beyond.

* * * * * * * * * *


May 16, 2022

By Dee Dee McNeil

May 16, 2022


Ron Jackson, 7 string guitar/composer/arranger; Ben Wolfe, bass; Willie Jones III, drums. SPECIAL GUESTS:  Brian Ho, organ; Clark Gayton, trombone.

Ron Jackson says, “There’s no love like the love of music,” and I agree.  With the able assistance of Ben Wolfe on bass and Willie Jones III on drums, this seven-string guitarist offers us an eleven-song mixture of original music and standard tunes.   I was swept away by the trio’s arrangement of Ron’s composition, “Walk Fast.”  It’s quite melodic and propelled by the dynamism of Willie Jones III on trap drums who offers us an impressive solo.  Jackson’s original, “From Dusk to Dawn” is drenched in the blues and Ben Wolfe’s walking bass line is prominent.  The melody is catchy and Ron’s striking guitar sings it to us unapologetically.  This is a slow swing tune that showcases Jackson’s mastery of his 7-string guitar and spotlights his distinctive style.  Charlie Parker’s “Moose the Mooche” is arranged with Willie Jones III slapping a funk beat into place and Ben Wolfe walking his bass briskly beneath the melodic lines.  When the drums and guitar fall silent, Ben takes a solo walk on his upright bass, until they trade fours with Willie’s drums.  There are two compositions on this album that pay tribute to guitarists who have influenced Ron Jackson.  “For Pat” is dedicated to Pat Martino.  “This Nearly Was Mine” (a Rodgers and Hammerstein piece) is dedicated to Bucky Pizzarelli.  Another Jackson composition is dedicated to Ron Luque titled “Roundabout.”

“Ron Luque was a big jazz fan who hired me and other musicians for private events here in New York City. … He lived in Temecula, CA.  His wife Marie commissioned “Roundabout” in October to honor him and his fight with Aphasia.  He (Ron Luque) passed away on March 31st.  He was a happy, energetic, life of the party guy.  … A truly great person.  His wife brought me and his favorite musicians to perform at his memorial in California,” Jackson explained to me the sweet story behind his composition tribute to Ron Luque.

I enjoyed Ron Jackson’s arrangement of the popular Quincy Jones production of “Secret Garden.” I used to love to hear Barry White share his spoken word monologue at the introduction of “Secret Garden” on Quincy’s 1989 “Back on the Block” album.  Jackson’s group adds the organ talents of Brian Ho during this arrangement.  On Track #8, they speed through the tune, “Will You Still Be Mine?” in a straight-ahead way.  Ron Jackson is stellar during this up-tempo performance.  The Trio closes with “Time After Time,” the familiar jazz standard featuring just bass and guitar.  Ben Wolfe and Ron Jackson swagger through the tune, with Jackson lending a shuffle-feel with his rhythm guitar talents and still playing a healthy melodic interpretation.  All in all, Impressive!

* * * * * * * * *


Margaret Slovak, nylon string & electric guitar/composer; Harvie S., bass; Michael Serin, drums.

“I started to play the guitar at age eleven, initially exploring folk, soft-rock and classical music.  But when I was fourteen, in the basement of our parents’ house in Aurora, Colorado, my older brother Paul played me guitarist Pat Metheny’s “Right Size Life” trio LP with bassist Jaco Pastorius and drummer Bob Moses.  I was stunned! …  I came to jazz through ECM artists like Pat, Ralph Towner, Egberto Gismonti and John Abercrombie.  Later on, I discovered jazz guitar masters such as Jim Hall, Kenny Burrell, Pat Martino, Steve Kohn, Wes Montgomery, Dale Bruning, Gene Bertoncini and Jack Wilkins,” Margaret Slovak explained her journey to jazz.

She had been on a musical path for years when, in 2003, something unexpected occurred. Margaret was an up-and-coming guitarist with great potential, securing her own style and sound.  Then, shockingly she was severely hurt in a car accident.  Margaret’s right hand, her arm and shoulder were seriously damaged.  To her credit, after many operations and years of struggle, she has returned to the jazz scene and her love of guitar.  The result is this album, “Ballad for Brad.”  Ms. Slovak’s trio opens with a jazz waltz titled “Again.” This is followed by a tune that immediately captures my heart called “Flowers for Marie.”  It’s a very lovely ballad that showcases Margaret’s technique and tenacity on nylon guitar.  Harvie S. takes a melodic bass solo during this arrangement.  Drummer, Michael Sarin opens the next tune with a percussive, Latin feel.  It’s called “The Answer Within” and it’s arranged with an Afro Cuban beat, accompanied by Harvie’s bass walking steadily beneath the energy.  At times, it sounds as though he’s having a serious conversation with Margaret’s guitar.  Slovak’s compositions are inspired, often complex and beautifully interpreted.  Her musical melodies are interesting and often surprising, taking paths we don’t necessarily expect.  “Song for Anne” sings like chamber music in a front-room parlor.  According to her press package, the tune “Courage, Truth and Hope” was written to tribute journalist Bill Moyer and gives her bassist a platform to solo upon.  There is a gutsy song called, “Carrot Cake Blues” that’s playful. Michael Sarin puts a funk beat in place behind the blues changes.  Harvie S. has fun spreading his own blues feelings over the chord changes as a prelude to Margaret’s solo.  Towards the conclusion of this arrangement, Sarin takes a brief percussive solo.  The title tune is a loving dedication to Margaret’s husband and on her original composition, “Thirty-three,” Harvie S. gives us a solo creatively bowing his double bass.  This quickly becomes another favorite tune of mine on Margaret’s album.  

When she isn’t in the studio or touring, Margaret Slovak donates time to hospice patients, playing her guitar to sooth, relax and entertain them.  There is a study that shows how healing jazz music can be.  The patients she plays for say that they feel better after her visits.  I would be remiss if I did not mention the striking album cover artwork.  I was surprised to learn it was painted and created by Margaret Slovak herself, clearly a woman of many talents.  It’s light, bright, colorful and imaginative, just like this album of music.

* * * * * * * * *


George Freeman, guitar/composer; Tatsu Aoki, Harrison Bankhead & Penny Pendleton, bass; Alejo Poveda, Phil Thomas, Hamid Drake & Michael Raynor, drums; Ruben Alvarez, timbales/congas; Von Freeman, Lou Gregory & Kirk Brown, piano; Chico Freeman, tenor & soprano saxophone; Eldee Young, bass/vocals; Joanie Pallatto, vocals; John Devlin, 6-string electric bass/accordion; Luiz Ewerling, drums/percussion; Billy Branch, harmonica; Mike Allemana, guitar.

The George Freeman album opens with a ‘riff’ that reminds me of an old African American work song called “Pick A Bale of Cotton.”  We used to sing it as children.  George’s rhythm guitar talents set the tempo and the blues saturates this piece like gravy on hot cornbread.  It’s titled, “Peak.” There is a rawness about this recording.  You can hear Freeman conversing with his guitar, singing along with it and sometimes scatting with his guitar lines.  There is a casual freedom to this piece and to this entire production.  It’s like I’m sitting on the front porch steps of his home while he wails on his guitar. 

Track #2 is the familiar standard “There Will Never Be Another You” with the late, great Von Freeman on piano making a joyful sound.  This album, “Everybody Say Yeah,” is a compilation of songs from various, historic releases by George Freeman.  The first song, “Peak” is from the ‘George Still Burns!’ album.  The standard is taken from the Freeman 1995 album release called “Rebellion.”  “My Scenery” was honed from George’s “All in the Family” 2015 album release. They swing with a Latin sway on “It’s Cha Time.” This one is a George Freeman composition that features my old friend and dearly departed Eldee Young on bass and vocals.  On Freeman’s project, various recording sessions feature a variety of players.  But one thing that is absolutely consistent is the swing and the ‘in-the-pocket’ guitar power of George Freeman.  The ensemble’s arrangement on “Summertime” change the familiar tune to a blues with cultural traces of Native American Indian music.   It’s quite unique, especially with Alejo Poveda’s funk drums propelling their groove.  Joanie Pallatto caresses the lyrics with her warm vocal tones and she also scats.  The tune “George Burns” cloned from an album of the same name, swings hard in a bebop style, with bandleader George Freeman slapping those unexpected tasty slides into place on his guitar.  This guitar technique calls for attention in a very musical way.  You will find that each tune on his compilation project offers joy to your ears. There are fourteen tunes included that celebrate George Freeman’s discography on Southport Records.  His music represents a tight-knit and prolific jazz scene in Chicago, Illinois.  On April 10, 2022, George Freeman celebrated his 95th birthday.  This CD release tributes George Freeman’s long and historic musical life. 

* * * * * * * * *


Shiri Zorn, vocals/composer; George Muscatello, guitar/composer; Mauricio Zottarelli, percussion.

Shiri Zorn and George Muscatello have shared a nearly decade-long collaboration.  While incubated during a lockdown demanded by the pandemic, this album idea bloomed.  It is a project produced by Los Angeles based vocalist, Tierney Sutton.  Shiri Zorn’s voice floats and dances above the guitar brilliance of George Muscatello as they open with “Witch Touch,” an original composition.  The stark simplicity of the production draws the listener in and allows an appreciation for each contribution by the guitarist, the percussionist and the vocalist. Their interpretation of “How Deep is the Ocean” is totally unique, propelled by Mauricio’s rich, Brazilian, percussive talents.  George Muscatello creates the fiery rhythm for Shiri Zorn’s soprano voice to flicker above, like a burning match.  The trio blends perfectly, guitar and percussion creating a solid and creative stage where Shiri Zorn scats and improvises.  Track #3 is titled “Zingaro (Retrato Em Branco E Preto).  It is a haunting composition with a challenging melody, at points presented in unison blending Zorn’s voice with Muscatello’s guitar.  But mostly, Shiri Zorn shines in a solo spotlight that illuminates her awesome and powerful vocals.  The familiar tune, “Beautiful Love” is another expressive production illuminating the power of three.  Another original composition by Muscatello & Zorn is titled, “I Wasn’t Ready,” but obviously they are.  There is mutual trust between the players and a comfort level that allows them to veer into unexpected musical territories and to challenge tempos, time and melodic formats in lovely ways.  You will appreciate the way they play with time and their Latin-tinged arrangement on “Willow Weep for Me.”  The spoken word added on the fade of this tune is quite striking and sensual.  it moves from English to a foreign language in the blink of an eye.  Their music is steeped in jazzy talent and rises, hot and steamy like smoke from the tea kettle.  Here is trio music that warms and refreshes while it entertains us; a project that reflects a sacred, explosive, musical expression. This is art!  It will be available June 10th, 2022.

This video was filmed back in April of 2019.

* * * * * * * * *

ALEKSI GLICK – “GUITAR & ME” –  Independent Label

Aleksi Glick, solo guitar/composer.

When you choose to play one of the most popular instruments in the world, it’s imperative that you have an original sound.  This young, New York virtuoso, Aleksi Glick, brings us an album of solo guitar music that is both original, enthusiastic and entertaining.  His sound is uniquely his own and his talent promises us a bright and boisterous future in music. 

Opening with a tune titled, “With Ease” this is one of six original compositions he plays on this album called, “Guitar & Me.”  He composed it after attending a memorable and inspirational time at Mardi Gras in New Orleans.  Aleksi Glick is rooted in jazz and blues, but Glick’s album pushes the boundaries of genres.  He seamlessly floats through an eclectic mix of styles including R&B, folk, rock, and Bossa Nova.  The title tune starts out smooth and lovely, then quickly takes on a joyful Brazilian flavor with a pretty melody riding on top of Glick’s rhythm guitar licks.  Next, he interprets the popular tune by Billie Holiday & Arthur Herzog Jr., “God Bless the Child” draping it in blues and arpeggio guitar lines that stitch through the arrangement like gold threads.  He’s listened to everyone from Jimi Hendrix to John Scofield; from Derek Trucks to Wes Montgomery.  Still, Aleksi Glick has an awesome style all his own and it makes for an intriguing listen.  He covers tunes composed by Jerry Garcia, Paul Simon, Frederic Weatherly’s “Danny Boy” and Hoagy Carmichael’s “Georgia on My Mind.”  Aleksi surprises me by singing at the very end of this “Georgia on My Mind” arrangement.  His vocals are pleasant and honest.  Glick’s original compositions are a force in their own right and brightly showcase his composer talents.  It takes real faculty, guts and aptitude to perform an entire album solo.  There is only you, the musician, standing naked and vulnerable in the spotlight.  But no worries!  Aleksi Glick shines brilliantly as both a composer, guitarist, arranger and obviously a rising-star artist.  I can’t wait to hear his next project!

* * * * * * * * * *

LEONOR FALCON – “IMAGA MONDO VOL. II” –  FalconGumba Records

Leonor Falcon, violin/viola/composer/arranger; Christof Knoche, bass clarinet/alto saxophone; Juanma Trujillo, guitar; Zachary Swanson, bass; Juan Pablo Carletti, drums/percussion.

“Imaga Mondo” translates to ‘imaginary world’ in Esperanto language.  Leonor Falcon’s debut album was released in 2017 and established her as a stylistic violinist and violist exploring Avant Garde and improvisational music, she was also described by some as an iconoclastic composer.  This album is a continuation of these descriptions and a deep dive into her musical world images.  New York based, Leonor Falcon is a native of Venezuela and is classically trained.  She began playing in the orchestra at age six.  She became part of the acclaimed chamber music group, Virtuosi de Caracas.  At the same time, she was active on her local music scene, performing with pop, rock and Latin groups.  Simultaneously, she was also honing her skills in jazz and improvised music.  In 2007, Leonor attended the Conservatory of Geneva, Switzerland to obtain her Master in Music Performance.  After she succeeded in this accomplishment, Leonor moved to New York City when she completed her second Master’s Degree in Jazz Performance at Queens College.  Then the recording began.

The first tune on this album, “Improv 1” features three core members who played on her first album; Christof Knoche on bass clarinet and alto saxophone. Falcon is assertive on viola during this arrangement.  In the blink of an eye, Leonor Falcon snatches us into her imaginary world.  I am struck by how beautiful Track #2 is with a haunting melody and a blend of harmonic strings.   In the publicity notes, I discover that she composed this ballad when she was pregnant with her first child, named Emilio. 

“Expecting during a pandemic was a transformative experience.  It made me question many things, including the way I’ve been approaching music so far,” Leonor Falcon shared in her press package.

Her Composition, “Cursing Parrots” has a Bluegrass flavor at first, but soon allows the bandmembers to step into their improvisational creativity like a pair of overalls.  There is a stunning solo on electric guitar by Juanma Trujillo that transforms this piece into jazz/rock.    

Her composition titled “Nita” embraces a South American folk music quality.  Her publicist describes it as a combination of Argentine chacarera and a Mexican son jarocho.  The accompanying YouTube video portrays an energetic, playful and innocent little girl, that perhaps represents the childlike freedom and spirit within Leonar Falcon herself.  Children are so honest and innocent, like some of this music.  “The Monks” is a composition that spotlights her bassist Zachary Swanson and the beauty of acoustic Avant-Garde jazz.  On the tune, “A,” Christof Knoche steps stage center to feature his rich, bass clarinet solo.  Leonar Falcon blends her traditional music with classical spices, home-grown Venezuelan roots and peppery hot improvisations.  She seasons this Volume Two release of her imaginary world with South American herbs and stirs the pot of strings, offering us a flavorful jazzy stew that well-represents her “FalconGumba” record label.  In a way, Falcon’s musical compositions embrace the concept of Gumbo, inviting us to taste her delicious bowl of music without preconceived notions or expectations.  Just stick your spoon into the broth and enjoy!

* * * * * * * *

DAN BRUCE’S :BETA COLLECTIVE – “TIME TO MIND THE MYSTICS” –                          Shifting Paradigm Records

Dan Bruce, electric & nylon string guitar/composer/Ableton live programming; Chris Coles, alto & tenor saxophone; vocoder; Brad Wagner, soprano & tenor saxophones; bass clarinet; Caleb Smith, trombone; Will Wedmedyk, vibraphone; Theron Brown, piano/Fender Rhodes/Melodica; Aidan Plank, acoustic & electric bass; Anthony Taddeo, drums/percussion; Joel Negus/synthesizers.

Dan Bruce leads a group of Midwest-based improvisers.  He describes his musical concept as a way of exploring the nexus between composition and improvisation; tradition and future; constraint and freedom.  In 2020, guitarist Dan Bruce won the Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Award.  Bruce has written all eight compositions for this project.  Once heralded as an important member of the Chicago, Illinois Jazz Scene, Dan Bruce relocated to Ohio.  However, he is active throughout the Midwest United States as a performer, a recording artist, composer and educator.  Over his decades of performing, starting when he was just seventeen years old, he has recorded on more than thirty albums as a sideman and released two albums as a bandleader.  Dan has also enjoyed playing with the Cleveland Jazz Orchestra.  As a composer, Bruce’s work has been featured in The Chicago Composers Collective series and the Jazz Institute of Chicago NextGen Jazz Series.   His compositions and arrangements have been published in Fingerstyle Guitar Magazine.  Bruce is currently on faculty at Youngstown State University and Cuyahoga Community College.

Opening with the title tune, “Time to Mind the Mystics” Dan Bruce establishes his production style by blending programmers with acoustic and electronic instruments.  It seems to wants to establish technology as an innovation in our current culture and blend it with classical training, jazz improvisation and arrangements that mirror a big band.  Using the horns of Wagner and Coles, along with trombonist Caleb Smith to play the melody of this title tune, he soon takes the spotlight on his electric guitar.  It’s a stunning solo that elevates the mood, employing a rock-band synthesis with a fusion jazz feel.  Some of his “Beta Collective” ensemble also take turns to solo and strut their stuff.  This is ten minutes of mind-expanding music.  “Blueprint” is a tune that invites vibraphonist, Will Wedmedyk to shine.  Drummer, Anthony Taddeo, brilliantly propels the band forward and is quite creative while holding down the rhythm. Dan Bruce somehow blends ring modulators, whirling vocoders, synthesizers, programming and acoustic instruments together in a delicious musical soup.  The taste of his music is both unique and addictive.  You can get lost in the various styles and the musician interpretations of Dan’s compositions.  Aidan Plank, on bass, opens up “Insignificance (a Love Song)” and sets the tempo and mood along with Dan’s innovative guitar.  Later in the arrangement Plank moves impressively into the spotlight to offer a very beautiful bass solo.  These Bruce compositions are all very long, spanning over six and half minutes or more, yet I never got bored. That is because they offer lovely melodies and extraordinary solos, where each musician can explore and share their creativity with us.  They are more like arranged suites of music rather than individual songs. On Track #3, Dan Bruce beautifully explores his nylon string guitar.

Dan Bruce explains his creation as a collection of thought experiments. 

“At the core is the idea that our embrace of technological innovation cannot come at the sacrifice of generational knowledge and ancient wisdom.  Our humanity needs to be celebrated and technology should play a supporting role,” reflects Dan Bruce.

This jazz journalist feels Dan Bruce has discovered a happy balance in both his concept (humanity and technology) and his modern jazz music.                            

* * * * * * * * *   


Dan “Chimy” Chmielinski, bass; Martina Dasilva, vocals/composer; SPECIAL GUESTS: Marquis Hill, trumpet; Grace Kelly, alto saxophone; Lucas Pino, tenor saxophone; Joel Ross, vibraphone; Ken Kubota, cello; Andrew Renfroe, guitar.

Chimytina is the name of a vocal-bass duo celebrated for their innovative arrangements of jazz classics.  Marquis Hill, their special guest on trumpet, shines like a star on their opening tune “I Want to Be Happy.”  Dan “Chimy” Chmielinski trades fours briefly on bass with his partner, Martina Dasilva on vocals.  Martina’s soft, warm voice floats over the melody of “As Praias Desertas” singing in Portuguese the melodic composition of Jobim.  Marina first caught the ear of the universe in 2014 when she released a series of duo performance videos.  She racked up thousands of views on social media.  In 2019, the duo released their debut album, “A Very ChimyTina Christmas.”  These two talented musicians (Chmielinski & Dasilva) offer unique arrangements, exceptional talent on their instruments (bass and voice) and have combined this with outstanding musical guests.  For example, “Deep Night” features the awesome guitar work of Andrew Renfroe. 

“A good word for this album is trust,” Chimy, the bassist, explains.  “We’re trusting that the world will return and we’ll be able to do what we love again,” he refers to the way the pandemic of COVID has challenged touring and performing.

Martina sings “Nice Work If You Can Get It” on top of Chimy’s walking bass and the saxophone intersperses the arrangement with tasty licks.  The voice becomes a horn and harmonizes with the saxophone, trading fours with Dan on bass.  Martina’s choice of repertoire is perfect and she throws in a couple of original songs including “Twin Flame” and “My Universe.”  Both are well-written and superbly delivered.  On the tune, “I’ll Never Be the Same” Lucas Pino makes a star-studded appearance on tenor sax.  His solo is wonderful, but even more impressive is the way he interjects his instrument into Martina’s vocals.  It’s very artsy and tasteful.  Some of these compositions are songs I haven’t heard before like “It’s All in Your Mind” by Charles La Vere.  The lyrics are smart and the melody is quite captivating.  Chimy takes time to improvise on the theme, letting his bass sing melodically across space until Renfroe enters with smooth guitar licks.  Marina and Chimy turn a Country/Western tune (“Cold Cold Heart” by Hank Williams) into a jazzy experience with just bass and vocals swinging through the universe like shooting stars.  I always enjoy the inclusion of a vibraphone into jazz arrangements.  Joel Ross displays a master solo on the “My Universe” tune penned by Martina.  The vocal half of ‘Chimytina,’ (Martina) sings the blues using the familiar song “Trouble in Mind” as a vehicle and featuring the talented alto saxophonist, Grace Kelly with Dan Chmielinski swinging briskly on bass beneath both vocals and saxophone.  He’s so strong with the groove that you won’t even miss the drums.  They close with “Lush Life,” Billy Strayhorn’s masterpiece.  The arrangement whisks us into a chamber music space.  Chimy bows his bass in a beautiful way.  The duo shines and sparkles.   This is definitely an album I will enjoy time and time again!

* * * * * * * * *

PASQUALE GRASSO – “BE BOP!” – Sony Music Masterworks

Pasquale Grasso, guitar; Ari Roland, bass; Keith Balla, drummer. SPECIAL GUEST: Samara Joy, vocals.

Pasquale Grasso’s single from the album “Be-Bop!” is “A Night in Tunisia” played with zest by this awesome guitar virtuoso.  He’s a native of Southern Italy’s Campania region and relocated to New York City in 2009.  Before long, until his reputation on the guitar was in demand.  His approach to guitar playing commands amazing technique of the fretboard, moving like lightening between single notes and chords, while at the same time showcasing independent bass lines.  Many have compared his guitar playing to the master pianist, Art Tatum.  What a great testament to Pasquale’s ability and talent. 

Since I was a little kid, I always had this sound in my head, then slowly it’s coming out,” he explained. “I was never too much influenced by guitar players, for some reason. I grew up listening to Art Tatum, Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk. Those were my guys. For guitar, I always liked Charlie Christian and Oscar Moore, but I never really listened to too much guitar players. Of course, when I hear Barney Kessel and Chuck Wayne and Jimmy Raney, I love them. They’re all great artists but they never really got me when I was a kid. I was more into Bird and Bud, Dizzy Gillespie, Roy Eldridge and Louis Armstrong.   So, I was always more influenced by horn players and piano players than guitar players,” Pasquale Grasso admits.

This upcoming album, due to be released on June 17th, celebrates those same be-bop masters he listened to as a young musician; Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker, Bud Powell and Dizzy Gillespie. They have greatly inspired Pasquale’s growth and technique.  Grasso achieves an astonishing balance of technical wizardry and swing on the guitar, often sounding like two guitars playing simultaneously in concert. In 2015, Pasquale won the Wes Montgomery International Jazz Guitar Competition and that included a performance with guitar legend Pat Martino’s organ trio.  After this, he was signed to a deal with Sony Masterworks.  This “Be-Bop” trio album features the talented young vocalist Samara Joy on their tune, “I’m in a Mess” and the musicians offer a super, up-tempo rendition of “Shaw Nuff.”  Other familiar compositions from the be-bop era include Monk’s “Ruby My Dear” and “Ornithology.” 

In support of this new project, Pasquale Grasso starts an international tour this month, performing worldwide throughout the summer and finally reaches California shores on October 1st when he will appear at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa and on October second, he zips up to half Moon Bay, California in concert at “Bach Dancing & Dynamite Society.”  If you have the opportunity, be there!

* * * * * * * * * * *


May 2, 2022

By Dee Dee McNeil

May 2, 2022


Oscar Peñas, Guitars/composer/arranger; Marta Sanchez, piano/Fender Rhodes; Ron Carter & Pablo Asian, bass; Richie Barshay, drums; HARLEM QUARTET: Limar Gavilan & Melisa White, violins; James Amador, viola; Jody Redhage-Ferber, cello.

Oscar Peñas has created an album that draws inspiration from a fishing tradition that reflects Andalucian culture thousands of years ago.  Here are twelve original tracks of music meant to celebrate man and his infinite dance with nature.  To interpret the Peñas compositions, Oscar enlisted the talents of master bassist, Ron Carter and another extraordinary bass man, Pablo Aslan, along with sensitive pianist, Marta Sanchez and dynamic Richie Barshay on drums.  As whipped cream on top of this deliciously sweet musical sundae, he adds the Grammy-winning Harlem Quartet.  Peñas opens with the tune, “Traveling Through Water” where the Catalonian guitarist combines his classical and flamenco flavors.  This piece prompts my imagination to visualize a calm ocean and a sailboat floating above the gentle waves.  Especially when Ron Carter takes his solo and mimics slapping the waves against the hull of the ship with sliding notes from his bass.  This is a beautiful, peaceful tune, energized by Barshay’s tasty drums and designed to be exemplary of an ancient fishing tradition.

“Almadraba is an Arabic name,” Peñas explains the title of his album.  “It’s a sustainable fishing method first practiced by the Phoenicians and brought to Andalusian, Spain about 2000 years ago.  It’s still in practice today in fact, on the coast of Cadiz.  Schools of bluefin tuna travel from the North Sea to the warmer waters of the Mediterranean to spawn.  On the first full moon in May, the fishermen there set up the labyrinth of nets to force the fish into a center area and then pull them out, very dramatically, and take only the biggest ones.  The rest are returned to the sea,” Peñas describes the long history of a Spanish fishing tradition that is dear to his heart. 

This is the fifth album by this artist.  It perpetuates the customs and beauty of his culture through the lens of jazz, comfortably blended with classical roots and Iberian essences.  Although this music is peaceful and calming, the actual battle of the fisherman, with poles and lines, struggling on the wet and slippery wood of their boats is pretty dramatic.  You hear a bit of this during the Peñas arrangement of “Almadraba’s Waltz” where he adds strings for both beauty and excitement.  Tunes like “Habanera de la Almadraba” pull at the heartstrings with its romantic melody.  Marta’s piano solo dances like sunlight on ocean waves.  The struggle of the fishermen becomes more obvious during the arrangement of “La Levanta” with Ron Carter’s bass prominent and tenacious and the Harlem Quartet letting their strings splash like captured fish on the boat’s floor. 

Oscar explains that on land, the big tunas are filleted for auction and on ‘El Ronqueo’ Senior Peñas evokes the sound of the fishermen’s knives scraping on fish bones.  This suite of music has finally satisfied Oscar’s need to combine his love of jazz with his classical roots and his rich, Spanish culture. The salty spice of bebop and afro-Cuban music permeates some compositions, but the string quartet softens and bolsters the pieces.  There is sensitive beauty in this production and the compositions cover us, like the nets of the fisherman of Cadiz.   

* * * * * * * * * *

SAN GABRIEL 7 – “UNDER THE STARS” – Independent Label

Sinne Eeg, lead vocals/background vocals/composer; Andrea Miller, Fletcher Sheridan & Trist Curless, background vocals; Jim Lewis, trombone; Kye Palmer, trumpet/flugelhorn; Glen Berger, alto, soprano & tenor saxophone/ /flute/alto flute/oboe/English horn; Alex Budman, alto & tenor saxophone; baritone sax/flute/clarinet/bass clarinet; Dave Holben, tuba; Chad Edwards, piano/Hammond B3; Steve Gregory, guitars; Chris Gordon, piano/arranger/producer; Jonathan Pintoff, upright bass; Randy Drake, drums; Scott Breadman, percussion.

The group, San Gabriel 7, was formed by trombonist Jim Lewis.  Surprisingly, he was a spacecraft engineer who worked at JPL, a federally funded research and development center managed for NASA by Caltech and located in Southern California’s San Gabriel Valley.  At first the group was made up of JPL employees who played instruments, with Lewis being the bandleader.  The San Gabriel 7 has changed music personnel over time but keeps the same emphasis on a tight horn section and exciting arrangements.  Soon after the 9/11 incident, Jim Lewis, who was also an active member of the National Guard, was deployed to Afghanistan.  He asked Dave Cushman to lead the San Gabriel 7 band.  Under new direction, Cushman enlisted a number of top L.A. jazz players to join the group as guest artists.  The group also engaged vocalists.  Jim Lewis was especially fond of singer/songwriters.  The San Gabriel 7 popularity spread.

This recent San Gabriel 7 release, “Under the Stars,” features the regular band members and the lovely talents of lead vocalist, Sinne Eeg.  She is considered the preeminent jazz vocalist in Scandinavia and is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Danish Music Award, won four times for ‘Best Danish Jazz Vocal Album.’   She’s also the first vocalist to receive the Ben Webster Prize, France’s prestigious Prix du Jazz Award.  As an awesome composer, Sinne Eeg brings not only her brilliant vocals to the project, but she has written or co-written every song on this production.  Chris Gordon has done an outstanding job of arranging and producing most of the music.  They open with Sinne’s “Rocket Blues” a 13-bar wordless song where Ms. Eeg scats her way through the tune, becoming a human horn.  “I’m In the Mood for Love” is a jazz waltz with wonderful, harmonic horn parts and a delightful melody with original lyrics.  Both these songs sound like they could be jazz standards and Glen Berger’s saxophone solo sounds like a beautiful wild bird. 

“Much of my composing is melody driven.  I might write something with a bar missing or an extra bar.  I just like to keep in the flow of the melody.  A song may wind up with a tricky, mixed meter; but it usually makes sense because the melody makes sense,” Sinne Eeg described her writing style.

Percussion opens their arrangement of “The Barista” and features the propelling drums of Randy Drake and Scott Breadman on percussion.  Kye Palmer’s trumpet sings a happy, spontaneous solo and the lyrics reflect having a crush on the coffee shop guy who prepares her cappuccino.  It’s a cute lyrical message.  The title tune, “Under the Stars” is a lilting ballad with a Latin, smooth-jazz flavor and allows space for Sinne’s creative melody to blossom and her scat vocals to dance atop the interesting chord changes.  I enjoyed the piano solo of Chad Edwards and the tightly arranged horn parts.  “Getting Along with Love” has an R&B flair and shows the soulful side of Sinne Eeg.  This tune brings to mind a Bobby Caldwell production.  I could see this tune easily crossing over to pop stations for air play.  This composition is playful and invites you to sing along with those catchy horn lines.  When the background voices come on the scene, they really slap the groove into place during the fade.  This is a well-produced album of excellent material and great arrangements.  Talented composer, Sinne Eeg has a voice that floats atop the melodies like oil on water and you won’t miss a lyric.  Her enunciation is wonderful and her style is her own. 

* * * * * * * * * * *

MANEL FORTIA – “DESPERTAR” – Segell Microscopi

Manel Fortia, upright bass/composer/arranger; Marco Mezquida, piano; Raphael Pannier, drums.

Barcelona-born bassist and composer, Manel Fortia, bridges his Spanish, classical influenced music and his Mediterranean roots with modern New York jazz.  The result is an amazing trio album of sustenance and beauty.  It features three extraordinary talents who combine their charming creativity to interpret the compositions of Manel Fortia in a rich and rewarding way.  I am enchanted by the tenderness and vulnerability I hear in the first tune titled, “Dormir.” In a way, it reminds me of a lullaby without the waltz.  On “Circular” I am possessed by the drums of Raphael Pannier.  His technique and percussive capabilities shine.  In concert with the strength of the drums is Marco Mezquida on piano, who moves his fingers rapidly over the keys, projecting mad technique, motion and energy.  When Manel Fortia steps into the spotlight, his bass continues the storytelling.  On the album credits, Manel says that the JFK Air-Train inspired this original composition and the piece is absolutely full of movement.  On the fade, Mezquida challenges Pannier’s drums on piano.  Pannier sparkles brightly, making the drums sound like fast-moving wheels against asphalt or steel sparking against train tracks.  At the conclusion, the instruments chug slowly to a stop.  This entire production has a European classical edge to it that is both lovely and relaxing, but still, there’s obvious energy that these musicians bring to the project.  On the third cut, Marco Mezquida makes me feel as though I’m at a classical concert.  His piano chops are spellbinding.  Manel enters, a whispered bass voice that calms the music and sings melodically to his captive audience. On “Espiritual” (an ode to Harlem) Mezquida pulls a gospel groove out of the piano in the sweetest way.  Manel Fortia sings along on his bass, not only acting as the root of the rhythm section, but singing his own inspired song. 

Marco Mezquida is a multi-award-winning Spanish pianist who has worked with Lee Konitz, Dave Liebman, Bill McHenry, Chicuelo and Noa.  Clearly, he is closely connected to Manel’s music and he brings dynamism to the project.  You can tell the musicians listen closely to each other, as does their French drummer, Raphael Pannier.  These three super-talented musicians complement each other.  On track #5, you hear all the richness in Manel’s bass instrument.  This original song is titled “El dia después” and it’s a song for his beloved Barcelona. He also is broadly featured on “Aires de Libertad” a celebration of prospect Park.   From beginning to end, I heard this album as a message of peace and beauty.

“This album is very important to me because it reflects one of the most transcendent moments in my artistic life.  I feel that living in New York City changed me tremendously and I grew a lot there.  It is also the first time I recorded a full album featuring all my compositions … playing them with two of my favorite musicians with whom I have a great connection personally and musically is like a dream come true,” Manel Fortia says in his press package.

Perhaps the title of this album and the last tune sums up the total picture of Manel Fortia’s project.  The Spanish title “Despertar” translates to ‘awakening.’  This production has been an awakening of sorts for both the composer and his bandmates.  They offer us a very melodic, original, dreamy journey that’s full of brilliance and sparkle along the way. 

* * * * * * * * * *

ERIK PALMBERG – “IN BETWEEN” – Prophone Swedish Jazz

Erik Palmberg, trumpet/flugelhorn/composer; Anton Dromberg, piano; Niklas Wennstrom & Robert Erlandsson, double bass; Sebastian Voegler & Jonas Backman, drums; Karin Hammer, trombone; Hampus T. Adams, baritone saxophone.

Erik Palmberg has a very distinctive sound on his trumpet and flugelhorn.  He is also a composer and has penned nine of the ten songs on this album.  The only exception is “Taking a Chance on Love” written by Vernon Duke and presented as a lilting, effective, Latin arrangement.  The challenge for this group comes at the very end of this tune, when the horns begin to improvise loosely.  Perhaps this area needs to have written horn arrangements that would keep their harmonic sound tight and cohesive.  At the album’s introduction, Erik’s ensemble opens with a song called “Pathways” that gives the spotlight to Hampus T. Adams on baritone sax.  I also enjoyed Anton Dromberg’s light and airy solo on piano.  The title tune, “In Between” is very contemporary sounding, with a melodic melody played at a moderate tempo.  The rhythm section creates a strong platform for Palmberg’s horn to solo upon.  The creative arrangement, with the piano’s repetitive line driving the music underneath the trumpet’s melody, is splendid.  On Palmberg’s composition “Frost Flowers,” Niklas Wennstrom’s bass steps stage center and soaks up the spotlight with his improvised solo.  Once the trumpet takes over, the piece is elevated, grows and blossoms, spurred by the drums of Sebastian Voegler and the power of Erik’s horn.  A tune called “The Lighthouse” is moody and pensive.  I can picture a quiet ocean and the white lights flashing warning signals across the lapping waves.  On Track #8, “Conversations” the trombonist and the trumpeter hold a spirited musical discussion.  Robert Erlandsson bows his bass instrument at the top of a tune called “Lingering Thoughts” and catches my ear.  He’s almost hidden beneath the horn lines.  Still, Erlandsson steps out from behind the curtains to set the tempo and provides the mood for this song with a single upright bass note.  When it’s his turn to solo, Erlandsson slow-swings across my listening space with impressive creativity.  Erik Palmberg and his jazz band are based in Sweden.  He grew up listening to his father playing trumpet and French horn.  As a youth, his parents played jazz around the house and he studied trumpet until age twelve.  For a while, he put the instrument aside, but in his twenties, Erik was drawn back to the horn.  He was accepted at the Royal College of music in Stockholm where the great Peter Asplund became his trumpet teacher during his college days.  

“I started playing in different projects at the school, but also gigs around Stockholm. My last year of studies was done at the Jazz -Institut -Berlin as an erasmus student. … One of my inspiring teachers was of course my main trumpet professor, Gerard Presencer.  Since I finished my studies in 2010, I have had the opportunity to play with a lot of prominent jazz artists and interesting projects in Sweden; but also, around Europe, especially in Germany where I have done several tours,” Erik explains at his website.

In 2018, Erik Palmberg released his debut album “First Lines” recorded in 2017 for Stockholm Jazz Records and this production is his sophomore album, released in December of 2021.

* * * * * * * * *  

CHRIS STANDRING – “SIMPLE THINGS” – Ultimate Vibe Recordings

Chris Standring, guitar/keyboards/programming/arranging/composer; Rodney Lee, keyboards; Andre Berry, bass; Chris Coleman, drums; Kevin Axt upright bass; Gary Meek, tenor saxophone.

On the very first tune of Chris Standring’s recording titled, “Shadow of Doubt” I hear shades of Wes Montgomery.  There is something about the strong ‘groove’ Chris establishes that reminds me of Wes.  With the powerful drumming of Chris Coleman slapping the funk into place, Standring’s music just makes me happy.  Indeed, according to his publicist’s notes, Standring says:

“…the theme of this album is joy, positivity, hope and because I’m a sucker for a beautiful melody, a little sadness as well.”

This is well-played, contemporary jazz played by seasoned jazz veterans.  I was a part of the Motown staff in Detroit as a songwriter and almost all the amazing players on those early Motown studio sessions were competent jazz players.  The groove and the funk I hear from Andre Berry on bass and Rodney Lee on keyboards reminds me of those early Detroit days.  These ‘Chris Standring’ arrangements make me want to dance.  Standring soars on his Benedetto guitar and makes a joyful sound against the excellence of his rhythm section. 

“I saw a YouTube video of Bootsy explaining his basic funk formula.  The bass line he demonstrated is so funky that it inspired me to write Something of my own.  Of course, I had to thank him which I did on my tune, “Thank You Bootsy,”

On the pretty ballad, “A Thousand Words (for Samantha)” Kevin Axt makes a guest appearance on upright bass.  The melody is compelling and the bridge is absolutely beautiful.  Chris has composed all eleven songs on this, his 14th CD, and I found each one to be a sparkling gem.  As a prolific composer he has penned or co-written over one-hundred compositions.

Standring, a native of England and currently based in Southern California, has had thirteen billboard Top 10 singles and six singles that reached number one on the Billboard Chart.  He began studying classical guitar when he was just six years old.  He was drawn to jazz early-on and became a serious jazz musician when he attended the London College of Music.  His mentors were great bebop players like Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Budd Powell and Chet Baker. Later he became a fan of Joe Pass and Pat Martino.  When you listen to this album, it is obvious he is also a lover of funk, Rhythm and Blues. 

“I’m a big fan of Prince, who learned about funk studying the music of people like Bootsy Collins.  I wrote the opening track, ‘Shadow of Doubt’ after hearing a particular bass line by Prince that I really liked and wondered what I could do with something similar,” Chris Standring shared.

You can clearly hear the Prince influence on other tunes like “Face to Face” and “Ain’t Nothin’ but A Thing” featuring Rodney Lee on organ.  There is also a trace of James Brown influence in these funky, danceable compositions. 

Chris Standring moved to Los Angeles in 1991 and he was quickly embraced by the West Coast music scene.  He found himself recording with gospel artists, Bebe and Cece Winans, pop artist, Jody Watley and smooth-jazz artists like Rick Braun; Bob James, Richard Elliott, Peter White, Kirk Whalum, Marc Antoine and Al Stewart. He often writes music for others to record and for Track #3, “Change the World” that was the case.  At the last minute, Standring decided to keep the song for himself.  He released it as a single and the song powered up to #1 on the Billboard Chart. 

The song “Too Close for Comfort” was written after his health scare last year.   Chest pains and a trip to the hospital reminded Chris how fragile life really is.  Thus, the title of this album, “Simple Things” is a reminder for him to appreciate every moment of life and to spend time with loved ones and be present in each moment of every day.  This is a musical message I will enjoy listening to and playing over and over again.

* * * * * * * * *

MIKE ALLEMANA – “VONOLOGY” – Ears&Eyes Records

Mike Allemana, guitar/composer/arranger; Michael Raynor, drums; Matt Ferguson, acoustic bass; Tomeka Reid, cello; Kendall Moore, trombone; Geof Bradfield, tenor saxophone; Greg Ward, alto saxophone; Victor Garcia, trumpet/flugelhorn. VOCALS: Sue Demel, Gabriela Allemana, Austin Burgett, Alton Smith, Angel Rodriguez, Bill Brickey & Lindsay Weinberg.

Here is an experiment in sound and harmony that pushes the boundaries of familiarity and explores the sanctity of freedom.  After all, that’s what jazz is all about; freedom!  Von Freeman was a charismatic music master in Chicago for many years and an inspiration to his community and the world.  He was an NEA Jazz Master saxophonist and celebrated as one of the founders of the Chicago School of Jazz.  To name just a sprinkling of lives he touched, Von Freeman mentored three generations of rising stars including his son, Chico Freeman, celebrated jazz vocalist, Kurt Elling, award winning reed man, Steve Coleman and trumpeter Brad Goode, to name only a few.  Mike Allemana worked for fourteen years in the Freeman quartet.  Von Freeman is lovingly celebrated with Allemana’s project titled, “Vonology,” a play on Astrology and Von’s name.

“Numerous musicians of Von’s generation interpret the world to some degree using an astrological lens.  Because of Von’s interest in astrology, I decided to investigate his natal horoscope … a Libra born in October 1923.  …  This is not a tribute in the traditional sense, but an original work that represents, through sound and text, the ways in which Von musically and spiritually connected with others and transformed people’s lives,” Mike Allemana explained.

Allemana has composed all of the music.  His expressive pieces move like suites of sound and expression offering nearly forty-minutes of creativity.  The composer incorporates voices and rich, harmonic horn lines to punctuate his arrangements.  I am hypnotized by Track #3, “Communion and Renewal” that’s beautifully performed by both Allemana on his beguiling guitar solo and saxophonist Greg Ward, who warmly blankets the tune with his reed mastery.  This sensuous ballad quickly becomes one of my favorite pieces on Allemana’s unique presentation of original compositions. 

“Von told me that he judges musicians not on technical prowess, but whether they can perform a ballad convincingly, with emotion…” Allemana shared.

All I can say is, Mike Allemana has done Von Freeman proud.  From the first tune, “Welcome, Enter” that moves like a cyclone through space, with tenor sax man, Geof Bradfield referencing one aspect of Freeman’s tone; perhaps displaying the guttural edges during his blistering solo.  Kendall Moore follows with a poignant trombone solo and the movement climaxes with drummer Michael Raynor, who played in Freeman’s band for more than two decades, power-housing through the musical bars.  On the closing composition, “The mentor’s Benediction” there is spoken word presented by vocalist, Bill Brickey, to encapsulate Von’s philosophy and written by Brian Allemana.  This suite of music tinkers with bebop to incorporate Freeman’s *AACM-period of growth and spontaneous creativity, including inspiration from Sun Ra’s Arkestra, a group Freeman played with for a brief period of time and a band that brightly colored outside any confining lines.  This is a dynamic and poignant tribute to the late, great Von Freeman and an example of the talent and ingenuity of Mike Allemana, a guitarist who competently composed and arranged music to celebrate his friend and fellow musician.  This project also becomes a formidable stage for Allemana’s talented band members and spotlights their excellence.

NOTE: *AACM = Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, a Chicago organization formed in 1965.

* * * * * * * * * * *


Chris Torkewitz, conductor/composer/tenor saxophone/flute. JAZZ CHAMBER ENSEMBLE: Jay Rattman, clarinet; Curtis Stewart, violin; Vicky Chow, piano; Kathryn Andrews, harp; Lisa Dispigno, flute; Amanda Gookin, cello; Aleksandr Karjaka, bass clarinet; Adam Matthes, viola; Jannina Norpoth, violin; Markus Schieferdecker, bass; Austin Walker, drums.  JAZZ ORCHESTRA: Rhythm:  Olli Hirvonen, guitar; Florian Hoefner, piano; Markus Schieferdecker, bass; Austin Walker, drums. Saxes & Woodwinds: Dave Ashton, alto & soprano saxophone/flute; Jay Rattman, alto saxophone/flute; Jim Saltzman & Ben Bryden, tenor saxophone; Mat Schumer, baritone saxophone/bass clarinet. Trombones: Tim Vaughn, Bradley Madsen & Isaac Kaplan; Max Seigel, bass trombone. Trumpets & Flugelhorns: Sam Hoyt, David Smith, Dan Blankinship & John Raymond.

If great jazz orchestration, lyrical classical compositions and melodic chamber music is your thing, then this album by Chris Torkewitz will be very satisfying.  I find myself both soothed and captivated by the Torkewitz blend of classical music arrangements with jazz sensibilities.  Composer, arranger, saxophonist, flutist and pianist, Torkewitz, had one of the highpoints on his many careers on March 21, 2013.  That’s when he presented a concert of his original music with the support of his Jazz Chamber Ensemble and Jazz Orchestra.  Today, in 2022, he is releasing a recording of this concert entitled, “NY Ensembles.”  It opens with four Chamber Suites: Vista, Farbtoene, Noticias and Epilogo.   

“Vista, this suite was born out of a piano sketch with Afro-Cuban leanings that nagged at me,” Torkewitz described the inspiration for his first suite.

Farbtoene is a quieter string arrangement and Noticias (that translates to ‘news’) was realized as a cluster of ideas strung together like newsworthy articles.  “Epilogo” concludes the four suites, featuring the piano of Vicky Chow and performed quickly, like a dinner prayer by a hungry father.  Then the Torkewitz 17-piece Jazz Orchestra takes over with a flamboyant piece called “Filou.”  It draws me into the music, clearly displaying a jazzy attitude, giving drummer Austin Walker an opportunity to shine and the muted trumpet of David Smith somehow conjures up the ghost of Miles Davis during his modern jazz, fusion era. It also gives a platform for Olli Hirvonen’s guitar and the soprano-saxophone solo of David Ashton.  

Chris Torkewitz is originally from Germany and began composing music at age eighteen.  Once arriving in the United States, he earned degrees at the Manhattan School of Music, served on the school’s faculty and led a trio. When he returned to Germany, he became a professor of popular music at the University of Arts and Applied Sciences in Freiburg.  When not educating and inspiring students, he tours worldwide. This recording was a long time coming, but definitely worth the wait.

NOTE: Special thanks to Joe Dimino for the video of The Neon Jazz YouTube Channel interview.

* * * * * * * * *