June 4, 2023

By Dee Dee McNeil

June 5, 2023

June is BLACK MUSIC MONTH, and of course jazz is the epitome of Black American music created by African Americans and labeled by the Congress of the United States as the only truly original American art form and America’s classical music.  To exemplify this, I have picked just a handful of jazz releases for this particular column.  First, read all about NOAH HAIDU, BUSTER WILLIAMS, LEWIS NASH, STEVE WILSON, & PETER WASHINGTON as they celebrate the “Standards.” JAVIER NERO JAZZ ORCHESTRA is a beautifully composed and well-played orchestra project that explores Kemet, a highly advanced, black civilization. The great saxophonist, CLIFFORD JORDAN, is captured in a 1974 session that’s both a family affair and a historic album release featuring our beloved BILLY HIGGINS, on drums, several other awesome and iconic musicians and members of the Jordan family singing. LONNIE LISTON SMITH joins talents with ALI SHAHEED MUHAMMAD & ADRIAN YOUNGE with fresh compositions and contemporary piano arrangements.  Reed player, DON BRADEN, celebrates the music of STEVIE WONDER along with EARTH WIND & FIRE in his latest release.  JAVON JACKSON releases his soundtrack for a documentary film titled, “With PETER BRADLEY” that exemplifies the abstract painter’s life and work over the past fifty years.

NOAH HAIDU – “STANDARDS” – Sunnyside Records

Noah Haidu, piano; Buster Williams & Peter Washington, bass; Lewis Nash, drums; Steve Wilson. Guest saxophonist.

This group of all-star musicians has made a sweet bouquet of “Standards” that we know and love.  With bandleader, Noah Haidu at the piano, they offer us gems like “Old Folks,” a rousing, up-tempo arrangement of “Just In Time,” and with Buster Williams, on bass leading the way, they shuffle into “Beautiful Friendship.”  About midway through the production, the arrangement swings hard, like Jackie Robinson; batter up! 

Noah Haidu is a rising star pianist and composer who, with this album, decided to celebrate the fortieth anniversary of the release that launched Keith Jarrett’s great “Standards” Trio.  Clearly, Haidu is a lover of Jarrett’s amazing talents and has notably shown his admiration when in 2021 he released a CD titled “Slowly: Song for Keith Jarrett.”  The public applause continues with this treasure of an album. 

Noah plays “All the Way” as a heartfelt ballad that displays his amazing technical skills, along with his emotional sensibilities.  Noah Haidu’s artistic freedom and sensitivity is on full display.  The support team he has contracted are all bandleaders themselves and become a springboard that confidently propels Haidu’s talents into a brighter spotlight.  Peter Washington sparkles during “Some Day My Prince Will Come” and Steve Wilson’s saxophone brilliance lifts their arrangement of the tune, “You and the Night and the Music.”

“With these old standards, all you’ve got is your own musicality and the connection you have with the music and the players.  That requires a willingness to let go and see where the song takes you, something that can’t be taught or practiced,” Noah Haidu shares, and I agree.

This journalist listens to over twenty albums per week, and so many exemplify the inability to simply “let go.”  That’s the most difficult and challenging thing for a jazz artist to do. It is exemplary of an important attitude in jazz, which is to improvise.  To reach into your own soul and individual island of expression and offer the listener a genuine piece of yourself is a challenge.  Noah Haidu and his exemplary band of experts do just that. Every song on this production is splendidly produced and played.  On “Skylark” Haidu takes a solo journey, careening through the open blue space like a singular bird in free flight.  On “I thought About You” Noah Haidu shows us his bluesy-side and Peter Washington sings us a bass song you won’t quickly forget.  Lewis Nash, on drums, is always the master freight train conductor, pushing the project forward with relentless drive and steady tempos that hold everything in perfect place.  The final compositions are both Haidu originals titled “Last Dance I” and “Last Dance II”.   They are both dramatic and inspired. One is a short, drama-fused introduction and the other is a jazz waltz. This is music that demands a standing ovation.

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Javier Nero, lead trombone/composer/arranger/vocals/orchestra director; THE JAZZ ORCHESTRA:  Rhythm Section: Michael Kramer, acoustic & Electric guitar; James Collins & Josh Richman, piano; Regan Brough & William Ledbetter, acoustic & Electric bass; Kyle Swan, drums; Auxiliary: Fran Vielma, percussion; Kyle Athayde, vibraphone; Danielle Wertz, vocals; Ben Bokar, alto Flute/flute/clarinet. Saxophones:  Daniel Andrews, lead alto saxophone/soprano/flute; Daniel Dickinson, alto saxophone/flute/clarinet; Xavier Perez & Clay Pritchard, tenor saxophone/clarinet; Dustin Mollick, baritone saxophone/bass clarinet. Trumpets: Josh Kauffman & Ken McGee, lead trumpet/flugelhorn; Graham Breedlove, Alec Aldred & Chris Burbank, trumpet/flugelhorn. Trombones: Luke Brimhall, Ben Patterson & Aaron Eckert; Jake Kraft, bass trombone/tuba. SPECIAL GUEST ARTISTS: Sean Jones, trumpet; Randy Brecker, trumpet; Warren Wolf, vibraphone; Tim Green, alto saxophone; Christie Dashiell, vocals. 

“My family‘s history and genetics are very complex.  But all of us would tell you we’re black.  Our last name, ‘Nero’ actually means black in Italian. We are African and European on my father’s side and Hispanic, Native American and European on my mother’s side.  We are very mixed.  But mixture is beautiful isn’t it?” Javier Nero asks us in his liner notes.

 “Kemet translates to ‘The Black Land’ or ‘Land of the Blacks.’  Kemet was a highly advanced civilization that existed thousands of years before the Greco-Roman societies,” Javier continues. 

Nero’s music is meant to reflect that amazing Black civilization, the ancient Egyptian culture, the great society, and the birthplace of higher learning that those people-of-color places produced. He has composed every song and this wonderful jazz orchestra smoothly and efficiently plays his arrangements.  They open with “The Blues Reincarnated,” a piece that is spicy and adds the bass trombone (played by Jake Kraft) for good measure.  Pianist Josh Richman is featured, and the horn lines dance brightly beneath his bluesy performance.  Special guest Warren Wolf soaks up the spotlight on vibraphone.  The tune “Time” begins with an arrangement that sounds like the tick-tock of a pendulum, moving back and forth with the horn lines.  “Track #3, “Reflections on the Dark, Tranquil Water” begins with a very reflective piano introduction, then the horn lines swell, reminiscent of the tide, and wash over the listener with waves of sound. “Discord” is a song with a drum line that reminds me a little bit of Ahmad Jamal’s percussive arrangement in Poinciana.  The vocals of Christie Dashiell add a new freshness to the orchestra and the tasty trumpet of Sean Jones is featured on this song. Javier Nero has surrounded himself with jazz brilliance with special guests like Sean Jones, Randy Brecker, and Tim Green.  Nero holds his own on lead trombone and his arrangements are tight and reflective of the song titles.

“Kemet,” the title tune, begins with joyful handclaps and vivid percussion, playing 6/8 time that’s strung through the arrangement like brightly colored African ribbons.  There are vocals that mimic the horn lines in a pretty way, but I keep waiting for African chants to enter.  After all, this is representative of the famed Kemet of yesteryear.  I found the arrangement perhaps a little too smooth and polished.  I wanted Javier Nero to jump out of his comfort zone and dial back the centuries; reach into the past and pull out the rawness of that historic space and time.  Midway through, the drums do take over and that’s close to the touch I was looking for, but it still leaves something missing, lost on the floor beneath the arrangement table. 

All in all, this is a well-constructed, beautifully composed and well-played orchestra project that features a group of technically astute musicians who give their all to this Javier Nero production. This album’s release date is June 23, 2023.

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Clifford Jordan, tenor saxophone/composer/arranger; Stanley Cowell, piano; Sam Jones, bass; Bill Lee, bass & arrangements; Billy Higgins, drums; Charlie Rouse, bass clarinet; Bernard Fennell, cello; Bill Hardman, trumpet; Dick Griffin, trombone; David Smyrl & Donna Jordan Harris, vocals; Kathy O’Boyle, Denise Williams, & Muriel Winston, backup vocals.

I was thrilled when an album came across my desk featuring the work of iconic jazz composer, arranger and master tenor saxophone player, Clifford Jordan.  Los Angeles drum legend, Billy Higgins is also on this historic release. The band line-up is stellar, featuring Stanley Cowell playing piano, with both Sam Jones and Bill Lee on basses, Charlie Rouse on bass clarinet, Bernard Fennell adding his cello talents, Dick Griffin on trombone and Bill Hardman on trumpet.  Jordan always appreciated vocalists.  I know because he encouraged me when I was a working jazz vocalist, and I even recorded his “Prayer for the People” composition.  On this project, Clifford incorporates a host of vocalists and backup vocalists.  The addition of vocals to the music of Jordan gives a fresh, and somewhat surprising newness to Jordan’s familiar tunes that were usually played acoustically and instrumentally.  The arrangements are courtesy of bass player, Bill Lee.  This is a project that sat on the shelf forty-nine years before Clifford’s widow, Sandra decided to master the tunes and release them. 

According to Dick Griffin, “…He was a multi-instrumentalist, and he could sing. He played around and sang Lush Life at the session where we were recording at Minot Studio in 1974. That was an enjoyable experience.  I believe he later recorded Lush Life on his ‘Live at Ethell’s LP,’ but I haven’t heard it.”

The title tune, Drink Plenty Water and Walk Slow” opens with Bernard Fennell playing his cello and Jordan dueting with him on tenor saxophone. It immediately attracts my undivided attention.  David Smyrl’s voice comes in, reciting his spoken word like a verbal horn, storytelling his solo above the awesome tenor and cello track.  David recites the tale of a musician serving a ten-year prison sentence and reflecting on his situation. 

Clifford Jordan offers us his own take on voicings and jazz, on “I’ve Got a Feeling For You” in all it’s blues beauty.  Jordan incorporates voices to sing the horn parts and lyrics to tell the story.  His daughter, Donna Jordan Harris, is an integral part of this project.

“1974 was the year I figured out how to best communicate with my dad.  It was through music, of course.  At fifteen, it dawned on me that music was the key to his heart, mind, body and soul.  So, when he asked me to sing some of his music, I agreed.  It began with my singing at several Jazz Mobile events.  I was terrified, having so little experience, but my father had great confidence in his first-born-child, and I wanted to be a part of his life.  The most helpful person during that time was drummer Billy Higgins, who always looked happy and made me feel welcome and less afraid at the recording session,” Donna Jordan-Harris explained in the liner notes.

This is Clifford Jordan, the composer, arranger, storyteller, but in a completely different environment than his classic Clifford Jordan Quartet work.  It’s both a family affair and a reflection of the 70s with the Babs Gonzalez spoken word influences. It’s a memorial to when the Last Poets on the East Coast and the Watts Prophets on the West Coast were all the rage and Hip Hop was still an unknown artform. This is a blend of vocal harmonics singing his difficult and challenging tune, “The Highest Mountain” dusted with a completely fresh arrangement, like a new snowfall on the peak of Jordan’s mountain of work.

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LONNIE LISTON SMITH – “JAZZ IS DEAD 17” Jazz is Dead Records

Lonnie Liston Smith, acoustic piano/Fender Rhodes/composer; Adrian Younge, electric guitars/ electric bass/alto and soprano saxophones/monophonic synthesizer/clavinet/vibraphone/ percussion/composer; Ali Shaheed Muhammad, fender Rhodes/piano/composer/electric bass; Greg Paul & Malachi Morehead, drums; Loren Oden, Vocals/composer.

Lonnie Liston Smith, born December 28, 1940, recalls gospel musicians like “The Soul Stirrers,” “The Dixie Hummingbirds” and Sam Cooke as visitors to his humble family home in Richmond, Virginia.  His father was a member of the gospel group, “The Harmonizing Four.”   In fact, his father and “The Harmonizing Four” group was invited from Richmond to the White House by Eleanor Roosevelt in 1945 to perform following the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. 

Lonnie was drawn to the piano early in his life and was infatuated with the music of Charlie Parker as a teenager.  He also listened to Miles Davis and studied the styles and techniques of great players like Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum, Bud Powell, Earl “Father” Hines, and Erroll Garner.  Lonnie had an ability to not only play well, but to accompany vocalists like Betty Carter, Joe Williams and Ethel Ennis.  After attending Morgan State University, Lonnie moved to NYC and joined Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers.  This opened a floodgate of work for the young pianist, including gigs with Max Roach and Rahsaan Roland Kirk.  He recorded two records with Rahsaan; “Please Don’t Cry Beautiful Edith” and “Here Comes the Whistleman.” 

When Pharoah Sanders came calling in 1968, Lonnie Liston Smith was quickly recognized even further while playing with one of the most publicized and visible ensembles of that day.  It only stands to reason that Lonnie would grow into his own unique artist and venture out as a bandleader himself.

For over five decades, Lonnie Liston Smith has been trailblazing his way across the universe, creating his unique sound on classic albums through the 1970s.  His grooves have been sampled by the Hip Hop community and his work with the vocalist, Leon Thomas, with Miles Davis and the iconic Gato Barbieri are now legendary recordings.  During his performances with Miles, Davis insisted he play organ. 

“Miles gave me two nights to learn how to make music on the thing,” Lonnie Liston Smith recalls.

This current album introduces us to a fresh, smooth jazz sound from Lonnie Liston Smith that moves us into a more contemporary setting and features quite a bit of electronic music, buttered up and roasted by the spicy talents of Ali Shaheed Muhammad on bass and Adrian Younge on a multitude of instruments.  This is a culmination of years-lived, music growing and flourishing, and Lonnie Liston Smith’s talents blooming like beautiful wild orchids in an international garden.  The vocal addition of Loren Oden adds flavor and power to several tracks on this innovative album.

My only complaint is the terrible title of this album and the record company name that issued this album.  Words are powerful!  I feel insulted when I see them printed in large capital letters that read, Jazz is Dead.  This historic and dynamic American folk music and America’s only classical music that was born and bred by African American musicians, the children of slaves who survived to create an amazing music that is now respected and heralded worldwide.  Jazz music will never die!

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DON BRADEN – “EARTH WIND AND WONDER – VOL 2.” – Creative Perspective Music

Don Braden, tenor saxophone/flute/alto flute/arranger; Miki Hayama, piano/keyboards; Art Hirahara, piano; Kenny Davis, bass; Jeremy Warren, drums; Kahlil Kwame Bell, percussion.

During the celebration of Black Music Month, what better way to celebrate African American musical contributions that to play the music of the musical genius, Stevie Wonder, and the innovative Maurice White, founder of Earth, Wind & Fire.  Saxophone maestro, Don Braden has released his “Earth Wind and Wonder – Vol. 2” album that features some of the music that these two amazing artists have gifted to the world.  It’s the follow-up to his celebrated Earth Wind and Wonder album that was released in 2018.  Braden reimagines the music of both Wonder and Earth Wind & Fire, employing a jazz perspective and the results are wonderful!

“We are definitely pushing for the next-level of true jazz energy in the performances: more swing, creativity and connection to jazz’s African-American roots,” Braden says in his liner notes.

You really hear this concept when they perform Stevie’s “Master Blaster (Jammin’) composition in the most amazing way, swinging it harder than a Muhammad Ali punch.  The familiar hit song by Earth Wind and Fire “Reasons” is performed a wee bit on the Latin side, with a funk undertone that drives the piece forward and makes me want to dance.  It was written by tenor singer in the EWF group, Philip Bailey, amazing composer, arranger Charles Stepney, and Maurice White.  Don Braden’s saxophone solo is absolutely dynamic.  It stretches the melodic improvisation across the sky like pink bubble gum in the innocent fingers of a child.  It’s sweet, sticky and memorable.  The world-class reedist is also a competent composer and has added his song, “Profusions” to the mix and another original titled, “Arise.”  As soon as I heard “Profusions,” I realized that it was inspired by Stevie Wonder.  In Braden’s liner notes he explains:

“My original, Profusions was inspired by two Stevie Tunes, ‘Confusion,’ which gave me the idea for the main melody and ‘Too High’ which inspired the triad motion.  The bassline in the odd-meter 7/4 is the glue for the piece,” Braden explains his inspiration for this song.

The Braden ensemble performs “Send One Your Love” as a tender ballad with a taste of the blues blowing from the bell of his horn, and Stevie’s popular song, “Creepin’” gives the perfect platform for Don Braden to pull out his flute and soar.  I love their jazz arrangement on “Bird of Beauty.”  In conclusion, this is a well-produced album with songs we know and love front and center, refreshed with sonorous jazz chords and Braden has captured the quiddity of Stevie Wonder and Earth Wind and Fire on this sparkling musical project.

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Javon Jackson, tenor saxophone/arranger/composer; Jeremy Manasia, piano; David Williams, bass; Charles Goold & McClenty Hunter, drums; Greg Glassman, trumpet.

Javon Jackson’s tenor sax plays warm and wonderful throughout this production.  I love the richness Jackson finds in the heart of his instrument’s lower tones.  This music is a tribute to visual artist, Peter Bradley, who has been under-sung in the art world for nearly fifty years.  Bradley is an abstract artist with a healthy love of jazz, a music which often provides the backdrop and inspiration for his paintings.  This film, that premiered at the 2023 Siamdance Film Festival, utilizes the creative compositions of Javon Jackson to color the visuals. The two artistic men have been friends and kindred spirits for several years. So this merger of talents is seamless and natural.

“He’s a jazz musician,” the saxophonist chuckles.  “Only his instrument is paint.”

The first composition is like a brief interlude, named after the artist, “Peter Bradley” and it’s a lovely composition that disappointed me when it ended.  I wanted to hear more.  It was such a beautiful theme. The second track was also quick and to the point called, “The Game.”  “Brother G” is a Javon Jackson original and not a part of the soundtrack, but I’m glad he included it in the mix.  It swiftly becomes another one of my favorites. It offers a poignant melody that wraps around your brain and keeps repeating, like a song you already knew.

Back to the film score, I love his rendition of “Edith Ramsey” that brings to mind church hymnals and a horn that blows life into the lady.  Turns out, this tender musical depiction paints a portrait of Bradley’s adoptive mother.  Greg Glassman adds his trumpet to this arrangement in a bright and brilliant way.  Jeremy Manasia’s piano trembles down the piano keys, splashing tones like a sparkling waterfall of color and power.  Manasia brings a new dimension to the tune.

This film traces the artist’s life and accomplishments, reminding us that he was the first Black Art Dealer on Madison Avenue and he was the curator of the very first integrated modern art show in America! Peter Bradley is perhaps the premiere Black abstract artist represented by a major New York gallery at that time.  Somehow, the years that followed obscured his work and now, he springs forth like buried treasure, Freshly discovered and valuable.

“Amy’s Theme” is a blues and very melodic and contemporary.  It made me want to get to know Amy. David Williams makes a bold statement on his bass instrument during an improvisational solo. The press package explained that this song was dedicated to a close friend’s late wife and “Brother G” was written for Javon’s close friend, Kenny Garrett.

“I approached the film scoring with an open mind,” Jackson says in his press package.  “I knew that Peter loves John Coltrane, Mingus, Clifford Brown and Max Roach, so there are hints of all of them.  From there I just followed the mood of the piece and offered something based on my musical thoughts that would adhere to the scene.”

This work by Javon Jackson and his ensemble is absolutely riveting and entertaining, even without the film.  It makes me want to see Peter Bradley’s paintings and explore this documentary with eyes and ears open wide.  Jackson’s rendition of “Never Let Me Go” took my breath away. 

Javon Jackson is a Missouri-born tenor saxophonist who has played with the iconic Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers.  After the death of Blakey, Jackson became a bandleader and released his debut recording, “Me and Mr. Jones” featuring master drummer Elvin Jones, Christian McBride on bass and pianist, James Williams who succumbed to cancer at 53-years young in 2004. 

Jackson has released albums on the Blue Note label, produced by jazz legend and vocalist, Betty Carter.    He launched his own record company (Solid Jackson Records) to release his album, “Celebrating John Coltrane,” and I thoroughly enjoyed his last release on that label, “The Gospel According to Nikki Giovanni” that became a historic, gospel-fused collaboration.  I’m certain this too is another historic work that celebrates abstract painter, Peter Bradley in an unforgettable way.  The album is scheduled for a June 16, 2023 release.

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May 26, 2023

By Dee Dee McNeil

May 25, 2023

BRUNO RÅBERG – “SOLO BASS” –  “LOOK INSIDE” – Independent Label

Bruno Råberg, solo bass.

I am a huge lover of the bass instrument.  However, the thought of listening to an entire album of solo bass I found questionable.  Would it be like I was listening to a musician practicing?  What could possibly hold my attention with just the bass singing its solo song?  Once I slipped this disc into my CD player, I quickly put aside my skepticism and settled back to marvel at just how creative and engaging this album by Bruno Råberg is.

He opens with a very melodic “Island Pathways” composition.  The main theme is a melody that sticks in your mind and the repetition of that theme soon has you humming along. 

“This piece is basically an improvisation where I have certain short motives, ‘islands’ that I am improvising around, creating pathways between them,” Råberg describes the essence of his work.

For me, track #2 is more improvisational.  Bruno Råberg invites us to take “A Minor Excursion” with him and his trusty double bass. This composition is called “Kansala” where Råberg has mimicked the sound of an African kalimba on his bass.  The Swedish-born bassist once traveled to West Africa at aged twenty-two.  He also lived two years in Stockholm with an African percussionist.  So, those two inspirations thread through this song like a musical needle. Also, shades of Miles Davis are present in the fabric of this composition.  He has added pieces of Davis classic “Nardis” tune and gives proper credit in his liner notes.  The third composition, “Chennai Reminiscence” brings alive a group of cultures, like a colorful bouquet. Each mood depicts a musical flower blooming, plucked from Råberg’s imaginative mind and the bowing of his bass to the rhythms he creates.  Bruno begins with a very classical presentation of beauty, using his bow, that slides across the bass strings like ice skates on a frozen pond. Then his fingers began to pluck warm rhythm into the piece and (for me) two cultures are represented in that moment; one is the American Indian and the other is East Indian music.

Bruno Råberg has soaked up the music of Bill Evans, listening and studying intently the “Sunday at the Village Vanguard” album and during the Evans trio years, his album “My Man’s Gone Now.”  His mastery on the bass instrument, and the sensitivity of his ears have translated both the piano virtuosity of Bill Evans and the bass lines that supported the Evans’ chords.  These things inspire Råberg. I am intoxicated by Råberg’s art and concept. He has added Duke Ellington’s “Prelude to a Kiss” that sounds quite lovely as a bass solo. On “Gyrating Spheres” he is a drummer, pounding on the historic wooden body of his French double bass made by Gabriel Jacquet-Gand sometime around 1880. The treble sounds he coaches out of this bass are both surprising and appear, like a summer storm, out of nowhere. “June Poem” is a blues, and I love the blues.  You can’t be a true jazz artist unless you understand and play the blues.

Bruno Råberg manages to bring us melodic and rhythm examples of what the bass instrument can do and what he, himself, as a jazz master on his instrument, can bring to the table.  This is a feast of composing excellence and technique.  The combination creates a music-stew that you can almost smell, full of spice, salt, and sugar. 

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TAIKO SAITO – “TEARS OF A CLOUD” – Trouble in the East Records

Taiko Saito, composer/marimba/vibraphone.

Taiko Saito is a female marimba and vibraphonist who stretches music, like a rubber band across space. She offers the universe her solo excursion into complex compositions and free improvisation to display her talent like a banner across the sky.  As an award-winning mallet player and composer, Taiko Saito was born in Sapporo, Japan and studied with marimba virtuoso Keiko Abe.  She mastered classical marimba and percussion at the Toho School of Music.  It was 1997 when she began to improvise and to compose music.  Around the same time, Saito relocated to Berlin to study vibraphone and composition with David Friedman at the Universität der Künste Berlin.  As a composer, the talented Ms. Saito won the originality prize at the International Marimba Competition of 2004. This album clearly shows why she took that prize. “Tears of a Cloud” displays a major marimba and vibraphone talent, one who plays with uninhibited vigor, using improvisation and emotional connection to her instrument.  Taiko Saito strokes our senses alive. In fact, Taiko has totally improvised much of this album with no preconceived ideas or charting.  She has a way of balancing stillness and sound that captivates the listener, and she writes music seamlessly. It just appears to flow from her in a unique and compelling way.

Using heavy, leather mallets that she handmade herself, Saito explores her instrument on the first cut titled “Daichi” leaving lots of silent space to prime the listener for her next exploratory musical phrase. The Japanese title, “Daichi” translates to great land, earth, wisdom, and intellect.  In Japan, it is often a boy’s name. The next track, “Sound Gradation” is more bird-like, as she makes her instrument chirp, sing, and twitter delightfully. Her composition “Under-ground” reminds me of a squeaking door, as she teases the various sound bites out of her instrument. There is something eerie about the piece that paints a picture of shadowy wet caves or secret basement hideaways.  Taiko Saito’s music tickles my imagination.  She creates her unique sound bites by sometimes using the vibraphone’s open pedal and motor to create clouds of resonant notes. Her mallets pluck staccato notes alive, and they pop into space like champagne bubbles.

The title song, “Tears of a Cloud” is full of reverb and melody.  She creates a humming track for her to improvise the treble melody upon, dancing precariously over the throbbing overtones.  Her “Angry Bee” tune reminds me of water rushing over a rocky stream, and then I see the bee. Here is an album that will prod your inner imagination and will also relax you like a musical massage. Taiko Saito’s music may inspire you, as it has this journalist, and like the composer herself, open your heart and your brain to endless possibilities.

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MARK DRESSER – “TINES OF CHANGE” – Pyroclastic Records

Mark Dresser, bass/composer.

Mark Dresser is a Grammy nominated, internationally renowned bass player, improviser, composer, and interdisciplinary collaborator.  The title of this album is not to be mistaken for the familiar ‘times of change’ description, but instead is called “Tines of Change.”  A tine is a sharp pointed or pronged object, like a fork or an antler.  It can poke and prod, the way this solo bass music does when you listen with an open heart.  You see, Dresser has devoted his entire life to the research and performance possibilities of the bass instrument.  On this album, he seems to be searching for every extreme and complimentary tone and texture to pull from this awesome instrument.

Mark even went so far as to collaborate with Colorado-based Kent McLagan, who is a luthier, who constructs basses.  As a bassist himself, McLagan was up for the challenge of building four and five-string instruments for Mark Dresser that would supply him with the breadth and width of what his imagination was exploring.  Dresser’s album title refers to those basses that McLagan built, with unusual features.  First, an array of metal strings affixed to a secondary bridge that can be plucked or bowed.  Another modification that the luthier made was to embed hand-wound, individual magnetic pickups into the fingerboard of the bass.  One set is below the nut and the other is at the octave. These added pickups allow Dresser to play up to three different pitches on each string.  To the layman, like me, this explanation may not mean a great deal.  But to string players, and especially bassists, these changes in the instrument are monumental.

However, also as a layman, a jazz lover, and a journalistic listener, I look forward to creativity and imagination in every project I hear. But I also want to hear melody and get lost in songs and artistic expression. I want to feel something when I listen to music.  Most of the time, I felt as though I was listening to someone practicing musical phrases, instead of creating music. Finally, on track #4 called “Melodine,” Mark Dresser bowed a beautiful melody, exploring both the lower register and the upper, cello-like register of his unique, handmade bass instrument. This artistic obsession that Dresser has of expanding the sonic tones and musical abilities of the bass seem more self-indulgent than trying to touch this listener’s human spirit.

“I realized that the bass has so many different and distinct voices, I wanted to be able to access them and make them speak to one another.  What I’m trying to do with all of these techniques is expand what I hear and feel.  It’s always about trying to find something that registers to me as musical and expressive and something that I want to listen to.  I’m driven by the larger impulses of what is musical,” Dresser explained his premise.

That remains the question.  What is musical?

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DEVIN GRAY – “MOST DEFINITELY”    Rataplan Records NYC/Berlin

Devin Gray, solo drums/electronics/composer.

This journalist is a lover of drums and the incredible support and energy that drummers bring to any given project.  That’s why I was on the edge of my seat when I saw that Devin Gray, an artist I reviewed back in 2018 when he first established Rataplan Records, had released an album featuring his drum skills. Currently living between Brooklyn, NY and Berlin, Germany, Devin has been thinking about recording a solo drum project for quite some time.  As a youngster, he was drawn to drums and the power of non-tonal percussion, but at the same time, Devin Gray is very aware of and attentive to melodic structure.

“The world needs more listening.  As simple as it sounds in my mind, it is the lack of implementation of this critical aural component which is needed to improve a lot of what’s making our world what it isn’t today,” Devin Gray explained this project.

He begins exploration into his solo drumming debut with a composition called “Hunker Down.”  It gently prods our ears to listen to his drum technique in a soft and cymbal colored presentation that does not startle or demand.  Once Gray feels we’re comfortable, he plays the second tune called “Pull to Refresh.”  It’s a lot more aggressive, but so rhythmic you will find your head bobbing and your foot patting wildly.  The even strokes of his drumsticks, and the colors he manages to paint with the various drum sounds is technically brilliant.  He lays down a groove with ease and metronome perfect time.  At moments, the drum strokes are so swift they blur.  Gray is very impressive, on this composition and especially on Track #3, “Bad WiFi,” where he speeds ahead.  The title tune is a solid groove that “Most Definitely” entertains and shows off Gray’s titanic technique and the loud, formidable composition called “Digital Nomads” slams across my listening room in a barrage of Indianapolis Speedway energy.

“This recording ‘Most Definitely’ represents another musical offering … my first ever solo.  I wanted to create a work of high detail, where people can listen closely in more nuanced ways to what it is that I am communicating. … This project took me some time, roughly forty years in the making.  I truly hope you are able to find some fun, as well as a deeper understanding of expression from me and all of the musical artists from the worlds (and planets) of past, present, and future,” speaks Devin Gray in his liner notes.

The release date of this project, June 9th, was planned around Devin’s fortieth birthday.  From copositions that sound like snoring, old men (“Case by Case”) to what could be gunshots in the streets (“Crypto Punks”) here are twenty-three tracks of drum snippets and short listening experiences that tickle the brain and tantalize the ears.

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Gretchen Parlato, voice/percussion; Lionel Loueke, guitar/voice/percussion; Mark Guiliana, drums/percussion; Burniss Travis, electric bass; Marley Guiliana & Lisa Loueke, voices.

Parlato & Loueke offer the listener a contemporary duet, blending two individually talented artists with a collaboration that explores cultures and techniques.  They begin with just the two of them, exploring melodies and rhythms that mirror the African subtleties and America’s jazz/pop culture.  Parlato and Loueke have been close friends for twenty-plus years, and you can hear their warmth and camaraderie in this production.  Lionel Loueke has composed this first song titled, “Akwe” and I wondered if it would set the tone for this album.  His West African Roots shine through. However, the very next tune is a pop song, reinvented by Loueke and Parlato with their sparse, but interesting arrangement. They add Mark Guiliana on drums to drive the rhythm beneath Grechen’s voice.  She sounds very commercially pop on this song, but the track is quite folksy.  These two artists make me want to know more about their cultural backgrounds and musical choices to truly understand this album.  The composition, “If I Knew” is joyful, with lyrics full of questions about life and living.  Parlato has composed this tune and it’s full of

energy, with a melody that lifts the spirits like helium inside rubber balloons. Burniss Travis is featured brightly on electric bass and the drums of Mark Guiliana put the “P” in party.   Loueke’s rhythm guitar strokes Parlato’s voice on the song, “Astroanauta” that reminds me of space, stars, and other universes.  Parlato sings in another language, perhaps Portuguese.  It certainly sounds like she and Lionel have borrowed a page from a Brazilian songbook for this performance.  Throughout their production, both artists sing in a variety of languages.  They explore chants incorporated with jazz scats that become vocal melodies in place of piano or horns.  I wish the booklet tucked inside the CD jacket had explained more about the languages, the song histories and countries that this music represents.  There’s a story to uncover here that is not shared in their press package or the liner notes and perhaps should be.

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May 15, 2023

By Dee Dee McNeil

May 15, 2023

As spring unfolds, a delightful array of beautiful, unique and creative jazz albums come across my desk. ROY McGRATH’s “Menjunje” album (that translates to mixture or concoction) is full of Puerto Rican jazz that puts me in the mood for carnival. BRANDON SEABROOK & Octet offers us his guitar, mandolin, and banjo talents in colorful and unpredictable musical flavors. MARKUS RUTZ offers an album concept that represents a musical novel titled, “Storyteller.” PILC MOUTIN HOENIG is an amazing trio of master musicians who cut this album with no overdubs.  FAREED HAQUE celebrates the Haitian American composer and legendary guitarist, Frantz Casseus.  JOE LOVANO, MARILYN CRISPELL & CARMEN CASTALDI release their 3rd Trio Tapestry recording and offer us beautiful, meditative music.


Roy McGrath, saxophone; Eduardo Zayaz, piano/arranger; Efrain Martinez, drums; Kitt Lyles, acoustic bass; Victor Junito Gonzalez, conga/punteador/barril; Javier Quintana-Ocasio, barril/requinto/ bongo/quinto/campana; Jose A Carrasquillo, Cuatro; Constantine Alexander, trumpet.

When I looked up the word “Menjunje” the English dictionary said it was a concoction or a mixture.  Roy McGrath has titled this album “Menjunje” because of a very personal memory from his Puerto Rican homeland.

“In Puerto Rico, where I grew up, a menjunje is a homemade tonic, a healing drink given to you when you are esmonga, meaning sickly.  A menjunje is improvised on the spur of the moment, often with whatever your grandmother has in her cupboard.  It’s a potent elixir containing a variety of ingredients typically guampo (that means sugar cane juice), ginger, lemon and honey, as well as less appealing additives such as garlic and cayenne pepper.  Essentially, it’s a brew, a hodgepodge of things to heal you and make you feel better, but that don’t necessarily entice your palate,” McGrath shares the recipe for wellness found in his grandma’s house, and captured in the liner notes of his latest release.

This musical project was inspired back in 2017 when Roy McGrath was commissioned by the Segundo Ruiz Belvis Cultural Center in Chicago to arrange the music of the iconic, Puerto Rican, singer/songwriter by the name of Antonio Cabán Vale, fondly called El Topo.  For several years, Roy led the center’s youth Afro-Caribbean Jazz Ensemble. So, they were familiar with McGrath’s work ethics, leadership, and his talents as both an arranger and saxophonist. During this project, Roy McGrath has incorporated the concept of “Menjunje” by weaving Puerto Rican musical styles and traditions into the mix, including Plena, Bomba, Sicá, Yubá, Cuembé and Holandé.  Adding his own healthy jazz motif to these Latin arrangements of “El Topo’s” music, along with his original composer skills, Roy McGrath and his octet entertain us in an exciting, percussive and creative way. 

They open with the joyful El Topo tune, “Guamani” with percussion driving the piece powerfully and Roy McGrath flying like a determined eagle above the fray. There is a melody-driven solo by Constantine Alexander on trumpet.  Mid-way through, the Afro-Cuban 6/8-feel changes the groove and the feeling of carnival persists throughout this El Topo composition.  These historic songs are followed by McGrath’s own compositions. His “Cuembé Na’ Má” song begins with exciting percussion introducing the piece. McGrath has a smooth, rich sound on the saxophone as he pumps spirit and sass into the arrangement.  His composition is quite melodic and once again, Constantine Alexander’s trumpet soars as the two horns trade fours and challenge each other. His percussion players are given several bars to explore talents and show off their mastery. The composition, “Groove #4” is a bit more relaxed, offering a laid-back arrangement and is another original, melodic song penned by McGrath. This time Kitt Lyles steps boldly into the spotlight on his double bass and sings his unique, lower-register song. This is a musical, “Menjunje” potion that you will enjoy savoring to the very last, magical drop. 

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Brandon Seabrook, guitar/mandolin/banjo/composer; Henry Fraser & Eivind Opsvik, contra bass; Nava Dunkelman, percussion/glockenspiel/voice; Marika Hughes, cello; Chuck Bettis, electronics/voice; John McCowen, contrabass clarinet/B flat clarinet/alto & bass recorder; Sam Ospovat, drum/chromatic Thai Nipple gongs/vibraphone/concert chimes.

Like a sorcerer mixing his brew, Brandon Seabrook incorporates his composer, guitar, mandolin and banjo talents into a steamy CD of colorful, unpredictable, musical flavors. Opening with the title tune, clearly this group of musicians plans to push the boundaries and transform the box into a circle of music that his ‘Epic Proportions’ octet will redefine.  They push against labels like Avant-garde, modern and contemporary into something quite different.  Seabrook’s music has always thrived on being bold, confrontational, and beautiful in a sometimes-lyrical way. This album continues that perception.

“I wanted to push myself to grow as a composer.  This band is a perfect outlet to do that.  All of these musicians can really do anything, which enables a lot of experimentation,” Brandon Seabrook explains.

Welcome to Seabrook’s debut recording for the Pyroclastic Record label. His Octet evolved from the sextet “Die Trommel Fatale” that released its self-titled album in 2017.  One of the unusual things about this new group is that on most of these Seabrook compositions, the improvisation part is limited or non-existent.  The musicians add accents, punchy lines, and vivid colors to what they play, but there doesn’t seem to be any planned solo space or a place where individuals are spotlighted.  Instead, the intensity of these pieces just grows, and curls and blossoms before our ears.  For instance, on Track #3, “I Wanna Be Chlorophylled II: Thermal Rinse” they capture my imagination inside the wooden structure of the double bass. Their piece grows in creativity and intensity, exploding into a myriad of sounds, gongs, string embellishments and rhythms that spin me like a scientist’s centrifuge.  Then, on Track #5, “From Lucid to Ludicrous,” a very tentative, but lyrical composition emerges and rises like steam from the sorcerer’s cauldron.  This magical music captivates, representative of the amazing album cover, the musicians splash color and brush notes all over our eardrums with a multitude of strokes and vivid brightness.  Kudos to the album designers by Spottswood Erving and July Creek for Janky Defense. Beautiful work!  During this recorded concert, birds seem to twitter and tweet, while tree leaves blow melodies to the wind and sunshine hides inside the strings of Brandon’s guitar and peeks from the bell of the contrabass clarinet, dances atop the drums and burns the nimble fingers plucking songs out of the bass. Brandon Seabrook banjos my brain and challenges us to let go and leap from the mountain of our suppression into the tumultuous pot of spicy music he’s creating.  He wants us to taste it, feel it, gobble it up, swim in it and perhaps share it. This is a group experience, a listening involvement, music without rules or regulations or fear.  Go ahead.  Jump off the precipice without a parachute. Release date is May 26, 2023.

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Markus Rutz, trumpet/composer; Sharel Cassity, saxophone; Adrian Ruiz, piano; Kurt Schweitz & Samuel Peters, bass; Kyle swan, drums; Kyle Asche, guitar.

This album is created to represent a musical novel, featuring tunes identified as “Prologue,” others listed as ‘various chapters,’ and an “Epilogue.” It’s a great idea and concept album. I find myself eager to hear the stories that Rutz and his group intend to share with us.  Chicago-based trumpeter, Markus Rutz, is well respected for his bluesy, soulful style and smooth trumpet tone. However, ‘The Prologue’ composition leaves me confused. It features two songs. One is titled, “Something’s Blowing in” that sounds as if the piano chords don’t fit with the composition’s horn lines. They never quite ‘swing’ on this song. Although the bass line is solid, the groove is missing. Later, when they played “The Everyday Escapades of M&M” in Chapter One, I find beauty in this original Rutz composition, and the band sounds more engaged and harmonious. When referencing this tune, as well as the one after it called “Third Coasting” Rutz explained:

“These songs celebrate everyday living, experiences, and the unexpectedness we all navigate.  Keeping with this moment in time, we seek to express the pause of a weekend to relax, appreciate and enjoy the familiar while discovering something new in the process,” Markus writes in his liner notes.  

For me, it is not until Chapter Two, when they play the Kenny Dorham tune, “Buffalo” that the group hits their stride.  Steeped in blues, they all seem unified and ‘in-the-pocket’ so to speak.  They lock into a strong groove.  Samuel Peters shines on his bass solo and Sharel Cassity consistently pleases the ear with saxophone dexterity and a smooth, bluesy tone that makes me feel happy.  This is followed by a ballad titled “Mr. E.”   The trumpet of Markus Rutz is warm and comforting on this tune, as is the Cassity sax solo. This becomes another one of my favorite compositions by Rutz.  The bass of Kurt Schweitz sings sweetly throughout, creatively supportive in the rhythm section, as well as during his brief solo. I don’t think the vapid ‘interludes,’ Rutz has spliced in between songs, add anything significant to this project.  Happily, Joe Henderson’s composition “Short Story” swings and drummer Kyle Swan is given the spotlight on a boisterous solo. Their interpretation of the Ray Charles hit record, “Just For a Thrill” features Kyle Asche strumming his rhythm guitar beneath the Rutz opening trumpet solo.  When Asche steps into the spotlight, he sparkles during his guitar performance.  Markus sounds beautiful on the Mal Waldron familiar jazz standard, “Soul Eyes.”  He blends perfectly with the Asche guitar. Perhaps Rutz summed it up best when he said:

“Storybook is a personal postcard I am sending to create a soundscape of happiness, pleasure and peace in the lives of the listeners.”

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PILC, MOUTIN, HOENIG – “YOU ARE THE SONG” – Justin time Records

Jean-Michel Pilc, piano; François Moutin, bass; Ari Hoenig, drums.

It has been twelve years since this dynamic trio cut their first album.  Here is their spontaneous effort, with the album being recorded ‘live,’ with no overdubs, at a Brooklyn studio called Big Orange Sheep. 

“This is an important record for us.  We’ve evolved so much as a trio.  Today, we are different from what we were ten years ago.  This was the easiest studio session in my life.  We just started playing and didn’t stop for nearly three hours.  We ended up having enough music to make two or three albums,” Jean Michel Pilc enthused. 

Surprisingly, there are sparkling gems on this album, songs that the group has never played before this recording date. For example, their stellar delivery of John Coltrane’s familiar “Impressions” tune opens this album.  There is a fluidity and fresh excitement captured during this arrangement, possibly because the trio had never attempted to play or rehearse this dynamic composition.  They just called the tune, leaped into it and landed solidly on the listener’s radar, giving us something amazing to hear and enjoy. 

“We know each other so well; we talk with our instruments as we go.  From the first note, the music is going to tell us what to do.  We trust the music,” Pilc explained.

“We’re in a state of concentration.  We don’t want a rational mindset to get in the way.  We are constantly on that crest between control and letting go.  It’s a mystery, but we like to not solve the mystery.  It’s more important to carry the emotion,” François Moutin shared.

Moutin’s description is what jazz is all about. Every song this trio played was fresh, reinvented and well executed.  They are the epitome of a ‘Unique and Inspirational Jazz Release’ that I feature as this column’s title. In my listening room, I reviewed three other current, mediocre album releases before I was electrified-in-place by the Pilc Moutin Hoenig production.

Pilc and Moutin have known each other since their days in France in the 1980s where they attended university together.  In 1995, they both moved to New York. That’s when they united and began working with drummer, Ari Hoenig. You will be both surprised and pleased with their arrangement on “The Song is You”, as well as their very creative treatment of the popular Thelonious Monk tune “Straight No Chaser” and a medley that combines “Alice in Wonderland” with “My Romance.”  They offer one original song, “Searing Congress” with that title created by Moutin and the tune itself composed by Pilc on-the-spot.  According to the press package, this composition is a mix of standard songs including “What is This Thing Called Love” merging into the “Hot House” composition changes and “Take the Coltrane.” 

“It may sound like a weird mix, but we like to mix up tunes to come up with our own compositions.  We make allusions to the forms and the changes, but we build our own trio landscape,” Pilc describes the trio’s unique process.

This is what I look for in an album of jazz.  Players who are masters on their instruments, compositions that groove, improvisation that lifts the production, and arrangements that are creative and offer something unexpected and refreshing to our listening experience.

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FAREED HAQUE _ “CASSEUS!” –  Independent Label

Fareed Haque, guitars/arranger; Kevin Kozol, piano; Alex Austin, bass; Jose Maria Piedra, percussion; Greg Fundis, drums. SPECIAL GUESTS: Juan Pastor, cajon; Paul Cotton, percussion/djembe; Richard Christian, Tabla; Rob Dicke & Paul Wertico, drums; Ugochi Nwaogwugwu, vocals.

From the first strains of Fareed Haque’s guitar on the opening “Prelude” of this album, I am inspired to be quiet and attentive.  Fareed has that effect on me. During this project, he introduces the world to Frantz Casseus, re-imagined.  It has been said that Casseus, a Haitian American guitarist and composer, (who lived from 1915 to 1993), could be one of the most overlooked figures in the modern classical music world.  Casseus fused European classical tradition with Haitian folk music in a most unusual and spectacular way.  He added the driving rhythms of his culture and contrapuntal complexity on his guitar. 

Fareed Haque, the son of a Pakistani father and a Chilean mother, heard the dynamic music of Casseus and was smitten!  Fareed is a virtuoso guitar player, Chicago-based, who studied music at both North Texas State University and classical music at Northwestern University before leaping head-first into a music career.  He has worked with a plethora of jazz names you will quickly recognize, including tours with Joe Zawinul, Dave Holland, Billy Cobham and just this spring, he recorded as a special guest with singer/songwriter, Joanie Pallatto on her album “Accidental Melody” released in May of 2023. 

His interpretation of the composition simply titled, “Congo” set up a groove that made me want to move to and dance. It was perpetuated with a sexy, rhythmic groove.  Pianist Kevin Kozol adds a jazz perspective to a somewhat folksy arrangement. The tune veers off onto a fresh, more modern path.  Fareed Haque’s arranger talents have reinvented this music in a wonderful way.

“There’s such strong ideas in Casseus’ music.  It definitely comes out of the melodic tradition of Haitian music, so there’s an inherent connection to the French language, French phrasing, French words, French impressionistic music.  I’m sure the influence of Ravel and Debussy was very strong in someone like Casseus.  So, it is elegant music with a French feeling in there, but there’s also an African feeling coming through in the rhythm.  And to me, if you could take all of this incredible impressionistic music and distill it down to its essence and put it on one guitar, that would be Casseus,” Fareed Haque explains his obsession with composer, guitarist Casseus.

“Rara” is a composition that has a percussive drive, inspiring Fareed’s beautiful execution of the melody on guitar.  But it is the Afro-Cuban influence on “Estamos Aqui” that snatches my attention and sprinkles 6/8 rhythms all over my listening space.  The percussionist and drummers are featured, and it is not only rhythmic, but very melodic as well.  If you listen closely to a master drummer, you can always hear melodies being played. “Dance of the Hounsies” brings Fareed back into the spotlight and delivers a very somber but hypnotic piece of music.  Once again, Kevin Kozol, (the pianist) brings the blues and jazz into the window of this world music.  He adds excitement and improvisation that lifts the arrangement.  Fareed Haque answers him with guitar conversation.  They each improvise and take this music to another level.

This is an album that not only celebrates the art and contributions of Frantz Casseus, but also highlights the mastery of Fareed Haque as both a guitarist and arranger. His musical ensemble is entirely excellent.

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TOMAS JANZON – “NOMADIC” – Changes Music

Tomas Janzon, guitar/composer; Steve Nelson, vibraphone; Hillard Greene & Jeff Littleton, bass; Tony Austin & Chuck McPherson, drums.

“Nomadic” is the sixth release for Tomas Janzon as a bandleader.  Immediately, I hear the lyricism in his first original composition titled, “Out Door Valley.”  Janzon is a very melodic player, and his songs are well composed.  They settle into a groove that’s both rhythmic and pleasant, even when (according to his press package) the tune is a waltz in 9/4 time.  “Rob’s Piano” is a blues based original tune that allows space for Steve Nelson to solo on vibraphone and Hillard Greene contributes a solid bass lick that pushes the tune forward along with Chuck McPherson’s drums. 

Janzon has also composed “Letter From JSB” with initials that refer to the great composer, Johann Sebastian Bach, and features Tomas in a duet with vibraphonist, Steve Nelson.  The second part of the album changes rhythm sections and becomes a trio presentation featuring Jeff Littleton on bass and Tony Austin manning the drums.  They open the trio portion of this album with McCoy Tyner’s tune, “Search for Peace.”  Littleton’s expressive walking bass lines add artistically to the arrangement.  “Valse Hot” is a Sonny Rollins tune, arranged as a jazz waltz with Tomas Janzon skipping over the tightly woven rhythm with smooth melodic guitar licks. Littleton takes a notable bass solo, while Austin holds the tune in perfect tempo on drums.  Janzon combines Lee Konitz music with Tadd Dameron’s talents on a medley combining “Subconscious-Lee” and “Hot House.”  Nelson is back on vibraphone, while the quartet swings hard, in a very mellow way.  Janzon’s publicist calls this ‘quietly inventive jazz’ and I would agree with that description. The artist’s composer talents shine throughout.

Born in Stockholm, Sweden, Tomas Janzon played recorder at age seven, studied the cello when he was eight-years-old, and spent four years performing with a chamber orchestra before deciding he wanted to play the guitar. He has toured all over Europe and composed music for television and film. Janzon lived, played and worked in Los Angeles for thirteen years before moving to New York in 2010. He has toured and recorded with some of L.A.’s best including drummers, Albert “Tootie” Heath, Donald Dean, and Ben Dixon, bassist Nedra Wheeler, the late pianists, Art Hillery and William Henderson.

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Joe Lovano, tenor saxophone/tarogato/gongs/composer; Marilyn Crispell, piano; Carmen Castaldi, drums/gong/temple bells.

A very lovely piano introduction by Marilyn Crispell sets the mood for the first composition titled, “All Twelve” laying a winding path for Joe Lovano to walk, with his tenor saxophone leading the way.  Carmen Castaldi adds his percussive talents, and this trio skips along at a moderate pace.  Track two begins with gongs, like a call to prayer, and similar to the first composition, displays the trio’s smooth, luxurious sound. This album makes me feel peaceful and positive.  Joe Lovano has composed all the music, celebrating the group’s third trio Tapestry recording.  It is meditative and beautiful throughout, feeding us musically like “Our Daily Bread.”

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May 8, 2023

                                                By Dee Dee McNeil

The Ramsey Lewis biography with Aaron Cohen – Release Date: May 9, 2023

This Is a step-by-step chronicle, from childhood classical piano lessons and playing gospel at church, to Ramsey Lewis becoming a gold record recording artist.  Born May 27, 1935, Ramsey Lewis grew up in Chicago’s Cabrini Green community. His first love of piano was under the tutelage of Ernestine Bruce, the organist and pianist at his parent’s local church, starting at age four.  At twelve years old, Miss Bruce suggested that his parents (Pauline and Ramsey Lewis Sr.) take young Ramsey to the Chicago Musical College.  She had instilled the music basics and guided him as far as she could.  Consequently, Dorothy Mendelsohn took the baton and carried the young talent forward.  Ramsey developed a deep and growing love for the classical composers like Bach, Beethoven’s sonatas, and Chopin’s etudes.

The young pianist’s first gigs were playing piano with a group called The West Side Clefs. The drummer was Isaac “Redd” Holt who would become an integral part of Ramsey’s musical journey through the years.  It was Redd who introduced Lewis to jazz and bebop.  But first, Ramsey had to master playing R&B and the blues.  It was a leap from playing classical music to Top 40 tunes and playing the blues.  But Ramsey Lewis moved smoothly from his strict classical background into the world of popular music.  The teen was a quick learner and hungry for expanding his piano talents, so he gobbled up all the new music he was being shown.  Suddenly, his real interest turned out to be jazz.  By that time, Ramsey and Redd Holt had joined forces with a young bass player by the name of Eldee Devon Young.  Ramsey was nineteen, Redd Holt was twenty-two and Eldee was eighteen when they landed their first record deal.  At that time, the youthful musicians had their ears tuned to the radio.  They were particularly fond of the Modern Jazz Quartet, established in 1952 and featuring, over time, a list of legendary musicians. Including Milt Jackson, Kenny Clarke, John Lewis, Percy Heath, Connie Kay, Mickey Roker, and Albert ‘Tootie’ Heath.

            Ramsey recalled, “We got a lot from the MJQ, especially when I think of their brilliant pianist, John Lewis.  Eldee used to play golf with the quartet’s bassist, Percy heath. When I listen to one of the pieces I wrote for the album, ‘Tres,’ I hear the classical influence and gospel … and some of John Lewis’ touch.  On another piece I wrote for that album, ‘Fantasia for Drums.’ You can hear that special way Redd played the trap set with his hands. I must have been about nineteen or twenty when I wrote those tunes, but I’ve never thought about how young or old I was, then or now.  I was just doing my job as musical director for the group.  But I do know that melody was very important to us and to everybody around us.”

            The newly signed recording artists were also inspired by the Chico Hamilton Quintet.  They were friendly with his jazz cellist, Fred Katz, and included his tune, “Seven Valleys” on their debut Gentle-Men of Jazz album.Back in the 1950s, it wasn’t like people were jammin’ in the jazz world using the cello.  Fred Katz may be one of the first to use that instrument in jazz. Eldee played both bass and cello and sounded exceptional on both, even though he was barely nineteen years old. 

            Patterning themselves after the jazz groups they admired, the young men dressed sharp in polished shoes, starched shirts, suits and ties, even top hats as pictured on their initial release.  Ramsey would continue to be a smooth dressed gentlemen throughout his life.  On this initial recording, you can hear the Ramsey Lewis style developing.  He had a natural, relaxed way of blending funk, R&B, gospel, and blues with classical music and transforming it into jazz.  I would say that it was Ramsey Lewis who opened the door for so-called, Smooth Jazz.  That era would blossom much later in the Twentieth century where rhythm and blues or ‘soul music’ was the root of a new type of jazz, featuring soulful drums and horns dancing on top of these funk-driven rhythm sections.

GRP President, Carl Griffin, spoke about Ramsey’s unique approach to style.  “The contemporary jazz format didn’t start out as funky as Ramsey was. … Grover Washington Jr., George Benson, Spyro Gyra, didn’t start out as funky.  But Ramsey had a style . . . He incorporated all of his gospel, blues, R&B music into that format and it became a signature, because nobody to this day plays like Ramsey Lewis, period!”

In January of 1958, after the release of The Gentle-men of Jazz 33-1/3rpm record, Jet Magazine named Ramsey one of the bright stars of that year, along with jazz vocalist, Dakota Staton, soul singer, Frankie Lymon (of the Teenagers group) and Chicago crooner, Sam Cooke.  By the time Ramsey was twenty-three years old, he was a big talent on the Chicago jazz scene and the album release spiraled his name nationally.  Clearly, his talent and potential were obvious and immense, as well as the members of his trio. 

When African American manager, John Levy heard the group, he immediately signed them.  At the time, Levy was an internationally respected name in management.  He was managing singer/songwriter, Oscar Brown Jr., saxophone star, Cannonball Adderley, the iconic pianist, Shirley Horn and blind pianist, George Shearing. 

One of Ramsey’s good friends was drummer, Maurice White of Earth, Wind and Fire fame.  They pretty much came-up in the Chicago music business together.  Maurice was the house drummer for Chess Records but told Ramsey he had dreams of forming a group that would take the world by storm.  That dream would be prophetic. For a time, The Ramsey Lewis Trio was signed to Chess and one evening, while in Detroit performing at a popular jazz coffee house called The Minor Key, Lewis got a call from the record company owner, Phil Chess, to say they had a hit record.  In September of 1965, Ramsey’s single that covered the popular Billy Page pop song, “In Crowd” rocketed up the Billboard charts to the #2 spot, and stayed on the chart for fourteen-weeks.  It sold half a million copies and that was a pretty big deal for a jazz record!  At that time, Ramsey Lewis had just turned thirty, was married to Geri Lewis and they had seven children. He won the Grammy Award that year for Best Jazz Performance.

This book chronicles a list of Chicago legends that Ramsey knew and worked with including the talented singer, Minnie Ripperton.  The trio played on her solo album, “Come to My Garden.”  He was also friends with the great conductor and arranger, Richard Evans, who worked on Ramsey’s “Wade in the Water” album. 

            He was close to and eventually hired bassist Cleveland Eaton to join his trio along with Maurice White on drums when Eldee and Redd left the group.  He also knew vocalist, Jean Dushon and the iconic arranger Charles Stepney.  It was Stepney who encouraged Ramsey to step into the electronic jazz age.  He went, at first kicking and screaming, but Lewis rose to the challenge and eventually embraced the smooth jazz electronic sound, fascinated by the various sounds an electric piano could make.  Over the years, he continued to work with a number of amazing musicians.  In 1969, he met and worked with guitarist Phil Upchurch.  Others who took to the stage with Ramsey as part of his group were Morris Jennings who took White’s place when he left to establish Earth, Wind & Fire.  Ramsey and Nancy Wilson were good friends and in 1984 Dr. George Butler recorded them together for Columbia Records on the “Just the Two of Us” album.

Another great friend of Ramsey’s was Stevie Wonder, who also composed songs for Lewis. Frankie Donaldson and Bill Dickens would eventually man the drums in his trio.  Felton Crews appeared on the 1981 album “Three Piece Suite” playing bass.  His gold records include “The In Crowd,” “Hang On Ramsey!” “Wade in the Water,” “Sound of Christmas” and “Sun Goddess” where Earth, Wind & Fire make a guest appearance. 

This book explores the personal side of Ramsey’s family life and love life. It explains his transition into radio and television, hosting his own shows and honoring the history of jazz music.  He released eighty albums over his lifetime and crisscrossed genres, making him one of the most popular jazz pianists of all time. A National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master and Top 10 hitmaker, his influence can be heard today in Hip-Hop music, R&B and jazz.

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May 1, 2023

By Dee Dee McNeil

May 1, 2023


Joanie Pallatto, vocals/composer/finger snaps; Fareed Haque, classical & electric guitars/steel string guitar; John Christensen, acoustic bass; Eric Hines, conga/cymbals/chimes; Juan Pastor, cajon/shaker/tambourine/military snare/percussion; Bradley Parker-Sparrow, piano.

December of 2021 live show with Fareed Haque and dancer, Dill Costa

The compositions on Joanie Pallatto’s latest album are composed, using a wide variety of styles and featuring master guitarist, Fareed Haque.  All the music is penned by Pallatto or in collaboration with her husband Bradley Parker-Sparrow or with her featured artist, Fareed Haque.  It is Joanie’s sense of lyrical stories and poetry that weave like silk threads and tie this music together.

On the opening tune, it’s Fareed Haque’s guitar solo that puts the ‘J’ in jazz, while Joanie Pallatto’s voice is a warm alto instrument that is a surprising mix of jazz and folk music. Joanie and her pianist husband have run a recording studio for four decades.  Over the years, Joanie Pallatto has made a successful living as a musician and voiceover artist. She has expertise in all aspects of musical production and is a versatile vocalist, singing lead at times or blending harmonically with various vocal groups.  Pallatto has also sung jingles for hundreds of national radio and television commercials. Inspired by Eddie Palmieri, after listening to his album Joanie wrote the title tune, “Accidental Melody” that’s a salsa arrangement. Many of her songs have a Latin flare, like “A Shooting Star” that she says she wrote specifically for guitarist extraordinaire, Fareed Haque.  Pallatto and husband, Bradley Parker-Sparrow, perform as a duet on their composition, “The melody of You.”  “Don’t Ever Look for Love” has lovely chord changes and a compelling melody that builds and expands, with lyrics aimed at a friend of Joanie’s after a conversation they had about illusive love.  Another favorite is the spicy, Latin flavored “In the Middle of Life.”  Great lyric!  On “Sound” she performs with her pianist and she scats over Bradley Parker-Sparrow’s Avant-garde piano improvisation.

In the 1970s, Joanie Pallatto toured with the Glenn Miller Orchestra.  She relocated to Chicago, Illinois, where Joanie married and settled down, putting her energy into singing, composing and eventually running her Southport Record company with hubby. This is her thirteenth album release and celebrates Pallatto’s composer talents.  During this performance, you hear the freedom Pallatto feels when she’s singing, improvising and emotionally sharing her original music with us, her attentive audience.

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Matt Barber, vocals; Bradley Young, Day Kelly, & Marc LeBrun, piano; David Enos & Brian Ward, bass; Greg Sadler & Daniel Dennis, drums; Tony Guerrero, flugelhorn; Joakim Toftgaard, trombone; Dori Amarilio & Pablo Sune, guitar; Stephan Oberhoff, strings/guitar; Mack Goldsbury, saxophone/ piccolo; Madison Hardy, backup vocals.

The voice of Matt Barber recalls the ‘Ratpack’ days, when Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. ruled the Las Vegas strip.  Matt does not mimic either famed singer but instead, has his own tone and style.  Barber offers us a dozen standard tunes, easily recognizable, that bring back the Tony Bennett era of well-dressed stage performers and cool jazz.  You will enjoy music by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein, Johnny Mercer, Nelson Riddle and Billy Joel, to name just a few.  I enjoyed his interpretation of “East of the Sun and West of the Moon” that features the attention pleasing trumpet of Tony Guerrero.  The arrangement is at a ballad tempo with Latin rhythms offering a unique, slow Bossa Nova approach.  Barber’s vocals sounds smooth and comfortable. He currently performs approximately three-hundred concerts per year and also sings at a select handful of exclusive hotels across the country. Since his debut in 2005, Matt Barber has recorded seven albums that have all received stellar reviews.  He dedicates this one to one of his mentors, Los Angeles based pianist and arranger, Bradley Young, who became a victim of the COVID epidemic and left us far too early.

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JOHN ALLEE – “PAST IMPERFECT” – Portuguese Knees Music

John Allee, vocals/piano/background harmony/composer/co-producer; Jeff Peters, co-producer; Adam Bravo, piano; Mike Schnoebelen, bass; John Harvey, drums; Javier Vergara, tenor saxophone; Jeff Kaye, flugelhorn/trumpet; Jane Lui & Cortes Alexander, background vocals.

The double bass opens this album, setting the groove, the rhythm, and the track slow swings for John Allee to vocalize upon. The tune is called “Let’s Hear It” and is one of seventeen songs John has composed. Like many of his original compositions, the melody is catchy and makes you want to hum along.  He scats on this one, and is a hair off-key in some places, but his Sammy Cahn Award-winning songwriting skills are obvious and stellar.  Track #2 is immediately one of my favorites.  The lyrics are so fresh and incredible on this tune called, “Like.”  He writes lines that read:

“You are like the rain. You pitter patter on my windowpane and blow right through me like a hurricane. … You are like the snow.  You’re up above me when I’m down below. You lay your blanket anywhere you go.”

If I were a recording artist, I would gobble-up these excellently written songs and record them myself.  John Allee has a way of painting pictures with his words, as though we are watching a film.  Perhaps that is because he has a background in acting as well as singing and songwriting.  Allee has been working at all three careers for the past four decades.  “Until the Money’s Gone” is a blues that reminds me of that hit record sung by Bobby Gentry, “Ode to Billie Joe” when someone threw something off the Tallahassee Bridge.  John Allee’s lyrics are nothing like that song, but instead, paint a fresh, intricate picture of a character we all can clearly see, with the rhythm section playing blues-changes that cushion his story.  A song called “Hard Sell” is bebop to the bone, played at racehorse speed, with Allee’s vocals keeping pace and telling us a story about a salesman’s life.  This is a song Lambert, Hendrix and Ross would have loved to record.  Javier Vergara makes a strong statement during his tenor saxophone solo.  John Allee has a songwriter’s voice.  What I mean by that, he is not an outstanding jazz vocalist.  Instead, he knows how to sell his songs, tell his stories, emotionally connect with his listening audience, as he feeds us stories that beg to be heard and melodies that caress our ears.  I find myself feeling like a baby bird, awaiting the mother bird’s return to the nest with open beak, eager for the John Allee’s next song. “Past Imperfect” is an album full of tall tales, small tales, character analyzations and unusual situations.  It reminds me of my Motown days when I sat in a room and listened to Ron Miller play piano and compose “For Once in My Life” or hearing Bernard Igner on the A&M lot playing me “Everything Must Change” on their upright piano, long before it was ever recorded by Quincy Jones. We both cried.  John Allee may not be a great singer, but he has that same magic as an exceptional songwriter.  This album will be available May 5, 2023.

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BEN WENDEL – “ALL ONE” Edition Records

Ben Wendel, tenor & soprano saxophone/bassoon/EFX/hand percussion/composer; Cécile McLorin Salvant & Jose James, vocals; Terence Blanchard, trumpet; Bill Frisell, electric/ acoustic guitar/EFX/composer; Elena Pinderhughes, flute/alto flute; Tigran Hamasyan, piano.

Grammy nominated saxophonist, Ben Wendel, offers us his “All One” album that features Wendel’s original compositions and a few familiar standard tunes like the opening Gershwin treasure, “I Love You Porgy” beautifully sung by Cécile McLorin Salvant.  The melodic ideas that harmonically create the main tracks of Wendel’s original music are somewhat Avant-garde. For example, on the “Wanderers” tune, the track is extremely repetitious, despite the addition of Terrance Blanchard on trumpet.  On Bill Frisell’s composition, “Throughout” the band incorporates a lot of dissonance and elongated chords, stretched electronically, with Wendel’s tenor saxophone bursting-out in moments of improvisation, dancing atop the rhythm track. Frisell’s guitar is the lead singer during this arrangement and brings some sense of melody and calm.  “Speak Joy” is another Wendel composition and features Elena Pinderhughes on flute.  There is a fair amount of dissonance in the chordal structure of Wendel’s work and instead of using a bass instrument in this entire production, Ben has chosen to incorporate his bassoon talents into the mix. I love the bassoon instrument, but the songs themselves are melodically unmemorable and the arrangements nest in thick chords of repetition, with the instrumental solos circling each nest like frightened birds afraid to land. The fifth cut is the old and beloved standard of “Tenderly” that Sarah Vaughan made so popular.  José James brings his enjoyable voice to stage center, doing a fine job of presenting the lovely melody, despite the odd band harmonics. Still, Ben Wendel’s tenor saxophone solo is stellar. Here is a project where you should be prepared for the unexpected, shape-shifting variations that Ben Wendel’s imagination dictates. My favorite cut is the first one that features Cécile McLorin Salvant.  However, José James comes in a close second, just for the strength of purpose to vocally hold his own against this challenging arrangement, exposing beautiful tone and mad technical skills.  Although I applaud Ben Wendel’s bassoon mastery and saxophone creativity, some of the arrangements are way over my head.

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Allison Adams Tucker, vocals/composer; Kevin Hays, piano/Fender Rhodes/ melodica/vocals; Tony Scherr, bass/guitar; Kenny Wollesen, drums/vibraphone; Yotam Silberstein & Peter Sprague, guitar/composer; Bashiri Johnson, percussion.

The first thing I think when I listen to Allison Adams Tucker’s premiere song on this, her latest album, is that she is a very strong pop singer. She opens this production by covering a Cat Stevens song called, “The Wind.”  On track #2, her voice rings warm, like a whistle in the wind.  She starts out wordless, just a round “Ooo” sound against the quiet.  Moments later, she breaks into the lyrics of “You’re My Best Friend.”  This too is a pop/folk song arrangement.  Allison also covers the David Bowie song, “Life on Mars” that stretches her range and exhibits what a lovely, pure toned soprano voice she has.  “Wonderland” is an Allison Tucker composition that she co-wrote with guitarist Peter Sprague.  It is a well-written song, but once again, it’s not jazz.  This is a well-produced pop album that features a talented singer covering popular songs by such artists as Paul Simon, Prince, Annie Lennox and Sting.  I am reviewing it because it is so well-produced and because I think Allison Adams Tucker is super talented.  But no way should this album fall under the category of jazz.

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KRIS ALLEN – “JUNE” – Truth Revolution Recording Collective

Kris Allen, alto saxophone/composer; Carmen Staaf, piano; Luques Curtis, bass; Jonathan Barber, drums; Chris Dingman, vibraphone; Jeremy Pelt, trumpet; Michael Mayo & Shenel Johns, vocals.

Alto Saxophonist, Kris Allen, has created a contemplative album of mostly original compositions that are nature themed.  Opening with “Sunlight” Carmen Staaf is outstandingly imaginative on piano, tinkling atop the horn players (Kris Allen on alto sax and Jeremy Pelt on trumpet). Staaf deliciously distracts from their simplistic, but lovely melodic lines, using her own improvisation that’s creative and quite beautiful.  Chris Dingman adds his tasty vibraphone licks and Luques Curtis stands strongly in the spotlight, wearing his heart on his sleeve as he takes his bass solo.  This is a charming, peaceful way to open the Kris Allen album titled “June.” It is his third release as a bandleader. Jackie McLean was one of Allen’s inspirational mentors. 

“The vibe is simple and elemental.  The titles and concepts are really concise, often a single word like ‘Trees” or “Sunlight” or “Ember.” I wanted it to be meditative and to reach for melodies that could be singable,” explains Kris Allen.

The second cut on this album is the famous “Trees” tune, sung by Michael Mayo, … I think that I shall never see, a thing as lovely as a tree …who also scats his clear message across the moderate tempo arrangement with a smooth, clear tone.  Kris Allen has composed “Ember” that begins with the rolling drums of Jonathan Barber who sets the tempo and mood of the song.  Allen’s alto saxophone blasts on the scene like a shooting star streaking across the night sky.  The fire glows from the first percussive ember and grows. This tune is Straight-ahead and the kind of jazz that demands you tap your toe and nod your head in agreement.

 “I Have a Dream” is the only other ‘cover’ tune that Kris Allen plays.  It was composed by Herbie Hancock, an obvious tribute to the late, iconic Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  This is followed by “Morning” featuring the sweet vocals of Shenel Johns, followed by the title tune, “June.”

“June is my pandemic meditation, and the title is meant as a bit of a metaphor for the middle of one’s life.  June is a time of year where I am ever aware of just how much beauty I am continually taking for granted,” Kris Allen shared his love of nature in the summer.

You will find plenty of beauty in this recording, a work of art to be played time and time again provoking much enjoyment.

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Daniel Stein, Keyboards/producer/composer; Stuart Ziff, guitars/producer/composer; Rene Camacho & Travis Carlton, bass; Fred Dinkins, Kevin Stevens, & Rick Latham, drums; Marcos Reyes, percussion; Chris Tedesco, trumpet.

Daniel Stein and Stuart Ziff are old friends, seasoned musicians, composers, and producers who came together with the idea of recording their own original music. Ziff teaches blues guitar, slide guitar, and gives performance workshops incorporating different styles, while Stein teaches piano, live performance, songwriting and synthesis. Veterans of the music business, in front of and behind-the-scenes, Ziff has been the guitarist for the legendary funk band, “War” over two decades and Stein became a top jingle writer, a composer for scripted and reality TV shows, as well as co-founder of the very successful independent music library titled, “Music Box.”  Between the two, they worked in New York City, before relocating to Southern California and were members of several backing bands for Atlantic pop and R&B artists. They each know how to lay down a solid music track, one that will make an artist shine. 

This R for Romeo project offers just that, a plethora of well-produced and well-composed tracks that are screaming for a solo artist to dance atop of these solid grooves.  The musicianship is outstanding, and each piece is unique and compelling to the ear, be it the Marvin Gaye kind-of-blues groove they title “Midtown” (co-written by the two friends) or the funk tune called, “Barney’s Groove” inspired by the hit television sitcom, Barney Miller. They reworked the Barney Miller theme song, expanding on the familiar bassline to create a brand-new composition.  Still, my ear strains to hear a solo artist.  Although every one of these tracks are strong, this well-written background music is begging for a soloist or a vocalist to fuel their wonderfully produced and played music, and set it on fire. 

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Terell Stafford, trumpet; Dick Oatts, alto saxophone; Tim Warfield, tenor saxophone; Bruce Barth, piano/arranger; Mike Boone, bass; Justin Faulkner, drums.

Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love, has always been a stew pot of jazz music and musicians. It is one of the cities that represents a spicy explosion of America’s classical music called jazz. Four important names were born and raised in the arms of this city, and they are celebrated on this album of extraordinary music.  One was John Coltrane, who grew up in a rowhome at 1511 North 33rd Street in the Strawberry Mansion section of North Philadelphia; McCoy Tyner, who started playing piano inside his mother’s beauty parlor located at the family home in West Philadelphia; trumpeter, Edward Lee Morgan, who was raised at 2035 W. Madison Street in the Tioga neighborhood of North Philly and Jimmy Heath of the Heath Brothers (Percy and Tootie Heath). Jimmy attended Walter George Smith School on the South Side of Philly. 

A Sextet of iconic musicians (in their own right) have come together on this project to play the music of Trane, Heath, Tyner and Morgan.  They represent the jazz faculty at Temple University who are inspiring the next generation of jazz royalty. These six musicians shine while playing the music of their legendary Philadelphian jazz masters.

“For me, this album represents the rich tradition of songs written by Philly composers,” says Bruce Barth.

Barth selected and arranged the four compositions on “Fly With the Wind,” a title pulled from Tyner’s 1976 Milestone debut. They open with Jimmy Heath’s composition, “All Members” that was recorded by Jimmy and his quartet in 1975 on his album, “Picture of Heath.” The Temple Jazz Sextet swings its way into my listening room with Stafford’s trumpet leading the way. I want to wave my white hanky and parade around my house.  Warfield follows with the blues blowing out of his tenor saxophone in a gritty, no-nonsense way and then Dick Oatts enters the musical moment, softening the arrangement with his lyrical solo, but never losing the intensity.  The arranger/pianist, Bruce Barth swings into the spotlight unapologetically and thrills me with his piano improvisation.  Afterwards, Mike Boone struts his stuff on double bass and all the while, Justin Faulkner holds the tempo and the groove tightly in place.  I immediately know I’m in for a pure-pleasure treat!  The rest of this album is all that and more. 

Their arrangement of Coltrane’s “Naima” is so sweet, tender, and emotional that I pause and play it twice.  The warm camaraderie between these players and educators is palpable.  Their choice of tunes certainly honors the legendary composers and Philadelphia jazz icons who they tribute. On the title tune, penned by McCoy Tyner, they play powerfully and without reserve.

“McCoy played with an intensity that’s hard to describe and that we all strive to get to.  The power and depth of his expression came through on the records, but there were a few times hearing him live where it was almost an otherworldly experience,” Barth explained.

This album is fire and flame, sincere and emotional, saucy, and sweet. It’s a beautiful, completely unforgettable tribute to Philadelphian jazz icons.

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BEN CASSARA – “WHAT A WAY TO GO!” – Audiophile

Ben Cassara, vocals; Josh Richman & Ronny Whyte, piano; Boots Maleson, bass; Tim Horner, drums; Harry Allen, saxophone.

Ben Cassara is a Manhattan jazz singer who sounds intimate, casual, and believable.  Cassara started out playing piano and singing at piano bars in Greenwich Village in the 1970s.  Although he was somewhat naïve to the business of jazz back then, Ben’s friends and mentors (Carol Fredette, the late Marlene Ver Planck and Roz Corral) taught him how to deliver a lyric and how to feel the jazz pulse.  Carol Fredette once gave him the key to success when she said, “Don’t think of how you would sing it.  How would you say it?”

Although Ben’s not a smooth crooner like the iconic Billy Eckstein, nor can he swing like the legendary Joe Williams or Frank Sinatra, but Ben Cassara knows how to phrase and sell a song. He applies honesty and emotion to each interpretation.  His repertoire is full of stories we know or we ourselves have lived.  His “What a Way to Go” album of fourteen songs unfolds like a musical movie.  His choice of composers ranges from Dave Frishberg to Antonio Carlos Jobim; from Harry Warren’s ‘I Wish I Knew” to Jimmy McHugh and Harold Adamson’s “I Just Found Out About Love (and I like it!),” as well as Duke Ellington’s composition, “I Let a Song go out of my Heart.”   He also includes several original compositions by his pianist, Ronny Whyte including, “The Party Upstairs” where Harry Allen plays a jazzy saxophone solo and “Linger Awhile” with lyrics by Roger Shore.  Ronnie Whyte is one of the last of the popular piano bar performers and sometimes is referred to as a saloon singer.  He’s a wonderful accompanist.  In 2013, Cassara released his first CD titled, “Sister Moon.”  In 2014, he debuted his Bobby Troup Project and vocalist, Ben Cassara continues to perform in venues around the New York tri-state area while promoting his latest release, “What a Way to Go!”

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RAMANA VIEIRA – “TUDO DE MIM (ALL OF ME)” – Independent Label

Ramana Vieira, piano/vocals/composer/backing vocals/programed strings; David Parker, bass/co-producer/arranger/backing vocals/drums/keyboards; Jeff Furtado, guitar/lead vocals; Jose Luis Iglesias, guitar; Earl Jackson, percussion/drums; John Clark. Bass.

Ramana Vieira presents a collection of Fado songs, some original and some traditional, inclusive of the historic music that was born back in the 1820s, when Fado was developed as the folk music of Portugal. Vieira is not from Portugal, but is American and hails from Northern California, with a heritage of Portuguese descent. Raised in San Leandro, a city just outside of San Francisco, she grew up with a deep love for music. At sixteen-years-old, she discovered Fado music. Vieira has been spreading the culture and music of Fado ever since.  For the past two decades Ramana Vieira has been recording this Portuguese folk music and this is her sixth album. She plays piano and sings in Portuguese and English. Although I do not understand the Portuguese language, there is power and emotion in her delivery.  On her original composition, “Fado La La La” she sings in English. The melody is quite addictive and folksy. Makes you want to sing along. The song titled, “Mother Mary” is listed as an original song, but clearly it’s based on the popular Ave Maria tune. You can’t just change the title of a historic composition like Ave Maria and expect to claim it as your own.

However, for Fado aficionados, songs like “Trago Fado Nos Sentidos,” where José Luis Iglesias shines on guitar, and “Lambada” featuring Jeff Furtado on lead vocals, are both well executed and bring authenticity to a tradition that Ramana Vieira attempts to modernize and reinvent. 

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April 25, 2023

By Dee Dee McNeil

April 25 , 2023


Omer Klein, piano/composer; Haggai Cohen-Milo, bass; Amir Bresler, drums.

Opening with a composition titled, “The Ravens,” this is one of ten songs that pianist Omer Klein has written. It’s a pensive piece, moderate tempo and features Klein’s piano.  On the second cut, “Song No. 2” Amir Bresler’s drums soak up the spotlight, introducing the tune and he provides a solid pavement beneath the trio’s journey as they plow ahead. This song, with all its Thelonious Monk qualities, immediately catches my attention and becomes one of my favorites on this production.  Israeli-born Omer Klein, currently based in Frankfurt, Germany, has been playing with his trio members for a decade. At this point, they are not only musical partners, they are also three good friends. On Klein’s “¾ Mantra” tune, bassist Haggai Cohen-Milo takes a provocative solo and Amir Bresler is rock steady on drums.  The way children build with Legos, Omer Klein uses his creativity and piano technique to build his compositions like bricks and mortar, creating towers of melody with arrangements that spiral. For example, on the song “Cantando” the arrangement is fused with Latin rhythms.  His piano sets the scene, unraveling like a foreign film in black and white. The time and tempo challenge the ear, the way a foreign language might need translation with strips of closed captions running across the base of the film screen. Also, during the production of the song, “One Step at a Time” you will hear this technique once again, as he builds the song dramatically, than quietly ends it.

“In the past few years, I’ve learned how to achieve more control … while at the same time, letting go.  That’s precisely what improvising means for me.  It’s as though I’m writing a novel and changing the plot in real time while I’m writing,” Klein explains.

His song, “One Step at a Time” is rooted in classical music and quite beautiful.  It steps away from the classical genre halfway through the arrangement, placing one leg knee-deep into the jazz idiom. Klein’s music is a melting pot of cultures and influences. Omer and his trio hope you find “Life & Fire” to be as eclectic as they are and that the music embraces you with a message of diversity and unity, one step at a time.

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John Pizzarelli, guitar, vocals; Isaiah J. Thompson, piano; Michael Karn, double bass.

On April 21, 2023, Palmetto Records released John Pizzarelli’s album called “Stage & Screen.” This project celebrates songs from Broadway musicals and Hollywood films.  Pizzarelli opens with the familiar “Too Close for Comfort” singing and playing the tune to spotlight his smooth, singer/songwriter kind of voice and his brilliant guitar skills.  This tune is plucked from the 1956 musical, Mr. Wonderful.  In a sweet way, it’s a tribute to his famous father, Bucky Pizzarelli who performed it with iconic sax man, Zoot Sims. John had been intrigued with a video of that performance for years.  The happy little song called “I Like Betsy” is a Jason Robert Brown tune with a wonderful lyric, some of which was updated into a concise three-verse song that happens to mention the love that Beyonce and Jay Z have for each other, bringing the song’s message into the twenty-first century.  Some of the lyrics read:

“I like taxis, I like trains, I like Brooklyn when it rains, but I love Betsy. I like walking after dark.  I like jogging past that park, but I love Betsy.  … Just like Jay Z and Beyonce, I will make her my fiancé, I love Betsy and she loves me.”

One of the things that endears me to John Pizzarelli’s mad talent is the way he scats along to his guitar improvisation so fluidly, as though the notes are penned across his brain, a comfortable music-stand in his mind.  To form the trio, he is joined by bassist Mike Karn and piano player, Isaiah J. Thompson.  Karn has been performing with Pizzarelli for seven years, with Thompson adding his amazing piano skills to the mix for the past three years.  They make for a tight and inspiring trio. Each takes a solo on “I Want to be Happy” played at a speedy, swinging tempo, and explicitly shows the listening audience their individual talents.  Pizzarelli’s seven-string guitar mastery is prominent during this sparkling arrangement.   John incorporates several songs from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical “Oklahoma!” that he wraps into a creative arrangement he calls “Oklahoma Suite.”  Michael Karn uses his bow to pull a beautiful, double bass solo into my listening space.  They open the medley with “Oh What a Beautiful Morning,” and also incorporate “People Will Say We’re In Love” along with “The Surrey With the Fringe on Top” into Pizzarelli’s Oklahoma Suite. These songs, along with other Oklahoma show tunes, celebrate the genius of Rogers & Hammerstein on this, the first Broadway score they had ever collaborated on together.  I love John’s silky-smooth ballad rendition of “Tea for Two” that also includes the rarely heard verse.  Written by Vincent Youmans, with lyrics by Irving Caesar, this popular song was introduced in May of 1924 during a Chicago premier of the pre-Broadway musical, “No, No, Nanette.” Pizzarelli is quite a crooner on this tune.  John Pizzarelli has been heralded as a singer and guitarist who has “… reinvigorated the Great American Songbook and re-popularizing jazz” says the Boston Globe.  He continues that important journey here, striding along the path with nimble fingers, his seven-string guitar singing and swinging, while also featuring his awesome vocal talents.  You will enjoy every song this trio plays.

“The idea of taking these songs out of the context of their shows or movies was interesting to me.  With a new arrangement you can change the meaning of a song.  That’s what we’ve been doing all of our lives as jazz musicians, trying to figure out how to make these classic songs different, whether it’s a songbook standard or a Beatles hit.  It’s always a lot of fun,” Pizzarelli concludes. 

I concur.

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Anthony E. Nelson, tenor saxophone/composer; Kyle Koehler, Hammond B3 organ; Cecil Brooks III, drums.

The smooth, illustrious sound of Anthony E. Nelson Jr.’s tenor saxophone is music to my ears.  With this wonderful new album, he is bringing homage to some of the great jazz organ trios that were hugely popular in the 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s.   Nelson has a sound that’s warm and fluid.  He reminds me of Gene Ammons, without the thick blues inflections.  Ammons was one of my favorite jazz saxophonists back-in-the-day, so comparing Mr. Nelson to Ammons is a huge compliment.

“The organ was a big part of my church upbringing and a big part of the music education I received in the clubs in Harlem and New Jersey.  I have also played on numerous organ trio gigs.  For this album, I wanted to honor the cats who knew how to do an organ trio right.  But I also wanted to pay homage to the great sax players that shaped my understanding of the music.  I have great love for artists like Gene Ammons, Houston Person, Stanley Turrentine, and other sax giants without whom I wouldn’t be the musician I am today,” Anthony E. Nelson Jr. explains.

This is Nelson’s fifth CD release as a leader. Not only does he play a mean tenor saxophone, but the artist is also competent on flute, clarinet, and bass clarinet (although these instruments are not played during this album). 

Nelson and his swinging trio open this project with a song made famous in the 1960s, on a Prestige album I owned by Gene Ammons titled, “Boss Tenor.”  Nelson’s treatment of the song is smooth and liquid as olive oil.  His tenor saxophone just slides through the chord changes.  Neal Hefti’s “Girl Talk” is always a crowd pleaser, with Nelson giving it a very bluesy feel and inviting Kyle Koehler into the spotlight on his Hammond B3 organ.  Koehler does not disappoint.  He is a New York City first-call player and when Anthony E. Nelson Jr., and drummer Cecil Brooks III invited him to join them in the studio, he agreed.  It was a situation where Cecil had come into town from the West Coast and looked up his former student, Nelson Jr.  Cecil suggested they record while he was in town, and the rest is history.  Nelson composed “Uno Mas Por Roberto” for his uncle Bob, who speaks fluent Spanish. Cecil brooks III shines on the drums during this arrangement, pumping energy into the piece that swings with a Latin persuasion. There is a variety of good music on this album.  The trio sounds like they’ve been together forever, even though this was a happenstance recording.  Anthony E. Nelson Jr. brings his A-game, soaking his tenor saxophone solos in deep gospel juices and exposing blues roots on tunes like “These Foolish Things.” I used to love to hear Joe Williams sing this old standard. A talented saxophonist, Nelson plays this music like he, himself, is singing the lyrics and to my ears, that makes him a super sensitive and emotional player.   

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April 15, 2023

By Dee Dee McNeil

April 15, 2023

CHET BAKER – “BLUE ROOM” –  Jazz Detective

Chet Baker, trumpet/vocals/composer; Phil Markowitz, piano; Jean-Louis Rassinfosse, bass; Charles Rice, drums. 2nd DISCFrans Elsen, piano;  Victor Kaihatu, bass; Eric Ineke, drums.

Nearly thirty-five years after his passing, people still revere and search for music by trumpeter, Chet Baker.  In 1979, possibly at one of the peaks in his illustrious career, Baker recorded at VARA Studio 2 in Hilversum, the Netherlands.  Some forty-four years later, thanks to Frank Jochemsen of the Netherlands along with Jazz aficionado and producer, Zev Feldman, who stumbled across these pristine tapes, we have the “Blue Room.”  With partners Jordi Soley, Carlos Agustin and Elemental Music, Zev has released a double set album of Chet’s historic music from the 1970s VARA Studio Sessions in Holland.” 

One disc was recorded in 1978 during November and December, while the other was recorded in March and April of 1979.  In the 1970s, Chet Baker was particularly prolific and toured non-stop, blazing a trail of recordings across Europe and even when playing the same tunes in concert, they were never identical.  Baker continued to surprise his audiences with his creativity, performing to stellar, sold-out concerts.  On this album you will hear American pianist, Phil Markowitz, (twenty-something at the time). The young player must have been thrilled to be touring with Baker.  On bass, Chet invited Jean-Louis Rassinfosse from Belgium (another twenty-eight-year-old) and old-timer Charlie Rice on drums, who had been his drummer in New York in 1964 and 1965.  Chet Baker had recorded the popular “Baby Breeze” album in 1965 with Charlie.  This was after spending a poorly spent year-and-a-half in a Lucca Italian prison for drug use.

Although most of his adult life Chet Baker fought for sobriety, a heroin habit is difficult to break.  Still, his artistic fortitude and God-given talent prevailed and is clearly visible on this album.  His music hangs like precious diamond earrings, sparkling to my ears.  On the Burke/Van Heusen tune “Oh, You Crazy Moon,” Chet’s warm vocals are like butter.  He sings and scats and plays his horn in an easy, uninhibited way.  Baker’s interpretation of the Miles Davis tune “Down” is stellar.

The second disc continues with the same quartet performing Chet Baker’s “Blue Gilles” composition that lasts nearly eleven well-played minutes.  It begins with Baker’s solo horn telling hiss story in crisp, clear tones. When the band members enter, the tune moves from ballad to slow swing.  The second tune is the familiar “Nardis” composed by Miles.  The bassist and a musician who worked with Baker from 1976 to 1985 recalls playing with the gifted trumpeter on this particular project.

“He was in very good shape. He had good chops on these recordings … being able to record with Chet Baker was an honor.  I learned half of what I know in music through Chet Baker,” Rassinfosse said.

After the first two tunes on Disc #2, the personnel changes.  Frans Elsen takes over at the piano and brings a more bluesy approach to his jazz accompaniment.   Victor Kaihatu mans the bass and Eric Ineke is on drums.  This group begins with Chet Baker singing Candy in his own inimitable way.  They then take a “shuffle” groove on the tune “Luscious Lou” and you hear how blues fused Frans Elsen is, as Chet perhaps turns back the clock to 1956 when he first played this tune with his band and tenor saxophonist Phil Urso, who (by the way) composed this song. I thoroughly enjoy their arrangement. 

There’s a CD sized booklet included in this double disc package that gives outstanding, historic information about these various studio sessions.  With this new trio of musicians, Chet Baker had no chord changes documented.  Like many of the American Jazz musicians, he expected these new, European players to hear his melodic phrasing and improvise, but it wasn’t that simple.  The rhythm section had to figure out what the trumpet player wanted and that took more time than the former musicians who were familiar with his work.  You won’t notice this, because the playing is smooth and well connected. But this is because they rehearsed before recording.  Baker sings “My Ideal” as cut number five and then they close the album out with “Old Devil Moon” played at a fiery, up-tempo speed where Victor Kaihatu walks his bass briskly beneath the Eric Ineke swinging drums. 

Born in 1929, Chet was christened Chesney Henry Baker Jr. and lived, as an only child, on a farm outside Yale, Oklahoma. His mom had him when she was eighteen and worked at a local perfumery, while his dad was a part time Country/Western musician and jack-of-all-trades to make ends meet.  The enclosed booklet tells wonderful and insightful stories about Chet Baker, his history and his musicianship.  There are in-depth antidotes given by the various musicians on these historic studio tapings. 

Chet Baker made his tragic transition on May 13, 1988 when he toppled from his second floor hotel room window to the street below.  He was well known by the neighborhood, sitting on the windowsill, hunched over his horn and blowing trumpet beauty into the wind.  His legacy is captured in numerous books, recordings and films, and this newly released CD entitled “Chet Baker Blue Room” is another piece of a complicated but beautiful jazz puzzle.

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TOM COLLIER – “BOOMER VIBES – VOL. 1. “ –  Summit Records

Tom Collier, Vanderplas electric vibraphone/acoustic vibraphone/marimba/piano/Wurlitzer electric piano/Rhodes electric piano/organ/synthesizer/synth bass/ drums/drum programming; Eddie “Pick” McCord, guitar; Ed Kraft, acoustic bass.

Vibraphonist, Tom Collier has spent the last forty years of his life in the music business.  This album is one of three albums that will be issued on Summit Records, documenting songs that were important during his life story.  This album, Volume One, choses songs from the 1960s through the 1970s. Collier calls this his ‘do it yourself’ album because he plays multiple instruments. He only enlists musicians on two of the tracks, a guitarist on Track #2, “At Last” and he adds Ed Kraft on acoustic bass on the song, “Just a Little Lovin.”  Collier plays the first tune solo, overlapping instrumentation to play his version of Frank Zappa’s “Magic Fingers” tune. In 1975, he arrived in Los Angeles from Seattle and was hired by a studio percussionist named Emil Richards to sub for him. Collier discovered it was at Frank Zappa rehearsal, where Zappa was preparing for an orchestra concert at Royce Hall on UCLA’s campus. Tom was thrilled to be working with the legendary musician.  Little did he know that Zappa was also impressed to work with Tom Collier.  It seems Zappa noticed that Tom Collier could play the rather complex percussion parts without any problem.  A few months later, Tom Collier got a call to join the “Mothers of Invention rehearsal” and, when Zappa’s mallet player and percussionist left that band, Frank offered the gig to Tom Collier.  Unfortunately, at that time it just wasn’t the best fit for Collier to accept Zappa’s offer. But he always loved Zappa’s music and it shows during this funk-driven, contemporary music production. Tom plays all the instruments; bass, bass synthesizer, electric piano, marimba, acoustic vibraphone, and Vanderplas electric vibraphone.  It’s a very impressive production.  On Track #2, that features the R&B standard, “At Last,” Tom invites Eddie Pick McCord on guitar to fatten the arrangement.  Believe it or not, way before Etta James wrapped her emotional delivery around this ‘doo-wap’ tune, it was recorded in 1942 by the Glenn Miller Orchestra. 

“… My recording of the song is somewhat patterned after Etta’s recording and I was inspired to emulate her bluesy vocal style on the least likely of blues instruments, the marimba,” Tom shared.  

Collier covers Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now,” Thom Bell and Linda Creed’s “People Make the World Go Round” and several other songs from the 60s and 70s, including Mick Jagger’s famed “Wild Horses.”  Although the multi-tracking process is easier today, with the advent of computer-based recording technology, I still prefer the warm sound of analog tracks and the camaraderie of live musicians. Still, Collier is exposing the beauty and creativity he has inside of himself using this technique.  The music pours out of him like a rainbow as he plays every instrument, with the exception of the two tracks I mentioned earlier. This is a celebration, by a talented vibraphonist and multi-talented musician, that spotlights his ability to create product as a solo multi-instrumentalist.

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DAVE BASS – “THE TRIO Vol. 3” – Dave Bass Music

Dave Bass, piano/composer; Kerry Kashiwagi, double bass; Scott Gordon, drums; SPECIAL GUEST: Barry Finnerty, guitar.

Pianist and composer, Dave Bass, offers us his latest release, the sixth CD as a bandleader, and it celebrates “The Trio” as a Volume three.  Volume two was released in 2022 and Volume one hit the market in 2021.  All were very well-received and I’m certain this one will be also.  Bassist Kerry Kashiwagi and drummer, Scott Gordon both appeared on the first two trio albums mentioned above.  Barry Finnerty, who has recorded with Miles Davis, the Brecker Brothers, Hubert Laws and Ray Barretto, adds spice to this production playing guitar.

The Dave Bass name may sound familiar to Californians.  In 1996 Bass was a Deputy Attorney General with the California Office of the Attorney General.  He eventually joined the Civil Rights Enforcement and was knee-deep in his legal career when he rediscovered his piano chops. In the 1970s, he was part of the vibrant San Francisco jazz scene, including Latin music and Dave led his own group.  He often found himself in the company of good friends and fellow musicians like Babatunde Lea, jazz vocalists Jackie Ryan and Bobby McFerrin.  Unexpectedly, Dave Bass took a bad fall, fractured his wrist, and that stopped his piano playing.  He was shocked when doctors told him he would never play again.  That led him to UCLA School of Law and a whole new world. 

Unexpectedly, in 2005 he realized indeed, he could play again; he would play again, and Dave Bass returned to music. Bass was attending a party when the guest asked him to doodle on the piano a few tunes. Hesitantly, Dave took up the challenge and was well received. Thus, his return to the piano instrument and music career he loved stemmed from that experience.  This album reflects his appreciation of pianist, composer Thelonious Monk.  The trio plays “Criss Cross” and “Played Twice,” with Dave Bass sounding stellar on piano.  Bass has contributed three original songs to this project; “Endless Waltz,” a song with lyrics that jazz singer Karrin Allyson sang on one of her recordings, and a Straight-ahead arrangement of “Agenbite of Inwit” whose title puzzled me.  I did some research and discovered this phrase literally means the ‘again-biting of inner wit’ and was taken from a James Joyce book, where the phrase means “Prick of conscience.”  Guest star, Barry Finnerty adds a blistering guitar solo to this arrangement. The final original is titled, “Another Ending.  The trio played “With A Song in My Heart” and Kerry Kashiwagi sparkles during his solid bass solo.  This trio definitely put a song in my heart. All three of these gentlemen exhibit efflorescence and mastery of their instruments.  Together they offer us nearly an hour of stellar performances and awesome music.  Their album’s release date is May 12, 2023.

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Scott Petito, bass/piccolo bass/bass loops/bass guitar/piano/composer; Bob Mintzer, EWI/soprano saxophone; Randy Brecker, trumpet; Anna Maria Jopek, vocals; Rachel Z Hakim & Kevin Hays, keyboards; Mike Mainieri, vibraphone; Steve Gadd, Omar Hakim, Peter Erskine & Simon Phillips, drums; Larry Grenadier, bass; Bashiri Johnson & Minu Cinelu, percussion.

Scott Petito is a talented composer.  He has penned seven of the eight contemporary pieces on this production.  He is also a gifted musician who plays several bass instruments and the piano. His “Many Worlds” project is an opportunity for the bandleader to show off his skilled production chops and his engineering vulnerability, as he capitalizes on the pandemic days. Days that locked down so many creative musicians in their home studios. Scott has created a delicious mix of tunes and included musical friends who came together like salt and pepper to season this contemporary jazz stew.  The opening tune, “Dabwala,” incorporates vocals with the instrumental mix, introducing a floaty, warm, medium tempo tune featuring a lovely melody. Bashiri Johnson provides percussion that pushes the production forward along with legendary drummer, Steve Gadd.  Rachel Z Hakim provides a jazzy keyboard solo, showing off her improvisational skills and lifting the arrangement.  This is followed by “The Alchemist,” a much more funk-based ballad that immediately has your toes tapping.  It made me want to slow dance with somebody, as Omar Hakim slaps the two and the four into place.  Randy Brecker takes a brief, but power-driven solo on trumpet.

One thing that is perfectly clear. Scott Petito is an amazing composer and producer.  This album is beautifully produced and each song is like a perfectly cut diamond sparking in a necklace of sound. Here is an album of contemporary music that incorporates fusion, funk, Latin licks and R&B grooves to create a solid package representing “Many Worlds.”

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Ikue Mori, electronics; Christian Pruvost, trumpet/flugelhorn; Natsuki Tamura, trumpet; Satoko Fujii, piano; Peter Orins, drums.

A door creaks open.  The hinges sound rusty. Then a cold wind races inside and startles the floorboards alive.  So begins the album of Kaze & Ikue Mori, titled “Crustal Movement.”  Enter the trumpets, with Christian Pruvost and Natsuki Tamura bringing melodic sound excursions into the room, blowing wildly with the wind. Ikue Mori, who is a master of electronics, chases the horns around the space with provocative synthesizer sounds and rhythms.  Peter Orins adds his drum improvisations and a nearly twelve-minute composition titled, “Masoandro Mitsoka” transports me to another time and place. 

They recorded in Kobe, a city I’ve visited in Japan, famous for its Kobe beef and Japanese rice wine called sake. Satoko Fujii plays every part of the piano, the keys, the strings.  Kaze is a collective group of musicians who each bring a composition to the remote studio.

“We all composed a structure and made a blueprint.  In most cases, we made a chart on paper, not on music paper.  The blueprints have time durations and instrumentation and some instructions. For instance, play fast or play quietly,” Fujii explains.

This is contemporary, Avant-garde jazz.  If you have viewed the Kaze players ‘live,’ you may find this music to be a bit more conservative and quieter than their on-stage intensity.  Satoko Fujii is often referred to as one of the most brilliant and original voices in jazz today.  She has recorded over 100 albums as a bandleader during the past two and a half decades. In 2020, she became the recipient of the “Instant Award in Improvised Music.”  Natsuki Tamura is internationally applauded as one who has mastered Avant-garde rock, and jazz fusion.  Since 2005, he has focused on blending European folk music and sound abstraction with artists like Gato Libre.  He’s recorded four albums of solo trumpet and is a frequent member of Satoko Fujii’s impressive bands.  Christian Pruvost is also a trumpeter, a composer and improviser who is quite inventive and serves as Artistic Director for multiple projects. Peter Orins is a French drummer who has been playing experimental jazz music since the mid-1990’s. Since 2004, Orins has managed an artist-run record label that has released over 100 recordings.  Ikue Mori relocated from Tokyo to New York in 1977 and played drums in a band she formed called “No Wave Band DNA.”  Her radical rhythms caught the attention of anyone who heard her play.  In the 1980s, she incorporated her creative ideas into electronic drum machines and then moved to laptop computers to expand on her signature sound.  Together, this unusual quartet, along with Ikue Mori, create an exploration of tones, sounds, rhythms, melodies and free-falling ideas that rain across the airwaves like a tropical storm, hot and intense.  As we are drenched in the sound storm, the creativity encourages us to let the Avant-guard compositions soak us to the bone. 

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JASON KUSH – “FINALLY FRIDAY” – Independent Label

Jason Kush, tenor saxophone; Alton Merrell, piano; Jeff Grubs, bass; David Glover, drums.

Dr. Jason Kush is an active saxophonist, an educator, a prolific composer and he has penned every tune on this album. Dr. Kush has extensive experience as an orchestral musician.  In 2013, he established the Three Rivers New Music Consortium.  It is an international, non-profit organization with a goal to unite musicians, arts enthusiasts, and musical composers in a common quest for newly composed music.  Kush earned his Doctor of Musical Arts degree in Saxophone Performance from the University of Miami and this album reflects both his awesome talent on the tenor saxophone, but also celebrates his composer skills. 

From the first flurry of notes on “Hasty J” Dr. Kush makes it plain that he is in it to win it.  The quartet comes out swinging harder than Muhammad Ali on this tune and it is so well-written, I thought it was a standard jazz song.  Alton Merrell is Stellar on piano and takes a burning hot solo. The group is propelled by the flying drum sticks of David Glover.  This is one of those albums that will just, plain make you happy.  The title tune follows and it is well written and engaging, with Jason Kush taking an explosive solo towards the end of the arrangement.  Other favorites on this album are: “Slipping Through the Cracks” that gives drummer David Glover an opportunity to step center stage and show off his drum chops during this Straight-ahead arrangement. “With Thoughts of Agnes” is a pretty ballad and “Easy Going” is a slow swing with a catchy melody.  Jeff Grubbs takes a bass solo that dances across the room, smooth as Fred Astaire.  They close with “Razor Burn” which is fiery hot and played at a speedy tempo, just the way I like it. There’s something for every jazz lover on this album, and it’s all original music that’s well-written and pleasant to the ear.

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Bill Warfield, trumpets/flugelhorn/orchestra leader; Chrissi Poland, vocals; Matt Owens, trumpets/flugelhorn; John Eckert, flugelhorn; Colin Brigstocke, trumpet; Pete Brainin, alto saxophone; Lou Marini, alto saxophone/flute; Dave Rickenberg, tenor saxophone/clarinet/flute; Kurt Bachur, baritone saxophone; Matt Hong, baritone saxophone/alto saxophone/flute; Charley Gordon, trombone/bass trombone; Matt Chertkoff, guitar; Cecilia Coleman, piano; Paul Shaffer, Hammond organ; Steve Count, bass; Scott Neumann, drums;

Bill Warfield’s Funk Orchestra begins their album with a message to the world featuring Chrissi Poland singing, “I Wish I Knew How it Would Feel to be Free.”  I enjoyed their arrangement of the Flora Purim and Stanley Clarke composition, “Light as a Feather” and was genuinely impressed with their funky big band interpretation of the James Brown/Pee Wee Ellis medley of “Cold Sweat/I Got the Feeling.”  The orchestra’s interpretation of the Temptation’s big hit, “Just My Imagination” features Chrissi’s sweet and capable vocals again, with the Motown string lines that everybody loves echoed by the orchestra.  There are other gems like Percy Mayfield’s “Please Send Me Someone to Love” and Bacharach and David’s “Alfie” composition. 

“My interests are so varied.  I love classical music.  I love commercial music.  With this band and these horns, I can do anything I want,” Bill Warfield praised his orchestra members.

This album is like the title says, a “Time Capsule” of the orchestra leader’s greatest musical influences that have become the soundtrack of his life and experiences.

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April 1, 2023

By Dee Dee McNeil

April 3, 2023

WALTER BISHOP JR. – “BISH AT THE BANK” Reel to Real Recordings

Walter bishop Jr., piano; Harold Vick, tenor & soprano saxophones/flute; Lou McIntosh, bass; Dick Berk, drums.

Walter Bishop Junior’s group opens with a powerhouse, speedy arrangement of “Secret Love” using the opening verses to feature Harold Vick on tenor saxophone.  These are tapes from 1966 and 1967, protected and treasured by the Left Bank Jazz Society, founded in 1964.  The group used to put on concerts at a local bar called the Club Owl hole.  It drew perhaps one hundred to a hundred-and-fifty people max.  The jazz concerts became so popular that they expanded to a dance hall called the Famous Ballroom, on Charles Street in Baltimore, Maryland, where the capacity increased to twelve or thirteen hundred people.  The only drawback was that the club was on the second floor and with no elevator, the musicians hated climbing those stairs to the venue.  None the less, once the music began, everyone was happy. 

The third track is their rendition of the familiar “Days of Wine & Roses” played as a swing arrangement.  On August 28, 1966, Walter Bishop and his talented New York band made their debut appearance for the Left Bank Jazz Society first, at The Madison Club.  Luckily, someone was on-hand to record this historic performance. Later, the band would also perform at the Famous Ballroom. Bishop’s reputation proceeded him as a bebop pianist with close ties to such icons as Miles Davis and Kenny Dorham who he recorded with, along with Percy Heath and Philly Joe Jones.  The Junior of his respected ASCAP songwriting father, Walter Bishop Sr., (from Barbados) seemed destined to pursue music.  It’s no wonder that a young Walter fell in love with jazz when he first heard Charlie Parker in 1944 at a St. Nicholas Arena jam session.  After spending two years in the Air Force, he plunged into the Harlem jazz scene and hung out with Sugar Hill folks like Sonny Rollins, Arthur Taylor and Jackie McLean, who were also young brothers coming up in the music business.  By 1948, the great Art Blakey picked Bishop out to join his Jazz Messengers recording session for Blue Note and by 1950, Walter Bishop Jr. was a New York first-call pianist.  He was a lover of Bud Powell, and like Powell, Bishop brought dynamic and emotional attacks to the piano keyboard.

“I started out copying Bud lines, and I got to a point where I learned how to think in those terms, so I didn’t have to rely on copying any more.  One night, Bud paid me a hell of a compliment.  I think I was working with Miles and Max and Tommy Potter at the Three Deuces, and he was there.  He said, Man – – that was weird.  It’s like hearing myself play, but you weren’t playing the same notes.  Bud wasn’t quick with compliments.  He was telling me that I had branched off on more or less my own path,” Walter Bishop Jr. recalled in his liner notes.

This is a two-disc-set that keeps you entertained and mesmerized through every single song.  You’ll hear gems like “If I Were A Bell” by Frank Loesser and Miles Davis’s “So What” and the Davis composition “PFrancing (No Blues)”.  They interpret “Willow Weep for Me” as a jazz waltz with Bishop’s two-fisted approach both dynamic and inspired. 

Walter Bishop Jr., died in 1998, but left behind a trail of amazing recordings to affirm that he was here. When he played piano, he brought something fresh to the stage, proficient in style and technique on his instrument.  He was one of the first beboppers of his generation to explore jazz fusion before it became super popular. He also wrote poetry and some of that is included in the liner-note booklet that’s part of this classic CD release.  All you collectors out there need to scoop this historic album up.  It is a piece of music excellence you will enjoy playing over and over again.

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Vince Ector, drums/composer; Paul Bollenback, guitar; Pat Bianchi, organ; Justin Jones, alto saxophone.

In January of 2020, drummer Vince Ector and his trio (plus one), stepped into The Side Door nightclub as part of their tour promoting Vince’s “Theme for Ms. P” album.  It was his first time performing at the familiar club, not as a sideman but as a bandleader.  His friend, jazz aficionado and club owner, Ken Kitchings asked if they would mind him recording the set and Vince responded in the positive.  Sure, go ahead and record it, he told Kitchings.  This product is the result of that spectacular night. 

Their opening tune shuffles in, an original song by Ector titled, “South Philly Groove.”  Young musician, Justin Jones joined the trio + at the last minute to replace ailing saxophonist, Bruce Knowing.  Bruce sent his student to sub for him, and the young man did a wonderful job.  The rhythm section is so strong, what else could the young alto sax player do but dig in and show out!  Pat Bianchi is strong and relentless on organ and Paul Bollenback is a no-nonsense jazz guitarist.  With Vince Ector spurring the band on and inspiring the infectious energy, they gain my complete attention from the first tune forward.  You can hear the ‘live’ audience members shouting out their approval.  The tune, “Sister Ruth” races Straight-ahead and keeps the energy turned up.  The Benny Carter tune, “The Courtship” settles things down to a slow Latin groove.  It shows us how pretty Justin Jones can play his horn.  Bianchi shines, like the star that he is on organ.   They are back to the jazz roots when they cover Dizzy Gillespie’s “Con Alma” tune.  Then they turn the corner onto R&B sweet street and play the most wonderful rendition of “Love Won’t Let Me Wait.”  They ‘shuffle’ the tune, and their arrangement lifts the piece.  It shows both the versatility and the vulnerability of these talented musicians.  Their spontaneous creativity and tight grooves make this project unforgettable and a delightful listening experience.

“This is our gift to those who love the music we make and it’s dedicated to those we lost since the pandemic struck.  This recording is dedicated to the great Philadelphia organists that I was fortunate enough to know, to witness in the clubs of my hometown of Philadelphia, and eventually record with when I moved to the New York area many years ago. A special dedication to my friend, advocate for and grandmaster of the organ, Joey DeFrancesco, whom we lost a few weeks ago, and just a few weeks after we performed together for the last time,” Vince Ector memorialized his departed friend and thanked his supportive audience. 

This is an album worthy of hearing and enjoying, over and over again.  It swings, grooves and just plain makes me happy!

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Sonny Stitt, alto saxophone/composer; Kenny Barron, piano; Sam Jones, bass; Louis Hayes, drums.

First of all, I was thrilled to receive this historic album by one of my all-time favorite saxophone players, the great Sonny Stitt and his all-star quartet.  What a blessing to hear Kenny Barron on piano, Sam Jones on bass and Louis Hayes on drums.  Stitt is a ‘take no prisoners’ kind of guy.  When he walks onto any stage, he intends to burn it up with energy, technique, creativity, and genius.  He’s like a human asteroid streaking across space.  Like Johnny Griffin once said:

“If Sonny Stitt was in town, saxophone players tended to go into hiding.”

This recording is from a 1973 performance, a time when Stitt had returned to his all-acoustic performances.  For a while, he had incorporated electronics into his work, employing the Varitone attachment on both his horns.  I heard that Stitt had appeared at the Left Bank Jazz Concert with Gene Ammons earlier that year and I wish I could get my hands on that recording, if there is one.  Ammons is another favorite of mine.  On that date, his pianist was Cedar Walton, and L.A.’s own drum treasure, Billy Higgins, with Sam Jones on bass. 

Getting back to this recording, although for some time (mostly in the 1940s) Sonny Stitt was compared to Charlie Parker early in his career.  Even though he obviously idolized ‘the Bird,’ on this recording he has clearly mastered his own sound and perfected his outstanding style.  The quartet opens with “Baltimore Blues” that’s just pure Straight-ahead goodness, like a Sunday morning brunch in the church basement.  It is hearty, delicious and packed with flavor.  Sam Jones walks his double bass underneath the relentless and beautiful horn solos.  Louis Hayes pushes the piece forward, holding the up-tempo tune in place masterfully on drums and Kenny Barron thrills me with a piano solo that bursts on the scene after Stitt stops playing and matches the leader’s intensity. This is energetic, invigorating music that swings harder than a Joe Louis punch.  This is how Disc One of this two-Disc set begins, and it never calms down or wavers in offering us the absolute best of jazz.  They play “Star Eyes” and then woo the listener with “Lover Man,” a song Sonny Stitt has played hundreds of times, yet it is always different and always perfect.  They close this set out with “They Can’t Take That Away from Me.”  I slide disc two into my sound system and wait with great anticipation.  They open with “A Different Blues” that’s another Stitt original composition, like the opening tune on Disc One, “Baltimore Blues.”  Next comes the popular “Stella by Starlight” with Sonny Stitt’s saxophone sounding like a storyteller, rich with range, textures and voicings.  Sonny Stitt lights up every composition with his own, multi-colored spotlight, engaging us with his saxophone interpretations. This quickly becomes one of my favorite Sonny Stitt albums.

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TOWNER GALAHER ORGAN TRIO  – “LIVE” – Rhythm Royale Records

Towner Galaher, drums; Lonnie Gasperini, Hammond B-3 organ; Marvin Horne, guitar.

This is a homage to organ trios and the organ masters who made the instrument an important part of jazz music.  Drummer, Towner Galaher has included the compositions of organ icons like Jimmy Smith, Jack McDuff, and Dr. Lonnie Smith.  Galaher’s organist, Lonnie Gasperini, has composed five tunes for the project.  They recorded them during the COVID lockdown at a popular club located in New London, Connecticut.  Owner, Jack Chaplin, was a big jazz enthusiast and let the band use his facility for recording sessions.  Unfortunately, Mr. Chaplin passed away in 2021 and the club closed down.  Galaher called the tunes and the band played like they were entertaining a full house. Guitarist Marvin Horne and Galaher have been playing together for over fourteen years.

“After sharing the bandstand for so many years, we’ve developed a kind of telepathy.  We didn’t even need to rehearse for this recording.  We are so familiar with each other’s style and approach, that we were locked in from the very first downbeat,” Galaher praised his fellow musician.

Gasperini composed the opening tune, “One for McGriff” (as a tribute to Jimmy McGriff) and the trio truly swings on this one.  They cover the Little Willie John hit record, “Fever” that Peggy Lee also recorded. The Dr. Lonnie Smith composition, “Norleans” caught my attention. It allowed Galaher to show off his funk chops on the drums and musically spirits us down to New Orleans, Louisiana, reliving some hot, humid, happy Mardi Gras nights. On this arrangement, Galaher using a three-beat pulse called a ‘tresillo’ on his drums.  The addition of “Lover Man” slows the tempo and brightly features Marvin Horne on guitar. But they quickly get back to the danceable blues and shuffle wildly on Gasperini’s composition, “Keep Talkin’” that is a swing dancer’s delight.  “North Beach Blues” is another Lonnie Gasperini composition that swings and uses unexpected ‘breaks’ at the top of the tune to introduce it.  This is a real party pleaser, as is the ultra-funky “Little Bit of This, Little Bit of That.”   “Mellow Mood” is a tune I used to love to hear Jimmy Smith play at his club in Southern California many moons ago.  I’m glad Towner Galaher included it in his album.  Galaher started playing drums at nine years young.  He relocated to New York City in 1986 from Portland, Oregon and dived deeply into the East Coast jazz scene.  The drummer shares his vast percussive knowledge with the youth by teaching music in the NYC Public School system.

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Marc Jordan, vocals/songwriter/piano/ background vocals; Lou Pomanti, piano/bass/composer/ background voices; Bruce Gaitsch, guitar/bass guitar; Mark Rogers, bass; Mark Kelso, Paul Leim, Kevan McKenxzie & Doug Yowell, drums; Roly Platt, harmonica; Scott Alexander, bass; Ezra Jordan, background vocals; John Johnson, saxophone; William Carn, trombone; Randy Brecker & Tony Carlucci, trumpet; Prague Smecky Orchestra, strings.

This is the kind of voice and delivery I am always looking for in a singer. Marc Jordan is honest and emotional, because he’s telling believable stories. Marc Jordan is an artist that is relatable.  This was a touching and beautiful album full of truth and human feeling. 

“This was my first project in the era of COVID, so there were challenges. … I think the music somehow has more urgency as a result,” Marc Jordan wrote in his liner notes

His voice is poignant and moving on a tune titled, “Best Day of My Life.”  Marc and Steven MacKinnon wrote this one and the lyrics are honey sweet and romantic.  The melody is lovely, and the lyrics unfold like a good movie script.  Randy Brecker’s trumpet slides across the arrangement, cool as an Olympic ice skater. 

Marc Jordan is an American-born, native of Brooklyn, New York who is now a Canadian singer, songwriter.  He’s produced records, been a session singer, a musician and an actor.  He’s written songs for a large number of artists including Diana Ross, Chicago, Bette Midler, Rod Stewart and Josh Groban.  I find myself intoxicated by his lyrics and vocal delivery, like when he sings, “Coltrane Plays the Blues” or his song “Waiting for the Sun to Rise.”  This is an album that showcases well-written songs, strong arrangements, relatable lyrics and a vocal that touches the spirit.

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WAYNE ESCOFFERY – “LIKE MINDS” –  Smoke Sessions Records

Wayne Escoffery, tenor & soprano saxophones/composer; David Kikoski, piano; Ugonna Okegwo, bass; Mark Whitfield Jr., drums. SPECIAL GUESTS: Gregory Porter, vocals; Tom Harrell, trumpet; Mike Moreno, guitar; Daniel Sadownick, percussion.

Wayne Escoffery’s latest album release is personal and transitional.  For one, there is a new drummer, Mark Whitfield Jr.  Their former drummer, the great Ralph Peterson, died from cancer in 2021.

“This is a transitional period, for the band and for me,” Escoffery says in his liner notes.

On this project, Escoffery has included a few guest artists.  One of my favorite tunes on this CD is Wayne’s original composition, “Sincerely Yours” that features a dynamic solo by guest guitarist, Mike Moreno and a fast-paced piano solo from David Kikoski.  Mark Whitfield trades fours and shows off his drum skills in a bright and brilliant way.  He was a student of the late Ralph Peterson and Peterson once said that his prize pupil could play everything that he could and then play it backwards. He appears to be merging comfortably into Escoffery’s band, although this journalist is a huge fan of his mentor. No one can really step into those Ralph Peterson big shoes. Clearly, Whitfield will make his own indelible steps and prudently fill his own success space.

The opening song and title tune, “Like Minds” was composed with Whitfield in mind.  It offers a Straight-ahead jazz feel and a complicated melody as a catalyst for this album and a promise of what is to come. Wayne Escoffery’s tenor sax races forward with a no-nonsense attitude, followed by Mike Moreno’s tasty guitar solo.  Escoffery described this composition as “… over the top.  It’s very melodic and fluid, while the underlying content is more intricate.  I really love the sound of tenor and guitar together and Mike has a beautiful sound and facility on the instrument,” Wayne enthuses.  I can also hear Whitfield coloring the tune with his drums and filling in the empty spaces with complimenting and creative drum licks.

Wayne Escoffery has composed several of the songs on this recording including, “My Truth” that is mournful and dirge-like.  Escoffery’s tenor sax cries out in a beautiful, sad and poignant way.  The lyrics express what I felt from his horn when guest artist, Grammy Award winner, Gregory Porter sings: “My truth is love … my truth is freedom … my truth is life … my truth is murder … my truth is war, my truth is peace, my truth is courage, my truth is to be free.”   This song, so full of pain,  has prose lyrics for Porter to explore. Gregory also sings “Rivers of Babylon.”  His tone melts into Escoffery’s harmonic horn and they sound good together.  Whitfield pulls out his mallets and sets a warm, muted tempo on this tune. “Song of Serenity” is a Ralph Peterson Jr. composition and Escoffery paints soprano saxophone colors outside the lines. I love Wayne’s tune, “Treasure Lane” that picks the mood up and waves it like a bright ribbon across space.  Escoffery flies free during this arrangement, his horn reminding me of a nervous moth teasing the flame. The band somewhat settles down on Duke Pearson’s “Idle Moments” tune.  They take a bluesy, ballad break.  Wayne Escoffery closes with his original tune,“Shuffle,” that really isn’t a shuffle, in the jazzy sense that we know it.  Escoffery explains:

“I asked Ralph Peterson to play a shuffle-type groove on this tune.  It was really cool, but the ironic thing is, it’s not necessarily a shuffle.  But I’m happy with how Ralph interpreted it, and then how Mark interpreted it after that.  That’s one of the things I love about working with these musicians.  They take my ideas and run with them.”

Wayne Escoffery explained how this tune developed into a unique arrangement and pretty much how he and his band work together to bring us this amazing music, song by song.

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Curt Miller, trombone/bandleader, composer, arranger; Uli Geissendoerfer, piano; Steve Flora, bass; Larry Aberman, drums; Alex Stopa, percussion. TROMBONES:  Nathan Tanouye, Nate Kimball, Andrew Boostrom, Llai Macaggi; Sonny Hernandez & Ralph Pressler, bass trombone. SPECIAL GUEST: Andy Martin.

Way back in 1962, a musician by the name of Abe Nole formed a rehearsal band with a group of top trombonists who lived in the Las Vegas, Nevada area.  It afforded trombonists an opportunity to play jazz in an after-hours setting once their show gigs were over.  Those late-night sessions are now legendary, and they inspired a popular gathering that supported what is now referred to as the Las Vegas Boneheads.  Today, they are led by trombonist, composer, arranger, Curt Miller.  This is their second album release.  Lee Morgan’s composition, “Ceora” is beautifully arranged by Nathan Tanouye and performed impeccably by the Las Vegas Boneheads. Solos include Nathan, Nate Kimball and Uli Geissendoerfer.  Curt Miller’s composition titled “Samba Deez Bones” is well-written and features Alex Stopa on percussion with ‘bone’ solos by Miller and Tanouye.  Also, pianist, Geissendoerfer shines during his solo improvisation. “Home Again” is an arrangement plush with horn harmonics and features the band’s special guest, Andy Martin.  With new arrangements and a young, fresh generation of enthusiastic trombonists, The Las Vegas Boneheads continue the legend, the legacy and the beauty of a trombone band. They play tunes we know and love like “Skylark” by Hoagy Carmichael and Mercer.  They shuffled the familiar “I Thought About You” tune with a strong, walking bass solo by Steve Flora, and they give a stand-up performance of every band’s favorite tune, “Cherokee.”  This “Sixty and Still Cookin” album gives all jazz lovers and trombone aficionados something to enjoy with great pleasure.

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Steve Smith, drums/composer; Manuel Valera, keyboards/piano/composer/arranger; Janek Gwizdala, electric bass. SPECIAL GUESTS: George Garzone, tenor saxophone; Mike Mainieri, vibraphone.

Opening this CD, the Manuel Valera composition “Emergence” features the drums of Steve Smith that brightly call us to attention. This is an album full of energy, funk and excitement.  I am immediately energized. Steve Smith is a powerhouse drummer with a style of his own.  He has the creativity of a Tony Williams and the technique of someone Art Blakey might have mentored. Manuel Valera is a Grammy nominated pianist and composer, as well as a Guggenheim Fellow. On the second track, a Bud Powell tune titled “Tempus Fugue-It” (which translate to Smith’s album’s title, “Time Flies”).  Manuel Valera is magnificent.  The tune speeds ahead like a spaceship and Steve Smith is the rocket fuel on drums.  Janek Gwizdala has an orchestral approach to music, but he knows how to lay down a deep pocket in the music, as well as being a creative and innovative bass soloist. On the bluesy title tune, He locks into Smith’s drums like super glue. These three talented musicians call themselves “Vital Information.” They add the sexy horn of guest artist George Garzone on tenor saxophone and the party begins!  Break out the balloons and soak up the musical refreshments. I love their arrangement on the old standard, “Darn That Dream.”  It turns the tune into a piece of Straight-ahead art and fusion jazz. Janek Gwizdala takes an impressive electric bass solo and Manuel Valera is a masterful arranger. This trio is just smokin’ hot!  Steve Smith shows off his brush skills during Valera’s arrangement. This album makes for a entirely unique piece of art, like a Tiffany and company necklace. Every tune is a gem.

As a special guest, Steve Smith reached out to his longtime friend, George Garzone.  Celebrated as an inspired improviser, George came by the studio and called Coltrane’s “One Down, One Up” tune.  They played it at a burning hot tempo. When Garzone suggested they place the tune like it was a prayer, the result became a second CD of all improvised, one-take examples of their telepathic musicianship. “Vital Information” blends acoustic, electronics and creativity to play the Coltrane piece in a number of ways.  They change tempos and moods, always entertaining and completely brilliant.  As the listener gets involved, “Time flies.”



March 25, 2023

By Dee Dee McNeil

March 25. 2023


Shirley Scott, Hammond B3 organ; George Coleman, tenor saxophone; Bobby Durham, drums; Ernie Andrews, voice.

To close out Women’s History Month, here is an archival treasure that Zev Feldman and Cory Weed stumbled upon. Recently, they ran into tapes revered and protected by the Left Bank Jazz Society and former LBJS president, John Fowler. Immediately, the two jazz producers recognized their find as an amazing piece of jazz history.  It was August 20, 1972, when the concert was recorded ‘live’ at the Famous Ballroom in Baltimore, Maryland. Now, here’s a double disc set that captures a very special space in time. Shirley Scott was the queen of organ and was a respected musician by the jazz men of that era.  In the liner notes, George Coleman remembered Shirley as a talented musician.

“She was great, man.  She was wonderful, very intelligent and very knowledgeable about harmony and stuff. She played a lot of different little things that I embraced, like some of the triads that she would play on some of the 13th chords.  I was very happy playing those things with her, ‘cause she was really great with the harmony, man, and, you know, she could swing, as you can hear on the album.  We played together with Johnny Hartman too.  She was really wonderful.  I miss her a lot,” George Coleman sang Shirley’s praises.

They open with John Coltrane’s famed “Impressions” tune and the trio is hot and swinging. Shirley lets George Coleman strut his stuff first and he shines on tenor saxophone. Bobby Durham is dynamite and lightening quick on drums. When she enters on organ, the spotlight is all hers.  Scott’s energy blasts through my speakers and her talent is formidable and unforgettable.  Shirley Scott was awe-inspiring!

On the “Never Can Say Goodbye” tune, Bobby Durham cuts loose and his solo is absolutely dynamic and vibrant.  What a talent on those drums!  George Coleman said he was an excellent singer too.  I didn’t know that about Bobby Durham.  Speaking of singers, a wonderful addition to this band was Ernie Andrews. George Coleman said he wasn’t a regular part of the band, but from time to time he would sit-in and he did gigs with them occasionally. Whenever Ernie Andrews took to the stage, he lifted the musical experience up a notch.  The vocalist was a showman and the audiences loved him.  He is featured on “You Don’t Mess Around With Jim” with a great lyric and blues melody by Jim Croce. Ernie knows how to sell a song!  He follows this with “Girl Talk” and a mixed bag “Blues.”

Saxophonist Tim Warfield reflected on hearing Ernie Andrews sing.

“What can I say about Ernie Andrews?  I’ve heard him many times, but I got the chance to play with him at a jam session in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania in my early years.  He sang “All Blues.”  I’ll never forget the feeling that I got hearing Ernie Andrews for the first time and how intense and beautiful it was.  There’s a certain sort of life wisdom that comes through in his vocal delivery that is unmatched.  He was just very soulful, man, you know?  There was a lot of conviction in what he would do.  I used to just watch how the audience would respond,” Warfield told his story in the liner notes.

About Shirley Scott he said, “Sublime! … It’s really difficult to describe Shirley in one word.  There was an honesty in her playing.  There was a soulfulness. ….  Joyful! Yeah, if I were to use one word, that’s probably what I would use. Joyful! Maybe even communal because there were certain consistencies that I just found fascinating.  I’ve never seen people respond the way I saw them respond to Shirley. …  Shirley was a sweetheart.  She was a nurturer. I don’t know if that was her intent, but it’s certainly who she was. … She was an elder.  She was like my aunt,” the saxophonist said.

I’ve not heard an arrangement quite like the one they play on Jimmy Webb’s “By the Time I Get to Phoenix.”  It’s just full of excitement and I feel like when I get to Phoenix there’s going to be a big party, for sure.  Bobby Durham opens a version of “Smile” with a flurry of drum sticks and a solo that sets the tempo out the gate, like a horse on fire.  I have surely never heard Charlie Chaplin’s tune played like this before and it’s awesome!  From beginning to end, this is first class, high energy, unrelenting, honest and Straight-ahead jazz at its best.  It is “Queen Talk: Live at the Left Bank.”

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Ingrid Laubrock, tenor & soprano saxophones/composer; Mazz Swift, violin; Tomeka Reid, cello; Brandon Seabrook, guitar; Michael Formanek, double bass; Tom Rainey, drums.

Those of us living in big city life rarely get a taste of quiet.  It evades us like the plague.  Perhaps we are the plague, the scourge of Mother Earth. Our world is full of helicopter sounds, screams, gun shots, sirens, screech of brakes, angry auto horns and the rumbling of tires against asphalt.  Saxophonist and composer, Ingrid Laubrock, is searching for “The Last Quiet Place” and she uses this project to represent her exploration.  After reading Elizabeth Kolbert’s books, ‘The Sixth Extinction’ and ‘Under a White Sky’ Ingrid Laubrock was inspired to compose these six songs.

“Kolbert explains that there’s very little in nature that is pure anymore.  There is nothing that is untouched or that actually functions as it’s supposed to function.  I was thinking of these places that are no longer pristine and I realized that the only quiet place you can look for is within yourself – – and even finding that seems impossible much of the time,” Ingrid Laubrock muses.

Laubrock’s sextet joins musical talents to interpret her six original compositions, beginning with a song called, “Anticipation.”  The sweet strains of string instruments, featuring Mazz Swift on violin, soar across space. There is the feeling of anticipation in the music. Funny, Laubrock seems less desirous of quiet and serenity in these compositions. Instead, there is a burst of energy and chaotic reality that usurps all concept of quietness and instead seems to magnify tension and the opposite of silence.

“I feel like we’re in turmoil all the time. We’re all addicted to news cycles and constantly online, having signals sent to our brain that we must be alert and worried at all times, when it actually serves us better not to be.  I am always searching to maintain a sense of clarity and focus,” Laubrock states in her press package.

“Grammy Season” is the second cut and it begins with Ingrid Laubrock’s tenor saxophone flying amidst a sea of drum rolls with the help of Michael Formanek’s walking double bass.  The tune is busy and fused together with cello and violin riffs, drum slaps, and dissonant melodies strung together like off-colored pearls. 

The motivation for Ingrid Laubrock to tackle this project came from working with drummer Andrew Drury’s quartet and taking long introspective hikes and bike rides.  Her own drummer, Tom Rainey has been one of Ingrid’s close collaborators for some time.  She snatched up the opportunity to work again with bassist Formanek when he moved back to New York.  Ingrid is an experimental saxophonist and composer who broadly explores her musical realms by creating multi-layered sound plateaus, piled upon each other thoughtfully and provocatively.  She wants to make the listener and the players feel the passion and potential she captures in her compositions.  The title tune, “The Last Quiet Place” is quite beautiful, in its own, unique way.  It blows like a breath of fresh air across the listening space.  Then comes “Delusions” that builds the tension again.  Laubrock says it’s based on the same tone row as the title track.  However, they sound nothing alike, and their moods are entirely and extremely different. Brandon Seabrook’s guitar smashes over the strings, broad and powerful as feet stomping purple grapes, until the mood changes and becomes almost prayer-like. I find great beauty in some compositions like “Afterglow” and the final tune, “Chant II” is a modular piece and she says it was inspired by speech patterns. Laubrock seems to be a master of musical moods, much like Mother Nature, who can cast a dark cloud across the face of a sunny day and throw hail down from the ominous eyes of the skies. Ingrid Laubrock’s music affects me in extreme ways.  Clearly, the notion of “The Last Quiet Place” is as ethereal and absent in this album concept as silence itself.  Still, the beauty of her work shines like moonlight on the lake.

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AYMÉE NUVIOLA – “HAVANA NOCTURNE” – Worldwide Entertainment

Aymée Nuviola, vocals; Kemuel Roig, piano; Lowell Ringel, bass; Hilario Bell, drums; Jose ‘Majito’ Aguilera, percussion; Julian Avila, guitar. Backing vocals: Hilario Bell, Kemuel Roig, Jose ‘Majito’ Aguilera & Lowell Ringel.

Aymée Nuviola is an internationally acclaimed artist who has won multi-GRAMMY awards including Latin Grammy awards.  This artist has consistently kept Cuban music front and center, but also has captivated audiences with her musical versatility. You hear this versatility on the very first tune, “Imagenes” composed by Frank Dominguez.  Her voice dips and dives across the melody.  She scats and sings in Spanish with gusto and emotion.  She is both cool and captivating, surrounded by all-star musicians like Kemuel Roig on piano.  A form of Latin jazz became the heartbeat of Cuba in the late 1940’s into the early 1960’s called ‘Filin’music. In English, the word ‘filin’ translates to feelings. This Cuban music genre started when youthful musicians began to explore Cuban bolero music, seeking more freedom when performing this genre. It was a music greatly influenced by American music, with the spotlight on popular jazz vocalists of that day.  American artists like Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan, even Nat King Cole, helped to popularize the Filin style of song and performance.  The genre blended wholesomely with the Cuban music essence. Folks gathered around this Filin music at social clubs, jam sessions, house parties and concerts. Although Aymée Nuviola was born after that culturally rich filin popularity, she sounds as though she was influenced by it.  In fact, she has earned the moniker, ‘The Voice of El Filin of her Generation.’  One of the pioneers of this bolero-filin genre was a composer named Jose Antonio Mendez and Aymée Nuviola has covered two of his songs on this project; “Novia Mia” and “Me Faltabass tu.”  This Filin movement has sense spread from Cuba to New York, to Mexico and even to Puerto Rico.  Where Bolero music was always danceable, but bolero-filin did not lock the rhythm into perfect place, but often improvised both melodies and tempos. The melodies were often more challenging and complicated. When Aymee sings the Mendez composition, “Novia Mia” she takes vocal liberties and puts the ‘Swing’ into the arrangement after the first few verses that are sung more bolero. Julian Avilla’s sensitive guitar beautifully opens the second Jose A. Mendez tune, “Me Faitabas Tu.”  Lowell Ringel’s bass adds a strong basement to the building that Aymée Nuviola’s voice builds.  Although I do not speak nor understand Spanish, I feel Aymée Nuviola’s music. I connect to her spirit and her emotional delivery.  Sometimes her voice is quite like a horn and extremely jazzy in her presentation.  At times, like her rendition of “Rosa Mustia” I hear snippets of Billie Holiday’s influence. Aymee Nuviola drags us willingly through the enchanting streets of Havana and offers us her take on classic bolero-filin compositions by a dozen famous and legendary Cuban composers.  On “Obsession” (a Pedro Flores composition) she and the band fade into an Afro-Cuban chant towards the end of the arrangement, and Kemuel Roig takes an exciting and splendid solo. When she sings “El Jamaiquino” we are transported to a carnival or a dance, and this arrangement gives Jose ‘Majito ’Aguilera an opportunity to shine on percussion along with drummer, Hilario Bell. This artist has composed one song for this unique project. It’s titled “Quédate” and it starts as a beautiful ballad. Then, quickly doubles the time and adds percussion and guitar to brighten the arrangement.  Background voices smoothly color and fill in the vacant spaces.  Martha Valdés is a female composer from the bolero-filin era, and Aymée Nuviola sings her “Tu no Sospechas” tune to remind us of both history and Aymée’s ability to transform the music into a more contemporary era with her smooth vocals and range. Mr. Roig is such an amazing jazz pianist, that whenever he takes a solo, he lifts the production a notch.  Aymée’s voice spreads the joy around like jelly on sweet bread. 

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Ludovica Burtone, violin/composer; Fung Chern Hwei, violin; Marta Sanchez, piano; Matt Aronoff, bass; Nathan Ellman-Bell, drums; Leonor Falcon Pasquali, viola; Mariel Roberts, cello. SPECIAL GUESTS: Leandro Pellegrino, guitar; Rogerio Boccato, percussion; Sami Stevens, vocals; Melissa Aldana, tenor saxophone; Roberto Giaquinto, drums.

Violinist Ludovica Burtone has composed all but one of the songs on this beautifully produced project.  Ludovica is an Italian violinist with outstanding composer talents, and a history of appearances working in classical quartets, with Brazilian bands and also contemporary jazz.  During this debut project, Ms. Burtone is fusing her passion for string quartet music with a number of guest artists.  They help her interpret the songs on this autobiographical album. “Sparks” tells the story of Burtone’s journey to the United States from Italy and her passage from classical music to jazz, then embracing world music and beyond.  She paints a very personal narrative, spreading her composer colors across the universe with musical notes and rhythm brushes. Ludovica Burtone introduces the listener to global stories, using her violin as the musical pen and ink.  Beginning with “Blazing Sun,” she duets with Fung Chern Hwei on violin and they build and crescendo this original composition, leaving space for Marta Sanchez to brightly solo on piano. The piano upper register improvisation sounds a lot like a jewelry music box.  Track #2 is titled “Sinha” and features Leandro Pellegrino on guitar, with Rogerio Boccato on percussion.  They fatten the sound, like bacon in the stew, bringing flavor to the musical pot.  This is the only composition that Ms. Burtone didn’t write.  It’s a happy-go-lucky tune, showcasing the happiness a violin can bring to your life, and spotlighting an exciting guitar solo by Pellegrino.  On Track #4, “Awakening” Burtone’s special guest, Melissa Aldana soars on tenor saxophone.  I am super impressed with their collaboration.

Ludovica Burtone’s work “Sparks” is sure to catch fire and burn a pathway towards more stories, more dreams, and more brilliant music.

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Hailey Brinnel, vocals/trombone/composer; Silas Irvine, piano; Dan Monaghan, drums; Joe Plowman, bass; Terell Stafford & Andrew Carson, trumpet;  Chris Oatts, alto & soprano saxophones.

The opening tune on Hailey Brinnel’s sophomore album swings and delivers a positive message.  Written by Richard & Robert Sherman, “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” has inspired Ms. Brinnel’s album title, “Beautiful Tomorrow” and it is a great lyrical way to introduce us to this trombonist and vocalist.  Chris Oatts takes a spirited alto saxophone solo after Hailey Brinnel sings the song down once.  Her voice reminds me of the Fred Astaire musical motion picture days.  She has a clear, pleasant tone and enunciates every word, like those actresses in the movies.  I enjoy the horn arrangements that are full and lush, sounding more like six or more horns instead of only three. Critics have regaled her budding talent and praised her versatile arranging sensibilities. Hailey’s style remains true to the old-school, jazz tradition, while incorporating youthful, contemporary nuances. In addition to playing trombone and singing, she is a fine composer. Both the blues changes and the smart lyrics of her original song, “I Might be Evil,” showcase her composer skills. Her trombone solo celebrates her musician strength. She has also composed “The Sound,” a song that spotlights her straight-ahead jazz sensibility. Here is a song where the tempo races and the pulse of the piece pushes the lyrics briskly, like a freight train in a hurry. Dan Monaghan on drums is the steam in the engine, and Joe Plowman on bass takes a noteworthy solo.  This tune sounds like something the late, great Betty “Be Bop” Carter might have written and sung. Hailey Brinnel has a lot of bebop in her style. I enjoyed her take on the Donald Fagen tune, “Walk Between Raindrops,” and once again the horn section shines!  Silas Irvine has a light touch on the piano keys, as though his fingers are skipping.  But don’t get it twisted!  He’s quite tenacious and power-packed with creativity and technique on his instrument. The band flies on “Tea for Two” and Hailey Brinnel sings and scats, showing the world she has roots in both the swing and bebop traditions.

“I like pushing the limits of the idiom, while staying true to jazz,” Hailey states.

She arranged and produced “Wayfaring Stranger” like a New Orleans dirge with Andrew Carson’s trumpet sparkling brightly during his solo. Brinnel’s vocals are sung like a horn, sometimes slamming her upper register in our faces.  She has a good range, but probably needs coaching on those soprano notes and how to elongate them with emotional smoothness and control. This is not meant to be a criticism, but more of an observation. I do enjoy Hailey Brinnel’s tone and her emotional delivery.

I also found her arrangements creative and surprising, like the way she sang “Tea for Two” and “There Will Never Be” by Botkin Jr., and Garfield.  Her trombone carries happiness in its’ bell and spreads it around when she plays “I Want to be Happy.” Irvine’s piano also dances joyfully.  Joe Plowman walks his double bass beneath her interpretation of the familiar tune, “Candy” as they present a stunning duo presentation.  Every song on this album is performed well and gives this listener encouragement that young people are carrying on jazz music in capable hands and good standing. 

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SANAH KADOURA – “DUALITY” – Independent Label

Sanah Kadoura, drums/background vocals/composer/arranger; Flavio Silva, guitar; Michael King, piano/Fender Rhodes/organ; Jonathan Michel, upright bass/electric bass; Virginia MacDonald, clarinet; Rachel Therrien, flugelhorn/trumpet; Stacy Dillard, soprano saxophone; Parham Haghigh & Joanna Majoko, vocals.

Sanah Kadoura is a Lebanese-Canadian drummer, composer, educator and producer.  “Duality” is her second album release and a follow-up to her 2018 release of “Hawk Eyes.”  This time, her concept is the duality of light and dark.   

“As we all navigate through our own internal balance, this album is an offering of healing, guidance and love. We all have our own battles, and I think it’s easier for us as humans to connect with each other through darkness, and find the light together,” Sanah shares her concept for this album.

“The Geminis” is Track #1 of this project and it’s contemporary jazz, featuring Sanah Kadoura compelling on drums, Virginia MacDonald on clarinet and Sanah, Joanna Majoko and Parham Haghigh singing wordlessly, like horns, in the background. This concept is used throughout Kadoura’s recording arrangements.  On the second and third tracks you can hear her Lebanese culture in Sanah’s original compositions.  One of my favorites on this album is Track #4, “Hidden Realities” that is more like Straight-ahead jazz and features a powerful solo by Michael King on piano, along with the inspired soprano saxophone work of Stacy Dillard.  Sanah steps into stage center with her trap drums and shows off both technique and spontaneity.  Track #8 is another thumbs up arrangement, titled “Dijon’ dres Deal” that waves Straight-ahead jazz like a banner above our heads.  It is a refreshing composition, up-tempo and giving both pianist Michael King and soprano saxophonist, Stacy Dillard a platform to speak their musical truths. The final song, “Rise,” features Joanna Majoko on lead vocals and her voice is lovely.  All the songs on this project were composed, arranged and produced by Sanah Kadoura and propelled forward by her astute trap drum skills.

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Alyse Korn, piano/vocals/composer; Robert Kyle, tenor & soprano saxophones/flute/surdo/guiro/ composer; Kevin Winard, drums/percussion; Hussain Jiffry & Ahmet Turkmenoglu, bass; Leonice Shinnerman, tabla; Howard & Phyllis Silverstein, finger snaps.

The first tune on this project is titled, “Gratitude” and its warm, Brazilian arrangement wraps musical arms around me.  Alyse Korn is the composer.  She has a sweet voice that caresses the melody, singing along with the piano part at the top of the song, wordless, but emotional.  Robert Kyle is known for his round, comforting saxophone sound on both tenor and soprano saxophones.  His entry into the song delivers that warmth.  He and the vocalist appear to have a conversation, with the saxophone posing a fluid musical sentence and the voice answering with tone and no lyrics. The simplicity of the arrangement is very affective and rather intriguing.  The next composition is composed by Kyle and this time he pulls out his flute. The thing that both compositions have in common is a sense of comfort, peace and meditation.  This is easy listening, contemporary jazz, strongly influenced by Brazilian and Afro-Cuban music.  Kevin Winard’s drums add ample and creative support throughout.

“There’s a lot of turmoil in the world today.  We hope that when people listen to our music, they will feel the peace that we feel when we play it,” Alyse explains their musical point of view.

Track #3 (“Your Light”) is a lovely ballad with beautiful changes.  Korn’s piano tinkles in the upper register and teases our senses as an introduction.   It makes me want to lean forward to hear what’s coming next on this Robert Kyle composition.  Kyle wrote this song to capture the grace and kindness he finds in Alyse, his wife. The title tune has an intriguing melody and the harmonics that Kyle has in his head are magical and completely on display during this tune. 

Kyle shared, “I’ve made several albums paired with just a guitar or piano, but this one is special because this one is with Alyse, and Tuesday’s Child is our child,” he’s referring to their recently released album.

On the tune called “Blue Jack” Kyle plays his tenor saxophone and tributes his favorite uncle.  This time, the composition is a bit bluesy and finger snaps were a cool way to add a jazzy, club-like ambience to the production.  Turkmenoglu adds his bass to thicken the production.  Hussain Jiffry brings his bass to the party on “Vivian’s Danzon,” however it’s Winard’s tasty percussive licks that wrap this package of Latin goodness with bright ribbon colors.  Kyle’s exquisite flute dances stage center and captivates. Alyse Korn shows off her piano technique during a brief but provocative solo.  Her sensitive touch and under-stated piano technique blends seamlessly with Robert Kyles reed mastery.  Together this husband-and-wife team, project a feeling of tranquility, love and peace of mind.  What more do you need?

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Erica Seguine, composer/arranger/conductor; Shon Baker, composer/alto & soprano saxophone; Carmen Staaf, piano; Evan Gregor, bass; Paolo Cantarella, drums; Eric Burns, guitar; Tammy Scheffer, vocals; Meg Okura, violin/electric violin; Kalia Vandever & Nick Grinder, trombone; Scott Reeves, trombone/alto flugelhorn; Becca Patterson, bass trombone/tuba; Adam Horowitz, Jonathan Saraga, John Lake, & Nathan Eklund, trumpet/flugelhorn; John Lowery, tenor saxophone/flute/clarinet; Andrew Hadro, baritone saxophone/bass clarinet/flute; Peter Hess & Quinsin Nachoff, tenor saxophone/ flute/clarinet; Ben Kono, alto saxophone/flute/clarinet; Remy Le Boeuf, alto saxophone/flute/alto flute/piccolo/clarinet.

In the ever-growing, contemporary, big band jazz scene, the Erica Seguine/Shon Baker Orchestra has made quite an impact.  Since 2011, the co-founders (Erica & Shon) have combined their compositional integrity and masterful arrangements to create a beautiful platform for big band interpretation. In a sea of dissonance and unexpected harmonics, there is a palpable beauty in this project.  The creativity of these seven arrangements pulls at the soul and tantalizes the imagination.  The resulting production is an artistic reflection of the human condition and various cultures. For example, the opening composition by Erica Seguine is titled, “Reel” and has a Celtic influence that almost makes you want to get up and dance a jig.  Eric Burns and Meg Okura are featured, soloing on guitar and violin.  Shon Baker wrote “States” that opens with a music box quality played by Carmen Staff on piano. It is a sweet, sensitive piece of music at first, but quickly builds, expands and adds Tammy Scheffer’s voice that blends with the full orchestra. “Tangoing with Delusion” is a tango written by Erica, that features Shon on saxophone.  The title tune and ballad is written by Shon Baker, with Scheffer singing his poem. In terms of keeping the essence of jazz alive and well, I did not hear one swing tune, or one blues infused arrangement, both which universally represent the roots of  jazz.  However, these are big, bold orchestrations that flow and ebb like the ocean.  With each splash of orchestration comes other unexpected musical surprises.

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Emilie-Claire Barlow, vocals/arranger; Steve Webster, arranger; Reg Schwager, guitar/arranger; Justin Abedin, guitar; Jon Maharaj, bass; Amanda Tosoff, piano/arranger; Chris Donnelly, piano; Hannah Barstow, electric piano; Ben Riley, drums; Kelly Jefferson, tenor saxophone; Celso Alberti, percussion; Drew Jurecko, viola/violins/String arrangement; Lydia Munchinsky, cello; Bill McBirnie, flute; Rachel Therrien, trumpet.

Perpetuating a theme of birds, Emilie-Claire Barlow has created an album featuring her warm, soprano voice.  She has chosen eight songs, most referring to the passerine community.  Track two is sung in French and she sounds lovely singing in that romantic language. Her voice caresses each word in the song, “Fais Comme L’oiseau.”  During this arrangement, her vocals blend beautifully with the sensitive guitar accompaniment of Reg Schwager.  Emilie-Claire’s rendition of Stevie Wonder’s “Bird of Beauty” composition is sung using the Portuguese lyrics of Sergio Mendes, before she breaks into English.  The Brazilian arrangement is wonderful.

Ms. Barlow is not your typical jazz voice.  Emilie-Claire can obviously sing anything and sing it well.  When she vocalizes Gershwin’s “Little Jazz Bird” Barlow adds her own jazz vocalese, singing in unison with the Schwager guitar.  She has added lyrics to the solo instrumental part, in the spirit of Lambert, Hendrix and Ross.  A true jazz singer should be able to improvise as part of the jazz mosaic, and I didn’t hear much of that.  Still, I enjoy this vocalist’s lovely tone and her emotional rendering of each song.  Emilie-Claire closes her unique album singing in, what sounds like Spanish, “Pajaros de Barro.”  During this production, Emilie-Claire Barlow takes us on a journey of birds, spiced with a variety of languages and a voice as pure and natural as the wind itself.  You may find yourself flying along with her on the wings of her songs.

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March 15, 2023

By Dee Dee McNeil

March 15, 2023

They say if the month of March roars in like a lion, it goes out like a lamb.  So far, the new music I have been sent is terrifically innovative and energetic.  These CD’s have blown in like a lion, album after album continues to arrive with music at a high level of innovation and creativity.  Check out these awesome recordings by the masterful pianist, BILLY CHILDS.  Los Angeles guitar player DAVE ASKREN and L.A. based sax man JEFF BENEDICT have produced a new album called “The Denver Sessions” featuring vibraphonist TED PILZECKER, bass man, PATRICK McDEVITT and drummer, PAUL ROMAINE.  An exciting new album by the CHEMBO CORNIEL QUINTET is an impressive production that features Afro-Puerto Rican Latin jazz that promises non-stop energy. THE MOTET is an instrumental group, leaning heavily towards R&B, funk and smooth jazz.  PIERRE L. CHAMBERS is a silky, smooth baritone vocalist with scat as his second language and ERIC REED reflects on the outstanding beauty of African American composers and his own relationship to music reflected on his “Black, Brown and Blue” album.  Finally, JOSÉ LUIZ MARTINS is a Brazilian pianist and composer promoting his “Reflections” CD.


Billy Childs, piano; Ambrose Akinmusire, trumpet; Scott Colley, bass; Brian Blade, drums.

From the very first musical phrase, Billy Childs explores all his brilliance and beauty, not only as an outstanding pianist, but also as a gifted composer. “The Great Western Loop” is the first composition and opens with Childs playing a solo lick that circles the spirit of this song.  It is repeated throughout his arrangement, with Billy’s fingers flying over the 88-keys, showing purpose and determination.  Brian Blade colors the tune on drums, percussively precise with tempo, yet offering a freedom that acts like an impressive adjective in Child’s musical sentences.  When Ambrose Akinmusire joins the trio, his fluid trumpet solo lifts the arrangement another notch.  This is a great Billy Childs composition.  I had to play Track #1 twice.  The title tune follows, settling down the spirit and magnificence of Billy’s premiere song into what begins as a lovely ballad. But like ‘The Winds of Change’ themselves, the listener is invited on a magic carpet ride that dips and dives.  It teases our senses with the dynamic touch of Billy Childs and the energetic way he introduces the melody and mood of this composition.  A jazz waltz spews from the keys and sooths us one minute, before the time signature changes, and the trumpeter blows the waltz away.  The music of Billy Childs is both engaging and unpredictable, in a creative, uninhibited way.  His hands are as powerful as his technique, first tinkling at the melody in the treble clef and then, with full attack, applying classical crescendos.  While improvising with his right hand, his left hand powerfully paws the rhythm track alive, amply assisted by Scott Colley on bass and Blade’s relentless drums.  This is jazz at its finest.

Billy Childs – The End of Innocence (Official Audio) – YouTube

On “The End of Innocence” tune, Colley’s bass solo is innovative. The composition, “Crystal Silence” was so beautiful it made my eyes tear up.  From start to finish, Billy Childs once again shows the universe what a sensitive, masterful pianist he is and, what a magnificent composer he has become.  This is Grammy Award winning music. 

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Dave Askren, guitar/producer/composer; Jeff Benedict, producer/composer; Ted Piltzecker, vibraphone/composer; Patrick McDevitt, bass; Paul Romaine, drums.

Guitarist, Dave Askren and reedman, Jeff Benedict have been making music together in and around the Southern California area for three decades.  This release celebrates their 12th recording partnered together, and their fourth as bandleaders.  Each time they took to the studio, the duo featured a different line-up of musicians.  For this project, they have added New York-based vibraphonist, Ted Piltzecker to the mix, along with drummer, Paul Romaine and bass man, Patrick McDevitt.  Both are from Denver, Colorado.  Paul is a childhood friend of Jeff Benedict’s and a first-call drummer who has toured with Eddie Harris, Benny Golson and James Moody. Benedict earned his master’s degree at University of Denver and spent ten years in Colorado soaking up the jazz scene before relocating to Los Angeles. Their carefully chosen drummer had a warm relationship with Patrick McDevitt (the bass player) and so, he completed their quintet.

“It turned from a recording date into a week-long hang, with a series of gigs culminating in the session,” guitarist Dave Askren reflects. 

Listening to this project, I would never guess that these players barely knew each other musically when they walked into the recording studio.  They exude a warmth and a musical camaraderie that makes this production sound like old friends playing together.  The vibraphonist has composed the fourth cut, “Poised” and it floats and dances across my listening room in a very melodious way.  Beyond being a virtuoso vibraphonist, Piltzecker is clearly a fine composer. Surprisingly, he also earned a degree in trumpet at Eastman School of Music.

“Ted’s always a great hang!  He juggles, he rides a unicycle, he’s a pilot and he just happens to play vibes really well.  He’s a great person to collaborate on music with, because he’s got big ears and listens to all kinds of music,” Jeff Benedict sings the praises of their guest vibraphonist.

Benedict has composed the bluesy “Ennui, Anyone” tune. He adds his saxophone mastery to the mix, soaking up the spotlight like a thirsty sponge.  His horn sets the mood and establishes the groove.  Piltzecker steps right in on vibes and keeps the blues thick and palpable, producing melodic rhythm and laid-back sweetness.  Dave Askren’s guitar is warm and inviting, settling into that slow swing, like a musician reclining in a hammock.  McDevitt takes a brief bass solo and cushions the horn and guitar harmonics that mimic a full horn section.  Askren enhances the slow shuffle groove on his guitar, while the Romaine drums propel their band forward.  This album is packed with music that’s amazingly comfortable.  It’s the kind of jazz that sooths the soul, pulling inspiration from the mid-sixties jazz scene that introduced the world to vibraphone masters like Milt Jackson and later, Bobby Hutcherson. Sometimes it’s reminiscent of the Stan Getz years.

“On the surface there are several different jazz genres thrown together here.  What’s cool is it’s all the same guys with our own styles, so by the end, it really sounds like a band.,” Askren brags, happy with their Denver Session results. 

The camaraderie shared by the members of this band forges a chemistry and a bonding that makes their production completely entertaining and inspired.  From the boisterous “Orange Express” that showcases Paul Romaine’s drum skills, to a more contemporary jazz style. There is the Latin fused, melodic original composition by Benedict dedicated to his mother titled, “Marie Adele.”  You will hear diversity in this project.  For example, Dave Askren’s composition that opens this album, “Jackie’s Idea” is one of my favorite tunes and may be referencing Jackie McLean and recalling his Blue Note Record days of Straight-ahead jazz.  These five musicians bring joy, love and happiness to a project rich with potential.

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Isaiah J. Thompson, piano; Philip Norris, bass; TJ Reddick & Domo Branch, drums; Julian Lee, tenor saxophone.

Isaiah J. Thompson is a rising star.  He’s a blossoming pianist who has already performed with several iconic jazz musicians including Wynton Marsalis, Christian McBride, Steve Turre, John Pizzareli and Buster Williams.  Additionally, Isaiah is a sensitive and prolific composer.  Perhaps you watched him on the NPR Tiny Desk concert.  He has also been a special guest performer at Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra’s “Handful of Keys.” 

Isaiah J. Thompson Quartet: Tiny Desk Concert – YouTube

His album will be released on March 16, 2023, recorded during a live performance at “Jazz at Lincoln Center.”  His stellar album opens with a tune called, “The IT Department” that he released as a single a few weeks ago.  The title is a play on Thompson’s initials and a tribute to his father.  This single release landed Thompson on the cover of “Tidal’s Rising Jazz Playlist.”  Julian Lee’s awesome tenor saxophone solo is as powerful as Isaiah’s piano work.  I enjoyed the way Philip Norris soaked up the spotlight during his bass solo. Isaiah Thompson has the technique and a style that reminds me of Erroll Garner one moment and Cedar Walton the next.  In his press package, Thompson says he admires Bobby Timmons and Phineas Newborn Jr., but clearly, he’s blazing his own path.  In fact, he has composed a song “For Phineas” that opens with the Norris bass front and center.  Playing solo, Philip Norris sets the tone, the groove and the rhythm for this piece before Isaiah and his quartet join in.  It is a very exciting bass solo, played with passion and fervor. When Isaiah enters the piece, his fingers fly as does the tempo, and he mesmerizes with the power of his solo. Drummer, Domo Branch, is given an opportunity to express himself solo and he too is dynamic!  The live audience applauds wildly after this tune.  Another ‘single’ from this album is “Tales of the Elephant and Butterfly.”  Every composition on this album is a testimony to Thompson’s talent and prowess. This is a debut release for Isaiah J. Thompson that reflects spontaneous creativity and spirit.  It introduces us to the depth of talent and power of spirit that Isaiah J. Thompson brings to the music.   Sit back and enjoy!

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CHEMBO CORNIEL QUINTET:  Wilson “Chembo” Corniel, Jr., tumbadoras/Cajon/Barril de Bomba/bata/quinto/shekere/gua-gua/clave/guiro/miscellaneous percussion; Carlos Cuevas, piano/Fender Rhodes; Ian Stewart, electric bass; Joel E. Mateo, drums/Bomba cua/clave; Hery Paz, tenor saxophone/flute.  INVITED GUESTS: Eliado “Don Pancho” Terry, shekere/vocals; Hector Martignon, Elio Villafranca, Adan Perez, piano; Vince Cherico & Ivan Llanes, drums;  Ruben Rodriguez & Mike Viñas, acoustic bass; Andrea Brachfeld, flute; Paul Carlon & Ivan Renta, tenor saxophone; Agustin Someillan Garcia, trumpet; Angel “Cuqui” Lebron, trombones; Nelson Matthew Gonzalez, primo barril & maraca; Ben Lapidus, Cuban tres/coros; Juan Aldahondo, Puerto Rican cuatro; Victor Rendon, Bata lya/shekere; Yasuyo Kimura, shekere; Cascadu Escayg, bata Okonkolo; Jose Acosta, maracas; Felipe Luciano & Ismael “East” Carlo, poets.

“Lagrima De Monte” – Chembo Corniel Quintet 2023 – YouTube

From the first flurry of notes by the Chembo Corniel Quintet, their percussive excellence and enthusiasm startles the listener to attention.  Their percussion art absolutely propels this project and infuses it with African, Puerto Rican, Spanish and Island culture.  When you mix these rhythms into the jazz mosaic, the product is a delicious stew of cultures and music. Here is music that wets the musical appetite and delights the senses.  Ismael “East” Carlo, a poet, recites spoken word at the top of a tune called P.R.I.D.E and Carlos Cuevas inspires me with his piano solo. Andrea Brachfeld makes a guest appearance on flute after Paul Carlon puts his stamp of approval on the tune, using his tenor saxophone solo to propel this arrangement into the high heavens.  Once again, the percussion shines and binds the musicians tightly together.  This piece becomes a shooting star that sparkles across space and properly entertains us with its brilliance. 

This is the sixth album release for Chembo Corniel and it may be his best.  “Artistas, Musicos Y Poetas” celebrates Chembo Corniel’s 20th anniversary as a bandleader.  He has surrounded himself with guest artists, along with his steadfast quintet, to interpret nine exciting and diverse compositions, including the familiar Monk tune, “Evidence” that sounds completely natural arranged as Afro-Cuban and Eddie Palmieri’s “Pa’ La Ocha Tambo” composition that features Agustin Someillan Garcia on trumpet. On the fourth track, “Child of Wisdom” the electric bass solo by Ian Stewart is stellar.  Chembo has arranged all of the songs and contributes one original composition named after the Brooklyn area of Red Hook where he grew up, “Red Hook Rumba.”  Chembo Corniel has been a major part of the Afro-Caribbean jazz scene for decades.  He has worked with such notables as Chucho Valdes, Hilton Ruiz, Tito Puente, Machito, Larry Harlow, Joe Bataan, Willie Colon, Toshiko Akiyoshi, Grady Tate, Jane Bunnett’s Spirits of Havana, the Chico O’Farrill Orchestra and the Bobby Sanabria Big Band to name just a few.  The energy and musicianship on this album is outrageous. Hopefully this production will be submitted for Grammy consideration.  It is just that good!

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Pierre L. Chambers, vocals; Karen Hammack, piano; Henry Franklin, bass; Clayton Cameron, drums; Jeff Kaye, flugelhorn; Dori Amarilio, guitar; Cathy Segal-Garcia, background vocals/producer.

Son of the iconic, jazz bassist, Paul Chambers, Pierre L. Chambers brings his own warm, expressive jazz expression to stage center.  The vocalist opens with the popular Nat Adderley composition, “Work Song.”  Pierre exhibits his ability to caress the song with his silky, baritone vocals and then slips into scat singing like a favorite pair of slippers. This vocalist is smooth and compelling.  Accompanied only by the bass of Henry Franklin, he flawlessly performs “The Nearness of You.”  Clearly, Chambers is no newcomer to singing, even though this is his debut album.  He grew up in Detroit, Michigan and his mother played music in the house from sunup to sundown.  He heard jazz, blues, rock, soul, classical, Latin and even East Indian music.  At age thirteen, he was the only kid on his block that could scat to the Mile Davis hit album, “Sketches of Spain.”  Pierre enjoyed singing and he wrote poetry. Chambers took up the study of saxophone and clarinet in high school, playing in the school band and he sang in church choirs.  In 1982, he moved to New Jersey where he met Lance Hayward, a jazz pianist, and joined The Lance Hayward Singers.  It was a 24-voice jazz ensemble.  They sang classical music, show tunes, standards, and jazz tunes.  Pierre was a member from 1985 to 1993.  In 1991, he joined the Family Tree Singers under the tutelage of leader, Bill Lee, father of Spike Lee.  They sang all the music from Spike Lee’s first four movies.  In 1996, Chambers moved to Los Angeles, where he met Dolores Peterson.  She was the host of a local jam session and introduced him to singers, Lisa Herbert and Mitch Ellis. Together they formed Chambers, Herbert & Ellis, a vocal trio who sang the music of Lambert, Hendricks and Ross.  They performed for a year at the famed Gardenia Lounge in Hollywood.  Pierre Chambers has dedicated this album and his singing career to his mother and father, Paul and Annie Chambers.  “Dear Ann” is one of his father’s compositions and Pierre contributed the lyrics.  Here is an enjoyable recording where Pierre L. Chambers offers vocal interpretations of several familiar jazz tunes including “Paper Moon.”  He takes creative liberties to arrange it in his very own unique way, extending the time in some places and artistically adding unexpected notes that make the song totally his.  He also offers us swinging arrangements of “My Shining Hour” and “The Way You Look Tonight.”  Here is a male voice, somewhat reminiscent of Joe Williams, who presents his distinctive and stylized take on the old standards, painting them brand new and weaving into the mix his original poetry.

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THE MOTET – “ALL DAY” –  Independent Label

Dave Watts, drums/composer; Garrett Sayers, bass/composer; Joey Porter, keyboards/composer; Ryan Jalbert, guitar/composer; Drew Sayers, saxophone & keyboards/composer; Jason Hann, percussion.

The Motet – Live at Red Rocks Amphitheatre – Morrison, CO – 7/12/2019 – YouTube

Since the word ‘motet’ means a short piece of sacred choral music, I was not expecting an album of instrumental funk and R&B, however that’s what this music is, and it is very well played.  In fact, I rarely review this type of production, but because the musicianship is so excellent and the songs are so well-written, I decided to make an exception. This is party music, rhythmic and upbeat. I suppose you could put this music into the contemporary smooth jazz category, although for me, it’s just strong, emotional R&B. This band brings to mind the music of the 80s that blended jazz, funk and R&B reflected in groups like Kool and the Gang, Earth, Wind & Fire, and the Gap Band.  Dave Watts slaps the ‘happy’ into this album on drums. Jalbert’s rhythm guitar spurs the compositions alive and danceable, while Garrett Sayers (on bass) locks the rhythm track into place.  Drew Sayers adds keyboard electronics and saxophone solos to the mix, as does Joey Porter on keyboard.  Each musician contributes a song or two and each of the compositions adds zest and spice to this project.  If you love funk, R&B and a band that puts the “P” into party, The Motet will do that for you “All Day” long!

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ERIC REED – “BLACK, BROWN AND BLUE” – Smoke Sessions Records

Eric Reed, piano/composer; Luca Alemanno, bass/composer; Reggie Quinerly, drums/composer; Calvin B. Rhone & David Daughtry, vocals.

Eric Reed “Black, Brown, and Blue” video – YouTube

Eric Reed’s piano notes fall crisply across space.  There is an even-ness about the improvised lines, a measured accuracy that reflects not only excellence in technique, but thoughtful placement of each note, each phrase, each provocative crescendo.  Eric Reed makes the Buster Williams composition, “Christina” sounds like teardrops falling from heavenly clouds. I am especially touched by this song, where Luca Alemanno’s bass is the welcoming earth, the foundation of the tune that both supports and soaks up the beauty of Reed’s piano notes. The emotion Eric Reed puts into each arrangement is palpable. On Wayne Shorter’s “Infant Eyes,” a song I grew up with, playing Shorter’s album over and over on my mother’s worn turntable, Eric Reed adds Reggie Quinerly on drums along with Alemanno’s bass.  The trio slowly unpeels Shorter’s beautiful melody, exposing it piece by piece with Reed’s fingers noodling the blues into the arrangement along with traces of Gospel music.

“All of our music could be considered the ‘blues’ metaphysically and emotionally, regardless of what region of the world we inhabit.  When we sprinkle the ‘blues’; onto the gray cares of the world, life seems to feel a bit less ponderous,” Eric Reed expresses.

Reed opens this album with a solo piano arrangement that plays the title tune he has written. I was intrigued by his interpretation of Duke Ellington’s “I Got it Bad (and That Ain’t Good)” as a slow, sexy, trio ballad. The arrangement is lovely.  He is eloquent while playing McCoy Tyner’s “Search for Peace.”  You will hear some of the amazing and timeless music created by African American composer on this album.  Reed also features more contemporary works by his trio members, Alemanno (“One for E”) and Quinerly, (who wrote “Variation Twenty-Four) have each contributed a single composition. This dynamic pianist is holding up the banner of  black culture, saying loudly and creatively, don’t forget Wayne Shorter, Buddy Collette, Bill Withers, Buster Williams, McCoy Tyner, Duke Ellington, Horace Silver, Benny Golson, Stevie Wonder and Thelonious Monk.  Their contributions to our world, to our culture, to our music must never be forgotten.  He is also reminding us that his music is here too, and he has something to contribute, something important to say.

“The feeling I get when I interpret “Ugly Beauty” (or any Thelonious Monk piece) allows me to drown out the sound of hate and the feeling of injustice that prevails outside of the walls of a performance space – – For a few minutes, at least.  This album’s renderings of Stevie Wonder’s Pastime Paradise, (sung by David Daughtry) and Bill Withers’ “Lean on Me” (sung by Calvin Rhone) remind me that the sound of the ‘Blues’ is the source of all Black American music and that jazz, Gospel, blues, R&B, et al, are its offspring.  It was for this reason that I chose to treat Wayne Shorter’s “Infant Eyes” as a Gospel-tinged dirge,” Eric Reed explains in his liner notes.

When I finished listening and reviewing this piece of distinctive art, I replayed it two more times.  That says it all!

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JOSÉ LUIZ MARTINS – “REFLECTIONS” –  Independent label

Jose Luiz Martins, piano/composer/arranger; Michael Chylewski & Doug Weiss, acoustic bass; Jorge Rossy, drums/vibes; Chase Elodia, drums; Tian Long Li, harmonica; Alex Hamburger, vocals.

José Luiz Martins – Beijo Partido (Toninho Horta) – YouTube

“Reflections” is José Luiz Martins’ third album and includes his original music along with Brazilian and American composers. They open with “Beijo Partido” by famed Brazilian composer, Toninho Horta.  José Luiz Martins is also a Brazilian pianist, composer and producer, originally from Sao Paulo, who currently lives in the Washington, D.C. area. On this first track, José Luis takes this opportunity to offer us a lovely piano improvisation recorded at the Jazz Campus Studio in Basel, Switzerland.  The music crescendos towards the end, employing vocal chants blended deliciously into the production on the fade.  Track #2 is the Lennie Trestano tune, “317 East 32nd Street” where Jorge Rossy puts down his drum sticks and adds vibraphone to the mix.  It’s a delightful arrangement switch, that turns a bright light on this drummer as he dances around the band’s happy swing tune with mallets instead of drum sticks.  Michael Chylewski does an excellent job of holding the rhythm solidly in place on bass, with Chase Elodia joining him on drums.  José Luiz puts the “S” in swing during his piano solo.  Track #3 is titled, “Bolero” and it’s an original composition by José Luiz.  He has also contributed “Morning Tune” to this project.  This composition features an up-tempo arrangement with Rossy on vibes. They close with the old standard, “Stairway to the Stars” featuring the sweet vocals of Alex Hamburger.  José Luiz Martins exhibits his accompaniment talents during this production.  Although the vocal addition is like a bright bow ribbon on the giftbox, the star of this album is clearly José Luiz Martins.  He and his piano are the whole package, and all extra additions are just frills and sparkles that decorate his amazing talent. 

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