March 12, 2018

By Dee Dee McNeil/Jazz Journalist

March 12, 2018

I find both pleasure and gratitude each time I slip a new jazz compact disc into my CD player. Pleasure because I love the music so much and gratitude that the artform of jazz continues to grow and evolve. This Spring, I discovered how two men could fill up a musical canvas with so much painted sound, I needed nothing more than Mike Jones and Penn Jillette. Fernando Garcia introduced this listener to bomba music during his musical tribute to Puerto Rico. Dave Tull blew my mind with his inimitable lyrics and exceptional melodies, not to mention he sings and plays drums at the same time. The Kevin Sun Trio offers contemporary music, somewhat out-the-box, the result of an all-day recording session and featuring Walter Stinson and Matt Honor. Vocalist Diane Marino tributes the late, great Gloria Lynne and George Kahn transforms pop music into jazz arrangements. Finally, Tom Bruner pays tribute to guitarist, Wes Montgomery.

Capri Records, Ltd.

Mike Jones, piano; Penn Jillette, bass.

The musical sounds that this duo expresses are full, rich and full of technical wizardry. I don’t even miss the drums on their up-tempo version of “Broadway.” Both instruments blend with each other, familiar as bread and butter. Jones is creative and innovative on the eighty-eight keys and Penn Jillette holds the pianist’s spontanaety in place with his upright bass. This first song is over seven minutes long and it’s never boring. Both of these gentlemen are masters on their instruments. I was surprised to discover that Jillette is the internationally acclaimed magician who, for over four decades, acted as the verbal half of the magic duo, Penn & Teller. In this setting, he makes magic on a double bass. Jones was formerly the musical director for Penn & Teller’s Las Vegas show, starting in 2002. So, there is a familiar and comfortable camaraderie between the two musicians. Mike Jones is exceptionally astute with supplying rhythm on his Kawai piano. His two-fisted solos and arpeggio runs, along with strong , left-handed rhythm chords, puts amazing energy into each song. Penn Jillete is unerringly supportive. Together, they have recorded nine recognizable standard jazz songs and one original song by Mike Jones titled, “Box Viewing Blues.” Every song on this project is excellently performed and showcases the astounding talents of both musicians. From Stride piano to ‘Swing’, Jones plays it all. You won’t hear any ballads. This duo includes blues, Bossa Nova’s, along with good old straight-ahead jazz and shuffle rhythms. Jones and Jillette are so proficient, they recorded this entire production “Live” at the Penn & Teller Theater. Here is a big musical treasure in a small, compact package.

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Zoho Records

Fernando Garcia, drums/vocals; Dan Martinez, upright bass/elec. Bass; Gabriel Chakarji, piano; Gabriel Vicens, guitar; Jan Kus, tenor sax; Victor Pablo, percussion/barril/congas; SPECIAL GUEST: Miguel Zenon, alto saxophone.

Fernando Garcia is a master of rhythmicity. Both his style and presentation are deeply soaked in Puerto Rican history. When he met master percussionist and folklore expert, Rafael Maya, Garcia was introduced to bomba, the folkloric music of Puerto Rico. That inspired an important part of his musicality and creativity.

Garcia explained. “Rafael Maya studied a lot of the cultural history of Puerto Rico in the early 1900s. I met him in 2011, when I lived with my parents in Guaynabo and had a recording studio in their garage. Rafael contacted me about recording a bomba CD with his group, Desde Cero, and before I knew it, he started bringing all these really famous bomba musicians into my parents’ garage. So ,I was hanging with these great people who have played those rhythms for their entire life. And it was then that I got hooked on bomba.”

The first original composition on this CD sets the entire tone of Garcia’s uncommon project. Fernando Garcia wrote this composition in 2014, when his address was on Audubon Ave in the Washington Heights section of Northern Manhattan in New York City. He explained it this way.

“I was trying to superimpose the four-feel on top of a big 3-feel. It flows perfectly with this pattern based in three, played by Victor Pablo mimicking bata chachalokafun rhythm on three conga drums. Then there’s this section of the guitar solo, where it goes into this Afro-Cuban bembe feel in three, which actually comes from the 12/8 abakua rhythm. Finally, it goes into the percussion tradings near the end of the tune. So, it’s playing games with the time … without actually shifting the beat.”

Here is a perfect combination of Puerto Rican percussive culture and modern music, fused with Afro-Cuban rhythms and the strong bomba influence throughout. Fernando Garcia takes the listener on a drum excursion, a path beaten through his creative process by Garcia’s trap drum mastery, while adding the fusion excitement of youthful players interpreting Latin jazz and contemporary cross-over. It’s an exciting musical excursion.

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Toy Car Label

Dave Tull, drums/vocals; Randy Porter & Randy Waldman, piano; Larry Koonse, guitar; Kevin Axt, basses; Wayne Bergeron, trumper; Doug Webb, Saxophones/clarinet; Cheryl Bentyne, vocal; George Stone, piano/flugethorn/trumper; Les Benedict, trombone; Inga Swearingen, vocals’ Peter Olstad & Mike Guitierrez, trumpet.

With historic respect for artists like Eddie Jefferson, James Moody, Lambert, (Jon) Hendricks & Ross, this artist keeps the Bebop tradition going strong. Dave Tull, with his tongue in cheek humor, begins this album singing and playing, “The Texting Song,” a featured big band arrangement and original composition by Tull. I recognize immediately that not only is he a master lyricist, he’s also a masterful scat singer. His lyrics, like his scat singing, fly across the chord structure swiftly and artfully. Their comical message tickles my ears and my sense of humor. I play the cut again, just to make sure I heard every word.

Surrounded by a group of swinging musicians, Dave Tull starts out so strong, I wonder how in the world will he keep that kind of energy going throughout this production. After all, it’s no easy task playing drums and singing simultaneously. Tull manages to keep the excellence consistent. He’s showcased as both composer and lyricist on this project, as well as drummer and vocalist. Impressive, is the adjective that comes to mind. Is he a Frank Sinatra smooth vocalist? No. But he is an amazing songwriter, and he can Swing vocally the same way he swings on his drums. His melodies are challenging and beautiful, while his lyrics are compelling and creative. His scat singing is one of my favorite things on this CD. Plus, while he makes you laugh with some song messages, others inspire introspection and soul-searching. Some inspire romantic feelings and vulnerability. “Please Tell Me Your Name” made me fall out laughing, because I’ve been-there-done-that and wanted to melt into the floor when I ran into someone I knew, but suddenly couldn’t remember their name. I haven’t laughed that hard at a song lyric since I first heard Howlett Smith’s composition, “There’ll be Chitlin’s in the White House One Day.” This album made me want to meet and get to know Mr. Tull better. I loved his 2009 release “I Just Want to Get Paid,” which often is the case after the gig. It’s a familiar story to most musicians. This is the same songwriter/musician, who has been busy playing drums for a decade with Chuck Mangione’s band and accompanied Barbra Streisand on three of her most recent tours. It’s his proficiency and love of his drums that developed his unique scatting ability. He started by scatting with his drum licks and learned to improvise vocally in that manner. That was before melody became important. This ability sets Dave Tull clearly apart from other jazz singers.

Dave Tull started singing in the 1990s during his performances as part of Page Cavanaugh’s trio. He also became a lead vocalist with Chuck Mangione’s band. He’s played on eight of Cheryl Bentyne’s solo projects and accompanied her on six Japanese tours.

The arrangement by George Stone on “The Moment” is absolutely beautiful and features the lovely vocals of Inga Swearingen, singing harmony, like horn parts, with Dave Tull and increasing the beauty of this composition. Tull has amassed a stellar group of Southern California musicians and their talents add zest and passion to this project. For example, reedman Doug Webb makes a memorable saxophone solo on “Clapping On One and Three” and he plays a clarinet arrangement written by Dave Tull on Tull’s composition, “Tell Me That I’m Wrong”. Between laughing hilariously at his composition, “Watch Your Kid,” Randy Porter is featured on a brisk and happy-go-lucky piano solo played against the waltz back-drop of the band. To give an example of his sarcastic humor, Dave Tull sings:

“I’m thinking, who did I invite? Who would put jello on the chair? Then your three-year-old runs by with mashed potatoes in his hair. You’re so deep in conversation, you’re completely unaware. Won’t you please, please watch your kid. All the items that were on my desk, he’s strewn about the den. On my wall I find his artwork made with Sharpie and a pen. Like a bomb, my speaker blows, he cranked the volume up to ten. Won’t you please, please watch your kid. He’s found the thermostat and now the house is 95 degrees. The phone is hanging off the hook and someone’s speaking Japanese. This isn’t working cuz you’re shirking your responsibilities! ,… he just flushed the potpourri and you’re a total absentee, I can’t believe you didn’t see what he just did. Won’t you please, please watch your kid.”

Besides his astute sense of humor, Dave Tull is an extraordinary songwriter, an exceptional drummer and a stylized singer. I continue to ask myself, how can he play drums with such excellence and sing Bebop at the same time? This CD previews all of his talents in the most profound and engaging way. Enjoy.

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Endectomorph Music (EMM) Label

Kevin Sun, tenor saxophone/C-melody saxophone/
clarinet/composer; Walter Stinson, bass; Matt Honor, drums.

These three contemporary musicians have combined complex compositions and talent on their premiere album release. Reedman, Kevin Sun, has composed the majority of this original music.

“Composing for three voices, I feel like I can really challenge myself,” Sun says. “There’s plenty of room to make something happen when you have three musicians interacting with each other. I picture it as a triangle versus a square: it’s still very sturdy, but you have to give it a point.”

This music was created during an all-day recording session. Thinking of himself as a modern jazz, contemporary composer and innovator, Kevin Sun assembled Walter Stinson on bass and Matt Honor on drums to workshop the music and see what it would evolve into. They soon became a tight-knit group.

Sun is well-known for his ability to be proficient at solo transcriptions. In fact, he’s published more than 120 on his blog, including solos by John Coltrane, Steve Coleman, Joe Henderson, Clifford Brown and Vijay Iyer. Currently living in Brooklyn, New York, Sun is also contributor to Jazz Speaks, the official blog of the Jazz Gallery, where he has conducted interviews with notable musicians like Herbie Hancock and Joshua Redman.

The fear of transcribing the masters is that someone may become caught up in the style and repetition of repeating the works of jazz icons. Kevin Sun and his trio have made it apparent they are establishing their own style, executing their own presentation and freely improvising. However, according to the liner notes, they have been inspired by jazz legends like Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie on the “Misanthrope” tune, inspired by “Anthropology.” Another tune, Bittergreen” is loosely based on “Sweet Georgia Brown.”

The first song on this CD, “Transaccidentation” is written in 15/8, challenging in itself. Now add the freedom of wide-ranged intervals that make up an open-ended melody and you begin to embrace the freedom of sound and space that this trio represents. Kevin Sun’s tone on the tenor saxophone is light and flighty. It’s fluid and may sometimes recall the timbre and style of Stan Getz. Admittedly, Sun listened intently to the Stan Getz recordings when he was just a teenager. Others have compared him to Paul Desmond and/or Art Pepper, perhaps even Lester Young. There is a cohesiveness and comfort level between these three musicians. They elevate the Avant Garde and contemporary music concept in their own sweet way.

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M&M Records

Diane Marino, vocals; Brad Cole, piano/keyboards/B-3 organ; arrangements/orchestrations; Chris Brown, drums; Frank Marino, bass; Mark Christian & Doug Munro, guitar; Dann Sherrill, percussion; Don Aliquo, alto, tenor, baritone & soprano saxophones; Harry Kim & Scott Ducaj, trumpet; Roy Agee, trombone; David Davidson & David Angell, violin; Monisa Angell, viola; Carole Rabinowitz, cello; Tom Moore, bassoon; Deanna Loveland, harp.

Gloria Lynne is one of my all-time great vocal She-roes. I was so excited to see that someone was going to tribute this fabulous jazz icon. Bravo Diane Marino. Good idea! That being said, as the music unfolds, although the premise is perfect and the arrangements are tight, the vocalist leaves me wanting more. The one thing that the dynamic Miss Lynne could do was to sell a song. She would sing it and swing it! Diane Marino has a good voice and the Brad Cole arrangements are extraordinary. However, on tunes like “Soul Serenade” and “Sweet Pumpkin,” both made popular for the ‘Swing’ that Gloria Lynne interjected, Ms. Marino just isn’t convincing. She did bring the vocal magic on ballads like “Blue Gardenia” and “Out of This World.” I enjoyed Frank Marino ‘s solo on double bass during this lovely arrangement. Brad Cole skips over the keys on piano and knows just when to build this song to crescendos that amply support the vocalist. “The Jazz in You” is produced as a sultry blues number and Marino steps up to the plate and hits a home run with this tune. She has a cute, bluesy tone to her vocal presentation that explores a different side of this singer. I enjoyed the addition of Brad Cole’s organ on this song arrangement. I believe Diane Marino really enjoyed singing this composition and put her heart and soul into performing it. On “Happy Shoes” I hear the same dedication to storytelling when Marino sings these lyrics. She seems more comfortable interpreting blues-tinged songs than on ‘Swing’ productions. Because I have seen her play piano and sing with an all-star band, I know Diane Marino can swing with the best of them. Her live performances are full of joy and excitement. The tune, “Speaking of Happiness,” is produced very much like the old standard pop song, “Fever,” once again richly engrained with blues and befitting Marino’s voice and style.

This band is outstanding. During the song “For You,” Doug Munro lays down a solid guitar solo and the whole ensemble puts fire and spunk into this arrangement. Chris Brown trades formidable fours on his trap drums sharing the spotlight with other members of this hot, swinging ensemble. Frank Marino is solid as cement on bass. He’s featured during the vocalist’s arrangement of “Sweet Pumpkin,” opening as a duet, with her vocals on the top of his walking bass line. Marino holds the rhythm section tightly in place with drummer Chris Brown. I found all these Brad Cole arrangements to be compelling and lush, with strings and horns complimenting the various compositions to the benefit of this vocalist. The tracks are an amazing platform for her to stand tall on and be heard.

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Playing Records

George Kahn, piano; Alex Acuña, drums; Lyman Medeiros, bass.

I have only heard George Kahn in a large ensemble setting with three vocalists and horns, so I was looking forward to his new trio project. This pianist has joined forces with Alex Acuña and Lyman Medeiros . Alex Acuña is legendary and young Lyman Medeiros is bound to be one of our blooming jazz giants.

Alex Acuña is a treasured Peruvian drummer and percussionist who has worked with a list of the whos-who in the music world over his long career. Acuña is brilliant on this recording, holding the entire production in place with his undeniable percussive talent. In 1974, he relocated from Puerto Rico to Las Vegas and started working with Elvis Presley and Diana Ross. Soon after, he joined the jazz-fusion group, Weather Report. You can hear him on their “Black Market” and “Heavy Weather” recordings. He left that group in 1978 to become a very busy session musician in California. His ability to play all kinds of music kept him busy and among the long list of those he worked with or recorded with are Paul McCartney, Ella Fitzgerald, Joni Mitchell, Whitney Houston, Placido Domingo, Wayne Shorter, Joe Zawinul, Herbie Hancock, Carlos Santana, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Roberta Flack, Al Jarreau and Bette Midler. Now that diversity! Acuña has also worked as a popular educator at both Berklee College of Music in Boston and the University of Califonria, Los Angeles.

Lyman Medeiros, is an educator and bassist. When he’s not recording or performing, he teaches R&B performance and offers private lessons at the MI College of Contemporary Music. Medeiros holds a Master of Music Degree from Western Michigan University and also attended the Henry Mancini Institute in Los Angeles. Raised in Honoulu, Hawaii, he was born to Portuguese/Polynesian/Irish parents. It was Ray Brown that inspired him as a teenager to pick up the bass and begin to study it. He immediately developed a passion for jazz and earned his Bachelor of Music degree from Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana where his family had moved. Medeiros has a rich, thick sound on his bass and has recorded with Steve Tyrell and shared stages with Randy Brecker, Jane Monheit, the Boston Pops , Plas Johnson, Shelly Berg, N’dugu Chancellor, Kenny Rankin, Greg Field, Bill Cunliffe, Patti Austin and many more. In the summer of 2003, he toured the world with vocal sensation, Michael Buble. Lyman Medeiros is part of the Buble 2004 CD/DVD release, “Come Fly With Me.” He also appears on Steve Tyrell’s 2008 recording, “Back to Bacharach.”

As you can see, George Kahn is in excellent company with these two musicians. Kahn has composed seven original songs for this album and in his liner notes he explains:

“The seven original compositions all borrow from and are inspired by the jazz piano giants upon whose shoulders I stand.”

For example, “Wonton Kelly” is a tribute to Wynton Kelly and allows Alex Acuña to offer us a powerful drum solo and his percussive presence is strongly apparent. “Roger Killowatt” is Kahn’s tribute to Roger Kellaway. “Get Naked” is in recognition of Joe Sample and “Secrets” tributes Dave Brubeck. On the tune, “Red’s Riff” he is praising Red Garland and Count Basie. “Follow Your Heart” tributes Bill Evans and “Dreamin’” is dedicated to his wife, Diana, and features a melodic solo by Medeiros. George Kahn also includes interpretations of pop songs like Adele’s “Rumour Has It.” In the original Adele production of this song, it was driven by a powerful drum line with a strong R&B feel. On Khan’s arrangement, he has changed it drastically into a smooth jazz, easy listening piece where he focuses more on the melody and less on the percussion. Still, Alex Acuña very forcefully adds a Latin feel to this arrangement and flavors the piece with much needed energy. It’s quite an interesting and creative change from Adele’s version. Another hit record Kahn tackles is The Weekend’s “I Can’t Feel My Face.” Once again, He’s created an easy-listening, smooth jazz-feel to interpret this best-selling piece of pop/R&B history. Lyman Medeiros’ strong bass lines add vibrancy and color to an otherwise pale palate. As a song so popular for its urgent exciting hook line and for the funk, it was difficult for me to embrace this particular arrangement. It’s Medeiros who shines on his bass solo and perks up the presentation. “Thieves in the Temple” is a very beautiful Prince composition. Kahn has put a little bit of blues into his arrangement and it works.

On the whole, I found myself more impressed with George Kahn’s original compositions. His tribute to Roger Kellaway is a swinging little number, where Kahn gets to stretch out on piano, while Medeiros walks his powerful bass beneath. He and Acuña hold the groove tightly in place. This song sounds very much like “I’m Beginning to see the Light.” Medeiros co-wrote “Get Naked” with Kahn. It’s very popish. For an album labeled, “Straight Ahead” I have to say you won’t hear any of that on this production. For the most part, this is smooth jazz/easy listening music, even when he plays tunes like “Red’s Riff” that is very bluesy. Kahn’s music doesn’t ever get into the hardcore or ‘Straight Ahead’ side of jazz. But, if you’re looking for adult contemporary, give a listen to George Kahn’s Trio album. In keeping with his promise to help the homeless population of Los Angeles, one dollar from all album sales will be donated to PATH, People Assisting the Homeless. I commend him for addressing this important social issue.

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Independent label

Tom Bruner, guitar/arranger. No other musician credits were listed on this album.

Mr. Bruner has prepared a two-disk set to celebrate the unforgettable genius of Wes Montgomery. Using a Heritage Super Eagle F-hole guitar with 13s strings, played through a Polytone amplifier , He explores a number of memorable ballads that Montgomery recorded. Tom Bruner adds orchestra accompaniment, that he has beautifully arranged, exploring nineteen songs and creating a couple of hours of easy-listening jazz reflections. I do miss the ‘Swing’ that Wes Montgomery brought to everything he played and I thought the over-all mix could have been better mastered to celebrate the tone and style of Tom Bruner on his instrument. But that being said, this is a lovely commemoration of an icon that memorializes Wes Montgomery’s contribution to jazz guitar.

“I recorded all the guitar tracks using a Shure SM57 mic. I did record my guitar-playing in a small home studio to alleviate the ‘stress’ of having to always look at the clock in an expensive studio. I also mixed and mastered the album in this home studio,” Tom told me.

“I was able to record the various orchestra tracks in a way that did not bankrupt me financially, using overdubbing, multi-track recording and layering, especially in the strings. I also had the keyboardist sweeten some of the string tracks, lower strings especially, with some ‘synth’ strings as a technique to fatten the sound and make the string section sound a little larger than the one I could afford – a practice all music producers use for recordings of all kinds.”

Tom Bruner has spent over half a century in the music industry, originally inspired and influenced by jazz guitarist Barney Kessel. He studied music at the University of North Texas College of Music and played guitar and arranged music for the United States Air Force Academy Band. Upon release from the armed forces, Hollywood beckoned. He quickly secured work as a studio musician and worked on countless film soundtracks, television shows, jingles and various recording sessions. For twenty years he has worked as an arranger, conductor and musical director. Currently he resides in Las Vegas, NV where he teaches Film Scoring classes at UNLV, along with Music Theory, Film Music and Music Appreciation classes at the College of So. Nevada.

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March 4, 2018


By Dee Dee McNeil / Jazz Journalist

March 4, 2018

March is women’s history month. Some of the wonderful women of music I celebrate this month are saxophonist/composer, Sharel Cassity; pianist/composer and bird-lover, Diane Moser; Detroit-based vocalist, DJ Holiday and Nicole Zuraitis, who is the secret weapon on guitarist, Dan Pugach’s project. I also review Scott Reeves Jazz Orchestra featuring the wonderful Steve Wilson on alto saxophone and Carolyn Leonhart on vocals, along with Rob Clearfield’s innovative solo piano album. Finally, vocalist, Kate McGarry joins Keith Ganz and Gary Versace to create a trio sound for the discriminating taste of true jazz lovers. By the way, in live performance on March 25, 2018, a young songbird by the name of Darynn Dean will perform at the Mayme A. Clayton Library & Museum in Los Angeles. Check out my review of all these musical treasures.


The Mimi Melnick Double M Jazz Salon continues at the Mayme A. Clayton Library & Museum, featuring vocalist Darynn Dean on Sunday, March 25th at 2PM. Ms. Dean is twenty years old and already displays a vocal maturity way past her years. Currently attending the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, she has garnered a bushel basket of awards and opportunities including a Bronze Medal at the NAACP’s Act-So Competition, First Place in the Dolo Coker Foundation Awards and a coveted Roderick D. Jones Scholarship. In 2014, she was a member of the Grammy Foundation’s Jazz Choir, appearing with Delfeayo Marsalis, Hubert Laws and Dave Koz. She won a Gold Medal in the Young Arts Competition and a Spotlight Award in 2015. She has performed at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., participated as part of the Central Avenue Jazz Festival and was featured at the famed Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach. Early show begins at 2PM.

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Relsha Music

Sharel Cassity, saxophone/flute; Christie Dashiell, vocals; Ingrid Jensen, trumpet; Marcus Printup, trumpet; Freddie Hendrix, flugelhorn; Mark Whitfield, guitar; Miki Hayama, Rhodes/piano/synth; Richard Johnson, keyboard; Linda Oh, bass; Jonathan Barber &Lucianna Padmore, drums; Riza Printup, harp.

Sharel Cassity has combined jazz genres, using her composition tools as the glue that sticks them all together. Opening with “Evolve,” a song that features tight horn harmonics and an ensemble arrangement, Cassity makes her presence known on saxophone. This is Cassity’s fourth album as a leader. This time around, she features a new assemblage of players called ‘Elektra’. However, her big band influence is prominent in most of these arrangements. She has previously been associated with the Revive Big Band led by Ignar Thomas and Nicholas Payton’s Television Studio Orchestra. This current offering of music is more funk-driven, Smooth Jazz that creates a strong trampoline for Sharel Cassity to bounce her saxophone skills upon.

The second tune is one that Cassity did not compose. It was written by pop star, Alicia Keys and is titled, “New Day.” With vocals by Christie Dashiell, it’s very pop-ish with Jonathan Barber’s drums pumping a funk groove beneath the production and stellar on his solo. When this song invites an all-instrumental performance, it is much more representative of Smooth Jazz. The powerful playing I heard on the first cut returns once the instrumentalists take over on the song production. Seven of the nine compositions are the original work of Cassity. She has chosen a ‘social change’ position with this music as the roots of her unspoken activism. Perhaps, using the song titles, she explains it best in her liner notes. The capitalized words are all song titles.

“As everything must EVOLVE, so must we as musicians. … We must be brave enough to BE THE CHANGE and take a stand against inequality for all. …the HERE, THE NOW is the only place and time to seize opportunity and live your truth. … If you remember that ALL IS FULL OF LOVE, you will spread positivity to yourself and others. This era is a NEW DAY, we should celebrate it while still pushing forward. If you are in a tough time, look up and find a WISHING STAR. In quiet moments, I may hear ECHOES AT HOME that bring me back to my early days with family. QUITTER is written for those who are least expected to succeed, but persist in the face of all adversity. Please enjoy this offering. It is an honest representation of what I feel.”

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Planet Arts

Diane Moser, piano; Anton Denner, flute/piccolo; Ken Filano, contrabass.

This is a stunningly original package of music that celebrates birds in a very jazzy way. Here are three very talented human beings who desire to commemorate birdsongs on their instruments. I find them to be incredibly successful. This is a very beautiful production of original music by Diane Moser, capably interpreted by her stellar piano skills and the two talented musicians who accompany her on bass, flute and piccolo. Moser explains that as early as kindergarten age, she was composing music and her first avian-influenced song was written at age five. While on a 2008 residency in the woods, she was inspired and drawn to the songs of birds. Consequently, she spent time playing music to her aviary friends and enjoying their talk-back, sing-song responses.

“I would play, they would answer me and so on. In the evening, I edited those recordings. Subsequently, transcribed them and then arranged them for my various ensembles and solo piano,” she explained.

Having performed her birdsong suites all over the United States, I’m happy that she has recorded them for mass listening pleasure. They are not only beautiful in sound and structure, but this is extremely relaxing music.

“Our world is overrun with all kinds of sounds that are not always good for your health, or mental and emotional well-being. I wanted this recording to be a respite from that, so those who listen can feel relieved from their daily stress and feel refreshed and positive,” Diane shared.

Mission accomplished Diane Moser!

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Bill Meyer Music

DJ Holiday, vocals; Bill Meyer, piano/producer/arranger; Ralphe Armstrong & Ibrahim Jones, bass; Gayelynn McKinney & Butter Hawkins, drums; Charlie Gabriel & James Carter, saxophone; Carl Cafagna, saxophone/clarinet; Edward Gooche, trombone; Michele Ramo, violin; Perry Hughes, guitar; Rayse Biggs, trumpet.

I first met and listened to DJ Holiday in Detroit, Michigan where she was singing at a jam session inside a popular night spot called, Bert’s Marketplace, located in Detroit’s downtown area across the street from a popular outdoor produce market called, Eastern Market. Back in 2000, I initiated that very jam session using a trio with Spider Webb on drums, Hubie Crawford on bass and Bill Meyer on piano. I hosted the Jam that invited poets, singers and instrumentalists to perform. I’m happy to hear that jam session is still going strong today. Because of platforms like Bert’s Open Mic and the Jazz Jam session at Baker’s Keyboard Lounge (that I also instituted before the one at Berts), musicians and singers can hone their crafts. Young players can interact with more seasoned veterans and expand their knowledge and repertoires.

DJ Holiday was a veteran singer who was searching for a stage to express herself. She found one every Thursday at Bert’s Marketplace. Two years ago, pianist Bill Meyer produced an album to celebrate DJ Holiday’s life and music. Whispering fans said that she was ill and Meyer wanted to record her for posterity. Some of the older musicians in town knew DJ Holiday from when she first came to Detroit in 1968, arriving from the New York area. Back in those days, they thought she phrased a lot like Carmen McCrae. Once arriving in Detroit, DJ Holiday was always full of music, singing anywhere and anytime she could. Somehow, over the years, a gravelly quality tinged her smooth vocals. At times, she was homeless. With time and circumstance not always being kind, she changed her repertoire, singing songs that Billie Holiday sang, perhaps illuminating the fact she may have suffered from some of the same traumatic circumstances that Billie did. Originally, her birth name was Barnaggo Honey Jazz Defreece. Saxophonist, Charlie Gabriel shortened the Jazz Defreece part of her name to Dr. Jazz and that later became, DJ. Perhaps she assumed the Holiday name to celebrate her idol, Billie Holiday.

On this recording she covers many of the songs the legendary Ms. Holiday made popular like “Don’t Explain”, “Jim,” “You’ve Changed,” “Them There Eyes,” and “The Man I love,” just to name a few. This CD is divided into two recording sessions. One is with the RGB trio and guests. The other half is with the Detroit New Orleans Band. Both ensembles are made up of an assembly of some of the best musicians the Motor City has to offer.

Here is an album that celebrates Billie Holiday in both style and repertoire and memorializes DJ Holiday. It is prominently elevated by the nationally recognized talents of saxophonist ,James Carter, violinist, Michele Ramo, New Orleans styled reedman, Charlie Gabriel and bassist Ralphe Armstrong along with other notable musicians from the Motor City.

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Binxtown Records

Kate McGarry, vocals; Keith Gantz, acoustic & electric guitar/acoustic bass guitar; Gary Versace, piano/keyboard/organ/accordion. SPECIAL GUESTS:Ron Miles, trumpet; Obed Calvaire, drums.

A short poem from the 14th century written by mystic, Hafiz, is recited at the start of this CD. It’s part of the brief musical prologue and mixed way too low. It gets lost in the music. Then comes the familiar standard, “Secret Love,” vocals performed by Kate McGarry. She is accompanied by Keith Ganz on guitar and Gary Versace on piano. This is a no-frill production without drums or bass to cement the groove. The production is completely dependent on guitar and piano to produce the rhythm section. On the very first cut, I miss the drums and bass. McGarry has a feathery, light sound and needs something strong and deep to contrast and embellish her style. Still, on the instrumental solos, Ganz and Versace create their own musical adhesive. When McGarry’s wispy soprano voice re-enters, she is improvisational and bell-like. This artistic work is interesting. The “Climb Down” medley is dark and melancholy. Accordingly, McGarry’s voice lowers to her Second Soprano register and takes a turn towards the blues. I appreciate the sparseness of instrumentation on this arrangement, unlike the first production. On this song, we clearly get to hear McGarry’s unique style and her ability to sell the song is clearly evident. I do think her voice is poorly mixed too far down in the track. There are only two other instruments involved, so why have her at the same level as the background when she’s soloing? It annoyed me so much, that I put this CD on two different sound systems trying to hear and appreciate the full value of her style and presentation. That aside, these three musicians are each strongly invested in their instruments and their art. Keith Ganz has produced five critically acclaimed albums with McGarry, including one Grammy nominated production titled, “If Less is More Nothing Is Everything.” He’s an in-demand accompanist having worked with Harry Connick Jr., Kurt Elling, Luciana Souza, Gretchen Parlato, Andy Bey and several other jazz vocalists. He’s also played his guitar with Victor Lewis, Christian McBride, Fred Hersch and others. Jazz pianist, Gary Versace, stays busy being featured in bands led by John Scofield, John Abercrombie, Al Foster, Regina Carter and others. He appeared as an accordionist on Maria Schneider’s Grammy-winning project, “The Thompson Fields.” He plays a variety of instruments on this production. Finally, the talented Ms. McGarry has recorded seven critically acclaimed CDs, one of which (Girl Talk) garnered her four-stars in DownBeat Magazine.

In 2014, McGarry and husband/guitarist Keith Ganz, celebrated ten years of musical and life partnership. I am enamored with Kate McGarry’s interpretation of “Fair Weather”. She is a jazz singer with control, range and she often offers us unusual vocal timing, punctuated by interesting intervals and improvisations that are adventurous. On “Gone With the Wind,” I’m happy to hear Ganz pull out his electric bass. It’s especially appealing when the song starts to ‘Swing’. McGarry is also adept at scatting, smoothly creating fresh melodies over inspired chords. Additionally, she’s a composer/lyricist who writes very poetic prose that are enclosed in this CD jacket. Here is an album for discerning ears and discriminating tastes.

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Woolgathering Records

Rob Clearfield, piano

The crystal clear soprano register of the grand piano tinkles, like shimmering snowflakes that cascade from heaven, Rob Clearfield sets a mood with his music. It’s ethereal at first, moving down the piano register on his three-minute prologue, like water in a clean stream. This pianist paints pictures with his music. “Starchild” follows, taking the same path of a melodic mixture of chords, played arpeggio with soprano notes, shining like shooting stars and dancing on top. It sounds like an improvisational, in-the-moment concert by this instrumentalist, rather than a structured piece. The music flutters and moves, like bird wings or waving grains of wheat. When I look at Clearfield’s CD cover, I read the poetry he has written. Suddenly, I know that I’m on the right path, describing his amazing art on the 88 keys. He is obviously a connoisseur of the piano, but there is something special about the way he composes and shares himself with his listening audience. As though I have tapped into his emotions and he, into mine, we become connected in a very artistic way. His classical base is always obviously present, but his interpretive genius moves the music in the type of improvisational way that perhaps only a jazz lover could embrace. As I stated above, this artist appears to be expressing himself, ‘in the moment’.

Rob Clearfield’s liner notes read, in part:

“Rain. Falling shards of glass, a broken necklace tinkling to the ground. Running through the park with friends, my best friend. Scooping them all up, the many beads, not broken not lost, just scattered, uncertain. I thought it was beautiful.”

This is a recorded musical experience, a 12-track opus, that reeks of honest and sincere exploration into feelings expressed by Rob Clearfield and channeled through his adept fingers and the piano keys that he plays. Two of Clearfield’s musical heroes are Johannes Brahms and John Coltrane. You will hear the inclusion of both iconic composers and musicians in his solo piano work. His interpretation of these two genius musicians is worthy of a listen and signal a tribute to America itself, by blending African-American history and musical art with European music. After all, that is the basis of jazz itself.

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Unit Records

Dan Pugach, drums/composer/arranger; Tamir Shmerling, bass; Jorn Swart & Carmen Staaf, piano; Nicole Zuraitis, voice; Andrew Gutauskas, baritone saxophone/bass clarinet; Jeremy Powell, tenor saxophone/clarinet; Andrew Gould, alto saxophone/flute; Jen Hinkle, bass trombone; Mike Fahie, trombone; David Smith & Ingrid Jensen, trumpet.

Titled “Brooklyn Blues,” the first cut begins with drummer Dan Pugach snapping the rhythm into place like a hydraulic breaker. It’s a swinging little composition by Pugach with a catchy, melodic hook. The horns have a good time soloing on this one, enhanced by punchy horn harmonics that dance underneath. “Coming Here” is another Pugach composition, a pretty ballad that features Ingrid Jensen on trumpet. It’s Dan Pugach’s arrangement that make this entire production shine. Mike Holober, one of his college instructors, agrees with me. He was pleasantly surprised by Dan Pugach’s arranging skills after his student completely reimagined Horace Silver’s “Silver’s Serenade,” and exclaimed:

“Your arrangement departed from the original song. It wasn’t just an adaptation, but a rearrangement. Dude, you’re going to thrive as an arranger/composer.”

On “Jolene” (the Dolly Parton hit record) with the assistance of co-arranger/vocalist Nicole Zuraitis, their arrangement is so jazzy and fresh, at first you don’t recognize the song. Then, the undeniable hook rolls around and you find yourself familiarly singing along with it. Nicole Zuraitis adds her sublime vocal stylings and Carmen Staaf is powerful during the piano solo.

“Nicole is my secret weapon,” Dan Pugach confides.

We hear Nicole’s stunningly clear and concise soprano voice soar on “Crystal Silence,” somewhat operatic, but very pleasing to the ear and comfortable in a jazz setting. She also does a fine job of interpreting “Love Dance.”

Ten years since arriving in the United States from Israel, after attending both Berklee College of Music and the City College of New York, this composer/drummer/arranger has finally released his premiere CD and it’s sure to provoke high acclaim and great reviews. He has called it a ‘Nonet’ which generally speaking means a group of 9 musicians. I’m assuming, in this case, it’s referring to the nine original compositions, because he uses thirteen musicians on this production and, I might add, they sound full and rich, like a big band. Once again, I have to compliment Pugach’s excellent arrangement skills.

This is a piece of musical art I will listen to over and over again.

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Origin Records

Scott Reeves, conductor/arranger/composer/trombone/alto flugelhorn; Jim Ridl, piano; Dave Ellson, vibes; Todd Coolman, bass; Andy Watson, drums; Carolyn Leonhard, vocals; SAXOPHONES: Steve Wilson, soprano & alto saxophones/flute; Vito Chiavuzzo, alto sax/flute; Rob Middleton, tenor saxophone/clarinet; Tim Armacost, tenor saxophone; Terry Goss & Jay Brandford, baritone sax. TRUMPETS: Seneca Black, lead; Nathan Eklund, Chris Rogers, Bill Mobley & Andy Gravish. TROMBONES: Tim Sessions, lead; Matt McDonald, Matt Haviland & Max Siegel, bass trombone.

This winter, a plethora of big band and orchestra CDs have crossed my desk. The Scott Reeves Jazz Orchestra is another very fine example of precision arrangements and excellent musicianship in pursuance of jazz orchestration. From the first Latin strains of cut #1, “Speak Low,” I was captivated. This familiar jazz standard features alto saxophonist Steve Wilson and trumpeter Chris Rogers. Each soloist is dynamic and technically astute. An Afro-Cuban rhythm stirs up the creativity and propels the orchestra. Thank you, Andy Watson on drums. Reeves has composed and arranged over half of the seven tunes on this production. His arrangements are lush and lovely, giving opportunity to his orchestra members to step forward and solo in meaningful ways. “Without a Trace” is an edgy tune with shocking intervals and a challenging melody. Carolyn Leonhart is featured vocalist and her soprano tones are expressive and pure. This is no easy melody to sing and I commend Leonhart’s pitch and timing. Jim Ridl performs a masterful solo on piano. The mixologist did an extraordinary job of capturing all the orchestra’s delicate nuances and packaging their energy appropriately. Tim Armacost on tenor saxophone puts the “S” in sexy during his solo, changing up the arrangement by interjecting a new mood with his horn.

Scott Reeves is a trombonist who also plays flugelhorn, composes, arranges, conducts and finds time to be an author and college jazz educator. His two books, “Creative Jazz Imrovisation” and “Creative Beginnings” are widely used texts in their field. He’s a native of Chicago, Illinois and somehow finds time to perform regularly with the Dave Liebman Big Band, the Bill Mobley Big Band and the Valery Ponomarev Big Band. He often subs in a variety of orchestras, while keeping his own seventeen-piece jazz orchestra alive, well and working. You will find this album to be a treasure-trove of well-written original songs and arrangements, as well as a couple of familiar songs with refreshing and exploratory arrangements that celebrate Scott Reeves and his multi-talents at their best.

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February 28, 2018


By jazz journalist, Dee Dee McNeil

February 28, 2018

Tall Man Productions

Ira B. Liss, producer; Steve Sibley, piano; Lance Jeppesen, bass; Alex Ciavarelli, guitar; Charlie Mcghee, drums; Mark Lamson, percussion; Janet Hammer, vocals. SAXOPHONES: Christopher Hollyday & Richard McGuane, alto/soprano saxophones; Tyler Richardson, alto saxophone; David Castel de Oro, tenor sax/flute; Joel Ginsberg, tenor & soprano sax; Ross Rizzo Jr., baritone saxophone. TRUMPETS: Randy Aviles, lead; Mark Nicholson, Peter Green, Collin Reichow, & Carlos Roldan. TROMBONES: Gary Bucher. Lead. David Bernard, David Murray, & Tim Hall, bass trombone. ARRANGERS: Eric Richards, Tom Kubis, Drew Zaremba, Mike Crotty, Carl Murr, Alan Baylock, Peter Herbolzheimer, Mike Abene and Dean Brown. SPECIAL GUESTS: Bob Mintzer, tenor sax/composer; Holly Hofmann, alto flute; Dean Brown, guitar/composer; Eric Marienthal, alto saxophone.

Right out of the gate, this big band races into the sound space with the fastest rendition of “You Don’t Know What Love Is” that I’ve ever heard. It was an exciting production with arrangements full of ebullition. Steve Sibley’s piano solo is impressive. Hats off to Eric Richards who is the arranger that transformed this tender ballad, elevating it to a maddening pace. The Ira B. Liss Big Band Jazz Machine is an 18-piece orchestra and has been a fixture in the southern California area for nearly four decades. The band’s leader, Ira B. Lisa, is six-foot-seven-inches tall and like his music, he towers head and shoulders above other local bands as a leader and producer.

“Early Autumn” is arranged by Tom Kubis and features Eric Marienthal wailing away on alto saxophone. It’s a lovely ballad, and Marienthal brings a visceral presence, especially once the tune is double-timed and the big band swings it into a power-house production. Janet Hammer is lead vocalist on “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was” and her smooth presentation also transforms to become a harmonic addition to the horn section. Bob Mintzer’s original composition, “When the Lady Dances,” is a strong swing tune with an intricate melody line and lots of punchy horns that dance along harmonically and inspire the rhythm section. Special guest, Holly Hofmann, captures the essence of “Nature Boy“ with an inspired flute solo. Drummer, Charlie McGhee, is the star on “Recon” an original composition by Dean Brown. McGhee steals the spotlight during his drum solo and beyond. All in all, every track on this CD is well produced and delightfully arranged. If you are a lover of big band music, this is the ultimate box of chocolates. Each tune becomes a unique and pleasant surprise.

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CGN Records

Andrew Neu, tenor saxophone/flute/alto flute; SAXOPHONES: Jeff Driskill, lead alto; Dan Kaneyuki, alto; Vince Trombetta, tenor; Ken Fisher, baritone. TRUMPETS: Anthony Bonsera, lead; Jeff Jarvis, Jamie Hovorka,split lead; Mike Stever. TROMBONES: Andrew Lippman, lead; Paul Young, split lead; Charlie Morillas, split lead; Dve Ryan, split lead; Steve Hughes, bass trombone. RHYTHM: Andy Langham, piano; Matt Hornbeck, guitar; David Hughes, bass; Jamey Tate, drums/percussion; Craig Fundyga, vibes; Stephanie O’Keefe, French horn.

After years of dreaming about it and planning for it, Andrew Neu has decided to concentrate his talents inside this debut big band project. The result is a formidable production. This is a far call from his four earlier releases as a solo artist, where he recorded more contemporary jazz CDs. I’ve always enjoyed Neu’s saxophone sensibilities in the past, so I was eager to hear the new music. For this project, Neu reaches back to the historic and awe-inspiring music of some of his idols; music masters like Quincy Jones, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Neal Hefti, Thad Jones, Stan Kenton, Chuck Mangione and more have inspired this young arranger and saxophonist. Andrew Neu has composed eight of the eleven songs on this album and is ably assisted by some stellar players in Southern California. He dedicates this work of art to the masters who paved the way for his own creativity to blossom. This project is produced by Brian Bromberg and some of his featured guests are Randy Brecker, Bob Mintzer, Wayne Bergeron, Eric Marienthal, Gordon Goodwin and Rick Braun. All pieces are arranged and conducted by Andrew Neu and his big band charts are available at Kendor Music and Marina Music.

On The opening original song, “Juggernaut,” Andrew Lippman solos on trombone, an instrument that always reminds me of the human voice. Andrew Neu flies across the music on his tenor saxophone. This composition is both spirited and melodic, leaving lots of room for the orchestra harmonics to soar. Another of Neu’s original compositions is “Zerrano.” It features a joyful arrangement, sewn with Latin influences, running like stitches through the rhythms that strongly hold the fabric of this song together. Randy Brecker plays a fluid and emotional trumpet solo. Jamey Tate is spectacular on drums, covering every note of this tune with a blanket of rhythm mastery and percussive surprise. As a composer, Andrew Neu does not disappoint. His arrangements are full of spunk and beauty. Every cut on this project is a sparkling stone set in a crown of musical achievement.

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Vega Label

Akira Tana, drums/producer; Peter Horvath, piano/Fender Rhodes; Ricardo Peixoto, acoustic/electric guitars; Gary Brown, acoustic bass; Michael Spiro, percussion; Claudio Amaral, Sandy Cressman, Carla Helmbrcht, Jackie Ryan, Claudia Villeta & Maria Volonte, vocals; SPECIAL GUESTS: Branford Marsalis, saxophone; Arturo Sandoval, trumpeter.

I have long been fascinated by the Brazilian songbook and its talented composers. The exciting artists who interpret this infectious South American music have been hand-picked by this drummer/producer. Percussive expert, Akiro Tano, has gathered an impressive list of talent together for this project. This project is sweet and beautiful, like a scattering of Cattleya labiate or Corsage Orchids in a big, colorful basket of songs. Opening with “Aquas de Marco”, (a Jobim composition) Arturo Sandoval is featured on trumpet and Claudio Amaral vocally duets with Claudia Villela. One of my favorite compositions by Ivan Lins with co-writers, Paul Williams, Vitor Martins and Gilson Peranzzetta is “Love Dance.” Carla Helmbrecht is the vocalist who smoothly interprets these poetic lyrics. Branford Marsalis adds tenor saxophone in appropriate places, enhancing this perfect sound-painting with light brush strokes of genius. His sensitivity is worthy of mention and praise. Akira Tana moves from this emotional ballad to an uptempo, danceable arrangement of “Chega de Saudade.” Ricardo Peixoto has arranged this Jobim tune and transports us to Carnival, surrounded by the happy voices of Jackie Ryan and Maria Volonte who share both Portuguese and English versions of the lyrics. I’m familiar with this composition as “No More Blues.” You cannot possibly be blue or melancholy while listening to this ebullient production. Akira Tana punches the rhythm, shuffling beneath the well-sung lyrics like a freight train. The drums are always pushing this production forward. I do wish there were a few more up-tempo, exuberant arrangements on this well-produced CD. I miss the Brazilian excitement and Carnival atmosphere of double time and more allegro-inspired tempos. Still, the talent and production itself shines with musical proficiency and these musicians celebrate Easy Listening Brazilian jazz at its best with Akira Tana as the percussive combustible force.

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Outside In Music

James Hall, trombone; Jamie Baum, flute/alto flute; Deanna Witkowski, piano/Rhodes; Tom DiCarlo, bass; Allan Mednard, drums. SPECIAL GUEST: Sharei Cassity, alto saxophone.

Trombonist James Hall has composed six of the eight songs on this production. Hall weaves together flute and trombone in a smooth combination of contrasts, blending tone and arrangements that prominently feature Jamie Baum on various flutes. James Hall, a native of Nebraska who is now New York City based, has dabbled in several projects that have included jazz, classical, Latin and pop music. He has won three ASCAPlus Awards for composition, and holds degrees from the Lawrence Conservatory of Music in Wisconsin and the Aaron Copland School of Music in New York. I found the horn lines arranged on “Black Narcissus,” a Joe Henderson composition, to reflect a big band sound, even though this is a small combo. Part of the fullness of sound could be due to the addition of Sharel Cassity on alto saxophone. The title tune, “Lattice” (which Thesaurus describes as a matrix, a framework or mesh web) I found to be ethereal and beautiful, giving the trombonist an opportunity to sing atop the Fender Rhodes piano in a lovely way. This tune is other-worldly and draws me into the composition like quicksand. The melody is haunting. I learn from the liner notes that Lattice is dedicated to his wife, Kristen, and can also mean two pieces crossing. Hall says that this composition highlights their romance, engagement and marriage. It’s a very tender tune.

On the other hand, “Brittle Stitch” is more up-tempo and adds swing to the mix, featuring a bluesy solo exploration by pianist Deanna Witkowski. This journalist enjoyed every cut on this CD and I appreciate the concept of a lattice, inclusive of world events, relationships, musical textures and musicians. All have inspired Hall’s dynamic project.
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Independent Label

Mica Bethea, arranger/composer; Josh Bowlus, piano/Rhodes; James Hogan, guitar; Dennis Marks, bass; John Lumpkin Jr., drums; Terry ‘Doc’ Handy, percussion; TRUMPETS: Greg Balut, Dave Champagne, Daniel Rollan, Ray Callender. TROMBONES: Michael Deese, Diego Herrada ‘de la Vega’ Ventura, & Lance Reed. Gina ‘Badeeduh’ Benalcazar, bass trombone. Todd DelGiudice & Daniel Dickinson, alto,tenor, soprano saxophone/flute. Juan Carlos Rollan, tenor & alto saxophone/flute. Jose Rojas, tenor & also saxophones/clarinet; Seth Ebersole, baritone saxophone/bass clarinet.

In July of 2017, I first experienced the work of Mica Bethea and his extraordinary big band arrangements while reviewing his CD, “Stage ‘N Studio.” On this former CD, he was experimenting with merging contemporary funk-fusion with big band arrangements and he blew my mind! As I wrote back in 2017, ‘I was hooked right from the opening cut.’

On this new project, Bethea has composed all original music. With both parents as musicians, his dad playing trumpet and piano and his mom as a vocalist, he was exposed to jazz at a very early age. His father was also a radio disc jockey in the 1970’s. So, music was always a very present part of the household and the young man’s life. This current project is an exploration of Mica Bethea’s life from the inside out. It was written while he was studying for his Master’s degree at the University of Northern Florida. He has written it in four movements, each corresponding to a period of his life. The first movement is titled, “Crystal Clear” and is representative of his carefree early childhood days, all the way up to age twenty-one. The music is bright, full of hope and promise. It’s exploratory, happy and enthusiastic music, capturing the freedom children feel. Featuring Ray Callender on trumpet, Dennis Marks on bass, Michael Deese on a stunning trombone solo, and Juan Carlos Rollan, stellar on saxophone. Rollan puts the blues into the mix with his horn. Then comes the second movement, “Destiny’s Boat.” It is more pensive, with harmonies and crescendos leading up to some soul-searching music.

This is a biographical project. You should probably be aware of the stories behind each suite to further appreciate the composer’s candor. Mica Bethea was studying music at the University of Northern Florida in Jacksonville. He took a brief vacation, driving home to visit family and on his return trip, as he sat, stopped in traffic, he was crashed into by a big rig truck going 85mph. The results changed his life. Although he survived the crash, he was left a quadriplegic. “Destiny’s Boat” is a musical representation of awaking after that accident. As a young, vibrant music student, with his whole life ahead of him, you can imagine how devastating this incident was. He could no longer play. He was no longer mobile. After the depression that followed this realization, he had a rebirth of sorts, but it was a long and tedious process. Josh Bowlus brings brightness and hope with his keyboard skills and Todd DelGiudice is featured prominently on reeds. He brings the confusion and frustration that Mica must have felt, delivering it during his inspired solos. Bethea appreciated DelGiudice’s performance so much that he included an alternate take on this suite as part of this release. John Lumpkin Jr. and Terry “Doc” Handy also add spunk and fire with their percussive accompaniment.

The final suite, “Guardian of Forever” is dedicated to his mother, who quit her job to nurse her son and to inspire his grit and determination. She knew he had to carry-on, in spite of his injuries. She knew he had precious gifts to share with the world.

The most difficult thing about composing an album of all original work is grabbing the attention of the listener’s ear. We are an audience often listening for the familiar strains of melodies and arrangements we recognize. There is none of that on this recording, but you will still find big band goodness and greatness, expressed in both the composing skills and arranging talents of Mica Bethea. Here is another precious, musical gift he offers to the world.

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4th Stream Records

Michael Moss, composer/producer/artistic Director/B flat clarinet; VIOLINS: Jason Kao Hwang, Rosi Hertlein & Fung Chem Hwei; Stephanie Griffin, viola; Lenny Mims & Carol Buck, cellos; Steve Swell, trombone; Vincent Chance, French horn; Waldron Mahdi Ricks, trumpet; Richard Keene, oboe; Elliott Levin, flute/tenor saxophone; Ras Moshe Burnett, soprano & tenor saxophones; Michael Lytle, bass clarinet; Steve Cohn, piano; Billy Stein, guitar; Rick Lannacone, ambient guitar; Larry Roland, string bass; Warren Smith, percussion/vibraphones; Badal Roy, tabla; Chuck Fertal, drums.

If Avant Garde, free-form jazz is your preference, you will enjoy listening to the outer limits of Dr. Michael Moss’s artistic creativity. Michael Moss is a 50-year veteran of the New York “free” jazz scene. He’s a multi-instrumentalist and a composer, Chicago-born. At times, this music reminds me of the Chicago Art Ensemble, except that this production features a twenty-two piece orchestra. The Moss production is all over the place, spewing energy and combining instruments and notes in a unique and often dissonant manner. The title of this album, “Helix,” can mean an object that is three dimensional or a chain of atoms. Certainly, this music evolves like a chain of interpretations described by suites.
He has labeled the first suite of music, “The Old One” (that is Einstein’s name for God) and there are five parts included: “Inception”, “Bridge,” “Qabbala,” “Bardo,” and “The Mind of God.” The final twenty-minute song is titled in all caps, “SEE SHARP OR BE FLAT/C# OR B flat. Thus, on this project, we are introduced to Moss debuting two major compositions.

On “Qabbala” we finally hear some semblance of melody and orthodox structure, with delightful percussion bouncing the production around like a children’s rental, backyard, bounce house. It’s very Middle Eastern influenced and reminds me of some background music you would hear behind the HBO “Homeland” series. “Bardo” exposes a softer side of Michael Moss, using lots of strings and fly-away horns that squeak, moan and groan their messages, reverberating animalism. This is an inimitable project that Moss describes as an initiation into sacred ground. He views it as part of a musical tradition stretching from early ritual over the dead to Bach’s Mass in B Minor. He musically incorporates Native American rites of passage into the spirit world, the Jewish mourner’s Kaddish ceremony and Buddhist funeral rituals into this presentation. I was particularly drawn to the final “SEE SHARP OR BE FLAT” composition that features a provocative violin solo with complimentary string ensemble support. This composition gives more opportunity for individual players to step forward and solo. I found the guitar solo to be outstanding with Warren Smith’s percussion bright and tasty beneath it. Speaking of drums, there is as lengthy and pleasing drum and percussion solo towards the end of this twenty-minute production that is worth the wait. If you have a taste for a project that’s out-of-the-ordinary, the Accidental Orchestra will sooth your palate.

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February 17, 2018

BY Dee Dee McNeil/jazz journalist

February 17,2018

Today, it appears we are in a time of world-wide turmoil. We have mass shootings in America that are killing our young people in unacceptable numbers, on our streets and in our schools. We have wars between countries all over this Earth. We have discord and disfunction in our United States government agencies and a congress that seems confused and unable to address the needs of ‘we the people,’ who actually pay their salaries and send them to Washington to do our bidding. Music becomes a wellspring of goodness that soothes during a time when our world seems so chaotic and unpredictable. If only we could get along, like the musical notes on a page that work together to create harmony. Some of these albums may hold the key to a few hours of pleasure and enlightened relaxation.

Independent Label

Jean-Baptiste Craipeau, vocal tenor 1; Simon Akesson, vocal tenor 2; Danny Fong, vocal tenor 3; Andrew Kesler, vocal tenor 4; James Rose, vocal baritone; Evan Sanders, vocal bass.

If you are a fan of vocal harmonization and beautiful a’Capella voices, you will enjoy this smart, well-performed recording. These voices are as silky-smooth and pleasant as scented oil. Their tones fit together, meticulously and musically, as precise as the innards of an antique clock. Indeed, the hum of the human voice is antique in that it is the first and earliest instrument. This group pays homage to that concept.

Accent is a group of harmonious male vocals, blended together to interpret songs that range from message music to lullabies. The members are an international blend, from France, Sweden, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States. Frenchman, Jean-Baptiste Craipeau, has co-produced this project with Simon Akesson ( Swedish), Canadian members, Andrew Kesler and Danny Fong, James Rose of the UK and bass singer Evan Sanders (USA). The message of their music reflects a theme of peace and love. Heaven knows we certainly need music that inspires love and harmony on Earth, especially during these tumultuous, challenging political times. “Love Is Just That Way” is an uplifting, moderate-tempo’d piece, “Who You Are” offers an intricate waltz arrangement. I do wish they had included the lyrics as part of their compact disc package, because sometimes the lyrical message becomes lost in the harmonic vocalizations.

My favorite cut on this album is “Only One Love” that is truly a jazz arrangement and swings hard. Composed by Ian Prince, with lyrics by extraordinary vocalist/songwriter, Siedah Garrett, this last tune is the star of the show.

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Zoho Records

Guillermo Nojechowicz, drums/percussion/vocals; Helio Alves, piano; Fernando Huergo, bass; Kim Nazarian, vocals/percussion; Marco Pignataro, tenor & soprano saxophone; Brian Lynch, trumpet. SPECIAL GUESTS: Franco Pinna, bombo legũero/percussion; Robert Cassan, accordion; Megumi Stohs Lewis, violin; Ethan Wood, violin; Sarah Darling, viola; Leo Eguchi, cello; Nando Michelin,string arrangements.

The sultry, sexy vocals of Kim Nazarian mirrors Helio Alves’ piano melody and sets the mood for this lovely, but melancholy ballad. It’s a haunting tune that captures the attention and imagination of the listener. In the liner notes, they describe this composition titled, “Milonga Para Los Nino.” The sorrowful accordion of Roberto Cassan adds substance and mood. Percussive artist, Guillermo Nojechowicz, flavors this piece with Uruguayan rhythms and underscores it with his solid snare work. The snare represents the ugly march that Jewish captives made to concentration camps. This song was inspired by a passport that Nojechowicz’s Polish grandmother carried when she fled Warsaw for Argentina in 1933. She sheltered her grandson, Guillermo Nojechowicz’s father, on their journey to freedom, crossing Europe by train, in fear for their lives. That trip spared them from the Holocaust. This Latin jazz suite is a chronicle of their uncertain journey to safety and becomes the centerpiece of El ECO’s new recording. Each of the compositions, all written by Guilermo Nojechowicz, with the exception of Track eight, by Fernando Huergo (the bassist on this project), represent the fear, the hope, the strength of those persecuted and seeking freedom. We see the same situation reflected in the unfortunate status of ‘the Dreamers’ who were raised in America and are now being rounded up like unfortunate refugees and hunted down like prey. Even though they were brought here as children and consider this their home and their country, and most contribute positively to our society, we have people in power who want to expel them from our country.

Hopefully, this beautiful and sensitive music will remind us that we are all connected by our humanity, regardless of our religious choices, our skin tones, out cultures, or our political differences. We are all human beings. Great music bridges all these differences. We should be more like the musical notes on the page, working together in harmony.

For more about this album, see my initial review that was published, October 25, 2017, in Musical Memoirs. This CD became available in January of 2018.

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ArtistShare Records

Owen Broder, woodwinds; Sara Casell, violin; Scott Wendhold, trumpet/flugelhorn; Nick Finzer, trombone; James Shipp, vibraphone/percussion; Frank Kimbrough, piano; Jay Anderson, bass; Matt Wilson, drums; Wendy Gilles, Kate McGarry & Yuyo Sotashe, vocals.

The first tune sounds like the film soundtrack for a Western movie. But soon, this “Goin’ Up Home” composition becomes a swinging tribute to the big band era. It transitions from melodic simplicity to a very hearty and healthy harmonic experience. The exciting addition of James Shipp on vibraphone lifts the music and brings jazz to the mix, along with the driving drums of Matt Wilson. In his liner notes, Broder says he was inspired to compose this opening song by Appalachian folk music. He just earned a 2018 Herb Albert Young Jazz Composer Award for this piece of music.

The composers of these hand-picked ‘Heritage’ songs include Owen Broder, Miho Hazama, Bill Holman, Alphonso Horne, Jim McNeely and Ryan Truesdell. They also use traditional American Folk and spiritual music. I enjoyed the solemn and unique arrangement of “Wayfaring Stranger” by Ryan Truesdell. The arranger utilizes haunting, soulful vocals by Wendy Gilles, Kate McGarry and Yuyo Sotashe. You may remember Truesdell’s name as the founder of the celebrated Gil Evans Project he produced. All the musicians and arrangers on this CD appear to have enjoyed interpreting American root music. Their talent and exuberance is obvious, stemming from New Orleans Cajun folks songs to Appalachian mountains music; from Bluegrass and gospel, to jazz. You will hear it all on this recording and unique blend of cultures and musical styles.

“Wherever the Road Leads” makes me want to Square Dance. It was composed by Miho Hazama, who is not American, but was intrigued by Appalachian music. This arranger incorporates harmonic progressions that are based on a twelve-tone idea. “Jambalaya” opens poignantly with Sara Caswell’s expressive violin. However, very slyly, the arrangement picks up tempo and excitement, adding a taste of ‘Swing’ to the mix and perhaps a tongue-in-cheek salute to the Birth of the Cool era. “The People Could Fly” has used Bantu folk music from South Africa as an inspiration. Arranger, Alphonso Horne says he was brought up in a family with South African roots and learned to sing Bantu songs in their community church. This song is based on the folk tale that a village of Africans once knew how to fly. When they were captured and put into slavery, they forgot. One elder recalled their secret gift and kept that dream alive. One day, he reminded them and they all flew away together from slavery in America back to Africa. Nick Finzer is featured prominently on Trombone. The gospel claps give the song credence and interject the slave experience of African American roots. The vocals also elevate the native African experience.

This is an interesting album, showcasing reedman/composer, Owen Broder, who is based in New York City and adds his talents to this mix of Americana music on alto, tenor and baritone saxophones. He has traveled with The Temptations, The Four Tops and has his own soul band called ‘Bitchin’ Kitchen’. His musical tastes are diverse, like this album of music. He’s worked as both bandleader and sideman and has a jazz quintet called, ‘Cowboys & Frenchmen’ that received critical acclaim for its 2015 album release, ‘Rodeo’ and a 2017 follow-up, ‘Bluer Than You Think’. He’s performed with Ryan Truesdell’s Gil Evans Project and Trio Globo.

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Café Pacific Records

Dolores Scozzesi, vocals; Quinn Johnson & Andy Langham, piano; Lyman Medeiros, bass; Kevin Winard, drums; Larry Koonse, guitar; Dori Amarillio, guitar; Nolan Shaheed, trumpet.

Dolores Scozzesi tackles the Great American Songbook with an ensemble made up of Los Angeles’ best and busiest musicians. Rich Eames has done some of the arranging and the talented performer/ composer, Mark Winkler, has produced this recording. Ms. Scozzesi takes a strong cabaret approach to familiar tunes like “It’s Alright With Me,” “I’m In The Mood for Love,” and “Wild Is the Wind,” arranged as a lovely Latin Samba. Her interpretation of “You Can Leave Your Hat On,” offers tongue-in-cheek humor and is butter brushed with stage sassiness and drama. Pianist, Quinn Johnson, arranged this Randy Newman composition and it features a stellar solo by trumpeter, Nolan Shaheed. The title tune, “Here Comes The Sun,” is another Latin flavored arrangement and is happily interpreted by Dolores Scozzesi, who admits in her liner notes that she is drawn to Latin and World music. You can hear the emotion and sincerity in this artist’s voice. She is unpretentious, with an attitude and presentation emanating from someone who is obviously a seasoned performer.

Vocalist, Dolores Scozzesi, has been developing her recognizable style for several years. This New York transplant appears in jazz and cabaret rooms from France to California. In Southern California, she began her professional singing career at Budd Friedman’s popular Improvisation Comedy Club, where she sang in between comedy acts. Working here, she witnessed many budding stars perform between her singing sets like Robin Williams, Larry David and Jay Leno.

“I always try to get to the truth of who I am when I perform, and I’m entranced by singers who are totally authentic,” Ms. Scozzesi shares.

On this recording project, you will hear her absolute commitment to the lyrics and her worldly and well-lived, expressive delivery.
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Sunnyside Records

John Raymond, flugelhorn; Gilad Hekselman, guitar; Colin Stranahan, drums.

John Raymond’s beautiful tone on his flugelhorn is the first thing that impresses me on this CD. For the past four years, this artist has been developing an identifiable trio sound, minus the bass. This creates a kind of openness in his work that is unusual. Gilad Hekselman, on guitar, brings solidarity and harmonic structure to the sound stage and Colin Stranahan holds the rhythm in place on trap drums. After the first of Raymond’s original tunes, my ear became adjusted to this bass-less production and I enjoyed the Paul Simon tune, “I’d Do It For Your Love.” Stranahan seemed not to mind that there was no bass to help him buckle down the rhythm section. He and Hekselman do a fine job on their own. The original composition, “Follower” weaves a web of melody that is set up by Raymond on his horn and later, properly explored by Hekselman on guitar. Once again, they draw me in and I’m impressed with how Stranahan holds the rhythm firmly in place all by himself. I appreciated the electric guitar’s improvisational exploration on the song, “Minnesota, WI.” Hekselman’s creativity was stunning as he danced atop his looped rhythm guitar licks. “Be Still My Soul” is a song both poignant and dirge-like, with Raymond’s flugelhorn becoming the solid nail that holds this trio in place. At times, Raymond explores the Avant Garde while soloing. I enjoyed the freedom that Stranahan displayed on his drum set, rolling the rhythm out like a bowling ball, with cymbal crashes that fall like pens at the end of a musical alley.

John Raymond is originally from Minneapolis, Minnesota but currently lives in New York City. Downbeat Magazine labeled him a ‘Rising Star Trumpeter’ in 2016. He formed this trio in 2014 and calls them ‘Real Feels.’ Raymond claims to be influenced by Art Farmer, Jim Hall and various collaborations by Ron Miles, Bill Frisell and Brian Blade. His unique trio, (“Real Feels”) have released two albums in 2016 and they continue to pave new paths down the jazzy highway, featuring their unique sounds and creativity on this “Joy Ride.” recording.
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Rabbit Rabbit Rabbit Records

Arnan Raz, tenor saxophone; Eyal Hai, alto saxophone, Daniel Meron, piano; Tamir Shmerling, bass; Dani Danor, drums.

Israeli tenor saxophonist, Arnan Raz has created a CD based on a game he and his childhood friends once played. They took a single piece of paper and one person wrote a sentence in private, folded the paper to cover that sentence, then the next person wrote their sentence. They folded the paper to hide the new phrase and the next child added their sentence. At the end, ‘Chain of stories’ was created. The page was unfolded and read aloud. It had become one coherent essay. Focusing on sound, instead of words, Raz has attempted to produce his ‘chain of stories’ as an album concept. Thus, his composition titles trail like a formation of birds flying zig-zag across the back of his CD jacket. Arnan Raz explained:

“When I wrote the title song for this album, I experimented and wrote one short phrase each day without overthinking it. … After a few weeks, I had an entire song written.”

The title tune is played at a comfortable, moderate tempo and has a strong melody that does not appear to be written using distinctly different phases. Surprisingly, the haphazardly pasted music chords and melodies, strung together like random thoughts, do create a lovely melody. I think this experimental saxophonist came up with a pretty decent composition named for his childhood game. It is punctuated by Eyal Hai on alto saxophone and Dani Danor slapping his drum licks in support of a funky undertow. Tamir Shmerling adds sporadic solos on bass in between the harmonic horn punches. I found the fade on this first ‘cut’ to be a bit long and uninspired. Perhaps pianist, Daniel Meron, could have soloed on top of this repetitious horn-play. Meron opens “Her Story” the very next composition, with his piano playing in a very classical style. Arnan Raz has composed all of the music on this album. Although I commend him as a composer, I found this second tune to be repetitious and the arrangement uninspired. On the other hand, the third composition of this CD titled, “We Used to Fly” was well written and once again, further showcased the talents of Daniel Meron on piano with the tenor saxophone of Raz and the alto sax of Eyal Hai flying above the rhythm section like wild birds. All improvisational solos were inspired and expressed freedom as they unfolded. The tempo throughout this production was moderate and a more diversified rhythm arrangement on the compositions would have elevated this recording. Other favorite original tunes on this CD are “Ella,” “Two Worlds One Soul” and “Soul Talk”.

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Clavo Records

Simon Pilbrow, composer/piano; Brent Fischer, producer/arranger/conductor/ vibraphone/marimba/electric bass; SPECIAL GUEST ARTISTS: Ken Peplowski, clarinet; Bobby Shew, trumpet; Larry Koonse,guitar. Chuck Berghofer, acoustic bass; Ray Brinker, drums; WOODWINDS: Bob Sheppard, soprano, alto & tenor saxophones/alto flute; Sal Lozano, alto sax; Alex Budman, soprano, alto & tenor saxes/flute/alto flute/clarinet & bass clarinet; Kirsten Edkins, alto sax/alto flute; Brian Clancy, tenor sax/alto flute/clarinet; Sean Franz, clarinet; Gene Cipriano, bass clarinet; Bob Carr, baritone sax; Lee Callet, baritone sax/bass clarinet. TRUMPETS: Rob Schaer, Mike Stever, Kye Palmer, Jeff Bunnell, Ron Stout, Carl Saunders. TROMBONES: Charlie Loper, Andy Martin, Bob McChsney, Scott Whitfield. BASS TROMBONE: Craig Gosnell, Steve Hughes. STRINGS: Assa Drori, Concertmaster/principal violin; Alex Gorlovsky, Raphael Rishik, & Susan Rishik, violin; Elizabeth Wilson & Lynn Grants, viola; Maurice Grants & Kevan Torfeh, cello; Oscar Hildalgo, contrabass.

Whenever I see the name of Brent Fischer, I know that I am going to hear something of quality and excellence. Pianist, Simon Pilbrow, is very active on the Melboune, Australia jazz scene and he is a composer, with some of his copyrights held in our Library of Congress as part of the Gerry Mulligan Collection. With the direction and skills of Brent Fischer, this recording features thirty-years of Pilbrow’s composing. Music has not always been his career, but rather his passion and these songs were composed while he maintained a medical practice. Simon Pilbrow was also a fan of Brent’s famous father, Clare Fischer. Perhaps it was preordained that Pilbrow’s labor of love would be embraced by Brent Fischer, and ultimately he would make Simon Pilbrow’s original music come to life in the recording studio.

This CD opens with a happy-go-lucky arrangement, full of verve and spunk provided by soloists Carl Saunders on trumpet, trombonist Scott Whitfield and young tenor player, Brian Clancy. The tune, “Australia,” is entirely entertaining and will have you tapping your toe to the ‘Swing’ rhythm and tight horn harmonics. Pilbrow adds his piano expression, with a taste of blues glittering during his solo. “A New Beginning” is a waltz that was inspired by Pilbrow’s wife when they were courting back in 1989. Over the years, he has composed several waltzes with Jean (his wife) in mind, however this was the first one. “Studio City,” a popular Los Angeles County community, was written recently (2015) to celebrate Pilbrow’s time spent and the hospitality he felt at the home of Brent Fischer and his wife while they worked on this project.

On this recording, you will find warmth and melodic substance, arrangements that are plush with harmonics and some of the best players and studio musicians in Southern California interpreting the compositions of Simon Pilbrow. Brent Fischer and composer, Pilbrow unite to find a diverse orchestral approach with Fischer’s arrangements, sometimes using small ensembles and other times using full-blast, big band vigor or beautiful string accompaniments. It’s a heavenly match, with both the presentations and the compositions sure to please.

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February 5, 2018

THE COOL MISS “B” STILL GOING STRONG AT 88 – A Black History Month Documentation

By Jazz journalist/ Dee Dee McNeil

FEBRUARY 5, 2018

Betty Bryant, whose friends affectionately call her, ‘the Cool Miss B’, answers the phone with the same joi de vivre and blossoming smile that always makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside. Betty personifies her joy for life in both personality and music. I was excited to interview this music master. As we talked, I realized that Betty’s life seemed to be a series of opportunities she wasn’t really expecting. Almost like her fate was preordained and had nothing-at-all to do with her plans. She hadn’t dreamed of stardom or made a wish board. She hadn’t pictured herself travelling the world or entertaining crowds with her voice and piano playing. It just sort of happened. But wait. I’ll let her explain.

Betty Bryant: “I’ll start when we lived on 25th street in Kansas City, Missouri and I was in the third or fourth grade at that time. I was studying classical music. I had a beautiful baby grand piano that my grandmother had given to me. And I was very lucky in that respect, but I didn’t know it. My grandfather gave my grandmother the piano on their first wedding anniversary, which is also my mother’s birthday. It just sort of got handed down to me. Maybe a prestige gift, since I was the first one in the family to show any talent in music. I had to practice before I went to school and when I came home from school. Yuk.”

We laughed together, because I was around that age when I was taking piano lessons and being compelled to practice. I didn’t always want to be bothered with practicing, so I could relate to how Betty felt.

Betty: “My best friend, Donna Baker, she had nine kids in her family and her father played the piano. I had more fun at her house than I did at mine. Her brother was Ed Baker who played trumpet and wound up with a band in Kansas City, MO. She had an older sister, Betty Baker, who sang with Eddie’s band for a while. The whole family played music and none of them had any training. I can remember Donna and me sitting at the piano and teaching ourselves how to play entrances and endings to songs. And we played Boogie Woogie. Everybody played Boogie Woogie back then.”

Betty hums me a Boogie Woogie line over the phone, and I immediately recognize it. Boogie Woogie is the first thing my dad taught me how to play on the piano. Betty and I both came up before television was a household entertainment center. In our day, you made music, you listened to radio, or you played 78rpm records and albums.

Betty: “I recall the first time we got a console and it had a record player in it (a turn-table) that dropped the records; 78rpm records. Our console came with a sample record. I can’t remember the name of that song, but my father used to play it all the time. It was a group singing. This was in the early 40’s. I was born in 1929. I was hung up on Bull Moose Jackson’s recording of ‘I Just Can’t Go On Without You’ during that period in my life.”

Although she was drawn to music in her youth, Betty never considered it would become a career path. After all, her father, who was an educator, held high hopes she would follow in his esteemed footsteps. The whole town knew her father, Dr.Girard Bryant, and they expected big things from Betty.

“Actually, my father was a school teacher. In fact, I come from a whole long line of school teachers. My maternal grandfather actually wrote speeches for Booker T. Washington. My dad was just sort of insistent that I attend college. I went to Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas and majored in ‘Fine Arts,’ because they told me to do that. So, I got a teaching certificate to please them. I was not really interested in school and I had quit playing the piano. At sixteen, I played my last recital.

“One day, while I was still living in Topeka, I heard this radio show out of Oklahoma; maybe Tulsa. A DJ was interspersing live music with records. Well, I had a friend in Topeka who worked at a radio station and I was telling him about it. He said, oh – that’s interesting. Well, he told his station manager about it and then I got a call asking me if I could come down. Just like that, I was thrown back into music. At that point I knew how to play some blues. I knew ‘Body and Soul’ up to the bridge. (she chuckled)

“I still don’t know the bridge,” Betty confided to me conspiratorially.

“There was a baseball game that came on. The radio station put me on after the baseball game. I never knew how long I was going to be playing. I might have a half an hour show. I might have a fifteen-minute show. It was really a strange re-introduction to the world of ‘live’ music. It’s funny. There was a woman on at that time called, Lonesome Gal and she came on late at night. She had a real low, deep, sexy voice. So, the Station Manager thought I had a naturally sexy voice. All of this was when I was like twenty-one or something. It didn’t make any sense at all to me. But that was my launch back into music. I played records, DJ’d and played piano. I don’t know if their ratings went up, but it was sort of a joke with everybody. Nobody could believe I was doing that. Fresh out of college, with a radio gig.

“I was also working at Menningers at that time. It was the biggest psychiatric hospital in the country. People came from all over the world to train there. I was a secretary.”

Menninger Psychiatric hospital was founded in 1919 by Dr. Charles Menninger and his sons, Karl and William, both doctors as well. The facility consisted of a clinic, a sanatorium and a school of psychiatry. They worked in harmony with the Winter Veteran’s hospital and administration, an army facility also located in Topeka. In 2003, Menninger moved from Topeka, Kansas to Houston, TX, with a stellar reputation of being on the forefront of psychiatric break-through treatment.

BETTY: “At that time, Topeka was the hub of psychiatric treatment. Then there was the Winter General, that was like the army hospital. It was right after World War II, so you had veterans coming in from all over the world to Menninger. That hospital knew more about psychiatry than anybody. The whole city was kind of formed around those hospitals. This is back when they were doing electric-shock treatments and that kind of stuff.”

It didn’t take the young Betty Bryant long to figure out her day-job wasn’t what she wanted to do the rest of her life. With a college degree under her belt, playing piano on the radio broadcast peaked her interest in her instrument again and her love of music was reignited. To self-support, she worked as a secretary for a couple of years, until the gigs started steadily rolling in. One of the first gigs she accepted was with Buddy Brown’s band. He was looking for a singer and Betty snatched the opportunity to expand her repertoire and experience.

Betty: “For a little while, I was a stand-up singer with the Buddy Brown Band. He played trumpet. I don’t remember much more than that. I would say he had maybe an eight-piece band. They had a big-band sound. It was before trios and quartets were popular. It was pre-Nat King Cole. I was singing blues in one form or another; Fast blues, slow blues, happy blues, sad blues. One, four, five forever,” she referred to the chord structure of the blues.

“No standards. It was mainly just keeping that beat so people would keep dancing. Somebody called me yesterday and they were amazed that I actually knew Jay McShann and that we were good friends. He was a very down to earth person. He took me under his wing. When I was twelve, I bought his book and I was trying to stretch my little fingers to walk tenths with my left hand. I learned to do that when I was twelve. It was because of studying that Jay McShann book. I learned how to play “Vine Street Boogie” and “Confessin’ the Blues”.

“But I didn’t actually meet Jay McShann until much later. It was after I came back to Kansas City from Topeka. He was working a gig, and somehow or another, I started going by his gig. He’d get off the stand and let me play piano with his band. It was so much fun and I was so honored to be able to do this. Of course, everything was still segregated at that time. We would play, and then on our breaks the band had to go down in the basement of the place. We couldn’t sit out in the audience with the people. Somebody in the band would run across the street to the liquor store and get a bottle. We’d sit down there for the break and pass the bottle around. They never bought a big bottle to last through the night. They’d go out and get a bottle to last through the break; like a pint. It was a funny time. Then I started working at a place, doing a Single.”

NOTE: A Single is musician talk for one person who plays solo piano and who might also sing.

“The place I worked was near where Jay McShann happened to be playing. I got off earlier than he did and when I got off, I’d go by his gig and hang out with him and his guys. There was Richard White, who became Ahmad Alladeen. He played baritone saxophone. There was a guy named “Jeep” Griddine who played guitar like the Count Basie rhythm guitarist. Jeep couldn’t dance, his feet did not work, but boy could he play that rhythm guitar. “Piggy” played trumpet. His real name was Orville Minor. “Fats” played tenor and Al Duncan played drums. I can’t believe I remembered all those names,” her laugh tinkles across the telephone line like the upper register of the piano.

(NOTE: An historic photo of Betty Bryant with her mentor and friend, Jay McShann, currently hangs in the lobby of her Kansas City ‘American Jazz Museum’.)

I told Betty that I had heard a few people say her piano style reminded them a little of Count Basie. I asked her if she had ever met the Count?

“Really? No, I never met Count Basie. I do have a documentary of Jay McShann, with Count Basie. It’s called “The Last of the Blue Devils”. It’s a great documentary. I have it on a VHF video. Jay sent it to me. You know those little address stickers you get when you donate to something? It’s got one of those little stickers on it that says Jay McShann and his address. It’s not an autograph, but that’s the kind of person that he was. He did that himself. It wasn’t like he had someone handling that for him.”

This VHF treasure that Betty owns and that is titled, “The Last of the Blue Devils” features a host of jazz icons including Lester Young, Max Roach, Big Joe Turner, Charlie Parker, Charles McPherson, Dizzy Gillespie, Jo Jones and Eddie Durham. According to publicity notes about this documentary, written by J. Hailey, during the Kansas City Prohibition days, jazz music was the rage. In the late 1970’s, a bunch of musicians gathered at the Union Hall to discuss that so-called, Pendergast era. The participants included some of the Walter Page Blue Devils, several being musicians who joined Bennie Moten’s band and others who joined and stayed with Count Basie’s band. Highlights of the filmed documentary offer remembrances of Lester Young, stories and discussion about how Charlie Parker got his nickname. There are highlights of Joe Turner’s vocals and McShann’s extraordinary piano playing. A drum clinic is included that’s hosted by Jo Jones. Betty Bryant has one historic piece of film memorabilia in her collection!

In 1955, Betty transplanted to Los Angeles. She had grown as a musician and an artist under the rich tutelage of Jay McShann. Ms. Bryant was quick to tell me Jay McShann had greatly influenced her style of playing. She was also enamored with Nat King Cole’s musicianship. However, the little lady with the bluesy piano and convincing vocals felt it was time for her to leave Kansas City. She was more self-assured and prepared than she had ever been. It was time to spread her wings and fly.

“What happened was, Earl Grant, the piano player/organist, left Kansas City before I did. And I got his job in Kansas City. I basically got the job because everybody knew I was Girard Bryant’s daughter. And that was one of the reason I had to get out of Kansas City, because I never was me. I was always ‘his daughter’. It drove me nuts. After I left, years and years later, when I was playing in Brazil in 1972, something was printed in Kansas City that Dr. Girard Bryant’s daughter is playing in Brazil. I had to get away from there to be myself. So, when Earl left Kansas City, the person who had hired him hired me to take his place in her club. And she was right. At that time, I had no repertoire. By that time, I had added “Laura,” and a few things besides the blues. But I still didn’t have much of a repertoire. I was playing at a club called, Millie’s. I knew Earl from way back. Earl and my sister share a birthday date and they used to share birthday parties when they were really young. So, he came out here and became a fixture. He was playing at Club Pigalle (a popular club located at 4135 South Figuroa that hosted several local acts) and also at this swanky little club in Beverly Hills. When I arrived in town, I got in touch with Earl. He got me a gig in that Beverly Hills club on his night off. It just fell into place.”

Shortly after she arrived in the City of Angels, Betty Bryant enjoyed an intimate observation of the great Billie Holiday performing in a small Hollywood nightspot. Betty told me about that.

“I didn’t see Billie Holiday perform until I moved out here. There was a little place on Wilshire and La Brea. Everything has changed architecturally now, but it was a club that faced Wilshire. If you went across the street and up a block there was another club that faced La Brea and Dizzy Gillespie used to play there. Between those two places, they booked all these big names. There was a lot going on in the fifties. But anyway, I remember I went to see Billie Holiday and Johnny Ray, who had that hit record, ‘The Little White Cloud that Cried.’ I didn’t get to meet Billie Holiday and I didn’t get to speak to her. She was just sort of out-of-it that night. But I had to be there. I went by myself. That was the only time I ever saw her and I’m glad it was in a small club setting. You could feel the whole presence of her. Small clubs are so much better than being in the big venues they have today. They’re so intimate, especially for jazz.

“in those days, Union agents patrolled the clubs. So, you pretty much had to be in the Union and they made sure you paid your dues and your membership was up to date. The agents all had offices in the union and they made sure you didn’t have more than the number of hired musicians on the bandstand. So, if you hired six people, you couldn’t have more than six on the bandstand. That cut out people who just wanted to come jam or sit-in. They would fine you back then.

“When I arrived in Los Angeles, the Union had a thing where you cannot transfer from one Musician’s Union to another. I had to join the one out here and then there’s a three-month waiting period. Because they said you might be taking jobs away from people that already lived here. I could work Casuals, but not a regular job.”

NOTE: A ‘Casual’ in the music business is a one-time, private party or private event.

“So, at first the Union told me, No. It’s not a Casual, because you’re doing it every Monday night. I fought them about it. They finally relented and let me do it. It was obvious I wasn’t taking work away from anyone, because no one had been working on Monday nights.

“You know, when I came out here, it was at the exact same time when civil right were being fought for all over the country. Like in Kansas City, I got the first job downtown for a black musician. You could play the black clubs, but the clubs that were sort of out (in the suburbs), we rarely patronized those clubs. But you could work in them. All of that was happening, just about at that same time I moved here. In a way, I don’t really know how to say this without it coming out wrong, but, when everything became desegregated, it wiped out all the black clubs. Everybody wanted to go to the integrated clubs, whether it was the same music or not.”

Betty has worked several clubs around the Los Angeles area, always expanding her repertoire and popularity. I used to love to hear both Betty and Howlett Smith perform duos with Larry Gales or Tomas Gargano at the now defunct, Bob Burns Restaurant, in Santa Monica. Ms. Bryant is a mainstay of Kansas City jazz, be it as a Single performer, a duo or with a trio or quartet. Her style is distinctive and her beaming personality is infectious.

One unexpected day, Betty Bryant got a call from a friend, Polo Lenna, who asked her if she’d like to perform in Oman. Oman shares borders with Saudi Arabia, Yeman and the United Arab Emirates. Betty figured, why not? She accepted the gig, packed her gowns, sparkle shoes and her music, then off she went for a four-month stint in the Middle East, where she was warmly received.

In 1972, she was walking down the hallway of the Union building when someone called her into their office and introduced her to the drummer who was touring with Sergio Mendes. It seems they were looking for someone just like her to work in Brazil. Auditions were being held at the Sergio Mendes home. More out of curiosity, than for any other reason, Betty went to the audition. The Mendes house did not disappoint her, even though she never saw the main house. Auditions were held in the Mendes pool house that had been converted into a studio. Betty said the sprawling home was still impressive. Surprisingly, they immediately offered her the gig. But at that time, the busy pianist had a seven-year-old son and the responsibility of motherhood. They told her she could bring him with her. Once again, Betty packed her gowns, her music and this time, her young son. They spent the next six months in Rio de Janeio, Brazil.

The globe-trotting Ms. Betty Bryant also spent several years performing at the Tableaux Lounge in Tokyo, Japan. She was one of the featured performers in the Boquete Jazz and Blues Festival in Boquete, Panama. Her annual Birthday Bash at the famous Hollywood jazz room, Catalina’s, is always packed with iconic names and faithful followers. In 1987, Betty Bryant Day was declared in Kansas City and she was gifted with the keys to her city. Imagine her surprise and pleasure when she learned, years later and after the Jazz Museum was established in Kansas City, that a historic photograph of herself with Jay McShann hangs in the lobby. In 2011, Linda Morgan’s Jazzabration and Living Legend Society honored Betty Bryant for her many lifetime musical achievements at the Barbara Morrison Performing Art Center in Los Angeles. Additionally, she has received several State and City proclamations and Awards that celebrate her undeniable talents and community involvement. She continues to lend her name and performances each year to the Dolo Coker Foundation event that raises money to support youthful jazz musicians in their educational pursuits.

This year, Betty Bryant is 88-years-young and still going strong. She has decided that what better time to record an album in celebration of her eighty-eight years on the planet and the eighty-eight keys she plays on piano. Her co-producer will be her friend and first choice of saxophone players, Robert Kyle. They will be going into the studio soon to create her 9th album. Betty is a consummate composer and we can expect to hear some of her original material on this new production.

Meantime, she is still busy performing around town. You can catch Betty Bryant on February 8, 2018 at the Vibrato Grill; 2930 Beverly Glen Circle; Los Angeles, CA 90077 on a Thursday night at 8PM. There is a $20 cover charge and you are invited to make a table reservation and enjoy a meal at this very swanky supper club owned by jazz trumpeter and legend, Herb Alpert.


February 1, 2018


By jazz journalist/Dee Dee McNeil

January 27, 2018 – Live Jazz Review

What a nice surprise to have Detroit pianist/arranger, Bill Meyer, pop into town with his wife Twyla. They arrived on a Thursday and he immediately wanted to know where the jam sessions were in Los Angeles. So, I sent him to the World Stage in Leimert Park. On Saturday, I had time to meet them for brunch at Gloria Cadena’s jazz spot, the famous Lighthouse Café in Hermosa Beach. I wanted Bill to experience the ambience of a club well-known for its founder, bassist Howard Rumsey and his All-Stars. Some of the original All-Star group were tenor sax man, Bob Cooper, (who was also married to singer June Christy), Bud Shank on alto saxophone, Claude Williamson at the piano and Stan Levey on drums.

Rumsey began the jazz policy in 1949, once he convinced Mr. John Levine, who owned the place, that music would bring people. The Lighthouse Café is a spot walking distance from the Pacific Ocean, an intimate club where local and master jazz cats have worked and recorded for years. Their photographs pepper the walls of this famous nightspot. Iconic musicians like Cannonball Adderley, Cal Jader, Horace Silver, Larry Gales, Mose Allison, Ramsey Lewis, Art Pepper, Shelly Manne, Jimmy Giuffre, Max Roach, Lee Morgan, Art Blakey, Charles Earland and the list goes on and on. These giants have played on this tiny stage. I even worked this club with the Dwight Dickerson trio on several occasions and also with the Theo Saunders group.

Rumsey is also responsible for opening another famed jazz spot in Redondo Beach, California called, “Concerts By the Sea.” After John Levine sold Rumsey’s Lighthouse club to Rudy Onderwyzer, the jazz policy faded away and a number of other styles of music began to be featured at the popular beach bar. It was producer, Ozzie Cadena, who championed bringing jazz back to the Lighthouse Café. He built up a fine following on Sundays and as the crowds grew, he was able to expand to a few other days in the week. His energetic and determined widow, Gloria Cadena, now keeps the jazz happening at the Lighthouse Café. I was happy to see her this past Saturday when I arrived with my Detroit friends and their daughter.

Much to my delight, Sam Hirsh and his swinging trio were on stage when I walked into the club. I caught the last of their first set. On their second set, they began with the spirited Horace Silver tune entitled “St. Vitus Dance” from his “Blowin’ the Blues Away” album. Hirsh handled Silver’s composition skillfully, fingers flying across the electric keyboard, while Alex Boneham on bass and drummer, Kevin Kanner held the uptempo number in place like a vice. The next tune was an original composition by Hirsh. It shuffled into the room and grooved the audience as waitresses served scrambled eggs with spinach and fried potatoes or bar-b-que chicken pizza’s to the hungry patrons. A strong bassline began the third tune titled, “Minor Rundown,” a Benny Golson tune written for Paul Chambers. This was followed by Tad Dameron’s composition, “Our Delight,“ was played at a maddening pace. The trio solos raced around the room, in a straight-ahead-jazz kind of way and Kevin Kanner on drums took the liberty of showing off his chops on this one. “Sunset Tides” settled the room down as a lovely ballad and let us appreciate Sam Hirsh’s mastery of the piano keys. It was one of his original tunes. “Who to Choose” featured a BeBop arrangement and gave Alex Boneham an opportunity to show his harmonics on the upright bass, using a technique of playing a 2-string solo that was enchanting. This was followed by a jazz waltz tune “Satya” (Sam’s sister’s middle name) and the set closed with a swinging tune titled, “No C,“ that be-bopped us out the door. Sam wrote this original tune because everybody always tries to add a C to his name and it’s spelled with no C. Judging by the strong applause, a good time was had by all.

On Wednesday, February 7th , Sam Hirsh joins the L.A. Jazz Machine group that is comprised of Henry Franklin, bass, Benn Clatworthy, saxophone, and Yayo Morales, drummer at the famous Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach from 6pm to 9pm. It’s their CD release party. No Cover Charge. Be there!

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January 30, 2018

By Jazz Journalist/Dee Dee McNeil

January 30, 2018

Pintch Hard Label

Leslie Pintchik, piano; Steve Wilson, alto saxophone; Ron Horton, trumpet/flugelhorn; Shoko Nagai, accordion; Scott Hardy, acoustic & electric bass/acoustic & electric guitar; Michael Sarin, drums; Satoshi Takeisi, percussion.

Ms. Pintchik’s odd title tickles the interest. The first cut is also the CD’s title tune. It’s played at a moderate, funk tempo with horns punctuating the arrangement like pins comfortably sticking into a pin cushion. Leslie Pintchik’s piano talents are obvious from the first several bars of her original music. First, she introduces us to a strong melodic line and then jumps off the bridge without a life jacket, splashing into the improvisational unknown.

The second cut stimulates memories of Ahmad Jamal with Michael Sarin on drums reaching back in time to the unforgettable “Poinciana” percussive brilliance. The tune is “I’m Glad There is You” and as Leslie Pintchik sings this lovely melody on the 88-keys, I cling to every note. She’s passionate. Her rendition of Jerome Kern & Otto Harbach’s haunting “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” is arranged as a spirited Bossa Nova. Scott Hardy showcases a happy and infectious bass solo on this familiar tune.

Who would believe that this outstanding pianist deserted her doctorate in 17th century English Literature at Columbia University, (and her teaching job) to pursue jazz piano? But I’m glad she did! Not only is this woman talented, she’s got book smarts too. Her seven-minute piano dissertation on “Mortal” is sensuous and Steve Wilson’s alto saxophone plays beautifully, interpreting this song vividly through the sensitive bell of his horn. Ron Horton sings like a brass bird on trumpet. This is really a lovely composition and Pintchik gives her band free-reins to gallop through the changes. From the title of some of her original compositions, I’d say this woman has a fair amount of tongue-in-cheek humor. One example is her title tune and the other is a song she calls, “Your Call Will Be Answered by our Next Available Representative In The Order In Which It Was Received. Please Stay On the Line. Your Call Is Important to us.” Very funny! Most of us have been there, done that. Pintchik has composed six of the eight songs on this recording and every one of them is well-written and well-played. I enjoyed each cut and the addition of accordion on a few of the songs was delightful, with Shoko Nagai’s talents on this instrument adding much to mood and arrangements. This is a masterful, musical artist. I listened to her joyful, and sometimes pensive music, for nearly an hour. Then I played it again. I bet you will too.

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Mulatta Record Label

Dave Solder, musician/neuroscientist; Brad Garton, composer/computer-musician; Dan Trueman, hardanger fiddle; Margaret Lancaster, the solo flute; Terry Pender, the mandolin; William Hooker, trap drums.

When the first Avant Garde musical sounds greeted my inquisitive ears, I immediately thought, this is music you play during meditation. That was such an odd thought for me to have, that I went to the liner notes before the first tune, “Bible School Vacation,” had finished playing. I reviewed the titles of the tunes and they were creative. I read, “Taco Tuesday,” “Harajuku Hiccup,” and “Cerebellum, “just to mention a few. This is New Age music, or is it? I wondered. Their publicist referred to it as jazz, classical and electronic music. Once I read the liner notes, I knew I had to share them, just as Jim Eigo at Jazz Promo Services had written them. They completely describe this music and the fascinating way it was created by a neuroscientist and software.

In 2008, musician/neuroscientist, Dave Solder, approached composer/computer-musician, Brad Garton with an idea. Dave (the neuroscientist) had become aware of fairly inexpensive electroencephalograph or EEG sensors that could measure the electrical output of the brain (ie: brainwaves). Working with these sensors over the past ten years, Brad and Dave developed a set of software tools that could generate music using this brainwave data. As they worked out the system, they have played concerts at Rock festivals, … radio stations, …the New York City Opera, colleges, museums and Cornell University. They even played an hour-long PBS TV special. … They are probably the only avant garde music act to be invited to perform at the National Institutes of Health, where they were ivited by the graduate students.

In shows, typically Dave gives a lecture with slides on the brain’s cortical activity and how it senses and produces rhythm. Brad explains how the waves recorded from the cortex are translated to music. Then, they use their own brainwaves or those of guest musicians to compose in real time, generally with the musicians improvising on their instruments.

An interesting question remains, is this music really ‘composed’? If it is not done intentionally, with the brain always controlling the music making, and in this case, it can create music even when asleep or unconscious. The latest version of these tools were used to produce this CD and the software used will soon be freely available. This uses a process of ‘data sonification’ or the translation of a stream of numbers into musical production and control. The raw data is used to trigger and modify synthetic digital musical instruments.

This concept, I find AMAZING!!!!

The EEG signal is made by the neural activity detected by the sensors, but does not reveal any high-level concepts or ideas that are being ‘thought’ (although the brain activity responds to sensory inputs like the touch of the drumhead and sound and activated movements, then is modulated by mental states).

Dave and Brad decided to exploit this feature by creating a feedback loop of sorts with musicians being invited to play along with themselves, thus generating music with brainwaves resulting from the process of generating that music. For this first complete recording of “The Brainwave Music Project”, four soloists were invited to take part in the sessions. Each plays a solo instrument and the instruments themselves each come laden with a rich musical tradition. The hardanger fiddle, played by Dan Trueman; a solo flute by Margaret Lancaster; Terry Pender on the mandolin and the trap drums played by William Hooker all represent long social and cultural histories. This awareness, as well as the awareness of what and how the musicians are playing, is certainly a part of the brainwave data used to build the synthetic accompaniment for each piece.

I invite you to indulge yourself in this odd listening experience of an even odder musical creation.

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Concord Records

Jamison Ross, vocals/drums/composer; Rick Lollar, guitars/background vocals/composer; Chris Pattishall, piano; Cory Irvin, Hammond B-3 organ/Fender Rhodes/Wurlitzer/background vocals; Barry Stephenson, bass.

Jamison Ross is an R&B artist who infuses his music with jazz and brings a fresh, new perspective to the forefront of crossover airplay. At times, he reminds me of Jeffrey Osborne. Not in tone or originality, but in his ability to sing pop or rhythm and blues or jazz with the same effectiveness. He offers us sincerity and freshness. His voice is a rainbow of colors that cross the musical genres with ease and beauty. Additionally, he is a competent drummer, composer and bandleader. As a musician/drummer, Ross won the Thelonius Monk Institute of Jazz International Drum Competition and released his premiere disc as a result of that prestigious award in 2015. This CD expands his talent dimensions by adding ‘vocalist’ to his list of credits.

Starting with his first song, “A Mellow Good Time,” composed by Allen Toussaint, the party begins. “Unspoken” is an original composition by Ross & cowriter, Richard Lollar. The lyrics are poignant, about a couple finding distance between them because one is always gone, but their unspoken commitment keeps them strong. The rhythm is unusual and the soulful melody is tinged with blues. Jamison Ross wrote this song for his wife, Adrienne. But I am really struck by his interpretation of Etta Jone’s hit song, “Don’t Go To Strangers”. He interprets this song beautifully and I believe it’s the first time I’ve heard a man tackle this lyric. Pianist, Chris Pattishall gives solid support during his heart-rending arrangement.

The tone and style of this vocalist/musician is uniquely fresh and endearing. His voice is unforgettable and that is an important factor when you are establishing your artistry. Mose Allison’s “Everybody’s Cryin Mercy” is another touch of jazz and once again showcases this artist’s delightful vocal stylings. His original composition, “Safe In The Arms of Love” sings like a prayer. Once again, I’m struck by this vocalist’s style and tone. The Latin rhythm underneath a lilting melody adds interest and features Ross’s percussive mastery. Perhaps this artist best describes his own product in his liner notes.

“All For One is the second chapter to my story as an artist with a deep understanding of American music. I continue to explore the aroma of jazz using elements of gospel, soul and R&B. I utilize the organ as my string orchestra, tugging as much emotion from a composition as possible. Just like a Sunday morning, I use the soul of my voice to shape a message with conviction with the use of traditional R&B. I preach the need for the world’s love to be united.”

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Panorama Records

Steve Slagle, alto/soprano saxophones & flute/composer; Lawrence Fields, piano; Scott Colley, bass; Bill Stewart, drums; Roman Diaz, conga/percussion; Dave Stryker, guitar.

Steve Slagle has composed the majority of these songs, dedicating each one of the nine compositions recorded to a special character or thing directly related to his musical journey. For example, the first tune that comes busting out the gate is “Sun Song.” He dedicated it to the great Sonny Rollins. Although Slagle admires the tone and talent of Rollins, he definitely has his own unique sound.

Slagle was once, many years ago, a member of Carla Bley’s band when bassist/composer Steve Swallow nicknamed him “Niner”. That’s what tune number two represents, the nickname given and one he fondly embraces. Both of these tunes Swing hard and bebop across my room, filling it with energy and ebullience.

As a leader, Slagle is in command at all times. But it’s his bandmates who keep the grooves going strong beneath his flurry of notes and improvisational treks. “Major In Come” flies like a sparrow on amphetamines. This title has a double meaning. It’s built on major chords in five different keys and it’s meant to challenge his band to Swing at an incredible and challenging pace. Lawrence Fields on piano does not disappoint, given several bars to showcase his versatile and improvised solo. Bassist, Scott Colley pounds out the time and grooves hard, hammering the rhythm section together by locking time succinctly with drummer Bill Stewart. On Stewart’s solo, you hear the fire and passion in each stroke of his sticks.

“Triste Beleza” that translates to ‘beautiful sadness’ was composed in tribute to the amazing and spirited music that has come out of Brazil. It sounds a wee bit like ‘Speak Low’, but quickly presents a very different melody for the band to embellish. Stryker adds his guitar magic on this song.

All in all, here is a well-produced album of well-played and excellent compositions by Steve Slagle. He has composed seven of the nine tunes and recorded one song written by his special guest, Dave Stryker titled “Corazon” and included the Wayne Shorter composition, “Charcoal Blues.” This is an album full of excitement and East Coast energy. On “Opener”, another one of my favorites, Roman Diaz makes this production shine with his percussive excellence. Slagle adds a flute towards the end of the tune that lifts the production to higher heights. And by the way, I love the artwork created for the inside cover by Ivan Pazlamatchev and titled for Slagle’s first cut, “Sun Song.” Most of these songs are full of heat and power, like the sun itself. This album is burning hot!

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Zoho Roots

John Hart, guitar; Adam Scone, Hammond organ; Rudy Albin Petschauer, drums.

Opening with Amy Winehouse’s popular hit song, “Rehab” this guitar trio paints the tune in bright, happy colors. They’ve speeded the song tempo up, but I think Miss Winehouse would have approved. John Hart, on guitar, is upfront and personal on his instrument, improvising at a steady speed and setting the bar high for Adam Scone on his Hammond B3 Organ. Rudy Albin Petschauer keeps his fellow musicians grounded with solid drum rhythm. Petschauer was a former member of organist Jack McDuff’s group and McDuff was one of my favorite organists back-in-the-day. Adam Scone is said to build his sound from the bottom up on his organ. That means his bass footwork locks in with the drums and represents what it takes to be a real organ player. You can tell, because you don’t miss a bass player on this recording. Then comes John Hart, an adventurous guitar player who is gifted in both rhythm guitar, blues and improvisational solo work. His electronic sound adds spice to this recording and plays nicely off of Scones organ sounds. Hart, like Petschauer, also was a Jack McDuff bandmate. On “Look of Love” the trio’s sound settles into a Bossa Nova groove and Hart proves that he can cover all styles. Now his guitar is more acoustic, nylon string-sounding, and his approach is sweet and tender, even when he double-times his improvisational solo. On this tune, he showcases his inventiveness. I hardly recognized Sade’s “Smooth Operator” tune. They’ve arranged it as a shuffle and it really swings hard. You’ll also enjoy a couple of Adele’s songs on this recording and Pop Star, Joss Stone’s “Don’t Start Lyin’ To Me Now’ is incorporated into their line-up. For this reviewer, some of the fuzzy guitar parts and the rock influenced arrangements interrupt the pure jazz concept of a Jimmy Smith or McDuff band, but that’s a matter of listener taste. It was especially annoying on Adele’s “Rolling In the Deep.” But the trio redeemed themselves on “Blues for the U.K., composed by John Hart.

Perhaps Adam Scone explained the groups concept the best in their liner notes.

“All great organ groups take popular songs and use them as vehicles to churn out organ style hits. … We focus on the modern music of the UK, but follow in the footsteps of the masters.”<

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January 25, 2018

By Dee Dee McNeil/Jazz Journalist

January 25, 2018

There are many descriptions of the voice that pours out of this 5’ 3” little lady. For me, her voice is sweet as honey and spicy as cayenne. It soothes you, while caressing the lyrics with tender, emotional touches. But it can bite deep and inspire you to move and dance. Andrea Miller is unique in both style and presentation. She doesn’t sound like anyone in particular, except herself, and that’s a good thing. Ms. Miller has developed her own sound, which is the sign of a great artist. I recently had the opportunity to interview Andrea about her life, her music and her history. While young in the business, she has garnered a string of very impressive accomplishments.

Andrea Miller: “I was born and raised in Salem, Oregon and my parents still live there in the house where I grew up. It’s probably a population of 160,000-plus people. It has a real small- town feel.

“I come from a very musical family, especially on my dad’s side of the family. Both of his parents were music teachers. His dad (George Miller) taught band and his mom, my grandma, (Vona Miller) was a choir teacher. My dad majored in music and he taught high school band at Prineville High school in Oregon for probably the first five years of my life. My brother and I were both little kids and dad was only making about $6 an hour. My mom was a stay-at-home wife and wasn’t working. I remember we ate our cereal breakfast with orange juice, because we couldn’t afford milk. He (dad) got offered a job to move from Prineville to Salem to be an Equitable Life Insurance salesman. Dad took the job and worked his way up to management and stayed with them for the next thirty-five years. But he never stopped playing music. He was a clarinet player and a saxophone player. The clarinet was his main instrument. He played first chair clarinet in the Salem Concert Band and he did that for years.

“My brother is also a musician. He’s a wonderful piano player. He makes his living doing that, teaching music at two different schools in Oregon. He lives there with his wife. He currently has 57 students. Most of them are little kids.”

I asked Andrea what kind of music she listened to as a youth in Oregon.

“On the weekends we had chores and we’d clean the house and vacuum; do the work we were assigned to do. My dad would blast the record player and he would play Benny Goodman, Erroll Garner’s “Concert by the Sea” album and “Rhapsody in Blue.” I heard those albums being played pretty much every weekend. So, I grew up listening to jazz. My dad also made sure he exposed me, at a very early age, to Stevie Wonder and Quincy Jones. Yes, I got a lot of really good musical tastes from my dad. He tells this story about when I was maybe five-years-old and it was Christmas time. I was sitting on the couch in the family room with him and I was singing “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer”, perfectly in tune and with vibrato. The story goes, he turned to my mom and says, ‘honey – I think we have a singer on our hands.’

“Mom said, ‘Oh all kids sing.’ But my dad recognized my talent that early.

“When I was twelve, I got cast in the Children’s Theater and I was singing in my grade school choir. At twelve-years-old, I got cast as Annie in a big production that was in a neighboring town. I starred in that musical and it ran for two weeks. In the audience, one night, was my future voice teacher. OMG – she’s an angel and she’s still around. Her name is Dr. Myra Brand. She came up to me after the show and offered to be my mentor. She said, if this is something you’d like to do, I’d like to help cultivate your voice and teach you how to sing properly and breathe correctly. I teach opera. My mom asked me, do you want to do it? I said yep. So, every Saturday morning, around eleven-o-clock, we’d drive over to Dr. Brand’s house and I would get my one-hour lesson. I studied opera from age twelve to seventeen with Dr. Myra Brand. I learned how to sing properly, how to breathe. She was just a wonderful teacher, a beautiful spirit and a kind person. She taught me a lot about music but also about being a good person.

“But with opera, it’s all about hitting the mark and there’s not room for a lot of improvisation. I later became really interested in pursuing jazz.”

However, it took time for Andrea Miller to become a jazz vocalist. In the 90’s, she graduated her Oregon high school, winning a grant and a scholarship to attend USC. She had to audition, as well as having a good GPA score. It’s noteworthy that Andrea is not only talented, she’s smart too! For the next four years, she applied those ‘smarts’ as part of the Bachelor of Fine Arts Program in Theater at the prestigious University of Southern California. Her scholarship only lasted two years, but Andrea is resourceful. She knew how to pinch pennies. It took her fifteen years to pay her college debt off, but she told me proudly, I finally did it.

Andrea Miller: “I always wanted to pursue the arts. I quickly realized, within about a year after graduating from college, that it wasn’t acting that was in my heart and soul. My passion was singing. I said to myself, you know what? I’m going to be a singer. I’m going to drop the head shots and the audition calls to pursue my music.

“When I first started singing it was definitely more pop music. I was writing my own songs and collaborating with writers. I was kind of doing the singer/songwriter, coffee house scene. I had my little demo of original songs. Next, I really got into R&B and I was doing a lot of session work. After a while, I got bored. I reminded myself of my days singing opera and the really challenging singing that I used to do. I just kind of got tired of “Ooo baby baby” type songs. That was in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. At that time, I loved Mary J. Blige, Lauren Hill and Erykah Badu. I think Erykah Badu was the closest thing to what I was trying to do. I just got a little frustrated and I kind of plateaued.

“It was Drama-Logue magazine that brought about a change. I had a subscription to it. I was really bored one night and I looked at the back of the magazine at a little blurb advertising ‘Open Mic’ night at The Money Tree.” (a local Los Angeles County restaurant and bar). “Everything changed in 2001 when I walked into The Money Tree. That was my changing moment. That night I met Eddie Olivieri on piano, drummer, Frank Wilson and bassist, Clarence Robinson.

“When I was fourteen, my mom and dad got me the 3-tape cassette package of Linda Ronstadt with the Nelson Riddle Orchestra. There were maybe 30 songs that she sang. I learned all of them. I listened to those tapes over and over. I still have those cassettes. So, from learning those standard jazz songs, I knew (the Thelonius Monk composition), ‘Round Midnight. When I walked into The Money Tree, I signed my name on the sign-up sheet and when they called me to the bandstand, they asked me what song I was going to sing. I said, ‘Round Midnight. They said, are you sure? I said yes. After that, I started going in there every Tuesday.

“I was practicing and recording my songs at home with these pre-recorded back-up tapes. I was sharing my practice tapes with Frank Wilson (the drummer) and he kind of took me under his wing. He taught me how to ‘trade fours’ and how to sing a line and how people come back in after the musician’s solo. He just guided me. He suggested songs I should learn and the little practice tapes I was giving him, he passed on to a guy named Stephen Boyd, who’s a producer and a pianist. So, Stephen offered to invest and musically produce an album called ‘Perfect Day.’ They played three cuts of it on KJZZ. (KJAZZ is the local Los Angeles 24-hour jazz station).
“One thing led to another and I got my first chance to record a jazz album. We had the late bassist, Bob Maize, on that session. We did that record in 2003 or 2004. Next, I had to figure out how to quit my day job. I was a secretary full time. So, I ended up getting a roommate and sleeping on my living room floor and giving the roommate my bedroom. Consequently, I was able to save up, over a nine-month period, four-thousand dollars. Then I quit my job as a secretary and started doing three nights a week in Korea Town for forty-dollars a show.”

“But I knew I had to start somewhere. Everything has kind of been growing from that moment when I walked into the Money Tree and knew I wanted to be a jazz singer. There’s never any ending point to artistry. You just keep growing. That’s why I love it so much.”

Andrea Miller’s love for music and jazz has opened many doors for her. She shared an amazing experience with me about working with the famous songwriting team of Alan and Marilyn Bergman and singing an Ennio Morricone composition.

Ennio Morricone is a famous Italian composer, orchestrator, trumpet player and an iconic conductor. He is heralded as one of the most experimental, influential and versatile composers of our time. From 1946 to present, he’s composed over 500 scores for both cinema and television. Mr. Morricone also composes classical works. His music has been part of the soundtracks of over 70 award-winning films. In 2006, Ennio Morricone was working on a tribute album featuring many of his favorite compositions written for film. He had one song that needed lyrics, so he asked Alan and Marilyn Bergman if they would write lyrics for his song. It was titled, “I Knew I Loved You.”

At one point, (as a ‘day job’), Andrea Miller was assisting a concert promoter who was booking celebrity artists all over the world. One of his artists was popular singer, Celine Dion. That promoter travelled to China during a promotional tour with Celine Dion. It just so happened that Ennio Morricone wanted Celine Dion to sing his song for which Alan and Marilyn Bergman had just penned the lyrics. They needed a demo of that song and Andrea’s employer said he knew the perfect person. The next thing the talented, young singer knew, her phone rang and Alan and Marilyn Bergman were on the other end of the line.

The Bergman’s came to Stephen Boyd’s studio in California’s Valley area of Los Angeles county. There, they met Andrea Miller for the first time. That beginning demo session led to her meeting the great arranger/producer, David Foster, who contributed to finishing the project. Finally, it was ready for Celine Dion to hear. The result was that Celine recorded Mr. Morricone’s beautiful song, using Andrea’s vocal demo as a melodic guide.

The icing on the cake was when Ms. Miller’s boss got her tickets to Celine Dion’s Las Vegas show. Full of excitement about a trip to Las Vegas, seeing the show and meeting Celine Dion in-person, Andrea never expected she would also meet the great producer/arranger, Quincy Jones. You never know who you’ll meet in the entertainment business. But everything doesn’t always fall into perfect place.

For example, one of her first recording experiences was a job called “Betsy Bunny”.

Andrea Miller: “I think it was one of the first sessions I did and I didn’t have a lot of experience. I was only paid $100 and they wanted me to sing some lines from the Bunny Hop. You know, put your right foot in, put your right foot out, put your right foot in and you shake it all about …,” she sang and we laughed out loud.

Andrea was told the session was for a key chain line of bunny’s, but later she discovered that her voice became the vocals inside a stuffed bunny that was marketed widely in America.

Another studio experience she remembers with joy was the “Look to the Sky” session. It happened in 2016. Producer/artist, Eric Wyatt, was a fan of her voice and invited her to perform with him at the Brooklyn Academy of Music after she told him she would be visiting New York. He was recording a new album and asked her if she would perform “My Favorite Things” with him. Of course, she said yes!

Another unusual session was for the Samsung company. She’s recorded three different ‘ring tones’ for that phone corporation. This session proceeded in an unusual way. The Korean producers produced it via Skype. Andrea remembers they demanded of her, “More energy! More energy!” while she was singing the hook, “If you’re gonna make your move, just do it.” She laughed telling me it was the first time she had been produced long-distance, from another country, via Skype.

I asked her what tips she could offer hopeful singers who want to break into studio session work.

Andrea Miller: “Well, I suppose you probably want to have a demo of some sort that you can show or share with perspective clients. I used to travel around with my demo’s and my bio package. I kind of got my session work word of mouth. Someone gave me references. But I would say, in order to keep the job, if you get that kind of opportunity, if your session starts at 1pm, get there at 12:45 and be completely warmed up by one. Bring a bottle of water. Be familiar with the song and be prepared. Be prompt. Be flexible and have a good attitude. Be willing to take direction. When you’re hired to sing something, that person has a special vision of what they want to hear. Be open to taking their direction.”

This writer might add that most studio session singers can read music. The ones who make the most money and get the most calls are those who can read charts. Remember that Ms. Miller has a degree in music and theater.

Other outstanding experiences Andrea Miller has had include her performance with the Salt Lake City Orchestra.

“That was very rewarding,” she told me. “When you sing with specific orchestrated charts, you experience a different kind of nervousness. Unlike working with a trio or quartet, there’s little room for improvisational freedom. That means there’s no room for screwing up!”

Her other great achievement was becoming the opening act for the late, great Al Jarreau in 2016. His manager and his band were so supportive of her talent that they immediately signed her up to become Al’s opening act for an upcoming international tour planned for 2018. Al Jarreau himself spoke about his initial introduction to the little lady with the big, beautiful voice.

“As my countdown to the stage got smaller and smaller, I started to hear some marvelous music coming from the stage, floating through my dressing room window. Our opening act was a brilliant, young singer named Andrea Miller. The whole band was impressed with her song selection, with her bandmates, arrangements and her jazz sensibilities. I enjoyed listening to the little bit I got to hear and the band enjoyed their even closer look,” Al recalled their initial meeting.

Andrea, along with all of us in the jazz world and beyond, became stunned when the great singer/songwriter, Al Jarreau, passed away on February 12, 2017.

This year is starting out fresh and flush with possibilities. Andrea Miller has an engagement in Miami, Florida where she is one of the top finalists in the Conquer Entertainment Talent Contest on February 2, 2018. On the seventeeth of February, she will headline with her jazz group at the Newport Beach Jazz Party in California. On May 25th she’ll be a featured LACMA entertainer and in late Spring, she’ll be recording in Chicago, Illinois for the second time with Michael Cunningham.

Wherever you see her name on the marquee, I invite you to treat yourself to an evening of amazing vocal jazz.


January 6, 2018

By Dee Dee McNeil / jazz journalist

January 6, 2018


Legendary music mogul, Quincy Jones, was very busy last year making sure that America’s proud legacy of jazz continues to flourish. He has founded QWEST TV, a journey into jazz and beyond. Jones, a prolific arranger/producer/composer, launched this Netflix of jazz on December 15, 2017. It’s the world’s first subscription video-on-demand (SVOD), a platform entirely dedicated to jazz and jazz-inspired music forms. Jones has collaborated with French jazz impresario and television producer, Reza Ackbaraly. Surprisingly, interest in the project started on Kickstarter with a crowdfunding campaign in the fall of 2017 and this platform raised $170,000 dollars. The subscription video-streaming service will feature over 100 concerts, documentaries, and interviews of artists including Aretha Franklin, B.B.King, Bobby McFerrin, Robert Glasper, Jacob Collier, Sun Ra, Al Jarreau, George Benson, Kamasi Washington, Erykah Badu, Chick Corea, Gregory Porter and the list goes on and on. Subscriptions are available for a standard cost or at a higher premium. Prices begin around $7.50 per month and the good news is that all subscriptions are ad-free. Interested? You can subscribe at Every program will be accompanied by liner notes written by journalists and jazz experts. The launch of this celebrated accomplishment was celebrated in Paris where a list of iconic artists performed a special tribute to Quincy Jones. This concert was livestreamed through and is available for Video on Demand playback. Soon to be eighty-five years young on March 14th of this year, Quincy Jones explained why he has established this jazz streaming service.

“I have witnessed, first-hand, the power of jazz and all of its off-spring from the blues and R&B to pop, rock and hip-hop, to tear down walls and bring the world together. I believe that a hundred years from now, when people look back at the 20th century, they will view Bird, Miles and Dizzy as our Mozarts, Bachs, Chopins and Tchaikovskys. It’s my hope that Qwest TV will serve to carry forth and build on the great legacy that is jazz for many generations to come.”

Another notable grand-opening that Quincy recently made was in Dubai, a city of great wealth and growth in the United Arab Emeritus. He opened a jazz room in November of 2016 that became quite popular in 2017and features live jazz acts for its cigar bar patrons to enjoy while puffing and drinking. Located in the luxurious Palazzo Versace, a hotel that overlooks a manmade lake, you will discover Q’s Bar and Lounge with a backdrop of straight ahead jazz and a bar menu that includes his famous eight-hour BBQ ribs, chicken wings and a few signature cocktails like the Fresh Prince (of Bel-Air) made with vodka, Chambord and butterscotch liquor. There’s also the ‘Thriller’ cocktail. The bar seats approximately 100 people maximum and is low lit with a blue light theme and a small stage. Probably the most important aspect of this venue is that it’s the first lounge to ever carry the name of the great Quincy Jones, using his familiar nickname of “Q”. Open Monday through Friday, 6pm to 2am with the music starting at 8:30pm nightly. Reservations are suggested. Call 04-556-8888 or See

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Speaking of iconic men who continue to support and perpetuate jazz, retired NBA legend, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar will host the first annual Jazz Congress conference, co-produced by Jazz at Lincoln Center and JazzTimes magazine on January 11 and 12, 2018. The goal of this organization is to bring together artists, media and industry leaders from the global jazz community in a space where they can exchange ideas and resources. It sounds like the re-emergence of a concept called the International Association of Jazz Educators (IAJE) that was quite successful for several years before going bankrupt in 2008. Similar to that now defunct program, the Jazz Congress will present a number of workshops, panelists, moderators and speakers including artists like Terence Blanchard, Aaron Goldberg, Ingrid Jensen, Kenny Barron, Wynton Marsalis and more. Drummer, Terri Lyne Carrington will be presented the Bruce Lundvall Visionary Award, an annual award that recognizes individuals that demonstrate extraordinary leadership and vision in expanding the audience for jazz and a person who has made a real difference for artists, for the music and for the jazz audience. For a complete schedule and more information see

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January 4, 2018

By Jazz Journalist, Dee Dee McNeil

January 4, 2018

At the end of last year, 2017, I received two gigantic boxes of music from the University of North Texas. Not only did the two packages contain an assortment of excellent musicianship, some focusing on the complete recordings of all compositions and arrangements by GRAMMY nominated composer, Neil Slater, but the CD box Sets also included a 168-page book featuring hundreds of photos and notes by band members, colleagues and friends that are meant to honor the legacy of Neil Slater. Additionally, it showcased the expert musicianship of young university players who make up the Two O’Clock, Three O’Clock and One O’ Clock Lab Bands. Here is my review of the Two O’Clock Lab Band under the direction of JAY SAUNDERS. I also reviewed vibraphonist, STEVE HOBBS, who has recorded thirteen tunes in tribute to BOBBY HUTCHERSON. ANGELO DIVINO has the crooning style of cabaret singers who love Sinatra, while international artists, MADELEINE AND SALOMON, surprise me with their duo interpretation of culturally rich songs. On their new album, they sing the praise of women and celebrate cultural diversity, choosing to interpret American music from their French perspective. Finally, ALAN and STACEY SCHULMAN (who call themselves, “AS IS”) have recorded an album that is sparsely produced, but showcases the beauty and clarity of great musicianship and vocals.

Division of Jazz Studies – College of Music – University of North Texas

TWO O’CLOCK LAB BAND MEMBERS LISTED BELOW, IN ALPHABETICAL ORDER, Some appear on various sessions, included in this compilation, and extracted from the band’s previous recorded releases.

Rhythm Sections: Lupe Barrera (perc. & drums), Horace Bray (guitar), Nolan Byrd (drums), Anthony Corsaro (perc.), Emily Davis (vocals), Addison Frei (piano), Davian Garcia (piano), Sean Giddings (piano & organ), Jake Greenburg (bass), Young Heo (bass), Matt Hornbeck (guitar), Matt Hurley (perc), Brad Young Chan Kang (guitar), Scott Kruser (guitar), Sean Jacobi (bass), Sean Jones (drums), Melissa McMillan and Tatiana Mayfield (vocals), Evan Oxenhandler (guitar), Sergio Pamies (piano), Danmiel Parr (bass), Marion Powers (vocals), Duran Ritz (drums), Nick Rothouse (perc.),Greg Sadler (drums), Kaela Sinclair & Ashleigh Smith (vocals), Jacob Smith (bass), Roberto Verastegui (piano), Seth Weaver (vocals), Jacob Wise (guitar), Jessica Young (h), Matt Young (drums).
Saxophones: Ben Bohorquez, Ramsey Castaneda,Ted Davis, Devin Eddieman, Seth Ely, Alex Fraile, Steve Friel, Brian Girley, Alex Hahn, Ian Henderson, Adam Hutcheson, Spenser Liszt, Brett McDonald, Dustin Mollick, Matt Morey, Justin Pierce, Kelsey Pickford, Chris Reardon, Chris Reza, Sarah Roberts, Adam Robertson, J.R. Rocha, Niels Rosendahl, Julian Sutherland, Nick Salvucci, Drew Zaremba.
Trumpets: Micah Bell, Jake Boldman, Andy Cresop, Dan Cron, Thomas Davis, Dan Foster, Andrew Golden, Preston Haining, John Hallman, Ally Hany, Ransom Miller, Tyler Mire, Jonathan Mones, Harrell Petersen, Dave Richards, Mike Shields, Tim Schieinat, Kevin Swaim, Chad Willis, Justin Woodward, Li Xiaochuan, Drew Zaremba.
Trombones: Eric Andress, Sean Casey, Matt Corrigan, Kenny Davis, Alex Dubrov, Jon Gauer, Julie Gray, Craig Flentge, Nathan Harvey, Kevin Hicks, Adam Jensen, Carl Lundgren, Jake Macary, Dan Marion, Phillip Menchaca, Sean Nelson, Freddy Ouellette, Kennedy Powers, Chris Sharpe, Austin Short, Zach Steele, Hirochi Wada, Seth Weaver, Nick Wiodarczyk.

The first CD I popped into my player this year was “Nice! – Jay Saunders’ Best of the Two. It features eighteen tracks recorded by the Two O’Clock Lab Band under the direction of trumpeter, Jay Saunders. Saunders is a veteran of the Stan Kenton Orchestra. He’s a well-respected musician on the Dallas, TX Scene for decades and has been teaching lead trumpet and jazz history at the University from 2000 to 2016, as well as directing the One, Two and Three O’Clock Lab Bands. For this recording, Saunders has pulled the best of the best of his students, compiling several works from various earlier released CDs to configure this release. His students play like a well-oiled Mercedes motor, smooth and perfectly coordinated, they run in uninterrupted synchronization. I was especially struck by John Clayton’s arrangement of “I Won’t Dance.” It features the very talented Sean Jacobi on bass. The back-up, session players of this Two O’Clock Lab Band are amazingly artful and professional. I am blown away by their big-band sound that supports various soloists on different tunes. These youthful players give hope that jazz will continue to influence and elevate Earth’s population with its joy and improvisational flavors for years to come.

Although there is not one bad performance on this 2-CD Set, my other favorite tunes plucked from excellence are “Sax Alley”, played at a break-neck speed and featuring the stellar horns of Dustin Mollick and J.R. Rocha on tenor saxophones and “Top Fuel – Pete vs. the Trav-ski,” written by ex-Dallas composer and arranger Phil Kelly. I also enjoyed the Duran Ritz drum solo on “Worth the Wait” (a Peter Erskine composition), along with Sean Giddings on piano, Li Xiaochuan on trumpet and Phillip Menchaca on Trombone. This is the opening tune on Side One and sets the tone for what is to follow. Lastly, “Portuguese Soul,” written by organist Jimmy Smith and arranged by Thad Jones shows Sean Giddings’ smooth and soulful transition from piano to organ, along with Greg Sadler’s mesmerizing drum talents. This song closes out Side One of the two discs. On Disc Two, I loved the Drew Zaremba arrangement of “Sink, Sank, Swunk” which shows the electric/Herbie Hancock-like production by the band members featuring Zoremba on a smokin’ soprano saxophone, and soloists, Seth Weaver on trombone, John Hallman on trumpet and Jake Greenburg on bass. “Detour Ahead” features a sweet vocal by Emily Davis and the Booker T. Jones composition, “Green Onions,” closes out the double set CD with a spirited arrangement by Drew Zaremba. Zaremba is also featured on Alto Sax with Ally Hany on trumpet solo and Chris Reardon on Tenor solo. The background is full of party noises and the music just makes you want to get up and dance. Sounds like a jazzy New Year’s Eve celebration to me. Makes me want to shout out, “HAPPY NEW YEAR!”

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Challenge Recording Int

Steve Hobbs, marimba/vibes/composer; Adam Kolker, tenor/soprano saxophones; Bill O’Connell, piano; Peter Washington, bass; John Riley, drums; Carol Ingretsen, Maurice Myers & Marvin Thorne, vocals.

Adam Kolker struts his saxophone skills on the first tune titled, “The Craving Phenomenon,” (a Steve Hobbs composition). Beneath him, Washington’s bass and Riley’s drums egg him on energetically. This is one of ten original compositions Hobbs has written for this CD. With a total of thirteen songs, Hobbs offers us a tribute to the late/great Bobby Hutcherson. After Kolker and bandmates set up the premiere song grove and melody, Hobbs slides in to serenade us with his percussive vibraphone mastery. He explained the song in his liner notes:

“…Since it swings so hard … I decided to open with ‘The Craving Phenomenon.’ I love Adam Kolker’s tenor solo on this … He uses lots of bop ideas countered with more modern pentatonic ideas. More important, he is locking in with John (Riley) like crazy! …My solo on marimba has lots of sequential, pentatonic, chromatic stuff and blues runs. John and Peter are locking so hard that I felt safe in playing both in the middle and also in front of the beat at times for that good ‘diesel’ feeling. I felt my solo was also of an original nature sounding more like Chick or Woody Shaw, than my fellow mallet comrades. I really don’t strive to sound like anyone but me and hope you agree that I have my own sound. …I love the dynamic shifts we pulled off here. … really challenging metric modulations and rhythms featuring John Riley on drums. These rhythmic hits played during the drum solo are very hard to play and the way John Plays over them is amazing.”

This is the group’s third recording since 2007. Their sound is tight and these master musicians interact with each other sweet and tasty, like jam and butter. Pianist Bill O’Connell soars on the composition titled, “Into the Storm” and throughout this recording. Hobbs has no compunction about giving free rein to his musicians, unselfishly sharing his spotlight platform. Peter Washington was once a bassist with Bobby Hutcherson’s ensemble and brings a note of nostalgic authenticity to this project. The arrangement on “Besame Mucho” is held tightly in place by Washington’s walking bass line and John Riley’s flashy, but pendulum steady drumming. Steve Hobbs soars on top of the swinging band, taking charge with his mallets and creativity. The ‘fade’ on this tune is very exciting, as they play with time differential and improvisational techniques. “New Creation” is another one of my favorite tunes on this recording. The musicians grab a rich, straight-ahead groove by the body and each member of the ensemble brings their best to match the talent and excitement of their bandleader. This is jazz; free, spontaneous and well played. I was not as impressed with the vocals used on a couple of the tunes. Those songs just didn’t seem to fit the landscape of this ‘Straight Ahead’ album concept. However, as you can see below, when Steve Hobbs swings, he’s right on point.

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Independent Label

Angelo Divino, vocals; Rich Eames, piano/synthesizer/keyboard; Adrian Rose, bass; Michael Rosen, drums/harmonica; Doug Webb, saxophone; Jonathan Dane, trumpet/cornet/flugelhorn.

Angelo Divino is a cabaret singer with a smooth style and persuasive tone of delivery. He offers ten original songs on this album that were composed by Z. Overall and does an excellent job of delivering the lyrics, as though he’s sharing stories of his life with us.

In New York, Divino performed as lead vocalist with the Rainbow Room Orchestra at Rockefeller Center and with the Duke Ellington Legacy Band at Birdland. He also sang bari-tenor parts with the vocal quartet, “Afterglow.” This artist starred in a musical play about the life of Duke Ellington called “Lucky So and So” and Divino also wrote and performed “Let Me Be Frank”. On this recording, he sings the many facets of love, covering emotions from A to Z. Favorite cuts are, “Strangers Again,” “If I Love You, Goodbye” where Divino stretches his range into the high tenor register, and “I Remember” that tells a story of recalling one’s hometown and is spiced up by Michael Rosen’s harmonica.

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Clotilde, vocals/flute; Alexandre Saada, piano/Rhodes/Clavinette/background vocals.

As soon as I heard the first familiar strains of Nina Simone’s song, “Image,” I was captivated by this artist’s voice, singing a’cappella and sounding emotionally connected to those striking lyrics and that haunting melody. This song celebrates the beauty of womanhood and that is the crux of this musical production. Clotilde, singing along with her musical partner, Alexandre Saada on piano, bring fresh perspective to some popular American music. On cut #2, “Swallow Song,” backup vocals are added by Saada. These two artists have assumed the group name of ‘Madeleine & Salomon’ and they perform, as a duo, tackling seventeen songs that celebrate ‘A Woman’s Journey’. The lyrics are packaged in the CD and each song is lyrically prolific and explores the female journey. This duo has chosen songs written by American composers that touch on the spirit of womanhood, it’s trials and tributes; it’s joys and endless challenges interpreting songs like Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” and the Marvin Gaye,/Al Cleveland/ Renaldo Benson’s composition, “Save the Children”. I was moved and impassioned with their arrangement of Janis Ian’s “At Seventeen.”

Clotide is a French performer who sings and plays flute. She is also a composer and journalist. Alexandre Saada began playing piano at age four and studied classical piano for ten years. At fifteen, he was beginning to explore jazz, pop and French popular and folk songs. He’s already recorded fifteen albums including seven as a leader, from solo albums to big band recordings. Saada has toured worldwide with artists such as Malia, Martha and the Vandellas, Les Albert and more. He is also a composer and arranger. Together, these two super talented individuals have created a most unusual and entertaining album of musical tribute to women. Clotide explores a rainbow of colors and vocal textures that can both surprise the listener and enhance the songs she sings. She paints the words with alto richness one moment and then, with childlike innocence, in a second soprano voice, she tackles the Minnie Ripperton classic song by Charles Stepney and Richard Rudolph entitled, “Les Fleurs.” I am so impressed! Everything is arranged and sung in a jazzy way, even when she chooses songs like “Mercedes Benz” by Janis Joplin or interprets the Black Panther member/songwriter/poet, Elaine Brown’s “The End of Silence”. Listen below.

Like jazz itself, ‘Madeleine & Salomon’ know no boundaries and explore the outer limits of imagination, improvisation and cultural revolution. This is a musical experience that embraces change and pushes the cage walls further apart, exploring freedom with grandiose conviction.

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Independent label

Stacey Schulman, vocals; Alan Schulman, guitar; Macus Baylor, drums; Rashaan Carter, Matt Geraghty & Kevin Powe, Jr., bass; Gregoire Maret, harmonica; David Binney, saxophone; Alejandro Lucini, percussion; Christie Dashiell, James McKinney & Carl ‘Kokayi’ Walker; Dr. Chelsea Green, Kendall Isidore & Dianna Said, violins; Dawn Johnson, viola’ Elise Cuffy, cello.

Stacey Schulman has a unique tone to her voice and her husband is the perfect accompanist on guitar, supporting her with familiarity and technical talent. They have chosen a dozen songs that explore their combined creativity. This production incorporates various players at different times, beginning with a Kenny Rankin/Estelle Levitt composition titled, “In The Name of Love” where they simply use a guitar trio. Stacey Schulman opens the tune with scat, before interpret-ing the lyrics. Marcus Baylor keeps the bright, uptempo arrangement under his control with brushes that briskly whip-up the tempo and inspire the trio with a tight groove. It’s the perfect touch beneath Stacey’s soprano vocals and a nice way to begin this album. The classic Dizzy Gillespie tune, “A Night in Tunisia” blends background voices into the production as a welcome addition. Their rich harmonics beautifully cushion Stacey Schulman’s performance. Her enunciation is superb and you won’t miss a single word in her songs. Cut number three (“La Belle Dame Sans Regrets”) is sung in French and composed by Sting and Dominic Miller and produced with a Latin flair. The percussive coloring of Alejandro Lucini and Alan Schulman on guitar add frosting to this sweet musical cake. Nothing more is needed. On the fade they add background vocals beneath Stacey’s scat singing.

The sparseness of this production is effective and makes Schulman’s voice twinkle and shine like a Northern star. On the popular Gershwin composition, “It Ain’t Necessarily So,” they feature Gregoire Maret on harmonica, playing a’ cappella before he’s joined by Alan’s tasty guitar licks and Stacey singing. This tune develops into a medley that incopororates Burt Bacharach’s “Look of Love” and Carol King’s “It’s Too Late”. As you can see, by this example, they have picked a wide assortment of tunes that range from jazz to pop. Stacey Schulman’s voice adapts perfectly, always putting emotion and sincerity into each well-produced number. Alan Schulman’s dexterity and rhythm guitar become the trampoline where his wife’s vocals can dance and play. Barry Manilow and Johnny Mercer wrote “When October Goes” and it is an emotional ballad. Stacey Schulmnan’s vocals are enhanced with a small string ensemble arranged by James McKinney. Once again, the production is sparse, but lovely.

Stacey Schulman is a native New Yorker, a studio session singer for decades and has been singing professionally since the age of nine. Alan is a Midwesterner, born in Cincinnati, Ohio. He sharpened his bebop chops in Chicago and has appeared with such artists as Anita Baker, Wynton Marsalis, Herbie Hancock and Michael Feinstein. Alan Schulman holds an M.A. in Jazz Arranging & Composition from Howard University, where he studied with both the late, great drummer Grady Tate and legendary pianist, Geri Allen.

Here is a musical experience that’s enjoyable and beautiful in a simplistic way. It allows all the musicians involved to be heard and yet they never interfere with the vocalist’s presentation. The engineer, Scott Jacoby, is to be congratulated for his delightful mixology and producer, James McKinney brings the best out of all participating musicians. This recording will be available February 16, 2018.

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