January 15, 2019

By Dee Dee McNeil/ Jazz Journalist

January 15, 2019

As the New Year begins, a cluster of newly released compact discs invite me to listen. Here are some of the best and newest sounds you’ve never heard, spinning into the universe. Check out these various artists and the creative gifts they offer us.


Alfredo Rodriquez, piano/Rhodes/keyboards/vocals/composer; Pedrito Martinez, all percussion, vocals/composer.

It’s hard to believe that just two men could make all this rich and encompassing music. From the very first cut, I am struck by the fullness of their sound. Alfredo Rodriguez and Pedrito Martinez syphon the best out of the musical universe. Both musicians sing, as well as play instruments. Their “Africa” chant celebrates the title of this opening original tune; a song that encompasses their Cuban heritage and points back to their African influences. The two men grew up in Havana, Cuba, but would not meet until years later. They separately established musical careers in Cuba, then packed up their creativity and eventually, both headed to the United States. Rodriguez comes from a musical family. His dad was a popular Cuban singer and TV host. Alfredo Rodriguez was dubbed a prodigy early in life and studied classical piano at the Conservatorio Amadeo Roidan and Instituto Superior de Arte. At night, he played popular music in his father’s orchestra. One exceptional evening, while performing at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 2006, he was noticed by his future mentor and producer, Quincy Jones. That changed everything!

Pedrito Martinez was a street musician in Havana, expressing himself through vocals and his deeply- rooted Afro-Cuban percussion styles. He also mastered Cuba’s hypnotic rhythms extracted from their religious music. This percussionist is nearly ten years older than Rodriquez and he arrived in the United States in 1998. Martinez was also chasing musical dreams. Soon after arriving, he was awarded first place at the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz International Afro-Latin Hand Drum Competition. Next, he co-founded a Latin fusion group called Yerba Buena. His group toured extensively and recorded. As Pedrito Martinez’s fame grew, he performed and/or recorded with folks like Wynton Marsalis, Sting, Bruce Springsteen, Paul Simon, Angelique Kidjo, Chucho Valdez and pop star James Taylor. His diversified mastery of percussion was in demand. One day, Alfredo Rodriguez caught a performance by Pedrito Martinez. The extraordinary pianist, composer knew immediately he wanted to work with this awesome percussionist. Consequently, on Rodriguez’s second recording “The Invasion Parade,” he invited Martinez to participate. Quincy Jones was producing it.

“Every artist on the planet would be lucky to work with Quincy. just having his name on any record is like a trampoline. You don’t go step by step, but you automatically jump five steps up,”Pedrito Martinez gushed in the liner notes.

Pianist, Alfredo Rodriguez, admits that he always wanted to be a drummer himself and has great admiration for those who have mastered the drums.

“I love playing with great percussionists and Pedrito is the best example when it comes to Cuban percussion. He really touches my heart,”Alfredo complimented his musical partner.

Together they have arranged and composed eight of the eleven songs on their premiere CD. They cover Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” hit, written by Rod Temperton, and it’s freshly painted with bright Latin colors. But it is their original music that I find most intriguing and compelling. Their venture into a smooth jazz groove with track #7, “Flor,” is beautiful and melodically enticing. It’s enriched with Rodriguez’s keyboard work and the two men incorporate chants that resonate and hypnotize. Cut #8, “Jardin Sonador” is another favorite, with haunting vocals and featuring the exotic piano and percussion duo at their best. “Mariposa” spotlights the classical roots of Alfredo Rodriquez and is a beautiful ballad. It has a music box quality that introduces those haunting vocal chants that these two so dramatically produce. The final tune, “Yo Volveré” incorporates those exciting, Martinez, Afro-Cuban rhythms, stunning vocals, a taste of Reggae, and the always surprising piano and keyboard mastery of Rodriguez. Their composition skills mesmerize. Here is a shiny and fresh-faced musical production that excites the spirit.

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Jeanne Lee, vocals; Ran Blake, piano.

Adventurous. Unique. Improvisational. Shrouded in technique, theory and expressionism. These are adjectives that come to mind when I listen to Jeanne Lee and Ran Blake. Here are two individuals who steep themselves in rare and contemporary performances. Jeanne Lee opens the CD, telling us “she is the rose,” and acts as an improvisational introduction to Ran Blake’s impressionistic approach of the Fats Waller composition, “Honeysuckle Rose.” Blake performs as a solo pianist, but not for long. Jeanne Lee joins Blake like a bird in flight; a pitch-perfect vocal master; an unafraid improviser. I haven’t heard many recorded vocalists who move me the way Jeanne Lee does. Every jazz vocalist should listen to this unrivaled duo project. This project is fresh, interesting, creative and the epitome of what real jazz and freedom sounds like.

“Green Dolphin Street” never sounded so good. Starting slowly, it’s performed in Jeanne Lee’s rich alto tone. Her voice captures my attention immediately. Ran Blake accompanies her, with an air of freedom that embraces Fats Waller and Keith Jarrett at the same time. Blake is a master of his instrument and challenges any vocalist to keep up with his experimental chords and rhythms. But clearly, Jeanne Lee is no push-over on the bandstand. She holds her own, with a voice as solid and dependable as titanium. Never mind time changes and key changes. Her voice soars from alto to soprano effortlessly. “Hard Days Night” is another challenging arrangement by Blake and Lee. Jeanne Lee shows any ‘want-to-be jazz vocalist’ the importance of knowing your melody, in spite of what happens in the background. Ms. Lee feels totally comfortable, painting each song with a fresh face, but nailing the melody like a concert poster stapled to a wooden lamp post.

It was 1961when these two musicians (who originally met at Bard College) went into the studio and emerged with this project titled, “The Newest Sound You Never Heard.” The awesome merging of Ran Blake, a gifted pianist, with Jeanne Lee’s perfectly balanced and pleasing vocals is as adventurous as the 1960s themselves. Nearly six decades ago, there was a Hippie Movement in the United States and a pressure to explore and color outside the lines. That’s the best way to describe this project. They are definitely coloring outside the lines, with vividly bright paint and splashes of sparkling silver and gold. This duo is unparalleled; not like anything I’ve ever heard before or since. The late Belgian composer, producer and Jazz Middelheim festival founder, Elias Gistelinck, took the pair to a Belgian radio and television station to record them. He added a live performance the duo recorded in Brussels. The tapes remained in the VRT archives for almost forty-years. Now they have been rediscovered to inspire and entertain us. Ran Blake and Jeanne Lee remind us of what magic two extraordinary musicians can create. They perform it all; Pop, Folk music, Ellington classics and Charlie Parker standards. They do it their way. Be it one of Ornette Coleman’s mystical compositions or an Abbey Lincoln song; a rendition of the Beatles or an old, familiar standard. They do each song in such a fresh and unapologetic way that you are caught up in the comfortable cage of their creativity. They are poetry in song. Her lyrics are vividly projected and enunciated. His grand piano is grandly played, as only a master could do. In a career that spanned nearly six decades, pianist Ran Blake is an improvisational master, an artist for sure, and an educator. He spent fifty-years teaching at Boston’s New England Conservatory.

He and Jeanne Lee met and musically merged in 1956. They were freshmen at Bard University when they found common ground in their experimental approach to jazz. They were propelled by their mutual love of Billie Holiday and Thelonious Monk. Speaking of Monk, Jeanne Lee grew up in the Bronx and lived next door to Monk’s sister-in-law named Skippy. The duo toured the world, burning up stages with their fiery approach, mesmerizing audiences with their musical storytelling and unexpected arrangements that both stunned and captivated. Before her departure from this Earth, Jeanne Lee left a fearless legacy, collaborating with innovative jazz icons like Anthony Braxton, Archie Shepp, Mal Waldron, Marion Brown, John Cage and Gunter Hampel. She also contributed to Carla Bley’s masterpiece, “Elevator Over the Hill.”

“There is no one like Jeanne Lee in the world,”declared Blake in the liner notes. “She was the most incredible human being. Her sage wisdom, her charm, her wittiness, her humor, her feelings for humanity and her kindness to everybody in the world. She was such a vibrant personality and of course, what a voice!”

This album will be available January 25th of this year 2019. Had Jeanne Lee lived, she would be turning 80-years-old just a few days after its release. As a double-set recording, you get a double dose of this duo’s very best. It is everything any jazz musician strives to be and any jazz aficionado loves to hear; freedom, musical proficiency and otherworldly.
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Carla Campopiano,flute/arranger;Angel Colacilli,guitar/bass/arranger; Gustavo Cortinas,drums/percussion/arranger; Julian “el Piljo” Lopez,guitar on track #5.

Argentina-born Carla Campopiano is a mainstay in Tango music, currently based in Chicago, Illinois. She is a proficient flautist, who soaked herself in the melodies and rhythms of candombe, chacarera, milonga and tango, popular in her native culture. Before coming to America, she earned a Bachelor of Arts from Empa Escuela De Musica Popular de Avellaneda in Argentina. Once she arrived in Chi-town, Carla Campopiano formed a Tango ensemble and began to acclimate to her new surroundings. Drawn to American jazz and blues, Carla soon found herself incorporating these musical styles into her Tango productions. The result is this album. Campopiano’s bandmates include Mexican guitarist Angel Collacilli, who is supportive and rhythmic throughout. When Julian “el Piojo” Lopez plays guitar on the tune, “Zita,” Colacilli takes to the bass. On the whole, this is a low energy production that showcases Carla Campopiano’s love of Tango music and her excellent talents on the flute. I miss hearing the solid bass perpetuation of dance music and the arrangements never moved to an uptempo, but stayed in a somewhat melancholy, mid-tempo range throughout. The composition, “Sacachispas” opens this six -song album with strong Tango rhythms and Campopiano’s flute brightly floats atop. I wish Gustavo Corinas’ drums and percussion had been mixed more to the forefront. I think that would have helped propel this project to a higher energy level, had the ‘mix and mastery’ been better. That being said, Carla Campopiano’s flute is fluid and dances birdlike along with Colacilli’s always-present guitar. The second song, “Melancolico” showcases Campopiano’s fine talents on her instrument. If Campopiano’s goal is to combine her native Buenos Aires, Argentina cultural music with the infectious blues and jazz she discovered in Chicago, I believe she has succeeded.

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Dan Bonsanti, producer/arranger/director; Matt Bonelli & Tim Smith, elec. Bass; Richard Bravo, percussion; Jack Ciano, Lee Levin, Marco Masrcinko & Danny Gottlieb, drums; Mark Egan, fretless bass; Jim Gasior, piano/keyboard; TRUMPETS: Jack Wengrosky,Steve Reid,Cisco Dimas,Ray Chicalo, Randy Brecker. TROMBONES: Dante Luciani, Major Bailey.REEDS:Ed Maina,alto saxophone/flute/piccolo; Ed Calle, tenor & soprano saxophones/flute; Neal Bonsanti, tenor saxophone/English horn/flute/ clarinet; Peter Brewer, baritone sax/bass clarinet/flute; Mark Colby & Rick Margitza, tenor saxophone.

The infectious rhumba that rolls off my CD player excites my dance spirit. The horns bounce and Ed Calle, on soprano saxophone,takes a vigorous and playful solo. “Armando’s Rhumba” (a Chick Corea tune) sounds like a party. Cut #2, “Firewater,” cools the mood with an orchestrated strut, a walking bass and punchy horn lines. Mark Colby’s sexy tenor saxophone steps up to the microphone and tells his story, along with a sweet, driving solo by trumpeter, Cisco Dimas. Here is a tightly knit orchestra playing the arrangements of Dan Bonsanti, who is a fixture in the jazz community of South Miami. Bonsanti is a talented arranger and orchestra leader who celebrates the compositions of some familiar jazz icons on this project. His mixture of blues, straight-ahead and funk on the Chick Corea tune titled, “Blue Miles” is pure pleasure to my ears. This tune features a strong and emotional piano solo by Jim Gasior. Jim puts the “B” in blues.

You will also hear Jobim’s “Triste” and Wayne Shorter’s “Dance Cadaverous”, the pop tune “16 Tons (Give or Take)” and the classic standard, “I’ll Be Seeing You.” Bonsanti makes the best of every professional player on his bandstand, many who are college music professors and all who are masters of their instruments. Dan Bonsanti has performed as a saxophonist with the Jaco Pastorius Word of Mouth Orchestra, with Doc Severinsen’s band and also with the historic Stan Kenton. As a composer/arranger, Bonsanti leant his skills to the Jaco Pastorius Big Band before finally taking the leap to establish his own ensemble, “The 14 Jazz Orchestra.” This organization features four reeds, three trumpets, two trombones and a 4-piece rhythm section. Ed Calle is featured throughout on tenor and soprano saxophones. To his credit, Calle is a mutli-talented musician, who also excels on flute, clarinet, EWI, keyboards and he’s a competent engineer who occasionally sings, composes and arranges music himself. He was nominated three times for a Latin Grammy Award and is tenured as full professor of Music Business and Production at Miami Dade College. Also featured on this recording is the talented artist and trumpeter, Randy Brecker, who makes a guest appearance on three tracks. As you will hear, Dan Bonsanti surrounds himself with excellent musicians and excels on arranging and producing music you will recognize and enjoy. However, I couldn’t figure out the title of this recording. There is no composition that matches the title and since we only are aware of the present and the past, (unless we have a crystal ball), “The Future Ain’t What it Used To Be” is a puzzling CD title.

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JAKE LECKIE – “THE ABODE” Outside In Music

Jake Leckie,bass/composer; Sebastien Ammann,piano; Nathan Ellman Bell,drums; Kenny Warren,trumpet/flugelhorn; Caroline Davis,saxophone; Alexis Morrast,vocals; Daniel Prim,Percussion; Andrei Matorin & Tomoko Omura,violins; Agustin Uriburu, cello; Ivey Paige,organ; Brenda Trotter-Workman,tambourine.

If you love straight-ahead jazz and funk, you will immediate enjoy track one of Jake Leckie’s debut release. This bassist has composed all the songs and enlisted a group of stellar musicians to interpret his work. Composition-one is the title tune, “The Abode,” and it swings hard, giving the talented Kenny Warren an opportunity to shine on an uproarious trumpet solo. Jake Leckie opens the second cut with his bass profundities. He set’s the mood and groove with his upright instrument always dominant, Leckie plainly anchors his group. This composition, “Metis” is bluesy, folksy and Sebastien Ammann takes time at the piano to explore the melody and lock in with the rhythm section. Leckie’s compositions always seem to have some gospel influence blended into his jazzy arrangements. At the end of this song, Nathan Ellman Bell is featured on a long and interesting drum solo.

Jake Leckie endeavors to create music that not only elevates but engages his musicians and his listening audience with both acoustic and organic substance. With his composition, “After the Flood,” he sympathizes with the people of Houston, Texas and Puerto Rico after they suffered their great loss due to Mother Nature’s rampage. Alexis Morrast competently sings lyrics penned by Leckie’s wife, Becca Leckie. The lyrics have a double-entendre meaning and I found them very well-written. This could be a love song or a song of explanation regarding the flooding and devastation. Morrast has an engaging voice and vocal style. I would enjoy hearing more of this vocalist. Leckie takes a brief, but powerful solo on bass ,reaffirming the lovely melody of his composition.

Born in Boston, Massachusetts, Leckie studied with john Lockwood and Michael Formanek. His passion for composition has led to several of his songs being placed in films and his compositions were featured in the Baltimore Museum of Art, the documentary “Off in the Far Away Somewhere” and the absurdist dance comedy film, “Snow Bing Bongs,” to list just a few. Currently, Jake Leckie lives in Southern California and he moonlights as an audio-engineer. His composition “Negev” is one of my favorites. In the liner notes, we’re told it is inspired by Abraham’s journey through the Negev desert after he was banished from Egypt. This tune moves at a straight-ahead, up-tempo pace with Leckie pumping his bass like a heartbeat. This album is due for release on January 25, 2019. Keep an ear out.

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Brad Whiteley, piano/composer; Matt Pavolka, bass; Kenneth Salters, drums; Tom Guarna, guitar; Michael Eaton, saxophone.

The introduction to the first song on Brad Whiteley’s CD project is long and repetitious. It becomes a theme and pulsates through his composition, driving the arrangement like racing, wild horses. This song is titled, “Dusk” and it’s one of eleven original compositions on Whiteley’s project. This arrangement inspired nervousness rather than a peaceful dusk at sunset. The 2nd track, “Sunset Park” is buttered in blues and more towards my taste. I let a sigh of relief escape. The tempo constantly changes during this tune, but the theme is catchy. Whiteley settles down to express himself on grand piano in a very distinct way. Matt Pavolka walks his bass briskly beside the pianist/composer. Guarna, on guitar, takes an opportunity to make himself known by presenting a stellar solo. Moment to moment, between tempo changes and grooves, this ensemble interprets Whiteley’s songs with technical precision. Michael Eaton is formidable on saxophone. Track three, “The Unwinding,” begins as a pensive ballad, but quickly develops into an energetic piece, propelled by drummer, Kenneth Salters and Guarna’s rhythm guitar. Whiteley has a way of settling into a theme and developing it provocatively. As the piece grows, so does the energy. Whiteley’s piano solo unfolds delicately at first, but soon stretches out to build a crescendo of sound. His compositions create a trampoline for the other soloists to bounce upon, showcasing their musical calisthenics. Perhaps Whiteley describes his composer-skills the best when he said:

“ …it’s all about the song, heightened by the performance. With “Presence,” I strived for the tunes to be as strong as possible, with the composed material on equal footing with the improvised parts. And I always play to the core of a song when improvising, thinking melodically and structurally. L I also learned lessons about the power of song in my gig with the church in the Bronx. Each number you play is an attempt to move people, spiritually and emotionally. That’s something I keep with me in whatever music I play.”

This artist has been influenced by the likes of Duke Ellington and McCoy Tyner, although I find his compositions to be less melodic and not as memorable as compositions like Satin Doll, Do Nothing ‘til You Hear From Me, or A-Train remain. Still, he is developing his own style and finding his own, unique voice in jazz. That is to be respected. His ensemble is tight and supportive, giving their all to his textured arrangements, but too often mired in repetitious innuendos. For the most part, they slide into his compositions comfortably, like custom-made suits. They wear the music, adapting to Whiteley’s various styles and performing accordingly.

The title of this album, “Presence,” celebrates Brad Whiteley’s recent celebration of parenthood and being present in the moment when his little daughter was born; being present and genuine while composing, performing and collaborating with his ensemble members and finally, “Presence” tributes being present in the moment of awareness shared by their audiences during their listening period.

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Café Pacific Records

Beverley Church Hogan,vocals; John Proulx, iano/producer; Ron Stout, trumpet/ flugelhorn; Graham Dechter,guitar; Doug Webb,flute/tenor saxophone; Lyman Medeiros, bass; Clayton Cameron,drums; Kevin Winard,percussion. Barbara Brighton,vocal producer.

Her repertoire is a perfectly picked group of songs with rich lyrics and lovely melodies. Beverley Church Hogan handles this fresh bouquet of music and words with tenderness and emotion. The first song, a composition by jazz singer, Rene Marie, is titled, “Take My Breath Away.” This vocalist draws me in like quick sand, pulling my attention gently away from everything except her vocals and the stories she tells. I can tell she is a seasoned veteran of selling songs and living life. I can hear it in her delivery. I can feel it in her sincerity. Not to mention, her back-up band is compiled of first-call musicians who are each exceptional in their own right. John Proulx on piano is himself a recording artist, Grammy winning composer and vocalist. Ron Stout is a trumpet and flugelhorn expert. Graham Dechter, a guitar specialist, opens “You’re Looking at Me” by playing “Midnight Sun” that fits smoothly into this Bobby Troup composition. It’s a nice arrangement. Clayton Cameron, on drums, brings his wonderful percussive specialties to the party after spending years as Sammy Davis Jr’s drummer of choice and later touring several years with the iconic Mr. Tony Bennett. Doug Webb is always dynamic when he puts his flute or his tenor saxophone to expressive lips. Kevin Winard makes a percussive performance on the opening tune and Lyman Medeiros is the solid acoustic bass player throughout. The title tune, “Can’t Get Out of This Mood,” features a short but beautiful solo by Stout. All in all, this is a well-produced album that gathers a handful of Southern California’s top musicians to support Beverley Church Hogan’s celebration of the American songbook. You’ll hear her interpret familiar pieces like “Speak Low,” “I’m Through with Love,” and “Time After Time.” You’ll also enjoy some not so familiar songs.

Years ago,Capitol Records offered her a recording contract with a fifty-eight week tour attached. She was twenty-one, newly married and raising a one-year-old child. Like many women in the music industry, she had to choose between family and career. Hogan chose her family. Decades passed. Then, in 2002, she was invited to sing at the famous Catalina Jazz Club in Hollywood. That successful concert propelled her back into the spotlight, singing the music she loves. A dozen years later, she entered the studio. With the guidance of producer, pianist and arranger, John Proulx and producer, vocal coach, Barbara Brighton, the result is Hogan’s premier album. Never mind that Beverley Church Hogan recently turned 84-years-young. The wisdom that accompanies a life well-lived is notable throughout this musical accomplishment. Judge for yourself.

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Justin Morell, composer/arranger; Adam Rogers, solo featured guitarist; John Daversa, director/conductor; RHYTHM:Jake Shapiro, piano; Josh Bermudez, guitar’ Mackenzie Karbon, vibraphone/glockenspiel; Lowell Ringel, bass; Garrett Fracol, drums.TROMBONES:Derek Pyle (lead); Will Wulfeck, Eli Feingold, Wesley Thompson, bass trombone. TRUMPETS/FLUGELHORNS: Russell Macklem,(split lead); Michael Dudley,(split lead); Aaron Mutchler, Greg Chaimson. WOODWINDS: Tom Kelley,alto/soprano saxophones; Brian Bibb, alto saxophone/flute; Chris Thompson-Taylor,tenor saxophone/clarinet;Seth Crail,tenor saxophone/clarinet; Clint Bleil,baritone saxophone/bass clarinet.

A striking CD cover catches my eye, with its circular orange ball sprouting legs and the scribbled outline of a conductor or perhaps a musician connected with wiggly strings to instruments that float across the vanilla cover in childlike cartoon sketches. It invites me to listen to this project. Kudos to Mackenzie Karbon who designed this album art and took the photographs. Album covers do matter!

Here is an arranged concert for guitar and jazz orchestra directed by the talented John Daversa and featuring Adam Rogers as the solo guitarist. His talent is evident on the orchestrated track one of this thirty-eight- minute recorded concert. This production features three movements; I. Lost, Found and Lost, 2. Life and Times and 3. Terraforming. One of the unique features of this recording is Justin Morell’s incorporation of classical music by Mozart, Hayden and Beethoven into his compositions, with the guitar being free to create a jazzy musical language atop the concerto-style tracks. Guitarist Rogers is improvising freely and smoothly in the mix of classical composers, with Morell’s creativity and America’s original classical music merging beautifully. This project is the conception of guitarist, composer, arranger, Justin Morell, who secured his Ph.D. from the University of Oregon in both composition and jazz performance. He currently acts as Assistant Professor of Music in Composition and Theory at Pennsylvania ‘s Lebanon Valley College. Morell has composed many concert-works and has released six jazz CDs as a leader. This seems to be a recorded experiment dear to his heart and is the first production that utilizes guitar as the consistent lead instrument featured with an orchestra.

John Daversa is a Grammy-nominated trumpeter and EVI player, a composer, arranger, producer and in this case, has taken the baton to direct this accomplished orchestra. As Chair of Studio Music and Jazz at the Frost School of Music in Miami, he and Morell go way back. They’ve known each other for decades. Both of their fathers were musicians and friends on the Los Angeles studio scene, so they met as young people. Morell and Daversa grew up enjoying and eventually playing music together. Both men decided to bring a virtuoso guitarist to this project. One who was proficient in both jazz and classical guitar. Their choice became Adam Rogers, an amazing addition to this creative work, dazzling us with his guitar mastery and musical fluidity. As the featured guitarist on this production, he brings life and energy to very difficult and intricate written passages. To his credit, he has performed with a number of familiar jazz names like Michael Brecker, vocalists, Cassandra Wilson and Norah Jones, Marcus Miller, Terence Blanchard, John Pattitucci and even the great Bill Evans. As a plus, Adam Rogers is completely comfortable reading music, improvising and playing classical guitar. He’s perfect for this project.

With these three formidable musicians at the forefront, The Frost Concert Jazz Band supplies the tightly prepared musical stage. They are a part of the University of Miami’s School of Music and, under the direction of John Daversa, these fledgling musicians do a highly professional and admirable job of interpreting the compositions of Justin Morell and buoying the talents of Adam Rogers.

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January 10, 2019

By Dee Dee McNeil/Jazz Journalist

January 10, 2019

KENNY WERNER – “THE SPACE” Pirquet Records

Kenny Werner, piano.

Master musician, Kenny Werner, makes us feel as though we are sitting in the front room of our own home, at the foot of a master. Here is a listening experience that is vividly simplistic, yet deeply creative and provocative. Simplistic only because no other instruments are involved. This is a dynamic grand piano concert Opening with “The Space,” Werner’s own original composition and title tune. He plays with our attention and pulls us into his music with palpable fingers. His talent hypnotizes our senses. His nimble and profound hands both staccato and arpeggio the keys. To our delight, he intrigues us. Kenny Werner not only interprets his own compositions, he also includes the work of Keith Jarrett, Michel Legrand, Jason Seizer , Ralph Ranger and Leo Robin. Here are eight songs, interpreted on eight-eight keys by a confident and creative solo musician. Although the title tune is over fifteen minutes of a very classical sounding concert, it is never boring!

Kenny Werner is technically astute and well-rooted in the jazz community. He has worked with the legendary Toots Thielemans and sax man, Joe Lovano, the iconic Charles Mingus, as well as the Mel Lewis Big Band. Quincy Jones has called him, “…360 degrees of soul and science in one human being.” Reviewer, Nate Chinen of the New York Times described him as “… a pianist who tempers fearsome technique with a questing spiritualism.” But it is the words of Werner himself that self-describe this new work, calling his album, The Space.

“It’s the most important title I’ve ever had for my music. It’s about being in the moment, content with what is,” Warner explained.

Also a journalist, Werner wrote a landmark book back in 1996 titled, “Effortless Mastery, Liberating the Master Musician Within.” As an educator, he has lectured worldwide, written articles on how musicians, artists or even business people can allow their master creator within to lift their performances to a higher level. He is currently the artistic director of The Effortless Mastery Institute at Berklee College of Music. A sought-after educator, Kenny Werner has also taught at The New School, The Banff Center, New York University and others. He’s the recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts award, The New Jersey Council of the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation, being awarded the 2010 Guggenheim Fellowship Award for his seminal work of exploring tragedy and loss, death and transition and the path from one lifetime to the next. Now, he allows us a peek into his mastery and imaginative exploration of the piano. Perhaps he sums it up best when he writes in his liner notes:

On ‘The Space’ recording project, it’s “the place where every note I play is the most beautiful sound I’ve ever heard.”

I concur.

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David Leon, alto saxophone/bells/composer; Alec Aldred, trumpet/composer; Jonah Udall, guitar/composer.

I wondered, as I placed this CD into my CD player, what kind of sound would be produced by a trio of guitar, trumpet and alto saxophone. That’s an unusual mix that only is relying on a single guitar to provide a rhythm section. I fastened my seatbelt.

The ‘Power of Three’ trio is unique in both composition and sound mass. They create a musical experience that is unlike any I’ve heard before, and perhaps that’s a plus. Their composing skills are rich with Avant-garde style and each of the three musicians are composers. They’ve been touring steadily. So, they made the decision to go into the studio and record ‘live’, without any isolation, as though they were on-stage and in-concert. There are continuous moments of musicality that show the talent and tenaciousness of each person. At times, I find myself desiring more melody and less improvisation. At first, I missed hearing a theme or a refrain. I also missed a rhythm section and the groove that a bass and a drummer provide. However, this trio of musicians are full of imagination and are tightly wired to each other. They won me over. On “Demon Dance” I finally hear a theme of sorts and that particular song, composed by Udall, drew me in. I also found Aldred’s original composition titled, “Feet in the Ground,” to be melodic and soothing to the ear. The unexpected harmonies that these three musicians create fill lovely space on track 7, “The Potentialist.” Surprisingly, each man hails from a various part of the United States, (Udall from Berkeley, California, Aldred from Waukesha, Wisconsin and Leon from Miami, Florida). Together they musically find common ground. The trio was formed in 2013. If you are looking for a unique sound and a fresh, exploratory approach to music and jazz, this project is the one!

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Vanessa Rubin, vocals; John Cowherd, piano; Kenny Davis, bass; Carl Allen, drums; Eddie Allen, trumpet; Patience Higgins, tenor saxophone; Bruce Williams, alto saxophone; Clifton Anderson, trombone; Alex Harding, baritone saxophone; Arrangers: Jimmy Heath, Benny Golson, Frank Foster, Willie Smith & Bobby Watson.

“Lady Bird” opens this recorded concert, with arrangements by Frank Foster. Vanessa Rubin’s voice swings and swoops like a happy dove. The horns are complimentary and lush. She sings along with them, becoming a sweet vocal horn. The music of Tadd Dameron is a project long overdue. Known as one of America’s iconic bebop composers, his music remains timeless and beautiful. This is the first album that features a vocalist recording only Dameron’s compositions and what better voice than the celebrated vocals of Vanessa Rubin to interpret this master? A jazz master in her own right, she approaches each composition with great care and attentive emotions. “Kitchenette Across the Hall” has a story to tell and Rubin delivers it with pianist John Cowherd playing in the realm of 1940 jazz accompaniment. “If You Could See Me Now” is a jazz standard with a melody that once heard becomes indelible in your brain. Of course, this is a familiar Tadd Dameron composition that many have recorded and interpreted. But Ms. Rubin includes others that are fresh to the ear. Seven of the compositions herein are recorded with original lyrics as intended. The remaining five had lyrics added for Rubin to sing. She penned the words for “The Dream Is You”, retitling it to “Reveries Do Come True”. Rubin expresses a hope that this project will bring Tadd Dameron’s awesome talents to the forefront once again and open new vocal doors for singers to embrace and illuminate his work. For example, on the popular Dameron instrumental, “On A Misty Night” I believe this is the first time I’ve heard the lyrics. Rubin scats with words on this cut and there are great horn lines that keep the slow swing melodically strong. “Never Been In Love” is one of my favorites on this album with lyrics by Irving Reid. It’s a pretty ballad with a Latin feel and a sweet solo by trumpeter, Eddie Allen. Another lovely ballad is “Next Time Around” or “SoulTrane” with great lyrics by Chris Caswell. Kevin Davis takes an opportunity to solo, quite melodically, on bass. That’s the thing about Tadd Dameron’s compositions. They are all very melodic. Rubin has often brought the music of masters and contemporary composers to her recordings. On her “New Horizons” CD she celebrated Stevie Wonder.

Dameron’s roots extend into the historic legacy of Billy Eckstine. Dameron was involved in the formation of Eckstine’s ground-breaking orchestra. Tadd Dameron was a mentor to great vocalists like Sarah Vaughan and influenced Miles Davis, Benny Golson, Billy Paul and Charlie Rouse. Vanessa Rubin chose Dameron’s contemporaries who were familiar with his contributions to bebop, but also to his composer skills. Afterall, Dameron was a friend and colleague of Kenny Clarke, Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker. One of the chosen arrangers on this project, Benny Golson, wrote forwards for two books about Tadd Dameron. He recalls days of touring with Dameron and riding in a car with him during their tenure with Bull Moose Jackson. Frank Foster admits that he learned essential writing and arranging skills listening to Tadd’s recordings in the late 1940s. Vanessa Rubin has spent twenty-five years of her illustrious career singing Dameron’s music as part of her repertoire. Now, she shares her admiration for the composer’s genius with us.

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GIL DEFAY – “IT’S ALL LOVE” Independent label

Gil Defay, trumpet/flugelhorn/vocals; Ansy Defay, saxophones/vocals; Rakiem Walker, alto saxophone; Antonio Penalva, guitar; Joel Desroches, keyboards; Matthew Smythe, organ/Wurlitzer; Toku Jazz, flugelhorn/vocals; Parker McAllister &Michael Tiny Lindsey, bass; Ben Nicolas, drums; Bendji Allonce, percussion; Patrick Pelissier, vocoder.

Gil Defay’s original music is well -arranged and full of pleasant surprises. He has composed everything on this production and has enlisted a large ensemble of talented musicians to interpret his work. From the first track, “D. Bros Groove” the curtains part and the horns take stage center. It sounds like theme-song-music for a splendid show. There is a solid solo by Joel Desroches on keyboard and a breathtaking organ solo by Matthew Smythe, with a funk drum beat established boldly to promote the groove. Gil Defay lets his rhythm section showcase their skills before taking to the spotlight. Then Antonio Penalva celebrates his guitar chops in a joyful way. In fact, this entire album is joyful. This production is a nice blend of contemporary smooth jazz with straight ahead nuances. Michael “Tiny” Lindsey introduces his electric bass talents, followed by Ben Nicolas soloing on drums. This first cut allows each, talented player to take a bow and strut their stuff.

The horn lines are tight and punchy throughout. On the second cut we join the turn-table-party with an up-tempo, danceable tune titled, “Le Cri.” It’s propelled by the spunky drums of Nicolas. If I had one criticism, it would not be the music, the production or the engineering. It would be the cover design. Gil Defay’s music is bright, happy, and memorable. The cover is dark; so dark you can hardly read the credits. I think artists should be as concerned with their album designs as their recorded messages. The title is “It’s All Love” and love is light. That’s not reflected on this CD jacket. Otherwise, here is a beautiful recording, featuring Gil Defay, a wonderful composer and a technically astute musician. I was surprised that Defay sampled the work of Thelonious Monk on the final tune titled, “Epistrophication,” and still took all the credit for composing this obvious celebration of Monk’s Epistrophy” composition. That bothered me.

All in all, the players listed above come together to present a tightly woven carpet of music that rolls out in a stream of plush arrangements and undeniable musicianship. Favorite cuts are: “D. Bros Groove,” “You’re So Good,” “The Lean,” and “Wonderful” (a ballad that makes creative use of synthesizers, like splashes of paint on canvas.); also, the very funky, “On That NYC” and “Le Cri.”
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ALAN PASQUA – “SOLILOQUY” Gretabelle Label

Alan Pasqua, Steinway piano.

Solo piano is a challenge. You sit in the glaring spotlight and settle into your talent at the grand piano with no other musical support but your talent and imagination. You bare your soul. It takes an amazing musician to perform solo and Alan Pasqua is just such a musician. He has performed in concert and in recording studios with a long list of iconic jazz musicians including Jack Dejohnette, Gary Peacock, Gary Bartz, Reggie Workman, Gary Burton, Stanley Clarke, Joe Henderson, Randy Becker, The Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra, and vocalists Sheila Jordan and Joe Williams. There are many more, but you can see from this short list the breadth and width of Alan Pasqua’s awesome and in-demand talent. Musically, Pasqua has not stayed in one lane. Although he embraces his jazz roots, in the world of pop music Pasqua recorded two albums with Bob Dylan and performed with John Fogerty on his album, “Eye of the Zombie.” Alan Pasqua added his diversified chops with Starship on their album, “No Protection.” He was the keyboardist with Carlos Santana during his recordings of “Marathon, Zebop!” And on his “Havana Moon” album. Obviously, the talented Mr. Pasqua can cross musical genre’s as easily as he crosses a California boulevard. The appropriate title of his CD is described in Webster’s Dictionary as: “SOLILOQUY: The act of speaking one’s thoughts aloud when alone.”

Pasqua was once a member of the New Tony Williams Lifetime group and co-leader on many critically acclaimed jazz recordings, including joining forces with Peter Erskine and Dave Carpenter to make a Grammy-nominated trio album of standards. The culmination of so many musical experiences is previewed in this new project, Recorded at Pasqua’s Santa Monica, California studio, he invites us to a very intimate, demonstrative and introspective concert. As a solo performer, he’s both vulnerable and artistic. This pianist brings us a beautiful bouquet of our favorite standard songs on this solo recording titled, “Soliloquy.” Sit back and enjoy.

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NORMAN JOHNSON – “THE ART OF LIFE” Independent label

Norman Johnson, guitar/bass/piano/vocals/composer; Chris Herbert & John Mastroianni, saxophones; Bill Holloman, horns; Jeff Holms, trumpet; Steve Davis, trombone; Ejd Fast, drums; Matt Dwonszyk, bass; Mitch Chakour, piano/organ; Alex Nakhimovsky, piano’ Graysong Hugh, June Bisantz, Atla Dechamplain, Poller Messer, & Lisa Marien, vocals.

From the very first strains of Norman Johnson’s guitar magic, I am under his spell. His music is full of joy for life. Johnson’s melodies are infectuous. On the first tune, “Slide” he makes me want to skip across the room. There is something light and carefree about this production of Johnson’s compositions. “Sing On” is another original composition by Norman Johnson that encourages us to come together as a people and features Grayson Hugh on vocals. This song is a blend of R&B, Pop and jazz. The repeatable ‘hook’ of the song reminds me a small bit of a Curtis Mayfield production. Johnson has written five of the six songs showcased on this recording. He offers very ‘smooth jazz’ arrangements with beautiful melodies. His use of vocal background singers is tasty on the title tune, “the Art of Life.” It is obvious that he has been inspired by Earl Klugh and George Benson, but Norman Johnson is a strong player in his own right and his composing skills are admirable. On the Latin tinged, “It’s You” he introduces us to the pretty voice of June Bisantz and Johnson takes a stellar guitar solo, followed by a short, but rich saxophone solo. Ms. Bisantz is also co-writer of this happy piece of music along with pianist, Alex Nakhimovsky. “Summer Dance” closes this album out with a bang. Johnson knows how to put the groove into his productions and he has a love for the nylon-string guitar sound.

Norman Johnson has appeared on over thirty recordings as a sideman with great players like Steve Gadd, Bill Mays and Harvie Swartz. He’s performed with Dave Brubeck and this is his third CD release as a leader. Born in Kingston, Jamaica, he studied at the Hartford Conservatory of Music and the Hartt School of Music. Although a late bloomer, Norman Johnson has perfected his style. This latest release is a testimony to his strength as a musician and composer.

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Magela Herrera, voice/flute/composer/arranger; Tal Cohen, piano; Nestor Del Prado & Dion Keith Kerr, bass; Hilario Bell & David Chiverton, drums; Greg Diamond, guitar; Jean Caze, trumpet; Philbert Armenteros, bata drums.

With much excitement and riveting musicianship, Magela Herrera arrives, using her original composition, “Two Sidewalks” to burst onto the scene like an unexpected shower of fireworks. Tal Cohen demands the spotlight on piano, followed by Herrera’s stellar flute improvisation. Finally, the drums are given free reins to gallop through the arrangement with creative exuberance. Her musical arrangements and compositions offer platforms for the creative juices to flow from her individual ensemble players. They each bring their “A” game to the bandstand, embracing the freedom, while expanding their musical ideas. I enjoy Magela Herrera’s musical concepts and her melodic structure. She also has a lovely command of the flute. On “Principios,” Ms. Herrera gives her bass player ample time to speak his solo-mind. The bass solo is beautiful. Magela Herrera explains her music this way.

“I honestly wanted to make an album much earlier in my career, but I was too shy and I could never complete a tune. At the time, I was limiting myself to Cuban music and hadn’t really explored other styles. I consider my time in Norway to be my ‘aha’ moment. All my professors there were more into inspiring and pushing students to find our own sound, whatever genre it happened to be. They didn’t force us to follow rules. I found it more comfortable to write music outside a strict pattern, to create whatever was in my head. On “Explicaciones,”applying that freedom to classic Cuban tunes really helped me hone in on my sound as an artist.”

Magela Herrera’s applies haunting vocals on track four, “Explicaciones,”the title tune of this album, further endearing her to this reviewer. Her vocals are honest and compelling. She sings in her native Spanish. Although I do not speak that language, I am still intrigued and attentive to every word.

The listener will find a sprinkling of standard jazz in this project, like Herrera’s unusual rendition of “My One and Only Love,” and her vocal interpretation of “Besame Mucho.” She puts spark and spunk into everything she plays and sings. Her arrangement of the Cuban classic, “Que Te Pedi” is brilliant and dances at a medium tempo, with her flute playing atop the melody sweet as decorative icing on a musical cake. Every cut on this album is like another slice of goodness. I guarantee you will want to come back for more and more of Magela Herrera’s authentic blend of Cuban jazz, European classical influence and her own soulful interpretive compositions and arrangements. This is delicious music!

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Jon Lundbom, guitar; Justin Wood, alto & soprano saxophones; Bryan Murray, tenor/balto saxophones; Moppa Elliott, bass; Dan Monaghan, drums.

Jon Lundbom’s guitar floats above this storm of music like a rainbow. Julian Wood’s and Bryan Murray’s saxophones are the thunder and lightning dancing wildly in space. Murray shares his talents on his trademark ‘balto! Saxophone.’ He shows us what to do with an alto saxophone, using a baritone mouthpiece and a plastic reed. Here is Avant-garde, experimental jazz at its best, showcasing expansive creativity with strong improvisation. The Big Five Chord group exhibits combustible ideas. Londbom has composed six of the seven cuts on this CD, adding a bonus track at the end. It’s actually a repeat of track two, yet totally different and unique with the ensemble’s fresh interpretation. Dan Monaghan, on drums, thrives on a diet of funk and groove. Bassist, Moppa Elliott, plays solid and melodic lines that hold down the rhythm section. This group pushes the musical boundaries and, in the process, expands visions and possibilities. Part of the unique arrangements are enhanced by Lundbom playing a Fender Jazzmaster guitar retrofitted with experimental pickups built by Chicago’s Duneland Labs. Lundbom’s guitar and the horns dance like helium balloons in the wind.

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December 30, 2018

By Dee Dee McNeil/Jazz Journalist

December 30, 2018

Let me start by wishing each and every one of you reading this column a very happy New Year. I thank you for your support of ‘Live” jazz and jazz recordings and pray that 2019 will bring us more great music and unity on earth. I know that music heals and inspires us. It’s a universal language that brings people together. So, keep listening, keep creating, continue playing and singing, recording, reading and enjoying jazz music and the incredible people who perpetuate it. Share the love!


Betty Bryant,piano/vocals/composer/arranger;Tony Guerrero,trumpet/arranger;Tomas Gargano,Hussain Jiffry & Richard Simon,bass;James Gadson,Kenny Elliott & Quentin Dennard Sr.,drums;Robert Kyle,tenor saxophone/producer/arranger;Jeff Driskill,alto saxophone;Jay Mason,baritone saxophone;Ryan Dragon,trombone;Cassio Duarte, percussion;Kleber Jorge,guitar/vocal.

In celebration of her 88th birthday last year, Betty Bryant planned her ninth studio release. She calls it “Project 88”. Her music, like the lady herself, is timeless. Ms. Bryant’s piano playing and composer skills are solid as freshly poured cement. She’s lyrical and, while performing, she always reflects her complete involvement and obvious love that’s wrapped in the music she shares with us. We are swept up in her honest delivery. Betty Bryant has a lovely personality and a smooth, polished look. Born and bred in one of the jazz capitals of the world, (Kansas City, Missouri) she’s a student of the great Jay McShann, who took her under his wing when she was a fledgling performer. Her original compositions are lyrically honest, sometimes humorous and always melodically memorable. Additionally, she often presents a tongue-in-cheek sense of humor that her adoring fans love.

Take her bluesy rendition of “Catfish Man”, where she quips:

“Catfish man, catch me if you can. Your lying ways just got to stop. You looked so fine, when I saw you on-line. Then I found out it was just photo shopped.”

“Catfish Man” is a raunchy, Kansas City blues. Robert Kyle’s tenor saxophone puts the “B” in the blues and Tomas Gargano (who flew in from New York City to record with his dear friend) holds the trio tightly rooted on acoustic bass, along with the iconic drummer, James Gadson. Betty Bryant’s opening tune is also an original composition titled, “Love Came and Went.” It swings hard. The jazz standard, “Lady Be Good” is performed as an instrumental and Ms. Bryant’s superb talents on piano shine in the spotlight. Her ballads are plush with emotion. On “But Beautiful”, you feel her sincerity, the way Billie Holiday made us feel with every lyric she sang. Speaking of Billie Holiday, Tony Guerrero makes his muted trumpet a shiny star on “Ain’t Nobody’s Business.” Betty Bryant’s “Cho Cho” composition transports us to Brazil with Robert Kyle’s flute dancing brightly to the catchy melody. Kleber Jorge makes an appealing statement on guitar and his voice sings along with the melody and makes me want to sing along too. The creative arrangement by Betty Bryant on “They Say It’s Wonderful,” gives the musicians a moderate tempo swing to dig their teeth into. Kenny Elliott takes a short, but swinging, drum solo on this number. Producer, Robert Kyle and Bryant switched the rhythm sections around to create a variety of sounds and grooves for this project. You will hear various bass players and drummers, all first-call Los Angeles musicians, including Richard Simon and Hussain Jiffry who adds his electric bass magic to the mix. The final two songs are both Ms. Bryant’s original compositions. “My Beloved” is a slow rhumba, letting Cassio Duarte’s colorful percussive brilliance propel the tune, along with Quentin Dennard Sr. on drums. It’s an instrumental that becomes the perfect backdrop for Robert Kyle’s provocative flute playing. Betty Bryant’s final song is titled, “It’s Hard to Say Goodbye” and has a great horn arrangement by Tony Guerrero. Guerrero, Robert Kyle, Ryan Dragon on trombone, Jeff Driskill on alto saxophone and Jay mason on baritone sax make a small ensemble sound like a big band arrangement.

There’s something for everyone on this album including outstanding musicianship, memorable melodies and smart lyrics that are fresh and fun. For example, Ms. Bryant sings:

“You’re the most, just cinnamon toast, and it’s hard to say goodbye. You’re oow – you’re ahhh, you’re Baklava, and it’s hard to say goodbye. You’re so ice cream at midnight. I like your style. You’re truffles and pheasants and oh, it’s so pleasant to bask in the warmth of your style.”

That’s how I felt about Betty Bryant when this album ends. She’s sweet as Baklava or cinnamon toast and just as addictive. I played it again!

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Onyx Productions

Ralph Peterson,drums; Gary Thomas,tenor sax/flute; Mark Whitfield,guitar; Davis Whitfield,piano;Curtis Lundy,bass.

The interesting thing about drummer,Ralph Peterson,is that his recordings are as diversified and inspirational as his ability to play and record various styles of music.

The first track, “Gazelloni” is an excursion into the deep waters of Avant-garde jazz. Davis Whitfield explores all the 88-keys on his piano, with Curtis Lundy walking briskly alongside of him on acoustic bass. Peterson is the jet fuel that mans this rocket-ship as it takes off into unknown territories. The ensemble offers us an Eric Dolphy composition and the musicians well represent this legendary reed man’s composition. Gary Thomas and Mark Whitfield play tag with each other. Thomas flutters on flute and Whitfield chases him on guitar. I am immediately intrigued and engaged. Since this is a ‘live’ recording, the audience appreciation is heard loud and long. The second cut, “I Hear a Rhapsody,” calms the mood with familiarity. It’s played sweetly by Thomas, this time he’s featured on tenor saxophone, atop a moderate tempo swing arrangement. I enjoy Whitfield’s guitar solo. He’s innovative and creatively improvisational. Peterson always shares his stage platform with excellent musicians. They each handle the spotlight with technical agility, professional talent and confidence. However, Peterson’s percussive drive is always dominant to be the available catalyst that infuses each solo. Ralph Peterson shows his composer skills on “Soweto 6”, an eight-minute long presentation that is never boring and always features kinetic energy. This is an album of modern jazz, high energy and musician excellence.

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

John Raymond waltzes into my room on his flugelhorn. The first track of his CD splashes across space pleasantly, like calm winter waves on a lakeshore. It’s titled “Follower” and receives generous applause from his live audience at its conclusion. Raymond has composed three of the six songs on this recording and he presents them with Gilad Hekselman on guitar and Colin Stranahan on drums. The trio is a unified ensemble and they sound as if they’ve been playing together for a while. However, I don’t like the mix. I had to keep turning the volume up and down and I found that annoying. Cut #2 has a New Age arrangement with a lot of echo on the horn and the guitar. Drummer Stranahan is dependable and exploratory throughout, holding the beat strongly in place and always creative, coloring the music brightly. On this track titled, “Minnesota, WI,” I’m confused. There is clearly a bass player holding the funk in place. Did guitarist Gilad Hekselman overdub on electric bass guitar? This song is ten minutes long and after a while, it becomes a wee bit repetitious, in spite of Hekselman’s dynamic solo and all the looping and Raymond’s electronic pedaling.

This is experimental jazz, developed by a group that spends much time on the road touring. Instead of typical improvisational jazz solos, they have developed a style of loops and grooves, that was perhaps developed while the band was on tour and inspired by their ‘live’ audience responses. They close this album with Bob Dylan’s iconic song, The Times They Are a Changin’ played at a slow ballad pace. This is more New Age and less jazz. All in all, this is an easy-listening experience, where Raymond’s smooth sound on trumpet is pivotal.

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Henrique Prince, violin/vocals;Norris Washington Bennett,banjo/mountain dulcimer/guitar/vocals;Gloria Thomas Gassaway,bones/percussion/vocals; William (Salty Bill) Salter, acoustic bass; Allanah Salter,shaker/percussion/vocals; Newman Taylor Baker,washboard percussion; A.R. (Ali Rahman or Cowboy),percussion.

Violinist, Regina Carter first introduced me to roots of African-American Hillbilly music. As soon as the first track peeled off this CD, I was familiar with the genre. This first track is titled “Hog Eyed Man” and it’s a happy, celebratory composition. Willie Dixon is one of my favorite blues composers and blues artists. He wrote the next song this ensemble performs titled, “Wang Dang Doodle”. The Ebony Hillbillies make me feel comfortable and happy, like I’m at a family gathering. The string-work of this unique group revives a musical history from the past. They sound ‘country’ and Appalachian, but are actually from New York. This recording was made in Jamaica, Queens. The Ebony Hillbillies include some modern music, like Bonnie Raitt’s hit record, “I Can’t Make You Love Me”. But their arrangement is tinged with the American legacy string-band sound. This ensemble also dips into a political bag, taking up community issues with their music and documenting them in song. For example, the ongoing problem that is prevalent between policemen across America and people of color is addressed on “Another Man Done Gone/Hands Up Don’t Shoot.”

For the most part, their outlandishly joyful music and honest interpretations of an art form rarely heard is infectious. Heralded as the premier African-American string band in America, this unique ensemble has graced the stages of Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center and made various TV appearances including on the BBC and ABC’s “Good Morning America. Led by violinists Henrique Prince, they blend bluegrass, folk songs, jazz, country blues and pop, giving each tune their own unique stamp of approval. Everything they sing is infused with African-American gospel church roots and the historic work songs of slave farmers. Their style and reflective presenta- tion are endearing and they offer listeners a freshness and honesty poured into their music that is addictive. This is their fifth group release. Others available on CD are: Sabrina’s Holiday, I Thought You Knew, Barefoot and Flying, and finally their 2015 release titled, Slappin’ A Rabbit – Live!
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Bob Dorough, piano/vocals; Michael Hornstein, alto saxophone; Tony Marino, bass.

In the fall of 2014,a young at heart Bob Dorough turned the ripe age of ninety-one and was in the studio recording his final album. This is the last chapter in a life well-lived. Dorough left this earthly place in April of 2018, but his musical life was a non-stop whirlwind of accomplishments. Born in Arkansas, his career began as the pianist for legendary singing-boxer,Sugar Ray Robinson.

However, this led to much bigger fish to fry. Soon he was playing with Charlie Parker, he recorded two songs with Miles Davis, and his recordings on various labels are numerous. One of his big accomplishments was becoming musical director of the hit, children’s TV show called, “Schoolhouse Rock.”

During his current musical journey, Bob Dorough dials the years back, opening with Hoagy Charmichael’s famed “Baltimore Oriole” tune. His piano-style brings back a time gone bye and his voice isn’t what it used to be, but he can still sell the song. He draws you into the lyric with his passion for performing and he convinces you that he means every word. Sometimes he breaks into an off-handed scat during his songs, reminding me of Louis Armstrong’s style of singing. His scatting doesn’t seem to be planned, but just jazzy; something spontaneous that he felt in the moment.

Dorough and saxophonist Michael Hornstein are old friends. Hornstein’s godmother was the half-sister of Dorough’s wife, so they were more like family than friends. You can feel their closeness in every song. When Hornstein was only nineteen, Bob Dorough took him to a neighbor’s house, who just happened to be Phil Woods. That’s when Hornstein was just discovering jazz and was a fledgling saxophone player. It’s possible this meeting with the historic Phil Woods greatly influenced Hornstein’s playing. For several years Dorough and Hornstein lost touch, but now they are reunited. It’s obvious that Bob Dorough is quite comfortable and persuasive in this trio setting, even though their reunion has been a long time coming. Bassist Tony Marino is solid and steady, holding the time tightly together by locking in with Dorough’s fluid piano playing along with Hornstein’s melodic improvisations and interpretations.

The title tune is an original composition that Dorough wrote for his beloved wife, Corine. It’s the title tune and he sings it with much emotion. All the other songs are ones you recognize immediately, like “Take Five” or “Body and Soul”; “Georgia on my mind” and “Prelude to a Kiss”. He talked about the addition of one popular standard song and the memories it tickled.

“We were in a house in the Big Sur. Johnny Mandel was visiting the set where “The Sandpiper” was being filmed nearby. He came up to see me and Al Schackman, my guitarist at the time. As I remember, he wanted to show us a theme he’d just composed for the film. It was on a little page of paper and it was “the Shadow of Your Smile” in 3/4 time, without words. The three of us hummed it and kicked it around and might even have said it could be done in swing time too.”

This is surely a piece of music history. Sometimes less is just enough. Bob Dorough needs no orchestra or big band to support his piano talents. You can tell he’s perfectly comfortable singing and playing piano, letting his bassist and sax man dance along beside him. The joy he shares, while making music, is palpable. Grab a handful for yourself.

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Kelly Green, piano/vocals; Alex Tremblay, bass; Evan Hyde, drums.

Kelly Green is a pianist and vocalist with a pleasant, second-soprano voice and an astute command of the piano. She is amply supported by Alex Tremblay on bass and Evan Hyde on drums. The trio offers eight familiar jazz songs starting with “I’m Old Fashioned” where Green’s colorful interpretation of the lovely lyrics is accompanied by her piano dexterity, tinkling the upper register notes to mimic rain on the windowpane and adding big crescendos of strength and passion on her instrument. Her arrangements are very modern. “I Wish I knew” is a song I always enjoyed hearing Little Jimmy Scott interpret. This was the first time I heard the intro-verse. It was a nice touch for Green to include the composer’s rarely recorded introduction. Kelly Green doesn’t lay down the melody slowly and behind the beat like Scott did. Instead, she plays with the melodic lines like a true jazz musician, changing the notes within the chord structure just enough to make the arrangement uniquely her own and using the full range of her vocal gift like a horn player. She sometimes successfully scats with words. Kelly Green is a formidable talent. On this recording, she includes compositions by Charlie Parker and Fats Waller, wrapping them in a creative medley. Green challenges herself to sing and play the work of Charles Mingus’ with lyrics by Joni Mitchell. These are stimulating arrangements, but Green is up for the task. Sometimes, she reminds me of Betty Carter; not in tone, but in phrasing, always singing like a horn. This is particularly noticeable on the ballad, “I Understand.” The contrary motion of her piano grooves and her vocalizations is a feat to be appreciated and showcases Kelly Green’s musicality. This album was recorded ‘live’ in the studio, (the old-school way of recording) without overdubs and studio tricks. They recorded it after a month-long tour when the trio was tightly immersed in the spirit and camaraderie of playing music together.

“Musicians and non-musicians alike get excited and emotional in our performances as they watch our stories unfold. We strive to bring audiences to a place outside of themselves and take them on a journey through each song,” Ms. Green expressed in the liner notes.

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Bopper Spock Suns Music Geo

Miles Evans, trumpet/producer/arranger; Noah Evans, producer; Kenwood Dennard, drums; Mino Cinelu, percussion; Mark Egan, bass; Pete Levin, keyboards; Shunzo Ohno, trumpet; David Taylor, bass trombone; John Clark, French horn; Chris Hunter, alto saxophone/flute; Alex Foster, tenor & soprano saxophone; Darryl Jones, bass; Matthew Garrison, bass & bass solo; Vernon Reid, guitar; Paul Shaffer, Fender Rhodes; David Mann, alto saxophone; Gil Goldstein, piano; Delmar Brown & Charles Blenziz, synthesizer; Gabby Abularach, guitars; Jon Faddis, trumpet; Dave Bargeron, trombone; Gary Smulyan, baritone saxophone; Birch Johnson, trompone; Alex Spiagin, trumpet; Alden Banta, Baritone saxophone.

The music and arrangements of Gil Evans have become an international treasure to jazz. Evans is not an American conductor and arranger, but rather a Canadian-born jazz pianist, arranger, composer and bandleader. In the jazz world, I was endeared to Evans when I heard the “Miles Ahead” album and the Miles Davis masterpiece, “Sketches in Spain.” But Gil Evans had been involved with many other jazz artists, including Gerry Mulligan, Lee Konitz, Jimmy Cleveland, Kenny Burrell and many, many more.

Born in Toronto, (May 13, 1912) his family came to the United States when he was a youngster. They settled in Stockton, California. His mom had remarried, consequently that changed the family’s last name from Green to Evans. In 1946, young Gil Evans moved to New York City and lived in an Artists Community called Westbeth. Between 1941 and 1948, Evans worked with Claude Thornhill’s orchestra. Even though he was a fledgling arranger, he was quickly respected by the band members, who often complained about the intricacies and challenge of his arrangements. Thornhill immediately recognized the amazing talent and potential that Gil Evans exhibited. He scooped him up. Gil Evans left this Earth in 1988, but his music lives on.

This album is the first studio recording in tribute to Gil Evans’ music in forty-plus years. Evans is celebrated for setting the gold standard in modern jazz recordings with arrangements that cross genres. In the 1970’s, The Gil Evans Orchestra made appearances at the famed Greenwich Village club every Monday night for many years. Most of the first-call jazz musicians in New York appeared in his orchestra or visited that very room to hear the Evans band. This album is a tribute to those hot, orchestrated Mondays. It also tributes the arranger’s ability to straddle jazz styles,and interject funk and fusion into his cool jazz ensemble. The concept here is to play songs the orchestra used to play in the 1970s and 80s and is spearheaded by his two sons, Miles and Noah.

The first cut is bluesy and beautiful, featuring stunning solos by trombonist, Dave Bergman, trumpeter Miles Evans and tenor saxophonist, Alex Foster. The tune is called “Subway” and the arrangement mimics the speeding underground transportation accurately with many twists and turns. As usual, the tight horn harmonics build and ebb in interesting crescendos. The second track features electric bass player Darryl Jones and Matthew Garrison’s bass solo pushes the big band towards a funk agenda and a fusion sound. The 4th track, peels back the fluid orchestration and shines the spotlight on percussionist,Kenwood Dennard. He’s both stimulating and colorful throughout this recording.

This is a delightful celebration of the Gil Evans legacy and his unforgettable orchestration by a band of extraordinary musicians.

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Ted Piltzecker, vibraphone, marimba, talking drum, bell,keyboard,clapping,vocal percussion; Fenando Martinez,drums; Mauricio Dawid,acoustic bass; Miguel Marengo, piano; Carlos Michelini,alto saxophone; Jon Faddis,trumpet; Ralph Latama,tenor saxophone/clarinet; Matt Mall, trombone; Gary Smulyan,baritone saxophone; John Wooton,steel pan/drums; Tara Halen O’Conner,flute/alto flute; Ayako Oshima, clarinet; Taylor Burgess,voice; Jansel Torres,bata/ congas/bongos/bell/clapping; Dave Lewitt,percussion/djembe bell; Angel Lau,conga/bell.

All the compositions on this project are by the artist,Ted Piltzecker. The first track is “Great Idea! Who Pays?” It’s a happy tune featuring a moderate, Afro-Cuban tempo with the steel Pan played by John Wooton. This arrangement, including this unique instrument, brings back warm memories of my time spent in Indonesia. Ted Piltzecker is a multi-talented vibraphonist who also plays marimba, several percussion instruments and piano. His compositions are quite melodic, featuring repetitive lines, that often encourage this listener to hum along.

“Brindica” is his fifth album as a leader. In it, he explores world music influences combining with jazz and embraces cultural and traditional music from Brazil, Africa, India, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Bali and Argentina. He blends these into New Orleans jazz styles with East Coast energy to celebrate jazz’s African-American roots. On track 8, “What Happened to a Dream Deferred?” He tributes the poetry of historic poet, Langston Hughes, utilizing the vocals of Taylor Burgess, who sings the entire poem in a tribute to this magnificent poet and his enduring message. Miguel Marengo’s haunting piano accompaniment creates a mood for Taylors pretty alto/second soprano voice to caress the lyrics. This song reminds us of the African-American struggle in America and everyone’s universal struggle to keep their dreams alive in spite of obstacles and hardship. I wonder if Mr. Piltzecker realizes that this song has already been put to music in the past?

Piltzecker’s vibraphone solo continues the journey down a beautiful, ballad-path, with Taylor scatting atop it like a lonely dove and then singing, “What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun or fester like a sore and then run? …”

This entire album is beautifully produced and recorded by a host of outstanding musicians who represent the best of their cultures and their instruments. There is a wide variety of music proffered by Piltzecker’s well-written compositions. He explained his intention this way:

“I still love bop and bluegrass, Indian and Brazilian music, Argentinian tangos, music from Africa and Brahms. All these influences have entered my thinking and collectively have become a point of view. It’s a great joy to be able to share this music and I’m grateful to the extraordinary musicians on board. … I go to Argentina frequently to play the International Festival of Percussion in Patagonia, and that’s where I met Fernando Martinez.”

Piltzecker is referencing his pianist of choice on this project, Fernando Martinez. He’s surrounded by a number of international music icons on this recording. At one point, he adds Xhosa click singing to the mix. I remember first hearing this style of singing on Harry Belafonte records that featured Miriam Makeba. You will also enjoy rich Latin American percussive-driven songs like “Feliz Paseo” and the funk fused, “Uncle Peck”.

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December 9, 2018

By Dee Dee McNeil/Jazz Journalist
December 9, 2018


Maria Schafer, vocals/composer; Shane Savala, guitar/composer.

Maria Schafer doesn’t need a huge production to enhance her lovely voice and celebrate the season. Every bright light shines a little brighter when spotlighting this lady’s vocal talents. Shane Savala is the glitter on the garland that drapes her warm tones. His guitar accompaniment is lovely, technically astute, sensitive and warm as a friendly family gathering around the holiday table. This is a seasonal album that is perfectly beautiful. Maria Schafer has included holiday songs we love like “It’s Beginning to Look a lot Like Christmas,” Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War is Over)”, “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?”, “White Christmas” and “Let It Snow”.

Her original songs, “Shape Your Light” and “Brings Me Back” that she and Savala have composed, are well written and make for enjoyable listening. Her original music is jazzy in a folksy-kind of way.

This is an awesome stocking stuffer that can be found by contacting or
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John Minnock, vocals/composer; Tony DePaolo, guitar; Enrique Haneline, piano/fender Rhodes; Carlos Mena & Will Woodard, bass; Pablo Eluchans & Diego Voglino, drums. SPECIAL GUEST: Dave Liebman

This CD is a delightful surprise. On the first track, after a short, interesting introduction that features the tinkling upper-register piano notes of Enrique Haneline, I did not expect to hear a vocalization. I presumed this was an instrumental album. Enter John Minnock. On “Get Happy” I experience a totally unique production of a popular Harold Arlen/Ted Koehler tune. Minnock’s expressive tenor voice floats beautifully above the unusual track. It’s jazzy in a very classical mode. This complete project, is fresh, creative and inspired.

The original composition, “Right Around the Corner” moves us from jazz to the Broadway stage. Minnock is a strong and powerful vocalist. That sweet tenor that caressed “Get Happy” disappears and becomes a powerful baritone vocal on this song. It unexpectedly turns the mood and comfort level of this recording towards a new direction. This is followed by, “Do You Know What It Means?”, the song that celebrates New Orleans and showcases Minnock’s emotional and tender vocal delivery once again. It’s arranged as a ballad. John Minnock obviously admires Tony Bennett. I hear his influence during this production, and that’s meant to be a definite compliment. I love pianist Enrique Haneline, whose contributions to this musical endeavor are brilliant. Also, special guest and outstanding reedman, Dave Liebman, lends awesome credibility and challenge to this project by putting the ‘J’ in jazz. On “New York, New York” (composed by Jay Brannon & featuring Liebman on saxophone), the arrangement is reminiscent of John Coltrane’s “My Favorite Things”, but the vocals reflect a Broadway musical. Strange! Strange because this artist has the voice and style to have become a Tony-Bennett-strong and emotionally believable artist on this arrangement. However, he misses the mark. Perhaps because he needs a jazz producer who could have brought out the best of his obvious talents, directing him to stay true to a more jazz directed vocal and to match the amazing track created by his musical ensemble.
That being said, this is clearly an album mixing various musical styles inclusive of Cabaret, boisterous Broadway and straight-ahead jazz, as well as tender ballads. Speaking of tender ballads, Minnock and his accomplished pianist have co-written “Are We All Alone?” It’s a beautiful composition and sung with sincerity and poignant emotion. In the same jazzy mode, “Moon River” is produced as a Latin-flavored medium-tempo’d arrangement and features the talented Tony DePaolo on guitar. Minnock reminds me a wee bit of Al Jarreau on this vocal presentation. However, I have to say that Minnock,(although influenced by some of our jazz icons) definitely has his own unique style and sound. His sincerity and his ability to transmit an emotional presentation inside the restrictive walls of the recording studio is to be commended.

I’m touched by his awesome presentation of “You Don’t Know What Love is.” His triple tempo on the blues song “Love Being Here with You” turns it into a straight-ahead, Lambert, Hendrix & Ross type production that swings hard. On this recording, Minnock shows us he can sing it all. He is clearly an artist who pushes the boundaries of music and art with his vocal instrument.
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ADA BIRD WOLFE – “BIRDIE” Independent label

Ada Bird Wolfe, vocals; Jamieson Trotter, piano/organ; Dan Lutz, bass; Mike Shapiro, drums/percussion; Scott Mayo, tenor saxophone; Jamelle Adisa, trumpet; Kleber Jorge, Nathaniel LaPointe & Hideaki Tokunaga, guitars.

The famous Billie Holiday popularized the song, “Lover Man” and that composition opens this production as a swift-moving samba. The track is killer! Ada Bird Wolfe’s voice dances atop the music like an instrument. That being said, this is a sad, heart-wrenching lyrical song that has suddenly become a happy Latin-infused arrangement. As an instrumental, this would probably work perfectly. However, with the lyrics being sung, Wolfe seems to make light of the sadness because of her happy arrangement. I’m sure that wasn’t her intention. Notably, Jamieson Trotter is dynamite on piano, setting the groove and freely improvising throughout. On the second track, Ms. Wolfe surprises with a fluid performance in Portuguese, “Doralice,” that is a composition by Joáo Gilberto. She honors the roots of the song by performing it in its original language form, although slightly off-key in several places. Later, on “Mon Fantome” Wolfe sings in French, obviously showing her penchant and ear for languages. Using rich alto tones to caress each song choice, I can tell that Ada Bird Wolfe admires Carmen McCrae’s vocal style. It is reflected in both her song choices and vocal presentation. She sings several Thelonious Monk songs whose lyrical content and vocal style was freshly introduced to us by McCrae’s awesome, recorded tribute to Monk back in 1988 when she released “Carmen Sings Monk.” Ms. Wolfe also tackles the famous Miles Davis tune, “All Blues” and tributes Charles Mingus with Joni Mitchell’s composition, “Goodbye Porkpie Hat”. Her repertoire is admirable. At times, her pitch falls ever-so-slightly below the notes and this is somewhat annoying to those with keenly alert ears. It’s particularly noticeable on “Monk’s Dream” and she misses the melodic mark entirely on “Round Midnight.” Thelonious Monk’s music is not to be trifled with.

She is more persuasive with ballads, but Ada Bird Wolfe endeavors to swing on the jazz standard, “Four.” Sadly, she appears out of breath and unable to keep pace with her stellar band. For the most part, listeners can expect to be entertained with a group of familiar jazz songs by famed composers and a musical ensemble that is both competent and fearsome.
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Jake Ehrenreich, vocals; Roger Kellaway, piano; Bruce Forman, guitars; Dan Lutz, bass; Kevin Winard, percussion.

I found the title of this album to be a bit puzzling, since we know that the Jewish religion celebrates Hanukah and not Christmas. However, on the CD cover it clearly states this is a “cool jazz tribute to the Jewish songwriters” of several Christmas songs. That explains it. Jake Enrenreich is the satin smooth vocalist who celebrates these stellar composers. He has a tone and ambience that appears to be greatly influenced by Sinatra and Tony Bennett. That being said, it’s a pleasure and a joyful experience to listen to Jake Ehrenreich sing. Beginning with “A Holly Jolly Christmas,” we are immediately off and swinging our way into the holiday season. Ehrenreich’s voice is full of joy and it’s contagious. The Roger Kellaway trio is brick-solid beneath the spotlighted vocals. I enjoyed the addition of Bruce Forman on guitar during the Brazilian-flavored arrangement of “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer.” Roger Kellaway is a master musician and accompanist. He gives beautiful and creative support to the vocals of Ehrenreich. On “Christmas Time is Here,” Kellaway steps outside the realm of support and dives into his own improvisational display of independence and talent during his brief but poignant piano solo. I enjoy the walking bass of Dan Lutz on “Home for the Holidays” and the strumming guitar that puts the “S” in shuffle during this blues tinged rendition of a seasonal song. Written by Robert Allen Deitcher and Albert Silverman, I don’t remember hearing this song before now. Great song! Enrenreich’s awesome delivery makes you listen to and embrace every lyric and each note. He’s quite a storyteller.

“A Christmas Love Song” is quite beautifully presented by Jake Ehrenreich and features the always inspiring lyrics of Alan and Marilyn Bergman and the magnificent music of Johnny Mandel. Once again, Kellaway is amazing on piano. This is the perfect album to light the fireplace, mix the drinks, pour the wine, and cuddle up in the soft glow of Christmas lights to be inspired by this fine vocalist and his holiday repertoire. _hgfLP7 ErsN0DZjSF7SLM
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Simone Kopmajer, vocals/composer; Terry Myers, tenor saxophone/clarinet; Paul Urbanek, piano; Martin Spitzer, guitar; Karl Sayeer, bass; Reinhardt Winkler, drums.

This is an easy listening jazz production. It feels as though I am front-row-center in an intimate club setting with Kopmajer’s sweet tones swirling around me along with her sextet’s smart accompaniment. Simone Kopmajer has co-composed the opening tune, “Spotlights”. It’s a moderate swing that introduces us to this smooth, polished singer. She takes me back to the so-called ‘cool’ West Coast jazz scene with her vocal style and these arrangements. This recording conjures up shades of Edie Gormé, Julie London (without her sexy, smoky sound), June Christy and/or Chris Connor. These were some of the West Coast female recorded voices who were popular during that Southern California jazz scene in the 1950’s and 60s. Kopmajer’s voice takes me back to that time in jazz history. I enjoyed her interpretation of Ahmad Jamal’s wonderful hit song, “Poinciana”. She floats brightly over her ensemble’s music track, her voice dancing like moonlight on a rushing river. Terry Myers adds saxophone and clarinet-fills throughout this album, executing his instrumentation to sensitively highlight and support Kopmajer’s melodic vocals. Gajyyod8

Simone Kopmajer is quite popular in Southeast Asia and Japan, as well as all over Europe. Born in Schladming, Austria, she started singing at age eight, studied piano and saxophone and by the time she turned twelve, young Simone was performing with her father’s big band. After obtaining a Master’s Degree at the University of Music and Dramatic Arts in Graz, She honed her jazz skills with well-known artists like Sheila Jordan, Mark Murphy, Michele Hendricks, Jay Clayton and the New York Voices. This is her thirteenth album release as a leader and she offers fourteen songs of fine music for our listening pleasure.
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Kris Adams, vocals/lyrics; Steve Prosser, composer; Tim Ray, piano/arranger; Paul Del Nero, acoustic bass; Fernando Brandáo, flutes.

“We Should Have Danced” celebrates the music of Steve Prosser by a select ensemble of musicians. Kris Adams take on the project with one of those crystal-clean vocals, clear enunciation, and a handle on complimentary scatting that blends easily with the piano, flute and bass on this project. There are no drums, yet the rhythm of this ensemble is solid and steady. The widow of Steve Prosser, Kris Adams, has written lyrics to the music of her talented husband. These sensual and intimate lyrics are noted on the inside of the CD jacket. Adams tells their love story with music and vocals. It is not her voice as much as the arrangements that touch me. I do feel her vocal sincerity throughout. These compositions are well written and the music is quite melodic. The lyrics are memorable and honest. Often Kris Adams uses her voice like a secondary flute, harmonizing with Fernando Brandáo’s instrument. Sometimes she simply soars in her own space, blowing her song like a feather in the wind. This is particularly true on the title tune, where Fernando Brandáo is king on flute. I was particularly taken by this song, “We Should Have Danced.” Pianist, Tim Ray, took on the huge, challenging project of arranging these original songs and accompanying Kris Adams on piano while she explored her musical diary. Songs like “Imaginings” challenge Adam’s range and voice with a haunting and rangy melody. Paul Del Nero on acoustic bass plays a noteworthy solo. “Another Time” swings hard with the intense walking bass of Paul Del Nero. He and Tim Ray provide a rhythmic stage to spotlight the driving vocals of Kris Adams. She is a singing poet.

If you are looking for a project of fresh, original material and well-written lyrics, here is an artistic project to tribute a composer’s work, celebrate a life well-lived and spotlight a romantic love. Although it is meant to be a tribute to the composer, Steve Prosser, it is also a recording that showcases the arranging talents and piano excellence of Tim Ray, the lyrical abilities and vocal agility of Kris Adams and it is colored with the beautiful flute playing of Fernando Brandáo. Paul Del Nero is another star of this production on acoustic bass and he is like super glue when it comes to holding the rhythm tightly in place.
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LAURA DICKINSON 17 – “AULD LANG SYNE” Music & Mirror Records

As this recording opens, I flash back to the Andrew Sisters and their harmonic, swing-hit-records of the 1930s through the 1950’s. They sold over 75-million records with hits like “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy”. Laura Dickinson’s first song on this holiday recording is a medley of “Happy Holidays” and “The Holiday Season” and definitely brings the Andrew Sisters to mind with her harmony layered delivery. It’s both festive and big-band swinging.

Dickinson has a crystal-clear soprano voice that soars, dips and glides like a wild dove in flight. On the second track, “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm,” her high notes sparkle. This vocalist sounds like a well-seasoned veteran of the recording studio and of session work. As I begin to read her biography, I realize why I detected this studio ease and professionalism in her recording. She’s celebrated as one of the busiest studio voices in Southern California. Her television and radio commercial success has featured her vocals promoting KFC, Maybelline, Target, and Priceline. She’s sung on hit TV shows like Modern Family, Son of Zorn and Supernatural. Her vocals have been heard on motion picture tracks galore and Laura Dickinson has been Michael Buble’s vocal contractor since 2015. In fact, in whatever spare time this lady has left, she manages to contract vocalists for projects like Englebert Humperdinck’s 2018 Christmas album and Mr. Buble’s promotional tour for his November 2018 CD release, “The Christmas Chronicles” with Kurt Russell. In 2017, Laura Dickinson won three Grammy awards for her work as music producer on the Ted Nash Big Band: Presidential Suite album. She was also vocal contractor that year on “Summertime: Willie Nelson Sings Gershwin.” This exemplifies her seamless approach to appreciating and singing a multitude of musical styles. For example, her Andrew Sisters tribute on the arrangement that opens this CD moves fluidly to present a solo rendition of an old standard in the next breath, with a more modern, pop/ funk arrangement. Her voice sounds innocent and sweet; almost child-like on this number. Yet her maturity in the control of notes, tone and delivery is evident. Her rendition of “Christmas is Starting Now” comes from the Disney cartoon “Phineas and Ferb”, that is featured in a music video. ( I prefer Dickinson’s swinging presentation to the original. Her voice puts youth and happiness into the mix.

This is an album of eleven wintery, holiday songs that add to the joy and celebration of the season. She even tackles the soaring Mariah Carey composition, “Miss You Most (At Christmas Time)” sung as a touching ballad. Her big band arrangements are tightly played and beautiful. They feature some top arrangers including Brent Fischer, Larry Blank, James A. McMillan (who has arranged five of the elven songs herein), Bill Liston, Johnny Mandel, Alan Steinberger, Andrew Synowiec and Ms. Dickinson herself. I love the arrangement complexity on “Let It Snow.” The trumpet work of former member of the Tonight Show Band, Kye Palmer, is outstanding on several solos. Laura Dickinson has an infectious voice that capsulizes the spirit of the season. Her folksy rendition of the title tune is supported by the sensitive accompaniment of Grammy-winning guitarist, Andrew Synowiec. Ms. Dickinson introduces me to a number of holiday songs I have not heard before and her forever-young tonal quality brushes the cold windy season with warmth and sincerity.
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November 29, 2018

By Dee Dee McNeil / jazz journalist

November 29, 2018


Mariel Austin Rock-Jazz Orchestra featuring Mariel Austin, trombone/vocals/ composer/ arranger/ bandleader. RHYTHM: Andria Nicodemou, vibraphone; Vaughn Stoffey, guitar; James Fernando & Chris McCarthy, piano; Neil Patton, bass; Dor Herskovits, drums. SAXOPHONES: Noah Preminger, tenor sax; Nigel Yancey, alto sax/flute; Richard Garcia, alto sax/clarinet; Gustavo D’Amico, tenor sax/flute; Travis Bliss, tenor sax; Austin Yancey, baritone sax/bass clarinet. TRUMPETS: Danny Fratina, Kai Sandoval, David Adewumi, Jon Weidley, & Jordan Skomal. TROMBONES:Dorsey Minns, Grant Randall, Yoshie Nakayama & Joe Ricard, bass trombone. VIOLINS: Jakub Trasak, Rafael Natan, Marnen Laibow-Koser & Ludovica Burtone. VIOLAS: Georgina McKay Lodge & Sofia Basile; CELLOS: Valerie Thompson & Jason Coleman.

A busy bass, spirited drums and a flurry of horns opens this production. They introduce a short piano interlude. Then, lush with orchestration, the song unfolds. A flute warbles. Trumpets blare and then sweetly sing. There are classical crescendos that build, blast and ebb. Drums are formidable beneath the production and the ‘mix’ is delightfully clear and clean. You can appreciate the dynamic contribution of each instrumentalist. The first track titled, “A Rough, Unsorted Compiling of Ways Not to Exist” begins as a boisterous production with many twists and turns in the arrangements. It’s a long piece, like the title; (six minutes and thirty-nine seconds). Four out of five composition and all arrangements on this production are by Mariel Austin. On this debut recording, Mariel Austin features four original compositions. Although the number of songs is short on this EP, the length of each song gives you nearly forty minutes of very creative music. She pulled her project together by On-line-fundraising.

Her approach on the Wayne Shorter tune,“Night Dreamer”leans more towards big band jazz than orchestral plushness. This is one of my favorite Shorter compositions and I like her arrangement approach. Andria Nicodemou adds a nice touch on vibraphone.

Mariel Austin offers a fresh voice in big band arranging and composing. Already, Ms. Austin has won a number of impressive awards, including the ASCAP Foundation Phoebe Jacobs Prize that is part of the 2018 Herb Alpert Young Jazz Awards. She was also commissioned by the New York Youth Symphony to compose a piece for their 2015-2016 jazz band.

A native of Berkeley, CA, Mariel Austin was enamored with music from a young age. She dabbled in playing flute, piano, clarinet and alto saxophone. But while attending a concert, when she heard the Berkeley High Jazz Ensemble play a Charlie Mingus tune, “Fables of Faubus” she fell in love with the bass trombone. Although torn between majoring in music or in fashion design, at Cal State Northridge she settled on music and became a member of the CSN jazz “A” Band. Her outstanding mastery of the trombone led her to many television gigs on popular shows like American Idol and The Voice. Austin continued her music education at the New England Conservatory of Music, where she attained a Master’s Degree in Jazz Composition. Her composing and arranging skills mirror complexity, ingenuity and creativity. With heroes like Wayne Shorter, Mingus and George Russell, it is not surprising that she thinks outside the sharp edges of a box. One of her teachers and inspirations has also been Bob McChesney.

Mariel Austin’s music breathes and pulsates. She leaves unexpected space and creates tension that builds and ebbs like ocean waves. Austin generously shares the solo spotlight with her talented players, many who are Berklee College of Music and New England Conservatory students. This is her first recording project and I’m certain it’s a preface for many more to come.
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Jason Kao Hwang, violin/viola/composer; Taylor Ho Bynum, cornet/flugelhorn; Joseph Daley, tuba; Andrew Drury, drums; Ken Filiano, double bass; Sun Li, pipa; Steve Swell, trombone; Wang Guowei, erhu.

“Driving down on an unlit highway, my headlights flashed upon the bleeding carcass of a deer,” explained Jason Kao Hwang. ”My heart rate thundered and air abandoned my lungs with explosive force as I swerved away, narrowly avoiding a collision. This shock made me reflect upon my mother’s harrowing experiences in China during World War II. While in a Changsha pharmacy, she was knocked unconscious by a Japanese bomb. She awoke as the lone survivor surrounded by the dead. I also thought about Butch Morris and Billy Bang, musicians I’ve worked with who fought in Viet Nam. The magnitude of pain and sorrow that they endured is unimaginable.”

“Blood meditates upon the emotional traumas of war retained within the body as unspoken vibrations that reverberate throughout communities and across generations. Through blood, the violence of deeply held memories are not relived, but transposed into our sound. Blood in our sound rises within our voice to defy humanity’s constant state of war. Blood liberates our song. Blood regenerates into wholeness and strength.”

The excerpt above is taken from the Jason Kao Hwang liner notes. It explains the inspiration for this unique musical adventure, using the artist’s own words. During the first track, “Breath Within the Bomb” you hear the fear, frustration and calamity within his music. I could imagine pieces of debris swirling around in the air and unconscious or injured bodies lying on the ground. Sometimes the instruments sound like painful cries, or mimic animal voices of protest and pain. Taylor Ho Bynum’s use of both cornet and flugelhorn on this project add notable highlights, as does the tuba.

This is Avant-garde jazz music, not always easily understood or reviewed. Hwang’s violin is ever-present, sometimes plucked, sometimes bowed. He has incorporated a number of string instruments that merge to become his Burning Bridge group and to illustrate his concept of “Blood,” the essence of human life. Among these instrumentalists, it is unique to add the Chinese two-stringed, bowed musical instrument called the ‘erhu’. It’s similar to a spiked fiddle or sometimes it’s referred to as a Southern Fiddle. Others refer to it as a Chinese violin. It is mastered by Wang Guowei. Another Asian instrument that’s blended into this production is the ‘pipa’, a four-stringed Chinese instrument, also referred to as a Chinese lute. It has a pear-shaped, wooden body and can encompass a varying number of frets, ranging from a dozen frets and up to twenty-six frets. It is showcased by Sun Li. Jason Kao Hwang continues his search for self-expression by unifying both Eastern and Western music and musical instruments. He incorporates the tuba, featuring Joseph Daley. Steve Swell adds trombone magic to the mix. On the third track titled, “Surge (Part 2.)” Andrew Drury is the catalyst on trap drums, dashing and dynamic on his instrument. Kenny Filiano sets a blues tone beneath the freedom of expression performed by the strings, walking his double bass deliberately through the fray. He’s a seasoned technician on his instrument. I remember Kenny from his days living and playing in Southern California. He’s always been a strong and confident player.

Jason Kao Hwang has received support from Chamber Music America, US Artists International, the NEA, the Rockefeller Foundation and some others who have supported his unique composer talents. As a violinist, he has played with Karl Berger, Anthony Braxton, William Parker, Butch Morris, Oliver Lake, Reggie Workman and many other notables. His music is not for the faint of heart or those of closed minds. This is an unapologetic, Avant-garde experience full of creativity and protest, played by a number of talented and uninhibited musicians. Fasten your seat belt.
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Keith Oxman, tenor saxophone/composer; David Liebman, soprano/tenor saxophone; Jeff Jenkins, piano; Ken Walker, bass; Todd Reid, drums.

There’s nothing I love more than a bluesy saxophone and Keith Oxman graciously offers just that. This recording opens with his original composition titled, “Shai.” His tenor saxophone flies above the solid rhythm section, as powerful as a jet plane painting white smoky pictures against shades of blue sky. Jeff Jenkins is wonderful on grand piano and takes a noteworthy solo. Then enters special guest, David Liebman, also on tenor saxophone. Oxman is a solid composer, steeped in the old-school vein of jazz from the days of John Coltrane’s popularity. After listening to several amazing cuts on this CD, I began to read the liner notes and realized that both Oxman and Liebman are devotees of the late, great Coltrane and that’s another cement-solid bond that joins them. The camaraderie of Liebman and Oxman is particularly interesting since they are both accomplished reed men and both extremely competent on their instruments. You would expect that Oxman would have chosen a trumpeter as a recording comrade, rather than another reedman, but it works beautifully. Liebman explained:

“I really enjoyed Keith’s compositions that have challenging and interesting harmonic twists and turns, always framed with lyrical melodic content.”

You can hear the tenderness and oneness of their merger on every tune. However, I was completely engaged on the ballad, “Lenny.”

Every composition of Oxman’s invites me into his musical world with welcome arms. The ensemble’s warm and comforting tone makes you want to hug the music. For good measure, Oxman has included a couple of songs we know and love like Ellington’s “In A Sentimental Mood” and Cedar Walton’s “Afreaka”. Still, I am just as illuminated by Oxman’s own composition skills. The arrangement of only piano and horn on the Ellington tune is a lovely way to showcase the exquisite melody of this song and punctuates the outstanding talent of the iconic David Liebman. As a duo performance, Jeff Jenkins is both a sensitive accompanist and powerful player.

On track three, the two saxophonists play tag during the Cedar Walton tune, each showing off their own unique skills on their instruments. It’s a joyful arrangement full of spunk and sport. They sound amazing as a team. Ken Walker gets to walk his big, bad bass during a rousing solo and I applaud the way the sound man brought the piano way down to showcase every nuance of Walker’s bass solo performance. Tedd Reid is solid as a redwood tree throughout, lending his trap drum licks in comfortable support of the ensemble. On Track six, “Louminus,” you can hear Reid wailing away and pumping the group up with his inspirational percussive prowess.

The title tune, “Glimpses” is composed by NEA Jazz master, David Liebman. Liebman’s career stretches over nearly five decades and he has leant his talents to the bandstands of Miles Davis, Elvin Jones, Chick Corea, John McLaughlin, McCoy Tyner and more. As an educator and author, he also markets instructional jazz DVDs and books. David Liebman has performed on over 500 recordings.

This is Keith Oxman’s tenth album release on the Capri label. He has played with a number of great musicians including Art Blakey, Buddy Rich, Red Holloway, Jack McDuff, Pete Christlieb, Tom Harrell, Phil Woods, Dave Brubeck, Curtis Fuller and many, many more. A Denver native, he has inspired youth as a music instructor and band leader at East High School. He’s a competent studio musician, composer and producer, as well as a distinctive artist with great chops and a deep love of bebop. Every cut on this CD is smokin’ hot and beautifully played.
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Jorge Nila, tenor saxophone; Dave Stryker, guitar; Mitch Towne, organ, Dana Murray, drums.

Jorge Nila opens with a smokin’ hot rendition of Dexter Gordon’s popular, “Fried Bananas” composition. Nila was inspired to tribute several iconic reedmen on this “Tenor Time” project, as well as legendary composers like Tadd Dameron and Stevie Wonder. It was a plus to hear Mitch Towne on organ. The addition of an organ to this project brings back happy musical memories of the 1960s jazz scene. Nila’s quartet swings hard on “Fried Bananas”, with Dana Murray pushing the music ahead on trap drums, adding Charisma and excitement to the project. Dave Stryker is always a pleasure to hear on his guitar. He’s not only a prime player on this project, but he produced it as well. The Hank Mobley classic tune, “Soul Station,” slows the tempo, but remains rich with groove. That’s one thing you will find abundant on this CD; the groove and the swing. “On A Misty Night,” composed by the great Tadd Dameron, lends an unforgettable melody worthy of this instrumental ‘cover.’ Jorge Nila does the tune high justice, exhibiting his undeniable talents on tenor saxophone. Stevie Wonders “Rocket Love” soars and swoops, using close harmonies between the organ and saxophone and lending itself to a funk with Murray’s drums leading the way. Other reedmen who are celebrated on this album are Wayne Shorter, Joe Henderson, Sonny Rollins, Harold Vick and Sonny Stitt. This production carries the joy and spirit of the holidays inside the bell of Jorge Nila’s tenor saxophone, while giving praise to the elders and the unforgettable gifts they left behind.
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Daniel Rotem, tenor/soprano saxophones/composer/arranger; Miguel Atwood-Ferguson, 5-string violin; Miro Sprague, piano; Alex Boneham, bass; Roberto Giaquinto, drums; SPECIAL GUESTS: Jeff Parker, guitar; Erin Bentlage, vocals.

The first song on Daniel Rotem’s double-disc-album opens like a sunrise. There is something open, spatial and universal about Rotem’s musical approach. You hear it in his music. He’s passionate and his music resonates the beauty of life and living. Special guest, Jeff Parker takes stage center on this first tune, to entertain with a moving guitar solo that expands over a synthesized-sounding background of electronic chords and the tinkling of a grand piano. Could that be a five-string violin making all that beautiful music behind the soloist? When Miguel Atwood Ferguson enters on his violin, the mood changes sweetly, as his solo becomes the center of attention. Daniel Rotem’s sound on his horn is breathy, warm and wonderful. I am captivated by the first tune of Disc 1., titled, “Different But the Same,” where Rotem implements stellar saxophone talent. On “Who Is It?” (Track 2.) we are introduced to the inspirational playing of Alex Boneham on bass and more attention is given to Miro Sprague on piano. Daniel Rotem picks up his tenor saxophone to serenade us. By the way, he has composed and arranged all the songs on this production. According to the liner notes, the compositions were written with the idea of creating a musical landscape to highlight the relevance of each human life and the breadth and beauty of our collective humanity. The title tune adds the bell-clear beauty of Erin Bentlage on vocals. She becomes a soprano instrument, harmonizing deftly with the other instruments.

Track four is one of my favorites, titled “Push Through” and push they do, speared by Roberto Giaquinto’s drums and their ensemble energy. This song tickles the attention with its up-tempo beat and featuring these awesome players at their best. I found the ending to be a bit abrupt. However, one thing is perfectly clear. Rotem is a fine composer and arranger. When I hear youthful and gifted musicians like these carrying on the legacy of jazz, I am encouraged. The songs are lengthy, but never boring. Consequently, Daniel Rotem needs two discs to play them all, with their average length running from over seven minutes to over ten minutes long. Prepare a pot of tea or a very tall drink, settle back and enjoy.
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Gabriel Zucker, piano/composer; Tyshawn Sorey, drums; Adam O’Farrill, trumpet; Eric Trudel, saxophone.

How would music sound if you were writing to entice your soul to stay put inside your body? That is one thought that inspired Gabriel Zucker, a pianist and composer, when he began working on this piece of art. As a multi-instrumentalist and deep thinker, Zucker has become one of the prominent voices on the New York avant-garde scene. In addition to using music to delve into his inner most mind questions and considerations, Zucker is a Yale graduate and a Rhodes scholar. Part 1. Of this CD (which is divided into three suites of music) is titled ‘Soul’. Part II. is labeled ‘Appointments’ and the third part is titled, ‘Stones.’ The ‘Stones’ theme may have been garnered from a novel called “The Flamethrowers” by Rachel Kushner. In it she writes:

“…a tribe his father had told him about, deep in the Amazon of Brazil, … weighted themselves with stones so that their souls would not wander away. … It became an obsession for him as a boy, this idea of people trying to keep their souls from escaping.”

I explain this because I think the reason for Zucker’s music is important to understand. Certainly, the premise may be easier to comprehend than the music itself. In listening to ‘free’ music, that is composed to allow the individual musicians to freely explore their creative improvisations, it’s not always easy to comprehend. This music is like impressionism art or abstract art. It’s experimental and difficult to describe.

Zucker may have coined it best by saying, “Like most of my work, “Weighting” is long and not exactly a light listening experience. But at its best, it should draw you in to move at the same speed it does.”
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Gabriel Espinosa, electric bass/vocals/composer; Kim Nazarian, vocals; Misha Tsiganov, piano/keyboards; Adriano Santos & Mauricio Zottarelli, drums; Jim Seeley, flugelhorn; Joel Frahm, tenor saxophone; Rubens De La Corte, guitar; Jonathan Gomez, bongos; Jay Ashby, trombone/percussion; Christian Howes, string ensemble.

Gabriel Espinosa is an electric bassist, vocalist and composer. His lovely, melodic composition entitled, “Gabriela” dances off my automobile compact disc player. It’s such a beautiful tune that for a moment, it helps to relieve the stress of driving in this Los Angeles, bumper-to-bumper traffic. The voice of Kim Nazarian becomes an instrument, joining the ensemble and adding her gorgeous tonal quality to the arrangement. Rubens De La Corte offers a warm and wonderful guitar solo. From this very first track, I am hooked on Espinosa’s project. On the second track, “Nostalgia” Jim Seeley opens the piece on flugelhorn. Then Joel Frahm is featured prominently on tenor saxophone and is amply propelled by Mauricio Zottarelli on drums. Nazarian sings the melody, without words, and it’s a powerful performance, sometimes in unison with the horn.

Gabriel Espinosa is a dulcet composer. After listening to a stack of Avant-garde productions earlier in the day, Espinosa’s album is a delightful experience. Nazarian’s voice is incorporated into his arrangements on the first four tunes. On “Tu Mirada”, (translated to “Your Gaze”) Jim Seeley expresses himself during a stunning flugelhorn solo. Jay Ashby’s trombone blends beautifully with Kim Nazarian’s vocals, on the third cut. This time Nazarian has lyrics and the melody is challenging, but she sings the rangy melody with ease.

Gabriel Espinosa blends Latin jazz with smooth jazz. You will find a pleasing excursion into arrangements that include compositions sounding almost pop-ish and definitely memorable. For example, “Eres Joven” (meaning “You Are Young”) was the first song Espinosa ever recorded with his brothers. They were called Los Deltons and the group was quite popular in the Mexican Yucatan during the 1970s. Christian Jacob has added a magical string arrangement as Gabriel Espinosa sings his heart out in his native Spanish language. His vocals, like his music are honest, smooth and emotional.
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November 5, 2018

November 5, 2018
By Dee Dee McNeil / Jazz Journalist

This music celebrates our diversities and the gratitude we share as one nation and one world.


This CD opens with the voice of Salvador, a young man labeled Dreamer, who grew up undocumented in America from childhood. He explains his situation as ‘undocumented’ and how he discovered his status just before his teen years. Salvador plays clarinet. He is passionate about his music and his love for America, the only country he’s ever known as home.

The Maestro on a mission is John Daversa, who explains in the liner notes that his own grandparents came to the shores of America from Europe and as proud immigrants. Daversa is a composer, arranger and trumpeter. He’s also an activist and big band leader. For this project, he has gathered a number of talented youth, all representative of their Dreamer status in our country. This music is excitingly arranged and the young people come from all over the United States to play out their passion for music, for freedom, for co-existence, and to exemplify pride in being a part of our country. Their voices sing in unison, “Living in America” spaced strategically in between the jazzy big band arrangements of John Daversa.

As proclaimed by the United States Leader of the House of Representatives:
“The history of music in America is inseparable from the story of immigrants in America. Our brave young Dreamers embody this proud legacy, adding their vision and patriotism to make America more American.” – Nancy Pelosi.

The female voice of Saba comes up on track three to tell us that she was brought to America at age eleven from Pakistan. She plays piano and sings. Saba tells us that she, as a working student, was given DACA (Dreamer) status. When she learned that DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) was ending, it was devastating to her. This is the only country she has known. She is an outstanding student, majoring in biology and is a candidate in mathematical biology at Texas Tech University. She speaks five languages. Saba studied classical piano, but learned to love jazz, the music of freedom. Track four Features an up-tempo arrangement of “Don’t Fence Me In” with a rousing trumpet solo and great horn harmonics.

Caliph is a Dreamer who came to our country at age seven-years-old from Senegal. He earned a university scholarship, but could not attend because of his immigration status. He’s a rapper/poet and activist. He prefaces the “Immigrant Song” with a rap and a short talk about his journey as a Dreamer in America.

“Music has always been tied to the fight for justice. During the Civil Rights Movement, Nina Simone and John Coltrane performed what became anthems for freedom. American Dreamers continue this tradition of using music to send an important message, … affirming their love of the country they call home.” – Senator Kamala D. Harris

This entire album is a well-produced musical tribute to Dreamers and their journey from oppression, in search of a better life by coming to the shores of America to assimilate and add their worthy talents and international energy to our country. Most of them bring love and hope. Unlike the rhetoric, statistics show that from 2012 until present, most of them are not criminals. They come from families that desire a better future for themselves and their children. These talented musicians come from Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Honduras, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, Senegal, Singapore, South Korea, Sweden and Venezuela. They all sought out the ‘home of the brave, land of the free’ that the United States represented to them. The political move to rescind DACA is part of an irresponsible strategy to criminalize immigrants. This album is full of honest expressions from the mouths and musical talents of a big band of Dreamers. Dreamers who are good citizens, hard workers and outstanding students. They serenade us with truth and purpose, endeavoring to explain their plight and share their challenges to convince us they are as patriotic and purposeful as any American child born and raised on our soil.

Perhaps Senator Lindsey Graham summed it up best when he said:
“Dream Act Children (Dreamers) have known no country other than America. American Dreamers features a heartfelt expression of patriotism by talented Dreamers performing the songs of our country.” – U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham

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Alberto Pibiri, piano/composer; Paul Gill, bass; Paul Wells, drums; Adrian Cunningham, tenor saxophone/clarinet; Dave Stryker, guitar; Sheila Jordan, Jay Clayton & Miriam Waki, vocals.

This musical production opens with a joyful, upbeat piano by Alberto Pibiri. The tune titled, “For Oscar” brings back memories of silent films with Charlie Chaplin waddling double time across the film screen in black and white. This is very ‘Roaring-twenties’ style jazz.

It moves into a more Gene Harris type of modern jazz mid-way through when Alberto Pibiri trades fours with drummer Paul Wells. He brilliantly shows his ability to swing and to dig deeply into the blues. In the liner notes, Pibiri’s original tune “For Oscar” was written as a tribute to the great pianist, Oscar Peterson. Alberto Pibiri has composed every song herein and each has a personality of its own. “My Sunshine” is a lovely ballad full of piano arpeggio’s and gives ample time to feature Paul Wells on bass. On Pibiri’s original composition, “Walkin’” they add a clarinet. The nice, mellow sound, played by Adrian Cunningham, blends well with Pibiri’s tinkling treble notes on the piano. “New Bossa” is a lilting Latin number. “Kiss Kiss” is a slow swing, with Pibiri’s blues roots prominent once again. He branches off into many directions, but all of it showcases his excellence as a piano technician and the fruit of his endeavors are brilliant composition skills that hang like golden apples from his musical tree. On “Be Free,” Jazz vocalist Sheila Jordon is featured. The composition is a beautiful ballad where Alberto Pibiri showcases his talents on grand piano and uses a vocalist to spotlight his lyrical capabilities. Notably, Jordan is an icon in the music business, but like Billy Eckstine in his later years, her vocal vibrato has now taken over her once clear, clean tones. On cut #8 she scats rather than singing lyrics and is more effective with vocalist Jay Clayton, who joins the party. Together, they epitomize a saxophone and trumpet duet, using their voices. Track 9 features Miriam Waki on vocals. This cut adds Dave Stryker on guitar and Adrian Cunningham is back, this time on saxophone. For my taste, these three vocal songs add little to Alberto Pibiri’s project and distract from an otherwise tight ensemble production.
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CHUCHO VALDÉS – “JAZZ BATA 2” Mack Ave Records

Chucho Valdés, piano/composer; Yelsy Heredia, double bass; Dreiser Durruthy Bombalé, batas /vocals; Yaroldy Abreu Robles, percussion. GUEST ARTIST: Regina Carter, violin.

The unusual thing about this production is the lack of trap drums. I would expect that a CD featuring this talented Cuban composer, pianist and bandleader would lend itself to the relentless beat of the trap drums. However, I find myself enthralled with the Valdés command of his grand piano, even in the face of a drum-less production, Chucho Valdés shines brilliantly. He expresses himself spectacularly with this album of all original music. For rhythm, he adds the percussion power of Yaroldy Abreu Robles to spur the energy and support the steady excitement of Yelsy Heredia on double bass. Every now and then Dreiser Durruthy Bombalé lends vocals to texture the layers of this musical fabric. Here is a quilt of many musical influences and colors. The music is warm and wraps around you.

Valdés blends his own Cuban culture with Yorubic religious music and American jazz in a most unique way. His fingers fly across the piano keys like a flock of startled sparrows. He is quick, melodic and always innovative. On track four, titled “Ochun” he adds a taste of gospel during the introduction and surprises the listener with the amazing talents of his guest artist, Regina Carter playing violin. This powerful female violinist always shares a soulful talent, enticing her violin instrument to bend and blend in very unique and beautiful ways. In the Yoruba religion, the female God Ochun (sometimes spelled Oshun) is thought to be a spirit goddess that rules over fresh water, rivers, sexual pleasure and fertility, as well as beauty and love. This particular goddess is also celebrated in Brazil, in Trinidad, Cuba and throughout the Ifá and Yoruba religions.

Taught and inspired by his famous father, Ramon “Bebo” Valdés, ((1918-2013), this CD release celebrates what would have been his father’s 100th birthday. Once again, Regina Carter is featured on the violin during this tribute composition.

Chucho Valdés is an amazing pianist and without trap drums, his genius is prominent. There are some stunning percussive solos, but for the most part, the awesome catalyst for this project is the expert and sensitive piano playing of Valdés. He covers so many styles of music, rooted in his amazing technique, with each original composition becoming a unique musical experience for the listener. Here is an excursion into the classical music of West Africa, explored and epitomized by a master of the piano. Chucho Valdés (born in Havana) along with his long-time friends and fellow musicians, Yaroldy Abreu Robles, Dreiser Durruthy Bombalé, and Yelsy Heredia, who are all from the Guantánamo region display solid Cuban roots, as well as being conservatory-trained. Together, this band of masters create a most memorable and enjoyable product of jazz and world music to inspire our cultural appreciation.
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Annie Chen, vocals/composer/lyricist; Rafal Sarnecki, elec. Guitar/arranger; Tomoko Omura, 5-string violin; David Smith, trumpet/flugelhorn; Alex LoRe, alto saxophone/flute; Glenn Zaleski, piano; Mathew Muntz, bass; Jerad Lippi, drums.

This CD includes a booklet that provides the lyrical content written by Annie Chen in English and in Chinese. Her prose is quite moving and very cultural with poetic reference and comparison to nature. A very Chinese vocal chant bounces against a bass solo to open this production. I have lived in Shanghai, China and I recognized the style of music immediately. Annie Chen, the vocal storyteller, emerges. Her second soprano voice is quite unremarkable, but extremely sincere. Her lyrical message does not rhyme and is not meant to. Her vocal instrument turns into a scat that merges with the clarinet, doubling a line in unison. The melodies are very repetitious. Although that lends space and chordal simplicity for instrumental solos, it does not endear this listener to her compositions. They are very much like some Hip-Hop beats that just keep repeating the same changes over and over again. Even the scat unison repeats the same melody again and again. Consequently, her compositions somehow seem uninspired. To scat, in jazz, is to create something new, fresh and creatively improvisational.

Guitarist, Rafal Sarnecki uses his arrangement talents to wrap the Eastern and Western cultures together like a colorful ball of yarn. The result is somewhat avant-garde.

The title tune, “Secret Treetop” features Alex LoRe on flute. Once again, even the background track is repetitious, as is her scat. The flute flies like a fluttering bird on his solo, as does Glenn Zaleski on piano, who finally brings some real jazz feeling to this production.

This is world music. Annie Chen sings in English and her native language. Some of her translated lyrical poetry grammatically loses its meaning in the translation. On track three, “Au Bao Xiang Hui,” the horn players add zest and color to an otherwise very repetitious work of art. That being said, this is a global creative effort with much Asian influence. Annie Chen has included a Taiwanese Folk Song, “Gan Lan Shu,” that I found very beautiful and was the highlight of this production. It’s a very well-written composition.
Culturally, I think this production will be appreciated on the world stage. It’s very well produced. However, most of Ms. Chen’s sing-song, repetitive, minor-mode compositions miss the mark for me.
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Andy Suzuki, keyboard/woodwinds; Jeff Miley, guitar; Steve Billman, bass; Ralph Humphrey, drums; Billy Hulting, percussion.

This is a blend of fusion, smooth jazz, progressive rock and easy listening. Here is an ensemble production featuring original compositions, with the majority written by Billman and Miley who are the bassist and guitarist of the group. From the beginning, the first three musical compositions sounded somewhat melodically redundant. That is not to say that they sounded similar, but that the melodic lines seemed to repeat over and over again in each song. That being said, the tracks are well produced. However, I kept waiting for something or someone to break-out with a stunning solo. The element of surprise, excitement and the instrumental ‘It-factor’ seems missing. Miley is left to interpret most of the melodies and he offers numerous improvisational solos on guitar. His talent is obvious. This production is a pleasant listen, inclusive of many technical skills and time changes. But neither the songs nor the individual musicians jump out at you as prime soloists or power players. I think some of it could be due to the mix and some may be due to the repertoire. Certainly, these are all competent and talented musicians.

“Presence Unknown” is the first track and the unusual rhythm catches my ear, along with the guitar funk line. In the liner notes the time is explained as 13/8 and that meter is enhanced by Andy Susuki, playing keyboards and woodwinds. Steve Billman is pumping his bass and planting strong roots for this song. Still, these tracks sound like tracks awaiting the soloist to lay down his or her part. On the second track, “Failure to Authenticate” the Odd Dogs group uses more challenging time meters, moving from 11/8 to 15/8 to 4/4/ time. The average listener may not know or understand these hidden time agendas, but are simply listening to the music for the music’s sake. I found this second cut full of spunk and spark, tapping into what sounds like rock music. I note that the liner notes reference the group’s affinity towards the progressive rock era and groups like Pink Floyd.

Cuts #4 and #5, (“Hairpin” and “Title 5”) are more straight ahead jazz and feature pretty exciting reed work by Andy Suzuki, while giving Ralph Humphrey (co-composer of “Title 5”) an opportunity to spotlight his drum tenacity. “Monkish” references the influence Thelonious Monk has had on these musicians and it’s tinged with blues and a melody that inspires horn improvisation. Billman also takes a well-deserved solo on his electric bass. These three songs were not so meter-diversified, but seemed to flow more naturally and showcase the talents of these musicians in a jazzy setting, complimenting the Odd Dogs ensemble. Other compositions like, ”A Simple Word” were very smooth-jazz oriented and melodically repetitious, while tunes like “Enigma” and “The Beast” were produced more ‘rock’ driven.

Charts for the songs on this album are available at their website. They invite all of you inquisitive musicians to check them out at:

Perhaps guitarist Jeff Miley summed it up best by explaining:

“Both the writing process and the act of performing these compositions are satisfying for me because they’re rhythmically advanced and harmonically rich. I get to do some rock-type playing while navigating jazz harmonies with people I hold in the highest regard.”
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Bill O’Connell, piano/Fender Rhodes/composer; Lincoln Goines, bass; Bobby Ameen, drums; SPECIAL GUESTS: Randy Brecker, flugelhorn; Craig Handy, alto saxophone; Conrad Herwig, trombone; Andrea Brachfeld, flute; Dan Carillo, guitar.

This album was released earlier this year, but it’s such a gem, I have to suggest you take a listen and consider it as a dynamite stocking-stuffer this Christmas. If you love ‘straight-ahead’ jazz, you will happily embrace this talented ensemble of musicians. Bill O’Connell merges his piano and arranging talents with Lincoln Goines on bass and Bobby Ameen on drums. Their trio is tightly cohesive and becomes a stellar platform where O’Connell’s special guests can appear. The first track features an original composition by O’Connell titled “Obama Samba” that is a tribute to our former U.S. president as Barack Obama danced his way out of the White House after his successful eight-year term. Lincoln Goines gives an admirable solo on electric bass and Bobby Ameen pushes the samba with rhythmic force. O’Connell is exciting on the piano and this song sets the tone for their entire album. Together, this trio swings hard and consistently. You can tell that they have been playing together for some time. In fact, they were rhythm-section camrades in the Dave Valentin Band.

O’Connell’s trio is the main focus of this album, but at all the right points they invite a handful of excellent guest musicians to add color and creativity to their production. Iconic folks like Randy Brecker on flugelhorn and Craig Handy on Alto saxophone pop in. Legendary Conrad Herwig adds his trombone talents and Andrea Brachfeld brings flute to the mix. Dan Carillo is tenacious on guitar.

Every song on this project swings spontaneously and with great tenacity. O’Connell has penned seven of the eleven songs offered here. They also showcase some awesome arrangements of standard songs like, “Just One of Those Things” that is played at a speedy pace with plenty of room for each trio member to improvise and spotlight their skills. O’Connell moves back and forth from grand piano to electric piano with ease and excellence. His band mates are supportive and each is amazing in his own right. This is ear candy!
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LISA HILTON – “OASIS” Ruby Slippers Productions

Lisa Kristine Hilton, piano/composer; Mark Whitfield Jr., drums; Lugues Curtis, bass.

Pianist Lisa Hilton has taken a handful of original compositions and with two-fisted authority, interprets them with gusto on her new trio CD, “Oasis”.

On track two, titled, “Adventure Lands” she shows off her left-handed dexterity, while her right hand improvises brightly. Mark Whitfield Jr., keeps the trap drums strong beneath her up-tempo prowess. Luques Curtis, on bass, locks into the production to bring solid support. Clearly, Ms. Hilton is classically trained and competent on her instrument. She offers us ten original compositions that fall into the realm of ‘easy listening’. On her “Lazy Daisy” tune, I began to sing the old R&B standard, “Heart and Soul, I fell in love with you …,” which the chord changes mimic and some of the melody seems to be based upon. This is a Hoagy Carmichael song quite familiar to me from the 1950s when it was covered by the Cleftones. However, most of her original songs and improvisations become rather redundant. Hilton’s compositions are not necessarily melodic in a way that makes the listener sing-along, unlike the way we cling to Ellington’s ‘Satin Doll’ melody or the more challenging ‘Lush Life’ melody of Billy Strayhorn. Instead, Hilton plays with a lot of arpeggio runs and celebrates technique instead of letting her melody lines take the spotlight. That being said, this is a pleasant, easy-listening experience that includes one Gershwin standard, “Fascinating Rhythm”.
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Sumi Tonooka, piano; David Arend, double bass; Johnathan Blake, drums/percussion; Michael Spearman, trombone; Salim Washington, tenor saxophone/flute/bass clarinet; Erica Lindsay, tenor saxophone; Samantha Boshnack, trumpet/flugelhorn.

Alchemy is the transformation of matter or changing base metals into gold. If you have a taste for blended jazz that stretches the oblong lines of music like a rubber band, this music encircles big band scores, symphonic arrangements, modern jazz and bebop all in the same package. On cut one (the title tune – “Adventures in Time and Space”) you will hear a taste of everything. The studio mix is brilliant. Every nuance of Johnathan Blake on drums and percussion is captured with eclectic clarity. Sumi Tonooka is stellar on piano. Salim Washington’s solo expresses mad, improvisational spirit. On track two, David Arend bows his double bass in such a refreshing and improvisational way that he steals the spotlight from the rich horn harmonies. Arend moves this moderate tempo’d arrangement from modern jazz to a more intimate feeling, like that of a chamber music concert.

Each song on this album spreads its own colorful wings to take flight. Creativity spins from this disc and invites us along for an enjoyable ride. Like the splash of colors on the CD jacket, this is uninhibited art. It’s progressive music that invites us to sit back, relax and let our imaginations wander. This group of excellent musicians successfully colors outside the lines of style, genre or classification.
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Paul Mehling, lead guitar/group founding member; Julian Smedley, Evan Price, Olivier Manchon, & Deborah Tien-Price, violins; Evan Dain, Clint Baker, Ari Munkres, Joe Kyle, & Sam Rocha, bass; Paul Robinson, Ed Boynton, Jeff Magidson, Joseph Mehling, Sammo Miltich, Josh Workman, Jason Vanderford, Jeff Magidson, Dave Ricketts, Jordan Samuels & Isabelle Fontaine, rhythm guitars; Paul Mehling, solo guitar/lead vocal; Tony Marcus, Sam Rocha, Sylvia Herold, Linn Powell, & Isabelle Fontaine, vocals; Aeros Quintet, woodwinds; Jeffrey Kahane, piano; Clint Baker, trombone. Jeff Sanford, soprano saxophone; Sam Rocha, tuba.

Reminiscent of gypsy music or Django Reinhardt, “Round Midnight” dances onto the scene to open this album. I am familiar with ‘The Hot Club de France’ that transformed French music by incorporating American jazz concepts into their group. As I listen to this interesting band of American musicians, “The Hot Club of San Francisco,” I admire their use of string instruments to emulate musical styles from New Orleans of the 1920s, gypsy jazz, and to tribute Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli.

Notably, this musical style began in Paris with ‘The Hot Club de France’ many years ago. Their cultural blend of music developed in Paris, featuring performance musicians, several listening sessions of rare American jazz discs, small concerts, and in a Parisian club located at 78 rue Cardinet. They even established a record label in 1937 called the Swing Music Label. The Hot Club de France promoted jazz as rooted in ‘swing’ and blues, telling their loyal fans and performers that this strange, new, American music was created and perpetrated by African-American musicians. They blended it with the gypsy music style. It was December of 1934 when that Parisian club (The Ecole Normale de Musique de Paris) was originally popularized by this new music that hosted the Hot Club de France. This group greatly inspired lead guitarist and band leader, Paul Mehling.

This album, featuring The Hot Club of San Francisco, celebrates thirty years of performances by a group of popular Northern California musicians. They only use Argentine Strings and no trap-drummer. The lead guitar is Paul “Pazzo” Mehling, who has affectionately been dubbed the godfather of American gypsy jazz. Born in Denver, he grew up in California’s Silicon Valley. Early on, Mehling was enthralled over his dad’s record collection. He was inspired by Dan Licks & his Hot Licks, and like most teens, he loved the Beatles. He also was steeped in a prevailing interest in Dixieland jazz bands. This guitar specialist has spent time in Paris, playing violin in Metro stations and sitting-in with gypsy musicians whenever possible. He explained:

“When I heard Django’s Hot Club of France: three guitars, bass and violin, they sounded and acted like a rock band. I saw pictures of them and they looked sharp, sophisticated and mysterious.”

Speaking of Paris, Isabelle Fontaine does a swell job of singing the popular standard, “I Love Paris” with a very New Orleans/ragtime arrangement bubbling beneath her voice. Evan Price offers an amazing violin solo on this cut. Isabelle is originally from the French countryside and was inspired by voices like Edith Piaf, Charles Trenet and Yves Montand. She spent two decades playing the snare drum and singing jumping, jive music all over France, Spain and the Swiss Alps. Then, in 2004 she moved to the United States and the Bay Area. That’s when she began working with “The Hot Club of San Francisco.”

Master violinist, Evan Price is a native of my hometown, Detroit, Michigan. He studied music at Cleveland Institute of Music, at Berklee College of Music, and is on the faculty of Wellesley College. He’s a ten-year member of the Turtle Island Quartet, recording five CDs with them and receiving a GRAMMY award in 2006 and 2008 in the Classical Crossover Category. The two awarded albums were their interpretation of “A Love Supreme: The Legacy of John Coltrane’ and the other album was titled, “Four +4”. The remaining two, current and outstanding members of this group are Jordan Samuels (noted guitarist in the San Francisco area) and Sam Rocha, a bassist from Fresno, California. Sam is basically self-taught, but has studied privately with the likes of Walter Page, Scott Lafaro, Milt Hinton, Ray Brown and more. He’s known as a rising star on the gypsy swing circuit and also plays jazz tuba, cornet and guitar.

Founder, Paul Mehling launched this group in 1989. Together, his talented ensemble of musicians breathes fresh life into the historic Django legacy with their infectious gypsy jazz music. Here is a limited-edition CD to enjoy, sharing a compilation of songs taken from their fourteen CD releases.
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Flavio Lira, bass/composer and 38 other talented musicians

Electric energy leaps from my CD player on a song called “Stog”. It is the first tune on this Flavio Lira CD and it exhibits his talents as a composer. Lira’s bass line opens the piece, accompanied by percussive excellence. The vibraphone solo heightens the excitement. This is followed by the lovely and sensitive vocals of Nella Rojas. She features a Spanish version of “All the Things You Are”. On other Flavio Lira compositions, titled “Pra Frente” and “Still in Movement,” Nella Rojas sweetly scats. Her voice is intriguing.

The title of this CD is “Coffee Gold Sugar Cane” and celebrates the treasures of South and Central America. These were the treasures that lured European colonization to their shores. Music represents the fruit of a people’s culture and community. Flavio Lira’s album reflects the music of Latin America in all its spicy tradition, rich with Brazilian and West African rhythms and tinged with Columbian and Cuban influences. This is his love letter to the beauty and diversity of Latin America. Favorite tunes are “Stog,” “All the Things You Are,” “Sol No Frio” and “Favela (O Morro Nao Tem Vez)”.

Flavio Lira best explains this production by saying, “In this project, I have brought together thirty-eight artists from different countries. It is the sort of cultural exchange made possible in this modern era of communication; an era in the spirit of mutual artistry and creative respect. Rather than conquest, this is my tribute to these lands of endless musical treasures. May these treasures exist as long as the human spirit flourishes.”
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Gene Ess, guitar/synthesizer/composer; Thana Alexa, vocals; Sebastien Ammann, piano; Yasushi Nakamura, bass; Clarence Penn, drums.

Jazz is an open door for new and refreshing musicality. I am always in search of new doors to enter and new spaces to explore; spaces that stretch creativity to the maximum. Gene Ess uses his fourth album release, along with his quintet ‘Fracial Attraction,’ to celebrate the spirit of humanity; a spirit that rises to crush adversity. With this in mind and propelled by his composer abilities, this guitar wizard incorporates funk, electronics, modern jazz, acoustic jazz and old-school scat to present his music. The title of his album, “Apotheosis” defined as the highest point in the development of something, or the culmination or climax of something.” So, I would expect nothing less from this project, spear-headed by Mr. Ess. He does not disappoint me.

The lovely vocals of Thana Alexa add much to the production of the Gene Ess compositions. She is a free vocal spirit, fluttering among his chord changes like a rare bird from paradise. He allows her to be a relevant instrument in the ensemble, and not just a singer of lyrics. She has co-written one song with Gene Ess titled, “Same Sky” where she has an opportunity to sing these words. In part, they read:

“There is beauty in our differences. In learning from our brothers, only then will we truly know. I choose to live a life including you. If we accept our brothers, only then will we truly grow.”

Pianist Sebastien Ammann woos me with his incredible talent on the grand piano. He’s a dynamic player. Yasushi Nakamura holds the rhythm tightly in place with his bass dexterity. On the fourth cut, “Bluesbird,” Nakamura takes an opportunity to strut his talents across the bass strings during a formidable solo. Clarence Penn, on trap drums, is ever constant and manages to use his busy sticks to accent and color this musical experience. He aptly rises to the occasion by ‘trading eights’ during the performance of “Bluesbird,” a composition more straight-ahead than the tunes I’ve heard thus far. The following song, “Tokyo Red” swoops us back to funk and swagger, invigorated by Gene Ess’s guitar and Clarence Penn’s percussive excellence. The music of Gene Ess is passionate and demanding. He moves from straight ahead to modern jazz, embraces the blues and tenderly caresses folksy ballads like “Same Sky,” all in the blink of a creative eye. His music snatches you by the ear and drags you along willingly. With this project, you will experience nearly an hour-long concert that is bound to invigorate and expand your consciousness.
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October 18, 2018

By Dee Dee McNeil/Jazz Journalist
October 18, 2018

WOODY SHAW QUARTET – “LIVE IN BREMEN – 1983” Elemental Records

Woody Shaw, Trumpet; Mulgrew Miller, piano; Stafford James, bass; Tony Reedus, drums.

For those youthful jazz fans who have never heard the name, Woody Shaw, let me tell you a bit about this amazing jazz trumpeter. He was born in Laurinburg, North Carolina on Christmas Eve, December 24, 1944 and what a gift he was! Woody Shaw, Jr., joyfully arrived and was embraced by a musical family. His dad attended Laurinburg Institute, the same school trumpet icon, Dizzy Gillespie attended and his father was a well-respected lead singer with the historic Diamond Jubilee Singers. While still a baby boy, young Woody moved to Newark, New Jersey with his parents at age six months. He was drawn to the bugle at a very young age and by the time he was eleven-years-old, he was studying classical trumpet. At age fourteen, Woody Shaw Jr., was working professionally. He hung out with some of the best jazz musicians of the 1960’s playing with the famous percussionist Willie Bobo, joining a band with legendary pianist/composer, Chick Corea, and finally landing a sweet gig as part of the legendary Eric Dolphy’s band. You can hear him on Eric Dolphy’s first record titled, “Iron Man.”

In 1964, at only nineteen-years-young, Woody packed up his trumpet and moved to Paris, France to work with Dolphy’s band. Unexpectedly, on June 29, 1964, while Eric Dolphy was in Berlin, Germany, Dolphy died suddenly of a coma caused by an undiagnosed diabetic condition. Consequently, young Woody Shaw found himself stranded in Paris for a year and a half, but he had no problem finding work. The young trumpeter was kicking around and playing with such notables as Donald Byrd, Dexter Gordon, Bud Powell, Kenny Clarke, Johnny Griffin and finally, he received an invitation to return to the United States and join the Horace Silver Quintet. The result of that union is his recording for Blue Note Records on the Horace Silver classic, “Cape Verdean Blues.” Later, Woody Shaw Jr., recorded with renowned organist Larry Young as both a trumpeter and composer. He was in great company. Elvin Jones was on drums and Joe Henderson was featured on tenor saxophone on that recording session. The album was titled, “Unity,” and Woody Shaw Jr. wrote three of the six songs they recorded. Thus, began his stellar career as one of our great jazz giants. His magnificent discography is star-studded, for he recorded with a plethora of jazz royalty. Sadly, at the very young age of forty-four, the awesome instrumentalist and composer passed away from kidney failure.

The beauty and genius of Woody Shaw’s music is captured on this newly discovered work of excellence. Thanks to Woody Shaw III, (his son), we continue to hear his father’s magnificent trumpet talent. Shaw-the-third has been preserving his father’s work for the past fifteen years and has co-produced several reissues of Shaw’s classic recordings. He’s currently working on a documentary film about his father. Michael Cuscuna is the co-producer and also a force behind the historic regeneration of this 1983 ‘live’ recording in Bremen, Germany on January 19, 1983. It’s a master, 2-CD-set to enjoy and covet. The sound and mastering are crystal clear and it makes you feel as though you are right there in the audience, with front row seats.
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Julian Gerstin, percussion/tanbou bélé, congas, bongo, bells, shakers/composer; Anna Patton, clarinet; Don Anderson, trumpet/flugelhorn; Eugene Uman, piano; Wes Brown, bass; Ben James, drum; SPECIAL GUESTS: Jon Weeks, tenor saxophone; John Wheeler, trombone; Carl Clements, flute; Lissa Schneckenburger, violin; Keith Murphy, guitar; Matt “Max” Fass, accordion; Todd Roach, dohala (Iranian drum).

Julian Gerstin spent many years adding the color and rhythm to a multitude of projects including brass band music, modern jazz, afrobeat, salsa, funk, punk and even choral music. The whole time he was supporting other artists as a sideman, Gerstin was woodshedding as a songwriter and composer. He has written every song on this album, incorporating his knowledge of various cultures and the music they produce. “The Old City” album title references ancient cities across the globe. This production features the members of his current sextet and several musical guests who adequately interpret Gerstin’s compositions. This is world music that touches on Cuban Dance music, as well as Nigerian and Ghanaian music. One of his compositions is based on the Mazouk, a dance of Martinque, where he once lived. On “Pwan Lajan-lan” Eugene Uman’s piano solo puts the ‘J’ in jazz. Wes Brown shines on bass, playing with rhythm and strength. But it’s always the uproarious and jubilant percussive additions of Julian Gerstin that fires this music up.

On “Leander’s Waltz” Lissa Schneckenburger adds a violin component and Keith Murphy is featured prominently on guitar. Julian Gerstin has written a South American blues that manages to include a cumbia rhythm representing Columbia, titled, “Cumbia sin Cambio,” and another one called “Santa Barbara Blues” featuring a mellow afro-Cuban beat that closes the album out. Neither of these blues numbers are like any gritty blues I know. After all, blues grew up in America, blossoming out of Southern work songs and slave songs. But although African Americans created the blues, everybody feels them. These are compositions with blues influence as Julian Gerstin feels and expresses himself. His music is global, with heavy Latin flavor. The arrangements of the Julian Gerstin Sextet divvy world music intertwined with jazz,on a production that wraps around them sweetly and strongly,like sugarcane.
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Susan Kreb, vocals; Ken Wild, bass; Tom Rizzo, guitar.

This is a project unique in its arrangement, offering string instruments and voice. You will hear the whispery and emotional vocals of Susan Krebs, the precise guitar mastery of Tom Rizzo and the solid bass support of Ken Wild. Without drums or piano, the vocals dance brightly in the spotlight. The handpicked and recorded repertoire is plush with music we recognize and standard songs we love like “Don’t Go to Stranger,” “My Foolish Heart,” “My Ship,” and “How Insensitive.” Krebs has long been heralded as an actor and theatrical improviser, but has also pursued a singing career as part of her performance package. In this current endeavor, she is joined by one of the West Coast’s celebrated guitar players. Like Susan, Tom Rizzo has crossed musical genre’s on stage and in the recording studio. He was the guitarist playing in Doc Severinsen’s band on the Tonight Show for a decade. He’s also worked with Natalie Cole, Maynard Ferguson, Blood, Sweat and Tears and Brian Wilson, to name just a few. During his ‘down time’, when not in the studio or on the road, Tom Rizzo composed and played music for commercials, for radio, film and television. This included work on “In Living Color” and that’s when he and bassist, Ken Wild first worked together. Ken Wild is a founding member and was on the cutting edge of Smooth jazz with a band called, “Seawind.” Like Rizzo, he’s spent much of his career touring, working as a studio musician and working in television and film. He was part of the Clare Fischer Big Band and has worked with jazz vocalists Dianne Reeves and Tierney Sutton, with Harvey Mason, James Moody, Terence Blanchard and Herb Ellis. His credits are numerous and impressive.

Susan Krebs has recorded other albums with her Chamber Band, but this is a fresh endeavor. She explained this project saying:

“We three were instantly smitten at a serendipitous gig meet-up! So, we set forth on our musical adventure together. This recording marks our trio work so far. I’m grateful to Kenny and Tom for their stimulating, transformative collaboration.”

Ken Wild offered his opinion about the formation of this project. “The name of this group is a misnomer. This is in no way ‘work’. When the three of us sit down to conceive an arrangement, the ideas seem to just flow … This is a true trio in the best sense of the word.”

Together, this band of three creates a unique listening experience with creative arrangements, awesome musicianship and a vocalist who’s unafraid to jump off any musical precipice without a parachute.
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Darren Barrett, trumpet, EVI (Electronic Valve Instrument.)/vocals/keyboards; Takeru Saito, piano; Youngchae Jeong, bass; Daniel Moreno, drums; Santiago Bosch, keyboards; Judith Barrett, percussion; Kurt Rosenwinkel, guitar; Wren, sound design.

A sweet guitar solo opens “Con Alma” in dedication to Dizzy Gillespie and features Barrett’s special guest, Kurt Rosenwinkel. It’s such a gorgeous tune and Rosenwinkel snatches my attention with his awesome guitar talents. Enter Darren Barrett on trumpet, tonally exhibiting a warm, round sound. This is a lovely album of beautiful love songs, amply interpreted on this, his premiere ballad project.

I enjoyed the tasty little nuggets of sounds and voices that add an emotional depth to these arrangements and they enhance the productions on songs like “Invitation”. There is a sound block of ethereal, spacey additions like echoed flutes on a synthesizer and with the piano creating tinkling sounds atop keyboard chords and string lines that cushion Darren Barrett’s gorgeous trumpet sounds. The production and Wren’s sound design have created an extraordinary musical ambience. “The Touch of Your Lips” is a Latin production, played at moderate tempo with Judith Barrett’s percussion work and Daniel Moreno’s drums propelling the tune at a lilting, moderate pace. Once again, the experimental background music (or sound design) builds the excitement in this Ray Noble composition. Darren Barrett’s use of soundscapes, samples, and synthesizers on eight classic ballads expands their beauty and draws the listener into the production with his whirlpool of synthesized sound. Barrett even sings on this tune, using an electric voice box, perhaps a vocoder, to alter his vocal tone. “But Beautiful” is one of my favorite standards. Takeru Saito takes a simple solo on piano, but it’s Barrett’s sweet trumpet excellence that stuffs the song with emotional power. “Everything Happens to me” has an exquisite lyric by Matt Dennis. I wish Barrett had sung the words, however his voice on trumpet is compelling and the splash of sound design in the background is interesting.
This GRAMMY award winning trumpeter, who also composes music and is a prominent bandleader, seems to be exploring new ways to forward-push jazz into a new generation; perhaps a new dimension. I applaud Barrett’s foresight and ingenuity. Every song on this album is spellbinding and fresh because of the exploratory usage of sound and sound design. Darren Barrett’s lush and satin-smooth control of his trumpet caresses each of these standards in a profoundly moving way. I also enjoyed his short moments of vocalizing, especially on “Every Time We Say Goodbye.” His ensemble technically supports this album exploration into new, musical dimensions. The result is a well-produced, well-played, stellar recording of eight standard ballads that we all love. You may love them even more after listening to this unusual production, using dubstep synthesis, remixes and sound effects before and during the transition to a traditional jazz ensemble presentation.
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Carol Liebowitz, piano/voice; Birgitta Flick, tenor saxophone.

If you are a lover of improvisational, modern jazz as an art form, this is your cup of tea. Both musicians are obviously competent and well trained in the classical realm and in music theory. However, as they state in the liner notes:

“…Whether it is a spontaneous free improvisation or a standard that dates back nearly a century, to us, it’s all one. We’re guided by the spirit and the intuition of the very moment the music comes into being. … each time anew.”

The two met in Berlin, Germany at a popular jazz club and ran into each other four years later in New York City. Once they began blending their talents in the realm of freedom of expression and spontaneity, they explored a duo of avant-garde, modern jazz concerts. This led to touring. All the music herein is original, or created on-the-spot, improvisationally, with the exception of two songs; “September in the Rain” and “You Don’t Know What Love Is.” Liebowitz sings her own rendition of “September in the Rain” against a patter of piano in the background that sounds like raindrops on a windowpane. After a chorus, Flick joins in on alto saxophone and the arrangement is hauntingly lovely, in a strange kind of way. Vocally, they are less successful on “You Don’t Know What Love Is.”

Flick’s sound is light and sensitive, sometimes almost flute-like in tone on the tenor saxophone. Other times rich and bluesy. Liebowitz goes from dark, serious chords to the tinkling of the piano’s upper register, sounding almost like a music box at times. Together, their duet of spontaneity is mostly soothing and relaxing. Forget about singing along or remembering a melody. Just pour a cup of hot tea, curl up in the moment and let your mind run free.
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MARK MASTERS ENSEMBLE – “Our Métier” Capri Records, Ltd

Mark Masters, composer/arranger; THE ENSEMBLE: Anno Mjöll, voice; Craig Fundygo, vibes; Ed Czach, piano; Kirsten Edkins, alto saxophone, Bob Carr, baritone sax/bass clarinet; Jerry Pinter, tenor & soprano sax; Dave Woodley, Ryan Dragon, & Les Benedict, trombones; Stephanie O’Keefe, French horn/contractor; Scott Englebright & Les Lovitt, trumpet. THE SEXTET: Andrew Cyrille, drums; Putter Smith, bass; Gary Foster & Oliver Lake, alto saxophone; Mark Turner, tenor saxophone; Time Hagans, trumpet.

A stack of compact discs sits on my desk. I listen to at least two to three a day and it seems I have not put a dent in the stack. The cover of this album I’ve picked up is a painting with smudged faces in what appears to be a man and two children. The colors melt into each other, soft, yet vibrant, like a Van Gogh painting. That made me want to listen to this recording next. Bravo! to Richard Garstl, 1908, oil on canvas of Famille Schoenberg.

The liner notes say, “Mark Masters paints compelling jazz landscapes for eight original works.” I agree. His arrangements leap from my CD player and light up the room with horns blaring and Tim Hagans’ trumpet solo is stunning, as is the music of Oliver Lake on alto saxophone. A coloring of vibraphone by Craig Fundygo adds a feeling of expectancy and mystery to the arrangement. This opening tune is titled, “Borne Towards the Stars” and according to Mark Masters, was inspired by the conclusion of a Malcolm Lowry’s novel, “Under the Volcano.” This is a package of modern jazz orchestration, using a sextet as the core of the project, and splashing colors of brightness and various hues by adding a twelve-piece ensemble. On the third track, “Lift,” vocalist Anno Mjoll makes a stunning appearance with her little-girl voice, scatting in a whispery way. She brings something lovely and unique to the arrangement. There is an innocence to her tone and stylized approach on this understated blues tune. Putter Smith walks his bass, cement solid beneath the exploratory alto saxophone solo of Oliver Lake. Then Smith steps out front and, with the sweet support of Fundygo on vibes, states his own case. After the Smith solo, Craig Fundygo presents his own improvisational opinion on the vibraphone.
This is a project mix of free bebop, modern jazz, the avant-garde with original compositions entirely written and arranged by Mark Masters. A Gary, Indiana native, he studied jazz at California State University in Los Angeles, experimenting with his first ensemble in 1982. In 1998 to present, he has spearheaded the American Jazz Institute (as president), a non-profit organization dedicated to jazz appreciation. Their “Find Your Own Voice” mentoring program takes professional musicians to public school campuses, offering clinics and master classes to student musicians. Mark Masters has been named a ‘Rising Star Arranger’ in Downbeat Magazine’s Annual Critics Poll multiple times.
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Randy Waldman, piano/arranger/producer; Carlitos Del Puerto, bass; Vinnie Colaiuta, drums; Michael O’Neill, guitar; Rafael Padilla, percussion; SPECIAL GUESTS: George Benson, Randy Brecker, Till Bronner, Chick Corea, Eddie Daniels, Steve Gadd, Joe Lovano, Wynton Marsalis, Bob McChesney, Chris Potter, Arturo Sandoval & Take 6. CAMEOS BY: James Brolin, Michael Bublé, Jeff Goldblum, Josh Groban, Olivia Newton-John & John Travolta.

Randy Waldman has been the pianist and musical director of choice for Barbara Streisand over thirty years. He takes a giant step outside those impressive realms to arrange and produce a work that features his own jazz sensibilities. This resulting production has been a labor of love for the past five years. It all began when an idea hit Waldman like a lightning bolt. One evening, after attending an event where he sat next to Adam West, the original TV Batman actor, their conversation about jazz inspired Randy Waldman. Consequently, he decided to make a CD with a superhero theme and with music played by some of his jazz superheroes. This, the final product, includes the talents of several guest artists including “Take 6,” George Benson, Randy Brecker, Chick Corea, Steve Gadd, Wynton Marsalis, Olivia Newton-John and a host of others. Opening with “The Adventures of Superman (TV Theme), Randy Brecker sings a mighty song on his trumpet and Eddie Daniels plays a mean tenor saxophone solo. The arrangement moves from the excitement of rich horn punches to a funk groove by drummer, Vinnie Colaiuta, who smacks the beat in the listener’s face, while Randy Waldman chases the bass lines on his busy piano keys.

“Take 6”, the 8-time, Grammy award winning vocal group, spices up the third track, “the Spiderman Theme.” Their voices add an awesome sparkle to this arrangement, using their unique six-voice harmonics to enhance the piece. All of these well-crafted arrangements are the combined talents of Justin Wilson and/or Randy Waldman. Throughout, with all the wonderful, guest musicians and innovators, it’s always Randy Waldman’s piano expertise and talent that pushes this project forward and inspires his assembly of amazing musicians. You will enjoy George Benson’s spontaneous solo affirmation on his jazz guitar during the performance of “Superman Movie.” During the recording of “The Incredible Hulk” cut, Waldman invites one of his favorite pianists, Chick Corea, to join him with an outstanding synthesizer solo. Wynton Marsalis makes an unforgettable appearance on “Batman’s TV Theme.” This is fine jazz at its best, celebrating comic book super heroes, television show and motion picture super heroes, and under the direction of a super hero in his own right; jazz pianist Randy Waldman.
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Ken Wiley, French horn/piano/composer; Bernie Dresel, drums; Rene Camacho, acoustic & Elec. Bass; Dominick Genova, acoustic bass; Dave Loeb, piano; Mark Leggett, acoustic Guitar; Luis Conte & Kevin Ricard, percussion; Dan Higgins, tenor saxophone/flute/alto flute/piccolo/clarinet; BOLERO HORNS: Gary Grant, Larry Hall, Steve Holtman & Dan Higgins.

I must admit I have no recollection of hearing a jazz CD that featured a French Horn as the main soloist and featured artist. My inquisitive interest was tickled. Ken Wiley has utilized a number of different, original compositions to feature his passion on French horn. Wiley is the composer of several tunes, with the exception of Carilo (one of my favorites on this production) and El Gorrion; both co-written with Mark Leggett. Another exception is Bolero, the opening tune, that was composed by Maurice Ravel. On Track six, the ensemble interprets McCoy Tyner’s composition “Samba Layuca,” giving Dave Loeb an opportunity to stretch out his piano chops on a long and impressive solo. All of these songs have a Latin feel, enhanced by Kevin Ricard on percussion and Bernie Dresel on drums. However, this is easy listening jazz, even on the McCoy Tyner tune. The talented musicians in his ensemble lay down a strong trampoline of rhythm and horn lines to help bounce the French horn solos to the forefront. The flute of Dan Higgins adds holiday sparkle to this production and is quite prominent on Cal Tjader’s composition, “Black Orchid.”

Produced by Ken Wiley and Dan Higgins, this is a production of exotic sounding songs that somehow conjure up a soundtrack to old, Western, cowboy movies when I listen to them.

Ken Wiley graduated from the Manhattan School of Music and remains one of the top studio musicians in the Los Angeles area. This unusual production, that showcases Wiley’s hypnotic talents on the French horn, bring an instrument to the forefront that usually is a blended part of the background orchestra. Comfortably mixed with his love of Afro-Cuban and South American rhythms, Wiley shows us how jazz can red-carpet a stage to spotlight the most unusual of instrumental gifts.
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Don Byron, clarinet/saxophone; Aruan Ortiz, piano.

This is an album of duets by two distinguished musicians. Don Byron is a Rome Prize recipient, a Pulitzer Prize Finalist and a 2007 Guggenheim Fellow. He studied under the tutelage of jazz innovator, George Russell at the New England Conservatory. As an eclectic clarinetist and saxophone player, he made his mark playing Klezmer, a popular Jewish music. Later, his musical path led him to explore a conceptualism in modern jazz music and to compose for silent films, serve as the director of jazz for the Brooklyn Academy of Music and score for television programming. Aruán Ortiz is Cuban born and Brooklyn-based. The two are compatible both musically and creatively. Both are thinkers outside the box and adventurist explorers of music. Ortiz has made a name for himself with his daring piano originality, combining his Cuban roots with stunning progressive jazz concepts and Haitian rhythms. He has worked with a number of advanced thinkers in the range of modernistic and freedom musicality like, Wadada Leo Smith, Esperanza Spalding, Wallace Roney, and even paired with poets like DJ Logic, The Last Poets and countless other revolutionary, free-thinkers. That gives you an idea of how avant-garde and unpredictable this production of music is. Four years ago, Ortiz invited Byron to participate in his “Music & Architecture” concert series. Thus, began their unusual musical merger. Both are serious composers. Ortiz has composed music for jazz ensembles, orchestras, dance companies, chamber groups and feature films. While Byron’s early influence came from Duke Ellington, Ortiz admired Thelonious Monk and the late, great Geri Allen was also a great influence on his piano style and journey. Both Byron and Ortiz are steeped in classical study and embrace the standard jazz icons along with the more modern, youthful jazz musicians. Together, they bridge the generational gaps, painting their jazz landscapes with unusual and daring colors.

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An Evening with Carol Bach-Y-Rita

October 17, 2018

By Dee Dee McNeil / Jazz Journalist

It was a windy October evening and I had just left the wedding and reception for my first-born grandson, Kendall McNeil. To top off an afternoon celebrating love, what better way than to go hear some jazz. There is a restaurant and club called VIVA! RANCHO CANTINA in Burbank, California, just fifteen minutes from Pasadena where the reception was held. Carol Bach-Y-Rita has been sending me press and information on her upcoming performance schedule for some time. This was my first opportunity to catch one of her shows. When I arrive, vocalist & host, Laura Pursell, is already on stage singing “There Will Never Be Another You.” I slid onto a barstool and looked around. The club is intimate with a tiny space at the front of a line of banquet-table-seating. Two couples are swing-dancing near the stage. There are a couple of tables with seating for four pressed against one wall. The cohesive band is a trio, featuring Dori Amarillo on guitar, John Leftwich on double bass and the legendary Frank Devito on drums. Ms. Purcell is petite with a big voice. Dressed in a skin-tight, black sheath, after her song she invited a gentleman named Patrick to the stage to join her. They did a duet, singing “Pennies From Heaven.” Patrick has a satin-smooth voice, reminiscent of Frank Sinatra. Afterwards, Laura Pursell left the stage, leaving her male counterpart in the spotlight. He sang “Witchcraft”, followed by the familiar standard, “More.” During this beautiful balled, John Leftwich bowed a lovely solo on his double bass.

Finally, Ms. Pursell introduced Carol Bach-Y-Rita. Carol told the attentive audience she was going to begin with a samba that told the story of dancing ducks. To my pleasure, Carol Bach-Y-Rita sings in various languages. I believe she was singing this song in Portuguese. Ms. Bach-Y-Rita’s voice is warm and sensuous. It dances atop Dori Amarillo’s superb guitar rhythms lightly and with great enthusiasm.

Next, she offered her captive audience a ‘swing’ arrangement of the popular standard, “That’s All.” Swing dancers took to the tiny dance floor and Carol Bach-Y-Rita swung hard with Frank Devito pumping out a solid, infectious rhythm on his drum set. For her third song, Bach-Y-Rita dismissed the drummer and guitarist, featuring only her mellifluous voice and the double bass. The song is “Traveling Light” and she made the challenging melody sound easy, entertaining us emotionally and holding down the melody in her own stylized way. She closes her set out with a Latin arrangement on “You Don’t Know What Love Is.” Carol scats a verse when she comes back in, after the band solos, and she and Frank Devito play tag on the end of the song, as she becomes very percussive with her voice against the strong backdrop of Devito’s drum chops. It was a short set, but packed with energy. Unfortunately for me, there was a very loud, drunk and obnoxious man sitting at the bar who was very inattentive to the music and extremely annoying. Other than that, it appeared that a fine time was had by all.
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October 7, 2018

By Dee Dee McNeil / Jazz Journalist

October 7, 2018

You may be surprised and perhaps as excited as I was to discover that a new, never before released album by Dexter Gordon’s Quartet has been released. He also has a soon-to-be released biography by his widow and former manager, Maxine Gordon. It will be available right before Christmas, published by University of California Press. Ralph Peterson Jr., and Donald Harrison were once staunch pillars in the Art Blakey ensemble. Peterson has put together a stellar big band with mostly Berklee Music School students that features, special guest, Donald Harrison. It’s called the Ralph Peterson Gennext Big Band. Arturo O’Farrill, a composer, pianist and educator encourages a multi-cultural, musical extravaganza at the Mexican border to protest division between people. Phil Schurger strives to find the connection between the higher self and the lower self with his compositions. Sergio Pereira puts his passion and Brazilian memories into a premier album full of spiritual joy and international talent. The lovely composer, Connie Han, is a new pianist on the scene who is passionate and exceptionally gifted. Christian McBride’s new CD is cordless, with the exception of his bass, then adding drums, trumpet and reeds. Finally,Grammy nominated trombonist,John Fedchock successfully moves from big band arranging to an intimate quartet production.


Dexter Gordon, tenor & soprano saxophones/composer; Al Haig, piano; Pierre Michelot, bass; Kenny Clarke, drums.

1977 was a transitional year for Dexter Gordon. He was in the process of moving back to the United States from Europe, where he would settle in New York City. He hadn’t been in the Big Apple since the 1940s. He was experiencing a master year of his life at the ripe and creative age of fifty-five years young. It was September 25th and Gordon was joined by Bebop pianist, Al Haig (who had worked with both Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie), Don Byas and Milt Jackson, French bassist Pierre Michelot and dynamic drummer Kenny Clarke, to perform a Parisienne concert. Lucky for us, it was recorded. Elemental Music is the first to discover and release these never before heard recordings.

Opening with Gordon’s composition, “Sticky Wicket,” the party begins right away. It continues with “A La Modal, another Dexter Gordon composition. Al Haig has a light, but assertive touch on the grand piano. Kenny Clark is always prominent and pivotal on drums. Pierre Michelot, a famous French bassist who worked with Kenny Clarke back in 1949 when they were both in French recording sessions with Sidney Bechet, also played with Coleman Hawkins, Zoot Sims and James Moody. Michelot also worked with Miles Davis and Stan Getz. He was part of the Bud Powell trio that came to Paris in 1959, also with Kenny Clarke, and they worked together off and on until 1981. So, there is a cohesiveness to their playing that comes from bandstand familiarity. Dexter Gordon is stellar on soprano saxophone on this second cut. It’s the only tune where he plays soprano sax instead of his alto. I have always loved and admired Dexter Gordon and his unique style and sound. This entire production is such a rare and exciting find. It’s wonderful to enjoy the man and his horn once more. You’ll relish the quartet’s interpretation of the familiar standard, “Body and Soul,” and they race through the Sonny Rollins composition, “Oleo” at high speed. To close this album, they play “Round Midnight,” sans Gordon, and featuring only the trio.

His wife and former manager, Maxine Gordon, has just completed his official biography entitled, “Sophisticated Giant: The Life and Legacy of Dexter Gordon”. It will be released in November of this year, published by the University of California Press. I can just imagine myself curled up on the couch with his autobiography, putting on this magnificent, historic recording and listening to his unique and compelling tones while I read his life story.

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Ralph Peterson, drums/cornet/Conductor; Antoni Vaquer & Dabin Ryu, Piano; Youngchae Jeong, bass; Julian Pardo, Karol Zabka & Jas Kayser, drums; SAXOPHONES: Eric Nakanishi, lead alto; Devin Daniels,2nd alto; Tim Murphey, 1st tenor; Jake Hirsch, 2nd tenor; Gabe Nekrutman, baritone saxophone; Tomoki Sanders, tenor sax. TROMBONES: Elliot Alexander Brown, lead trombone; Brandon Lin, 2nd; Alan Hsiao, 3rd; Will Mallard, 4th. TRUMPETS: Jon Weidley, lead; Robert Vega Dowda, 2nd; Milena Casado Fauquet, 3rd; Will Mallard, 4th. Ryan Easter, rapper.

An exciting drum solo opens this CD featuring the talents of Ralph Peterson Jr. The tune is called “Uranus” and it’s a spirited number showcasing the dynamic Donald Harrison on saxophone as a special guest. Peterson is employing Art Blakey’s concept with the usage of a two-drummer format to propel his Gennext Big Band. As you may know, Donald Harrison is from the alumni of Art Blakey, as is conductor/ drummer, Ralph Peterson Jr. It was in 1983 that Peterson joined Art Blakey’s Jazz Messenger group as a second drummer. They worked together for several years. Now, like Blakey did, Ralph Peterson Jr., continues a jazz legacy of inspiring and mentoring youthful musicians. This ‘Gennext’ Big Band is made up of mostly Berklee College of Music musicians. They are some of the brightest and best examples of the next generation of jazz talent.

“Uranus” whirls and twirls around, like the planet itself, with arrangements that are on fire! It’s a great way to open this exquisitely well produced album of music. Donald Harrison brings not only straight-ahead saxophone bliss, but also his “Nouveau Jazz” style to this recording. His Nouveau jazz is described as embracing genres like Hip Hop, smooth jazz and R&B. That has got to inspire and encourage the younger generation of musicians who enjoy such a variety of styles and relish mixing the music up. On the sixth cut, “Egyptian Dune Dance” a rapper Ryan Easter is added, and the horn lines bounce around in a repeatable dance throughout. However, for the most part, this music is big band, straight-ahead jazz with a heavy swing groove. Youngchae Jeong is featured during a memorable bass solo on the “Little Man” tune. His tone and timing are first-rate. The tune, “For Paul,” proffers a stellar arrangement that supports an amazing execution by both Donald Harrison and Tomoki Sanders on saxophones. I also enjoyed Elliot Alexander Brown on lead trombone featured on “Ms. BC” playing at a maddening pace. From the spontaneous applause, the ‘live’ audience was thrilled by their performance as well.

The Wayne Shorter composition, “Free for All,” is also played at a sparkling speed that demands the listener’s attention, moving bright as a shooting star. The horn lines fly like startled birds, harmoniously punching the melody and laying the foundation for Donald Harrison’s alto saxophone solo. Jon Weidley on lead trumpet also establishes his formidable style. There is a stellar drum solo for the drummers to dynamically dance in the spotlight. Three drummers are listed on the CD jacket, along with conductor Peterson, of course. They are: Julian Pardo, Karol Zabka and Jas Kayser. Nothing was listed on the CD jacket, so I’m not sure which ones were featured on this tune, but whoever played was absolutely awesome! I was exhausted from just listening to this composition. The energy was contagious.

Ralph Peterson has composed one tune on this production and it is the title tune, “I Remember Bu.” This song is a lovely ballad, but for the most part you will be swinging to energetic big band recordings that celebrate the excitement only an orchestra can muster. This entire project is illuminating and entertaining. The diversity of song choices and the beautiful arrangements that these talented young people interpret make for a listening feast of delicious sounds. Donald Harrison is the hot sauce, but the meat of the matter and the center piece of this musical meal are the extraordinary talents of conductor/drummer, Ralph Peterson Jr. and the way he serves it up.
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Phil Schurger, guitar; Greg Ward, alto saxophone; Jeff Greene, bass; Clif Wallace, drums.

According to the liner notes, this CD’s title, “The Water’s Above” references a connection between the higher self and the lower self. This is one of the goals of the meditation process. The titles of the original compositions herein seem to explain the artist, Phil Schurger’s basic concept for this album.

“Scorpio” opens the CD. It is an astrological sign, the eighth of twelve zodiac references. Its element is water and it’s ruled by the mysterious planet Pluto. Scorpio signifies secrecy and loyalty. Those born under the sign of Scorpio can also be very controlling and charismatic. Phil Schurger’s composition spins around melodically, like a planet twisting in space. Greg Ward interprets the melody on his alto saxophone, while the composer strums his guitar in the background. The second tune, “Anikulapo” is taken from the Yorubic religion and means ‘one who carries death in his pouch.’ It generally refers to a man. This title resonated with Schurger because of his experience with death early in his life. He also is a fan of Nigerian artist, multi-instrumentalist and pioneer of the popular Afrobeat music, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, who died Aug 2, 1997. Kuti is legendary in Africa and worldwide as a superstar musician with great charisma.

“I had several brushes with death …As a result of this, I began to look at the concept of death as a driving force for living life with focus and intention, recognizing that time is our only currency in this physical world. These experiences defined my pursuit of both music and meditation. Music is an offering for the betterment of our collective community through an ongoing dialogue amongst generations of musicians and meditation is quite the same,” said Phil Schurger in his liner notes.

Schurger’s band is Chicago-based. They have a tight, cohesive sound, as though they have been working together for many seasons. All the compositions they interpret are composed by the artist. The Yorubic influence returns on the tune, “Yoruba” and is written by Schurger as a nod to some African-American music mentors like Milton Cardona, who introduced him to Cuban Santero music and how rhythms become a ritual language. It’s a nod to Michael Patterson, a person who studied Qabalah and West-African religions, along with a Panamanian Rabbi and that type of cultural music. Together, with Jeff Greene on bass and Clif Wallace on drums, Phil Schurger lays down a tight rhythm section that explores his concepts and compositions in a very modern jazz way. You will find this “Yoruba” composition showcasing freedom and exploration of Schurger’s chordal changes by his individual players. Greg Ward is molten on saxophone. Jeff Greene grandly walks his bass, while Clif Wallace takes a thunderous drum solo. Finally, Phil Schurger steps out front like a sunbeam, hot and determined. From that point forward, the music is avant-garde and modernistic. He closes this album with a tune called, “Nogah” that translates in Hebrew to ‘brightness’. It was also the name of a son of King David in the Old Testament. Schurger offers us a musical journey full of mystery, double entendre and world music improvisation.
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Sergio Pereira, acoustic guitar/electric guitar/vocals/percussion; Ales Cesarini, acoustic bass/vocals; Mauricio Zottarelli, drums/vocals; Baptiste Bailly, piano/vocals; Alexey Leon, soprano saxophone; Devin Malloy, rapper; Patricia Garcia, violin/viola; Sandra Villora Arenas, cello; Paula Santoro & Sergio Santos, vocals; David Gadea, percussion; Oriente Lopez, flutes; Viktorija Pilatovic, lead vocals; Voro Garcia, trumpet/flugelhorn/string arrangements; Marcus Teixeira, elec. Guitar; Ariel Ramirez, elec. Bass; Gabriel Grossi, harmonica; Helio Alves, piano; Perico Sambeat, alto saxophone.

Brazilian music is infectious and full of spirit, even when it’s slow or moderate tempo’d. Sergio Pereira, a guitarist and composer, has recorded ten original compositions that echo the music of his youth.

“I learned by growing up listening to samba rhythms and playing Brazilian percussion at a local school of samba,” shares the Rio de Janiero native, currently residing in New York City. “Since I was a kid, I have been always playing samba rhythm, making that ‘batucada’ rhythm with my hands and fingers at school, until my teachers would tell me to stop making that noise. I still do it all the time. It’s addictive.”

His musical ensemble is world-class featuring Cuban-born saxophonist, Alexey Leon; Spain’s alto sax great, Perico Sambeat; Cuban flautist and longtime New York resident, Oriente Lopez and Valencia, Spain-based trumpeter and arranger, Voro Garcia. Also, on board is Sao Paulo-based electric guitarist, Marcus Teixeira and French pianist, Baptiste Bailly. Ales Cesarini is from Valencia, Spain and plays bass. Ariel Ramierez is from Cuba and also adds his bass talents. Gabriel Grossi brings his Brazilian harmonica talents to the studio, along with Brazilian-born pianist, Helio Alves and drummer Mauricio Zottarelli. Vocalists Paula Santoro, Sergio Santos and Viktorija Pilatovic add vocals. Paula Santoro’s lead vocal sounds beautiful on “Arpoador,” a lilting Brazilian ballad. This composition was inspired by a beach of that name on the South side of Rio. Pereira recalls spending a lot of his teenaged years at that beach. This song summarizes memories of young love, teen friends and broken hearts. It was a time right before he moved to New York and the United States. Sergio Pereira has even added a ‘rapper’ on the opening tune by the name of Devin Malloy.

“I started work on this song last summer while vacationing down in the south of Puglia, Italy. Changing environment and location often provides me with great vibes for inspiration. It’s a happy samba groove with a magical soprano sax solo from Alexey Leon. Devin’s rap (on “Down South”) is basically describing the experience of failure in pursuit of your dreams and talks about how life will continue to evolve and will pick you back up after you’ve fallen.”

For sure, Sergio Pereira’s music will pick you up. It will invigorate you, or soothe you; make you want to dance or lay back peacefully and stare at the ocean waves or perhaps at the East River. Pereira has written a song inspired by his view from his Upper East Side neighborhood in Manhattan.

“I frequently jog on the East Side by the East River and many times, after the jog, I just sit on a bench next to the 59th St. Bridge over-looking Roosevelt Island and Long Island City,” he explains about his composition titled, “East River.”

The title tune, “Nu Brasil” showcases Lithuanian-born singer, Pilatovic. It’s a happy, up-tempo number that showcases Sergio Pereira’s guitar talents in support of the vocalist during this spirited samba. Pianist, Baptiste Bailly, offers a joyful solo and trumpeter, Voro Garcia swings the samba into a jazzy Latin combination, then challenges the vocalist as he exchanges scats with Viktorija Pilatovic at the song’s faded ending. Every composition on this recording is impressive and beautifully written. The music is full of Pereira’s life-journey and the eighteen musicians who join him do justice to his arrangements and creative compositions. As his premier recording for the Zoho label, this production is fueled by passion and sure to please.
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CONNIE HAN – “CRIME ZONE” Mack Ave Records

Connie Han, piano/Fender Rhodes; Edwin Livingston, bass; Bill Wysaske, drums; Walter Smith III, tenor saxophone; Brian Swartz, trumpet.

On the first tune, Brian Swartz takes the lead on trumpet. He plays his instrument with strength and impetus. This ensemble of five comes out swinging hard. The challenge here is discovering the main artist, whose name is plastered on the CD cover. Who is Connie Han? The horns are so forceful, at first, I thought she must be a horn player. Then I heard the electric pianist enter the scene, the curtains parted and I knew she was centered in the spotlight. That’s when I picked up the CD jacket and read the credits. I learned that Han has composition skills, obvious on the first tune titled, “Another Kind of Night,” a song she co-wrote with drummer, Bill Wysaske. They have collaborated on every original composition. “Crime Zone” is the second cut on this album and the title tune. Once again, their arrangement features strong horn lines that establish the melody and punch harmonic lines that are spirited and spew the room with energy. Walter Smith III steps out of the horn lines to offer a memorable solo on Tenor Saxophone. We hear Han lead the rhythm section with lush chords on grand piano in support of Smith’s solo. Then it’s her turn to step out and she does so, moving from acoustic piano to Fender Rhodes, creating a different musical climate. You may recognize traces of the Freddie Hubbard tune, “One of Another Kind,“ at the top of this tune and used as a sort of theme throughout.

Han’s music has a post-bebop feel to it with sudden breaks and bars of silence that shatter the continuity for seconds, before her band pops back in and continues to drive hard. Her influences include Kenny Kirkland and McCoy Tyner; Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea. At the age of twenty-two, Connie Han brings something fresh for her peers to pay attention to, with one-foot quicksand-deep in jazz history and another high-heeled boot stepping swiftly into the future. On “Southern Rebellion,” another original by Han & Wysaske, you hear more of Connie Han’s style and attack on her instrument. This song flies at an incredible pace and she finally leads the band with stellar tenacity and unbridled power that I didn’t hear in the other songs. I am spellbound by her speed and agility on the 88-keys. Bill Wysaske takes a drum solo and then the tempo changes, like Hawaiian weather, where it sun shines on one side of the street and rains on the other. Han plays a rubato piano piece that’s beautiful and startling all at the same time. Then, before you can blink, the tempo is racing again and she and Wysaske’s drums make a formidable jazz duo. “Gruvy” (another original) also showcases the trio only, no horns. Edwin Livingston, on bass, takes an opportunity to show off his solid mastery of the double bass instrument. I’ve worked with Edwin in the past and he has always been one of my favorite bassists because of his creativity and inspired playing on both electric and acoustic bass. The tune, “Gruvy” has a repeatable melody that has you humming along before you know it. Jon Henderson’s tune, “A Shade of Jade” cements the realization that Connie Han is an exceptional pianist with a style and a presentation all her own. Her left hand slaps the chords, keeping the time and never wavering, while her right-hand solos like a restless river, flowing over the treble register as fluid as water. This is a solo piano presentation that shatters any preconceived ideas about her ability on her instrument. Connie Han’s youthful talent is a serious force on both piano and electric keyboards. She explained her creative ideas on this solo piano arrangement:

“The concept for the entire arrangement, which was recorded on his ‘Mode for Joe’ album, is actually based on just four bars of Joe Chambers’ polyrhythmic comping on the head of the original recording.”

And polyrhythmic she is! This is one of those recordings that just seems to get better and better as it progresses. Here is a young, blossoming pianist who doesn’t just play expertly, but she has a passion brightly burning in her presentations. As she flowers, her obvious talent is glowing successfully, like a sunrise peeking through a cloudy morning.
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Christian McBride, bass; Nasheet Waits, drums; Marcus Strickland, tenor saxophone/bass clarinet; Josh Evans, trumpet.

A cartoon characterization on the cover of this new production by Christian McBride draws you in like a comic book. While listening, you realize, this is no joke; no laughing matter. This is a serious! McBride’s exploratory production is presenting us with a rhythm section of bass and drums, topped with the improvisational punch of trumpet, saxophone and bass clarinet. This is a new horizon for McBride and he uses this platform to explore the outer-limits of his D’Addario bass and his unique creativity. On the drummer-penned number titled, “Ke-Kelli Sketch” McBride and Waits, on drums, solo and explore textures, time and melodies to open the composition before the trumpet and reedman join them. The music is captivating and full of spirit.

McBride explains: “I was looking for a new challenge. I don’t get the chance too often to play in a cordless group. Every major group I’ve been a part of for the last ten years, whether it’s been with Pat Metheny or Chick Corea or my own projects, there’s been nothing but chords. So, I wanted to see what happens if I just pull the chords out altogether.”

This project spans styles like blues, swing, abstract modern jazz and Avant-garde with a number of original compositions that sometimes tickle memories of the iconic Charles Mingus, like “Ke-Kelli Sketch.”. At other times, McBride conjures up memories of the steady, solid bass of Ray Brown. McBride and trumpeter, Josh Evans, draw me into “Ballad of Ernie Washington,” a beautiful, bluesy ballad, written by trumpeter Josh Evans in tribute to Thelonious Monk. Monk used this name as a pseudonym on his cabaret card in order to work when his card was revoked. The tone of Evan’s trumpet is silky and beautiful.

The title of this compact disc, “New Jawn” is based on a depiction of a slang used mostly in Philadelphia, PA. Jawn is described as an object, place or thing; sometimes referring to a woman or girl. This work is definitely a new thing for Christian McBride.

As one of America’s virtuoso bassists and arrangers, Christian McBride has become one of the most recorded bass players of his generation, appearing on more than 300 recordings and is proudly, a six-time Grammy award winner. He continues to nest and encourage fledgling, young talented musicians, the same way that Betty Carter or Miles Davis or Art Blakey did. The ultimate goal is to not only give platform to these young voices of jazz, but to strengthen them and encourage their development. Sometimes, those very musicians grow to a point where they leave the nest and fly off on their own. Examples of this are Christian McBride’s former trio with Christian Sands, a gifted pianist who I just reviewed. McBride had a trio featuring Sands and drummer Ulysses Owens Jr. Both have gone on to explore their own dreams and formed their own groups. Trumpeter, composer, Josh Evans is a force to watch, as is the extremely talented, Marcus Strickland. Nasheet Waits is certainly the Velcro that attaches securely to Christian McBride’s amazing bass playing. They hold this project in perfect place. No need for piano, guitar, organ or any other strings in the rhythm section. McBride and Waits are enough.

With this recording, each of these musical participants are composers and lend their compositions and talents to making this a rich and celebratory trip to support the concept of “New Jawn”. McBride’s music is fresh, the arrangements are novel and innovative, the production is surprisingly different, but wonderfully creative and pleasant to the ear. Here is a contemporary approach to jazz that is open, like space and heaven itself, and glistening with stars.
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Resilience Music Alliance

Here is a double CD rich with culture and inspired by Arturo O’Farrill, a pianist, composer, bandleader, and educator, as well as a respected musical activist. With all the social media and newscasters blasting the public with stories about Trumps threatened wall between our country and Mexico, he was sadly reminded of the things, both solid and ethereal, that divide humanity. The idea that a difference of color, people or cultures could be used as a political weapon is an atrocious reality. O’Farrill wanted to be a voice speaking against unwanted and unnecessary borders and lines of division. Thus, was born this ambitious work that showcases a plethora of talent and cultures coming together in perfect harmony to create a beautiful and loving project. As the brainchild of Arturo O’Farrill and his producer, Kabir Sehgal, their concept is to tear down the walls that separate us, using music as a bulldozer.

Jorge Francisco Castillo, who is a retired librarian, has been organizing the Fandango Fronterizo Festival for a decade. This event is annual and features son jarocho music, performed by musicians on both sides of the border wall between Tijuana, Mexico and San Diego, California. Over the years, it’s been a sort of celebratory jam session. Once O’Farrill read about this in the New York Times, he decided he wanted to participate.

“I … spoke to everyone I could about my hope to join the Fandango Fronterizo and record at the border, bringing special guests and making it a true collaboration,” Arturo O’Farrill explains.

Consequently, this project brings together a beautiful bunch of sixty musicians and voices, gathered like colorful flowers, to create a sweet bouquet of cultural traditions that disintegrate walls of division. You will hear Latin flavors throughout that merge with jazz icons like violinist, Regina Carter, cellist, Akua Dixon, and rapper/singer, Ana Tijoux, who is outstanding on her composition, “Somos Sur.” She raps in Spanish and you can feel the urgency and excitement in her message, even though I could not understand her Spanish words. You will listen to son jarocho greats like Patricio Hidalgo, Ramon Gutierrez Hernandez and TachoUtréra. Ramon Gutierrez Hernandez is featured on “Cupido,” one of many Public Domain songs included in this production. Also featured is Iraqi-American oud master Rahim AlHaj and his trio, and Iranian sitar virtuoso, Sahba Motallebi, adds a striking solo on “Tabla Rasa”, a composition by Arturo O’Farrill. Mandy Gonzalez’s gorgeous vocals on “Amor Sin Fronteras” are enhanced by the strikingly lovely violin strains of Regina Carter. O’Farrill has graciously shared his stage and recording platform with a multitude of talent. So many I cannot mention them all. This is an extravagant musical collage, both entertaining and historic. If you love the Mexican heritage and the influence their music has had on America and the world of jazz, you will find this recording truly rewarding.
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John Fedchock, trombone; John Toomey, piano; Jimmy Masters, bass; Dave Ratajczak & Billy Williams, drums.

The trombone is said to be the closest instrumental emulation of the voice. I am always intrigued by the smooth, round sound of the trombone. John Fedchock brings the beauty of this instrument and the sincerity of his emotional connection onto his recording entitled, “Reminiscence”. The spattering of applause after his gusty and satin, smooth fluidity on trombone reinforces that this project was recorded ‘live’. There are no studio fixes here. It is all excellence and improvisational opportunity.

Fedchock opens with his original composition, “The Third Degree” and John Toomey, on piano, plays a swinging solo before passing the baton back to Fedchock. The leader is off and running, making an up-tempo beeline for the goal post. Four minutes in, they trade fours with the drummer, Dave Ratajczak, who spontaneously soaks up the spotlight. Throughout, I find the melody of this first tune sings in your head like a jazz standard. It’s a very catchy melody that pleasantly hums along, as does the next composition by Fedchock, “Loose Change.” Obviously, he’s a fine composer. This tune is a moderate-tempo, bluesy affair. Bassist, Jimmy Masters takes an opportunity to introduce his thick, melodic bass sound to the audience and he also pumps the rhythm up throughout this production.

“What better place to try an untested song but on a live recording,” Fedchock shared about the tune “Loose Change”.

“As it turned out, our first reading of the tune is what appears on this CD. This was the perfect time to debut the piece.”

This recording is a comfortable mix of jazz standards and Fedchock original compositions. The up-tempo swing approach on “The End of a Love Affair,” eloquently showcases Fedchock’s royal chops on his trombone.

Here is a CD pleasant to listen to from beginning to end. Although John Fedchock is known more prominently for his big band sound and has released five recordings of his New York Big Band and received two GRAMMY nominations for “Best Instrumental Arranging,” this diversion to a smaller, more intimate jazz sound is lovely. It allows the listener to hear more of Fedchock in an intimate and comfortable way. You may want to pour a glass of some favorite libation, settle back and enjoy these stellar musicians. This album of music is a throwback tribute to small jazz clubs and the magic that great artists make before a small but packed audience, where we can watch and hear every nuance of jazz in the most friendly and informal of settings. Prop yourself up in your favorite easy chair and enjoy!
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September 28, 2018


By Dee Dee McNeil

September 28, 2018

The current QUINCY JONES Netflix documentary is informative and inspirational. Don’t miss this wonderful biography. His insight and history are important to pass on to our youth, as well as being entertaining for us. Q’s film honestly documents the music business and his life over the past eight decades. He’s lived it, loved it and made the best of his life and his music in the hardest of times and the best of times. His stories will uplift you. His diverse talent will astound you. His tenacious determination will inspire you to overcome all obstacles and keep your eye on the dream to make it come true. You will witness what an activist Jones has been all these years, while making his musical mark on the universe. Also, you will witness the price he paid for his dedication to music and appreciate his ability to cross genre lines and bring musical styles and eras together in a satin smooth, seamless way, as only Quincy Jones can do. A must see!

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Eli Degibri, tenor & soprano saxophones; Tom Oren, piano; Tamir Shmerling, bass; Eviatar Slivnik, drums.

Eli Degibri, a talented tenor and soprano saxophone master, has chosen to celebrate the late, great Hank Mobley with this tribute recording. For those of you with no recollection of Hank Mobley, let me tell you a little bit about this iconic reedman. Mobley was born in Eastman, Georgia, but his family soon moved to New Jersey where he was raised. The jazz journalist, Leonard Feather, once referred to Hank Mobley as the “middleweight champion of the tenor saxophone.” He swung hard and seriously on his saxophone and came up in the era of Bebop and hard-bop music. Perhaps not as aggressively fluid as Coltrane, he adopted (comparatively speaking) a somewhat reserved style on his instrument with heavy blues influence and he was also very melodically soulful, similar to Gene Ammons.

Eli Degibri says his goal has been to keep playing-old-in-a-new-way as his mantra. This project is a remake of the 1960 album, “Soul Station” on the Blue Note Record label featuring Hank Mobley, pianist Wynton Kelly, bassist Paul Chambers and drummer Art Blakey. What a line-up of stellar and historic jazz cats! On the first song, “Remember,” Degibri uses the composer, (Irving Berlin’s) original changes, when he records this song, rather than using the re-harmonization of Mobley’s arrangement. However, it’s Mobley re-harmonization that made this song so innovative and memorable, along with his light, staccato approach at the beginning of the song that encourages a hard swing groove.

Still, Degibri and his trio do a fine job or re-interpreting this song in their own inimitable way. Degibri has a rich, round sound on his instrument. I think Mobley would applaud the way he handles the reinvention of Berlin’s compositional changes. They hold true to the staccato groove at the top of the song and we get to properly meet Tom Oren, on piano, during his brief solo.

The second song, “This I Dig of You” is very familiar to my ears. I was a big Hank Mobley and Art Blakey fan as a teen. I remember this song that used to get so much airplay on the radio and also at jam sessions around the city of Detroit, Michigan, where I grew up. Degibri plays soprano saxophone, doubling with the piano in a unison way. It has a different sound than the Mobley production, but perhaps that’s what keeps it fresh and modern. Actually, he and Tom Oren are playing a transcription of Wynton Kelly’s original solo. I think it’s a nice touch and very creative. Tamir Shmering takes a fast-paced solo on bass that’s impressive. Eviatar Slivnik is given ample time to showcase his drum skills while trading-fours. The group has worked three years on this project and their determination and musicianship sparkle in the excellence of this production.

Their closing tune shows you how deeply Eli Degibri digs into the blues. Degibri has composed this tribute song to Hank Mobley and I believe it captures the essence of the man and his music. It’s a fitting and dynamic way to end this very well-played tribute to Hank Mobley, one of our jazz icons, by a group of very excellent and competent musicians.

Eli Degibri explained: “When I came to New York, I didn’t write. My goal and dream was to be able to play and to speak the language, and the only way to that was by playing with great musicians and playing standards. All my guys knew all this music, because in Israel, “Soul Station” is taught in school. The kids in Israel know their tradition. They don’t feel it’s not cool to play 4/4 rhythm changes or to play the blues. … Why is it acceptable to remake a classic Hollywood movie but such a faux pas to remake a classic jazz record?”
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Fred Farell, voice/lyricist; Richie Beirach, piano/ composer; Dave Liebman, soprano and Tenor saxophones/wooden recorder/composer.

If you enjoy the smooth vocals and music of Tony Bennett and Frank Sinatra, this album of original music, composed by Fred Farell, brings the heyday of jazz vocals from the sixties and seventies to the forefront. Farell recalls:

“My journey in jazz followed military service in 1970, and in discovering a jazz club in Lakewood, New Jersey, owned by Richard Stein named “Richard’s Lounge.” My first singing engagement there was in 1971, on which bop pianist Barry Harris played the final evening. After listening to his masterful interpretations of that night’s music, via tape, I desired to alter my pop oriented vocal style and expression.”

Following that date, Fred Farell began sitting-in at that club and that’s where he first heard and met pianist, composer Richie Beirach. At some point, Stein asked the fledgling vocalist (Fred Farell) if he would consider studying with Richie in New York. That began a long and fruitful relationship between the two musicians. Fred Farell developed his vocal style and, on this recording, he has written all the lyrics to music composed by both Dave Liebman and Richie Beitrach. Farell’s lyrics are, for the most part, prose rather than poems that rhyme. The first song is beautifully romantic with a melody both challenging and lovely. It’s composed by Richie Beirach. Dave Liebman adds his saxophone highlights to further enhance this song. Beirach improvises in a minor mode, playing around the melody and shining the spotlight on his piano prowess. There is one small stumbling block in this recorded effort. There is only one hit jazz song that I know, that has lyrics of entirely prose, and it’s a standard jazz song played over and over again called, “Moonlight in Vermont.” That song has no rhyme. As a songwriter, I would say that writing a complete production of prose lyrics is somewhat risky, although creative. For the most part, as a lyricist you are hoping that others will hear your work and want to sing it and/or record it. Listening to this project, it resembles a songwriter’s demo that showcases original music. The duo of accompanying musicians, (piano and saxophone), take it one step further and their instrumental work is so lovely to listen to, so entertaining, that the project rises to an artistic status. Farell’s voice is smooth and silky. This trio gives their recording a feel of experimentation and the openness of prose poetry helps to solidify the artiness captured on this CD. Richie Beirach’s piano playing is hypnotic. Liebman’s saxophone flutters like a restless, beautiful bird. Sadly, I could not remember any of the lyrics from these songs.

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Christian Sands, piano/Fender Rhodes/keyboard/ B3Organ /composer; Yasushi Nakamura, bass; Jerome Jennings, drums, Caio Afiune, guitar; Marcus Strickland, saxophone; Keyon Harrold, trumpet, Roberto Quintero & Cristian Rivera, percussion.

As soon as I heard the first strains of jazz peeling from this compact disc I thought, who is that piano player? I hadn’t read the credits and had no idea who Christian Sands was, but I recognized at once that the pianist on this recording was amazingly excellent. That’s how I met Christian Sands! This music is so full of light and joy; excitement and creativity I stopped everything I was doing to listen. I soon discovered that Christian Sands is not only the dynamic pianist, but he has composed most of the music and is co-producer of this project, along with Al Pryor. His style is as diverse as his compositions. He moves from Modern Jazz, to blues in the blink of an eye. His two-handed boxing of the bass and treble clefs, simultaneously, is a wonder to behold and his impeccable timing challenges the rhythm section and locks in with Yasushi Nakamura on bass and Jerome Jennings on drums like paper and super glue. His first composition is titled, “Rebel Music” and that certainly perpetuates the mood and essence of this entire production. The second cut, “Flight for Freedom” establishes a sense of global awareness, a nod to the importance of civil and human rights, and a signal that he is a politically concerned world citizen. I salute and appreciate that, because I think all music and art represents and reflects the days of our lives; the history and relevancy of our neighborhood, our country and our planet. Christian Sands is making an unequivocal statement with his music and its as stark as a wooden ruler slapped across a student’s desk to gain the attention. His music is striking. Saxophonist Marcus Strickland adds his spontaneous gusto to this song, spreading wings and taking flight. He is joined by trumpeter, Keyon Harrold as they punch harmonic horn lines. In the Beatles pop tune, “Yesterday” Sands brings a taste of Erroll Garner to the piano intro, marching the song across space, then rolling out the red carpet for bassist, Yasushi Nakamura to strut his solo inspiration and improvisation. It’s a unique and engaging arrangement. As the ensemble progresses, the energy and spontaneity rise like steam from a boiling pot. Sands becomes more and more modern-jazz-aggressive.

He takes us to church on his gospel-flavored composition, “Sunday Mornings,” adding a Jamaican Reggae rhythm for good measure. Sands covers all bases, showing his talents on both electric instruments, B3 organ and acoustic piano presentations. This is an album breathing fire and creativity, like its ‘dragon’ title.
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Cecile McLorin Salvant, vocals; Sullivan Fortner, piano/organ.

Her voice is clear, lovely, sensitive and how wonderful to hear Cecile McLorin Salvant deliver an emotional rendition of the Stevie Wonder song, “Visions.” This is a striking recording of only two people, the vocalist and her pianist (sometimes organist), where both musicians lay their soulful talents bare and unprotected on the altar of public opinion. There are no drums, no bass, no strings or horns to clutter or color the production. Never mind! Sullivan Fortner is quite proficient and extremely creative. You hear his unique and unusual arrangements on familiar tunes like, “By Myself”. Some of the chord structures and changes beneath Salvant’s strong soprano vocals are surprisingly creative; sometimes dissonant. Nothing shakes Cecile McLorin Salvant’s polished tones and succinct pitch. She is a formidable artist with strong style and character to her voice. Sullivan Fortner matches her tenacious attitude and talent with his provocative solo piano and inspired organ playing. Together, they are quite the incredible duo. Sullivan sometimes drifts into stride piano and other times roams the outer limits of improvisational dexterity from modern jazz to Count Basie 1940 simplicity. His timing is impeccable. He’s as dramatic as the chanteuse. Listen to them on “Ever Since the One I Love’s Been Gone”, a buddy Johnson tune. The drama is pulpable. This is an artistic and creative experience for the ears. Cecile McLorin Salvant is also a composer and her song “A Clef” is sung in French. For a moment, I am reminded of the stellar recordings and life of Josephine Baker. Seventeen diverse and exceptionally expressed songs are recorded for your listening pleasure, many performed before a ‘Live’ audience.
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Anthony Fung, drums/composer; Erin Bentlage, vocals; Edmar Colon, tenor & soprano saxophones; Josh Johnson, alto saxophone; Alex Hahn, soprano sax; Jon Hatamiya, trombone; Isaac Wilson, piano/synthesizer; Mats Sandahl, bass; Simon Moullier, vibraphonee; Oscarin Cruz, Oscar Cruz & Manolo Mairena, percussion; Yu-Ting We, Niall Ferguson, Lauren Baba, & Jonathan Tang, strings.

There is a sense of space and imagination wrapped in the music of Anthony Fung. It’s modern jazz dipped in Avant Garde arrangements. All the music on this recording is composed by Anthony Fung and he has also written the lyrics. Cut #2 “Ilekun” is rather mysterious, like the title itself. It is the music you would hear behind the scene of a movie where someone is creeping up the dark stairwell intent on doing something ominous to some unsuspecting soul. Fung uses horns, vibraphone, synthesizers, percussion and a string quartet to achieve the unusual affects and moods that his music conjures up. He is a warlock, making his magic musical and casting a spell over his listeners. He has honed his talents under the tutelage of folks like Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Chris Potter and Billy Childs while attending the Thelonious Monk institute of Jazz. The fourth tune, “Guanaban” is very joyful with a Latin touch and striking horn lines. The addition of Simon Moullier on vibraphone is lovely. This song gives Fung an opportunity to solo and show his drum prowess. “Forever” is a very beautiful song that utilize the string ensemble to set the tone and mood. I was eager to hear Anthony Fung’s lyrical talents.

Erin Bentlage has a haunting beauty to her vocals as she interprets the challenging melody that Fung has written. These lyrics are prose that unfold a story of love proclaimed forever. Here is a young, talented drummer and composer, winding his way up the jazzy stairway to the stars.
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Devin Gray, drums/composition; Chris Speed, tenor saxophone/clarinet; Kris Davis, piano; Chris Tordini, bass. Ellery Eskelin, tenor saxophonist; Michael Formanek, bass; Dave Ballou, trumpet.

Devin Gray is a composer and drummer based in Brooklyn, New York. He made his debut album in 2012 on Skirl Records.

This is the reconvening of his all-star group for their second release. If you are an Ornette Coleman fan, you will find this Avant-Garde approach to jazz, freedom and creativity full of innovative improvisation and lush with spacey melodies. Gray is melodic, sometimes repetitious, but never boring. He embraces an open genre concept, giving his musicians vast amounts of room to roam freely and with musical spirituality. Gray explains:

“I don’t set out to make jazz records, per se. I set out to make music, period – to capture the moment, the contemporary feel of the music, hoping that it can reflect in some small way how we live now and what we all have to deal with as human beings in the world.”

With that explanation by the artist himself, I will leave the review and essence of his music to your talented ears. Take a listen to his recent submittal to the 7 Virtual Jazz Club Contest.

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Mark Winkler, vocals; Cheryl Bentyne, vocals; Rich Eames, pianist/arranger; Gabe Davis, bass; Dave Tull, drums; Grant Geissman &Pat Kelley, guitar; Bob Sheppard, saxophone; Kevin Winard, percussion; Stephanie Fife, cello. Talley Sherwood & Mark Winkler, producers.

One thing I am sure of, each time I see the name Mark Winkler printed on a CD, I know I am going to hear some exceptional music tracks and listen to some good songs. Winkler always contracts some of the notably best and in-demand musicians on the West Coast. Cheryl Bentyne and Mark Winkler have been performing together since 2010, with much success. The “Devil May Care” tune opens this recently released CD. The song is energetic and rich with Afro-Cuban rhythms, and radiates the trust, joy and pure fun these two artists enjoy when performing with each other. Mark Winkler likes telling stories with his musical choices. “Rhode Island is Famous for You,” is just a such a composition. Winkler’s vocals are Broadway at its best. He’s theatrical, believable and his voice floats above the strong swing ensemble like Fred Astaire dancing across the stage. One of my favorite songs by composer, Mark Winkler, “Like Jazz” comes next. It was first introduced to me by vocalist Cheryl Barnes on her “Listen to This” album. Bob Sheppard gives a boisterous, double-time solo on saxophone that settles into a rich blues. The melody and lyrics are catchy and repeatable. Bentyne’s tinkling soprano compliments Winkler’s emotional baritone. The duo is fun and the Rich Eames arrangements swing hard and true throughout.

“Bumpin” is a tune I recall from the Wes Montgomery “Tequila” album. Now, it appears, the song has lyrics, thanks to Winkler’s lyrical talent. Guitarist Grant Geissman is featured. “Eastern Standard Time” presents songs with an East Coast lineage, most of them being tunes you might have heard in the late 1950s or early 1960s. The duo’s previous release was titled “West Coast Cool” that featured songs popular during the West Coast ‘cool’ period. That release rose to #16 on the Jazzweek Chart. Hopefully, this project will also zoom up the jazz charts and be received with the same enthusiasm.
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