May 22, 2018

By Dee Dee McNeil / Jazz Journalist
May 22, 2018

This past Mother’s Day Weekend, my beautiful daughter and I decided to go to Las Vegas. While there, I was bent on finding a club or hotel act that played good blues. We usually buy show tickets, but this time, I was hoping to find out where the local entertainers were performing. After several calls to friends and other entertainers, I discovered some pretty incredible talent in Las Vegas at very affordable places. Our first stop was on West Las Vegas Blvd, far from ‘the strip’ and near Martin Luther King Blvd. The hotel is called, “The Silver Nugget “and inside you will find a comfortable showroom and bar that features a five-piece blues and R&B band. There was an opening act and a main act. The star was Lady Brandy.
When we entered the ‘no-cover-charge’ club and ordered drinks, the first thing we noticed was the well-dressed woman in a sparkly sequined dress, burgundy hair and dangle earrings. She approached us after we were seated and gifted we three women (my daughter, my Las Vegas buddy, Stephanie, and myself) with glowing, red, artificial roses that lit-up with tiny lightbulbs nestled in the petals. She was friendly and engaging. It didn’t take long to discover she was originally from my hometown of Detroit, Michigan; a product of Motown. She was also the featured act for the evening.

Her show began with Michael ‘Mico’ Welch taking the stage. Michael sang “Lovely Day” to open the show and put soul into the already soulful Bill Wither’s tune. Next, he performed the Otis Redding hit record, “Sittin’ On the Dock of the Bay.” He had the audience in the palm of his hands sporting an excellent voice, stage persona and friendly patter in between his songs. This was followed by the Jeffrey Osborne hit record, “Love Ballad.” Michael Welch performed in the most amazing way as he sang, “What we have is much more than they can see” with the audience responding verbally; singing along. People rushed to the small dance floor and held each other tightly.

This was followed by Al Green’s standard hit, “Let’s Stay Together”, Michael Welch turned up the heat, and raced around the room, jumping on the empty chairs surrounding the bright red table cloths and he sang to the attentive crowd, making musical love to the Mother’s Day guests. The opening act ended his powerful set with the Teddy Pendergrass tune, “You’re My Lady”.

Then came the star of the show, Lady Brandy, poured into a purple sparkle dress with four-inch, gold high heels and a voice that was powerful and authentically blue. She sang to her audience, “You better own it, if you want to make my day” and told us with conviction, it takes a real strong technique to handle Lady Brandy. We believed her.

When she sang the Staple Singers hit, “I Know A Place, I’ll Take You There,” there was solid audience participation. This was followed by “Who’s Makin’ Love to Your Old Lady, while you’re out makin’ love?” She has a delightful and sincere way of chatting with her audience, the same way she approached us when we walked into the club. She makes you feel at home and that each song is a personal story she’s sharing specifically with you.

People were joyful and got up to dance around her. Some danced with her. She’s a show person; an entertainer. She knows how to work the room. Blues songs ranged from “Down Home Blues” to Erykah Badu’s “Call Tyrone.” She told the ladies in the audience, becoming very confidential, that one of the band members was her husband and that they had been having problems. Then she inserted the song, “While you been steppin’ out, someone else is steppin in” and when she got to the line that says, “I got a new way of wearin’ my hair,” off came her wig, flying across the room and up on the stage for her husband to retrieve. Beneath the natural-looking wig, her hair style was like a 1920’s Betty-Boo-look, with dark, shiny waves pressed beautifully against her head. This was followed by “Sexy Man, What Your Name is?” Lady Brandy walked the room, got down on her knees, told us stories of life and love, all supported by a tight blues band and lots of drama. This is a very affordable treat for blues lovers any Friday or Saturday night at the Silver Nugget Casino in Las Vegas where they pour strong shots and offer entertaining blues.

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On Mother’s Day, we got a message from Las Vegas vocalist, Bobby Rose, that there was an amazing female singer called, Madame Dee, featured as part of the Soulful Sunday entertainment package at Cork & Thorn Floral shop. Yes, I said Floral Shop. During the week this unique venue sells flowers. They offer floral education and fun, providing numerous flower design and arrangement courses and infusing a first-person experience at their shop with sparkling libations and cheese platters. Then, comes Sunday. They feature live music and the amazing Madame Dee.

As we enter the Tivoli Village mall, Cork & Thorn is a small shop with lovely, ornate dry-wood floral designs hanging from the ceiling on thin wires. A trio of musicians is set up against the wall and a woman in a full length, sparkling blue dress is singing the Rufus/Chaka Khan song, “Everlasting Love” with so much emotion and power, I am stunned. Madame Dee has a style and vocal ability similar to Patti LaBelle. She is captivating and a true show-woman. At times, she put the microphone down by her side, because her vocals were so powerful and persuasive, she didn’t need the microphone. At the end of her songs, she stretches her arms wide, cues the band and tantalizes the audience, with her head thrown back. Her voice is magnificent.

From what I understand, this venue offers Sunday entertainment featuring this dynamic vocalist every Sunday at 330 So. Rampart Blvd., #180 in Las Vegas, NV. I promise you, her performance is extraordinary and she presents a concert that is mesmerizing. Here is another ‘no cover charge’ venue that is artsy, comfortable with couches and warm with good vibes. Everyone is dressed to impress in their Sunday go-to-church clothes and Madame Dee looks like a Main Stage Las Vegas, Showroom celebrity. You’ll think you are at the MGM Grand instead of a modest flower shop. Her voice is a gift and a blessing. What a wonderful way to spend Mother’s Day or any day at all!

In addition, at the end of her last set, she invited a host of local entertainers to her bandstand. We enjoyed the silky-smooth vocals of Bobby Rose.

There was a visiting singer from Chicago, with a close- cut blond afro and a big, beautiful voice. She was introduced as a background singer for Patti LaBelle. Speaking of Chicago, I hear that my friend Ghalib Ghallab is back on the strip entertaining. He plays piano and sings. See

We also enjoyed Yohon Harbin, who presents a tribute to Ron Isley around town. He was another stellar vocalist, formerly the lead singer with the legendary Drifters.

I hope this article gives you some ideas for the next time you visit the city that never sleeps. There’s no place like Las Vegas, and no limit to the incredible entertainment you can enjoy.

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May 18, 2018

By Dee Dee McNeil/Jazz Journalist

This month of May, I’m JAZZIN’ IT UP with Ukrainian influences, featuring BOB ARTHURS and STEVE LAMATTINA who transform Ukraine folk songs to jazz. San Diego pianist, DANNY GREEN, who adds strings to his trio. Canadian trumpeter, GABRIEL MARK HASSELBACH releases Mid-Century Modern music. NICK FINZER offers his rich, sincere trombone beauty, while JAMIE SHEW celebrates the love she found and lost with ‘Eyes Wide Open.’ Finally, the FRED HERSCH TRIO records ‘Live’ in Europe. Here’s my take on these newly released Compact Discs.

Windtunnel Records

Gabriel Mark Hasselbach, trumpet/flute/flugelhorn/valve ‘bone/vocals; Miles Black, piano; Laurence Mollerup, bass; Joel Fountain, drums; Ernie Watts & Cory Weeds, tenor saxophone; Mike Taylor, vocals; Olaf deShield, guitar.

Once again, Gabriel Mark Hasselbach has produced an album of fine jazz, combining the Straight-ahead style with modern jazz and what he refers to as Mid-Century music, all woven together like the lovely, colorful threads of a Canadian poncho. You can wrap yourself up in his music and feel warm and satisfied.

There is a beautiful vocal on “Nature Boy” sung by Mike Taylor. His voice is smooth and sweet as warmed caramel candy. It was a nice surprise to hear a vocal on Hasselbach’s normally all instrumental project.

The third tune, “Blues on My Mind,” features Cory Weeds on tenor saxophone. He swings hard, along with pianist Miles Black. This tune moves from a moderate blues into a straight-ahead double-time tempo. There’s a horn refrain that harmonically pulls the piece together, as a comfortable reference point throughout. “Terra Firma Irma” is another one of my favorite compositions on this album and it features the great Ernie Watts on tenor saxophone. However, it’s the fiery Gabriel Mark Hasselbach, on trumpet, (sometimes flute), that brings this project to a boil. He keeps the music alive and swinging throughout. Hasselbach always manages to insert bold funk and lovely melodies into productions that make you want to dance, sing and swing.

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OA2 Records

Danny Green, piano/composer; Justin Grinnell, bass; Julien Cantelm, drums; Kate Hatmaker & Igor Pandurski, violin; Travis Maril, viola; Erica Erenyl, cello.

San Diego pianist and composer, Danny Green, has arranged a unique group of original songs, expanding his composition and arranging skills by adding a string quartet to his most recent production. The first tune, “Time Lapse to Fall,” is rich with classical overtones. The next cut, “As the Parrot Flies” is lush with strings and uses a pizzicato technique on strings at the top of the song that plucks at the listener’s attention. The piano sounds like a restless bird throughout and Julien Cantelm on drums makes his sticks move across his instrument like wings.

If you are a lover of Chamber Music, this album will satisfy that appetite, along with the creativity that jazz always brings to the table. The improvisational piano playing of Green steadily unfolds as he improvises. The string arrangements add depth to this recording. The string quartet features San Diego Symphony violinists Kate Hatmaker, Igor Pandurski and Travis Maril on viola, along with cellist Erica Erenyl.

Green is a native of San Diego from an academic family with both parents becoming educators. He earned his B.A. in Piano Performance from UC San Diego, where he studied jazz piano with Grammy-winning producer, Kamau Kenyatta and classical piano with John Mark Harris and Luciane Cardassi. His taste for music has evolved from grunge rock, to Ska music and Latin music influenced by The Buena Vista Social Club documentary that tickled his interest in Cuban music. Later he embraced the Brazilian music style and was finally drawn to jazz pianists like Herbie Hancock and Bill Evans. He attained his Master’s Degree in Jazz Studies at San Diego State University, studying under the tutelage of Rick Helzer. Now Green is a bandleader with his own ideas about arranging, composing and recording. I found this musical project to be easy listening and quietly beautiful. But I never heard the fire and excitement that Evans, Hancock, Monk, Gene Harris, Billy Childs or Tommy Flanagan would bring to the bandstand. For my taste, I wish he had added one fast-moving, spontaneous, hard-swinging composition to this mix. He explained his project this way.

“As a composer, I always strive to tell stories through music,” says Green. “Adding strings to my music provides new and exciting ways for me to expand on those stories and heighten the emotional impact.”

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Independent Label

Jamie Shew, vocals/all arrangements; Larry Koonse, guitar; Joe Bagg, piano/Hammond B3; Darek Oles, bass; Jason Harnell, drums.

One thing that is immediately obvious is that Jamie Shew can ‘Swing’ the music. Her first tune is an original composition, complete with syncopated rhythms and a strong Swing-feel. It’s titled, “Get Out Of My Head” and features Joe Bagg laying down a memorable organ solo and it’s propelled by the strong, distinctive drums of Jason Harnell.

The arrangement on the intro to “Easy To Love” is unusual and really doesn’t add to the vocalist’s rendition of this familiar Cole Porter song. However, when the band brings the repetitious groove back at the end of this song to feature the drum solos, I admit that tied the whole thing together. I can hear a lot of Ella Fitzgerald’s influence in this vocalist’s style and presentation. I learned, from the enclosed press, she’s a proficient pianist. However, she doesn’t play on this recording, although she studied jazz piano at Washington State University and earned her Master’s degree in Vocal Performance/Jazz Studies at Western Michigan University. For the past fifteen years, Jamie Shew has been working the Los Angeles jazz circuit with her husband of twenty years, Roger Shew, a proficient bassist. Sadly, Jamie lost her beloved soulmate to Cancer. This album is a musical tribute to him and their relationship over their two decades of love. “The Answers Are You,” written by Pat Metheny and Roger Shew, seems to summarize a patch of her life with loving lyrics that celebrate being a lost soul and discovering completion when merging your life with another. Larry Koonse sounds inspired on his guitar. The melody tests Shew’s soprano range with a melody that dips and dives. “Detour Ahead” is full of emotional nuances and showcases Jamie Shew’s warm tones. On “Thou Swell,” Jamie Shew takes the liberty to scat the Rodgers and Hart tune and impresses me with her adlib and improvisational ability.

Musically, Shew has contracted a group of L.A.’s prized jazz cats, so the tracks are sensitive and well-played. This vocalist is generous to her musicians, giving them time to shine in the spotlight of their own solos and individual talents. Over the years, these musicians have been friends and bandmates with Jamie and Roger Shew. Consequently, there is a musical camaraderie on this recording that is palpable.

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Positone Records

Nick Finzer, trombone; Lucas Pino, tenor saxophone/bass clarinet; Victor Gould, piano; Alex Wintz, guitar; Dave Baron, bass; Jimmy Macbride, drums.

The Trombone is an instrument I’ve always thought of as very close to the human voice. Nick Finzer uses his own unique voice on this beautiful instrument; both rich and sincere. I wondered at the meaning of the album title, “No Arrival.” In the liner notes, Finzer explains.

“No Arrival means we’re always searching, always striving, never arriving. This piece is the journey and a musical representation of the cyclical nature of our life’s path.”

On the very first tune, “Rinse and Repeat,” Finzer lets his technique fly with the up-tempo rhythm and Swing in a straight-ahead-kind-of-way. This is one of five original compositions included in this production. Nick Finzer is a formidable composer. His melodies and chord changes lend themselves to inspirational improvisation by his band members. On “Never Enough,” pianist Victor Gould stretches-out and solidly entertains, both as a sensitive accompanist and soloist. Lucas Pino plays beautifully during his bass clarinet improvisation. However, it is the staunch, ever-driving trombone solo, tinged with blues, that puts the pizazz into this original composition. The melody sticks in your mind hypnotically. Nick Finzer explained his inspiration to create the composition entitled, “Tomorrow, Last Year”.

“Written just after the November 2016 election, this piece was a visceral reaction to the realization that the tomorrow of the past was not going to be the tomorrow of the future. Nonetheless, it wasn’t going to stop time, nor prevent me from continuing the journey that is important to me in this life. This piece is one of hopefulness in the face of seemingly darker times.”

This album is a bright light, a spotlight, leveled at a new and distinctive talent who has appeared on the jazz stage and is garnering well-deserved attention. Like Finzer told us, his music exudes hopefulness, happiness and the strength of freedom that only good jazz embodies.

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Palmetto Records

Fred Hersch, piano/composer; John Hébert, bass; Eric McPherson, drums.

I enjoy listening to music in Ms. Ruby Kia, my Sportage SUV. I name all my cars. The last one was “Matilda” from the Harry Belafonte hit record “Matilda, she takes me money and run away yeah. Everybody, Matilda …” etc. Anyway, while I make those long California drives. I listen intently. I can’t read the credits, the liner notes or the publicity sheet. I am just listening and expectant about what I might hear artistically.

Fred Hersch is a name I know and recognize as an amazing pianist/arranger. The first cut sounds a lot like Thelonious Monk. The Hersch style reminds me a bit of Count Basie and a bit of Monk. But instead of the ‘Swing’ those two masters were known for, Hersch reverts to a more classical style. His music reminds me of classical meets Avant Garde.

This is a ‘Live” album, well produced and recorded cleanly. You can hear every nuance and patter of the drums and every clap of the audience hands. You enjoy the solid bass lines and the flutter of Hersch’s technically astute fingers punching the black and white keys alive with sound and rhythm. Once I arrive at my destination, I look at the Fred Hersch song list and marvel that the first tune was indeed a Thelonious Monk composition titled, “We See.” The second cut, “Snape Maltings” is a Hersch original composition. It features John Hébert bowing his big bass at times, with McPherson on drums, fluctuating between filling in and at other times, appropriately singing along with the very classical melody on his trap drums. The song, “Skipping,” does just that. Both Hersch and his trio skip along, like carefree children, playing outside on a summer day.

This project is sometimes an excursion into unknown territories, led by Hersch and his creative compositions and talented sidekicks. “Bristol Fog” is an absolutely beautiful ballad and I believe my favorite cut on this entire album of excellence. In the liner notes, they write that this is a musical dedication to the late British pianist, John Taylor. Hébert has the opportunity to stretch out on this song and his bass tone and emotional delivery are stunning. Lucky for this trio, they were recorded while performing in Brussels at the former National Institute for Radio Broadcasting. The acoustics are perfect and the spontaneity of their improvisational journey is emotionally tangible.

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Blue Griffin Recording

Bob Arthurs, trumpet/vocals; Steve Lamattina, guitar.

The concept of this production is simple. Two musicians, Bob Arthurs and Steve Lamattina, were approached by a Ukrainian record producer, Irena Portenko, and asked if they would consider using their duo instrumentation to record popular Ukrainian songs with jazzy arrangements. The producer named the project for her father, her uncle and her daughter’s dad. Thus, the title, “Jazz It Up – Ukrainian Songs for Three Dads.” The result is a fresh perspective on traditional folk songs from the Ukraine.

Bob Arthur is a jazz trumpeter, a vocalist, band leader and recording artist. As an educator, he has served on the faculty of the Music Conservatory of Westchester in White Plains, New York for over three decades. This CD is his fourth release as a leader. Previously he released an album where he sang in Ukrainian. He sings on this CD also, featured on “Moon in the sky,” and “Walking Around the Garden,” once again singing in the language of the Ukraine. Steve LaMattina served on the faculty of the Music Conservatory of Westchester until 2006. So, I assume that he and Bob Arthurs are old friends and teaching mates. His proficiency on guitar is obvious, as he strums the rhythm and keeps the time steady. LaMattina is the only instrument supporting Arthurs’ horn and vocalization. The duo production is simplistic, but effective. This is a fine introduction to Ukrainian folk music, all jazzed up with a newly painted face.

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April 28, 2018

By Jazz Journalist Dee Dee McNeil
April 27, 2018


GabNat Music

Kevin Bales, piano; Keri Johnsrud, vocals; Billy Thornton, bass/vocals; Marlon Patton, drums.

A flurry of piano notes from the flying fingers of Kevin Bales open the first song in a tribute to the music of Fred Rogers. Who is Fred Rogers? You may more quickly recognize him if I call him, “Mr. Rogers,” the television celebrity who made so many children happy for nearly thirity-five years. This album shows us the jazzy genius of this man. His songs are smart, positive and melodic. Beginning with “It’s You I Like” that lyrically reminds us, “It’s not the things you wear, it’s not the way you wear your hair. It’s you I like.” You hear this song one time and already you can hum the melody. That’s the sign of an outstanding songwriter. Keri Johnsrud is the vocalist who interprets these catchy songs. Their trio swings hard and non-stop. Bales is an expert on the 88-keys and Marlon Patton rides the rhythm, fluent on his drum kit. Billy Thornton takes an impressive bass solo on this first song, after which, these four musicians have established their territory. What they bring to the table is laid out like a jazzy tablecloth on their very first tune. The group is Straight Ahead and no nonsense when it comes to their arrangements.

True, Mr. Roger’s music catered to children on several shows like ‘Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,’ ‘The children’s Center’ and ‘The MisteRogers Show.’ In fact, Kevin Bales and Keri Johnsrud grew up listening to these catchy melodies and poignant lyrics. A couple of years ago, in casual conversation, they realized both of them had enjoyed and become attached to the Fred Rogers compositions as children. Upon research, they discovered that Rogers had actually composed every song heard on his programs. His simple messages of friendship, love and emotional connections not only apply to children, but easily apply to adults. This is quite evident on tunes like “Just for Once.” This composition explores friendship and is arranged with exotic sounding drums beats, bringing to mind Ahmad Jamal arrangements and memories of Jamal’s popular “Poinciana” hit record. Patton employs mallets and the lovely softness they bring to music on “Find A Star”.

This is an album worthy of listening to, not only because the trio is talented and resourceful, but also because these arrangements establish Fred Rogers as a competent and sensitive composer/lyricist. Keri Johnsrud has a very pretty, pop voice and does a fine job of sharing the Roger’s melodies with us. However, I would not call her a jazz singer. That diminishes this production in a subtle kind of way, because the trio is definitely jazz. “Beyond the Neighborhood” has certainly awakened this jazz journalist to the music of Fred Rogers. So, I would acknowledge, mission accomplished!
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DON BRADEN – “EARTH WIND AND WONDER” Creative Perspective Music

Don Braden, tenor saxophone/flute/alto flute; Brandon McCune & Art Hirahara, piano; Joris Teepe & Kenny Davis, bass; Cecil Brooks III & Jeremy Warren, drums.

This is a tribute album to the magnificent, musical contributions of Earth Wind & Fire and Stevie Wonder. Jazz reedman, Don Braden, has celebrated the popular music of these two Grammy-winning artists with his tenor saxophone, flute and alto flute. He shows the world that these pop icons and popular musicians are also incredible composers. As we know, a great song can be interpreted any number of ways. Every cut on this recording is superbly produced and Braden’s exciting ensemble of memorable musicians do not disappoint. Starting with the familiar classic, Earth Wind & Fire’s hit record, “Fantasy,” (composed by Verdine & Maurice White and E, Dek Barrio) the Braden ensemble kicks into high gear and speeds Straight-ahead with no compunction. Braden’s flute on “Visions” is beautifully executed. The melody of this Wonder tune is already lovely and I’m happy that Don Braden chose his flute to interpret it. Starting as a ballad, it doesn’t take the band long to march into a slow-swing groove. Michael Jackson’s recording of the Stevie Wonder and Susaye Green song, “I Can’t Help It” is one of my favorite pop songs. Braden transforms it into a beautiful jazzy arrangement. Braden has also offered two original compositions, “The Elements” and “The Wonder of You”. Both are well written compositions that leave plenty of room for his band members to showcase their extraordinary skills.

Don Braden’s love of Wonder’s music and Earth Wind and Fire songs started in Louisville, Kentucky, when he was just a young man. It was not only the melodies and the danceability, but the messages within these songs that caught Braden’s ear. Braden says he soaked up the joy, strength and love that embodies the African-American spirit in this modern music. Now, he shares that experience with us, in his own unique way, never forsaking the premise and importance of jazz. This is not Smooth Jazz. This is the real deal. Braden has taken the contemporary, musical standards of his generation and converted them into arrangements of the only original artform heralded as the United States’ indigenous, classical music; Jazz. The way I see it, this is the new American Songbook and these are the new composers of the twenty-first century. I applaud Don Braden and his worthy musicians for gifting us with this wonderful work of artful music and for honoring some of our modern-day composers.
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JARED GOLD – “REEMERGENCE” Strikezone Records

Jared Gold, Hammond B3 organ; Dave Stryker, guitar; Billy Hart, drums; Jeremy Pelt, trumpet/flugelhorn.

Billy Hart, on drums, fuels the first and title tune, “Reemergence” composed by the featured artist, Jared Gold. Gold is a fresh, jazz -organ, recording artist making waves on the East Coast. This is his eighth recording, and he’s surrounded himself with a group of excellent musicians to support his musical concepts. Dave Stryker is not only a proficient guitarist, but a record producer with his own label, a composer and a very busy New York musician. Drummer, Billy Hart, is legendary and was once the drummer of choice with the great Jimmy Smith. Trumpeter, Jeremy Pelt, is a refreshing addition to the organ trio. The first thing that stands out about Jared Gold is his ability to take familiar songs like Stevie Wonder’s “Lookin’ For Another Pure Love’ or the Lennon/McCartney standard, “She’s Leaving Home” and turn them into harmonically fresh works of art. Gold’s creativity with harmonics is formidable. Gold started out as a piano player, but quickly found his expressive niche on the organ. He was born in Englewood, New Jersey February 27, 1980 and has worked extensively with Oliver Lake and John Abercrombie. This ninth album as a leader solidifies his unique approach to his instrument and his excursions into arrangements that are unique, like the title tune that roots itself in an unusual fourteen-bar blues pattern. On the tune, “Sweet Sweet Spirit” he takes us to church. Songs like “Ornette Coleman’s Blues Connotations” show the listener that he can groove with the best of them and also gives Hart an opportunity to break free and exuberantly solo on the drums. Jared Gold comes into sight and prominence once more, just like the title of this CD proclaims.

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Vision Ahead Music

Jonathan Barber, drums, vocals; Taber Gable, piano, Fender Rhodes, synthesizer; Andrew Renfroe, guitar; Godwin Louis, alto saxophone; Matt Dwonszyk, bass; Denise Renee, vocals; Sasha Foster, vocals.

Listening to this project In my car, I was immediately impressed by the drummer on this session. I was driving, so I hadn’t pre-read the publicity notes or looked at the CD cover credits. I just popped the disc into my player. This is an album of grooves and funk; fire and spice with bursts of creativity like whispering voices in the background or saxophone sweetness added at unexpected times.

There’s a lot of synthesized music, with Taber Gable strongly present on piano, Fender Rhodes and synthesizer. Matt Dwonszyk locks the rhythm section in place with his strong bass licks. Andrew Renfroe plays a mean guitar on cut #3. When I look to see who composed that song, it was none other than Renfroe.

Jonathan Barber has composed eight of the twelve songs on his debut recording. Some tunes remind me of modern jazz, others are more contemporary. You get a sense that these young musicians have listened to the likes of George Duke and Herbie Hancock. They like to groove. Jonathan Barber is the powerhouse behind this group, always at the forefront of their energy and persuasive with his drum licks and percussive powers. Vision Ahead is a tribute to his dead brother who he unexpectedly lost in November of 2016.

“My music not only helped me through my grieving process but sparked a fresh musical style in hopes of carrying on the spirit of this American art form; jazz.”

Barber is a terrific and gifted drummer. His songwriting skills are more grooves than substance. I didn’t find many melodies that leant themselves to being easily repeated. Some are extremely complicated, like the 7th cut, “Airport” where Barber adds vocals to his resumé. He penned the lyrics on this Eldar Djangirov composition. Eldar is a super-talented young pianist who has been Grammy nominated. The intervals of this song are challenging and Barber has added a huge amount of echo to this production. Is that to mask his vocal shortcomings or for the effect of the huge, hollow buildings that house airport facilities?

“Time Will Tell” adds the pretty background voices of Denise Renee and Sasha Foster, rich and warm, proffering a hip-hop groove wrapped around Barber’s drum expressions. He sings on this tune also. I prefer the singing he does on his drum kit. Once again, this composition is repetitious to a fault. For the most part, Barber’s compositions are strictly grooves that make for pleasant listening and background music. But there are no Duke Ellington, Billy Strayhorn, Herbie Hancock, Freddie Hubbard standard jazz tunes on this album. There is, however, some serious and outstanding drumming taking place.
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Independent Label

Isabel Crespo, vocalist/producer/composer; Skyler Hill, guitar; Gregory Santa Croce, piano; Mike Luzecky, upright & electric basses; Connor Ken, drummer/percussion; Brendon Wilkins, flue/alto saxophone; Kevin Swaim, flugelhorn; Devin Eddleman, tenor saxophone; Kenny Davis, trombone; Background vocals: Zach Yaholkovsky, Gabrielle Byrd, Jordan Coffin, Lizzi Trumbore, Anna Jalkeus, Carleigh Reese, Madison Russell & Sara Finkle.

I always keep an ear peeled for recording projects that are fresh and unique. Today I was introduced to a group of musicians who call themselves, “For Now.” They are propelled by their vocalist, who has composed all the melodies and lyrics. The first cut “We’re Home” is very pop oriented with interesting lyrical prose. Vocalist, Isabel Crespo, has a lovely range and crystal-clear tone. Her intervals in this song are refreshing, challenging and jazzy. Her sense of harmony is evident as soon as the band arrangements kick in. She sings lines that are poetic and unique like, “Our thoughts caught like kites in a tree, we are watching them all as they try to break free.” When she harmonizes with Skyler Hill on guitar and Gregory Santa Croce on piano, she tosses the lyrics aside to scat like an instrument. I am drawn into her musical space. This group is uniquely interesting. The scatting continues on cut #2 called, “Into the Yellow Room,” where a sense of Avant Garde enters the picture. Her voice sings without words and leaves plenty of room for the musicians to stretch out and improvise. Connor Kent is a strong drummer who pushes them forward with hurricane-force gusto. Ms. Crespo used vocal over-lays and harmonies to propel this tune. The third composition, “Caught In the Double Bind” is Herbie Hancock-ish with the piano driving the song and the production touching on funk, contemporary jazz and the lyrics reflecting feminism.

Isabel Crespo sings, “When I’m right, there’s always something wrong. ‘Cause it’s a problem that I’m strong. … “ She seems to be speaking as a woman in a leadership position or simply a woman in control. She sings, “I can be nice, very inviting … but if I leave, you might just think I’m mean. … How dare I think, that we’re both equal … what a disgrace, you’d think I’d know my place. …”Maybe I’ll leave, all the decisions up to a man. He’d have a better plan.”

Her activism comes across in various ways and on various compositions. She addresses feminism and racism, while breaking the boundaries and walls that sometimes restrict creativity. “On Color” she asks questions that prod our sensitivity about the racial problem in America with lyrics that reflect her anathema.

Isabel Crespo’s voice is not the typical tone of what I think of as a jazz singer. It’s very popish. Then she sings something like composition #9 titled, “Tesseract” and I recognize this composition and her band are clearly jazzy, very modernistic and improvisational, lending themselves to blend jazz and world music in a sort of salacious musical meeting of both mind and instrument. This is an art project. Her compositions become a collective vehicle to expose everyone’s audacious talents.
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Dan Block,tenor saxophone/clarinet; Rob Block, guitar; Neal Caine,bass;Tadataka Unno,piano; Aaron Kimmel,drums.

Although this CD is titled “Block Party,” (I suppose a play off of Dan’s last name), it doesn’t sound like any block party I ever attended. That is to say, this is not loud, raucous, dance music. Instead, it sounds like a cool jazz club on a warm summer night. His liner notes explain that this music is meant to represent a time to join together with family, neighbors and friends in a timeless tradition of sharing music that spans several generations of jazz.

Dan joins his brother and guitarist, Rob Block, for the first time on this recording session. So that could well be another reason for this celebratory ‘Block’ party.

“We’re very different people, but he brings something intangible out in me and vice versa,” Dan Block explained. “You’re completely free to be yourself when you’re sharing the stage with your bother.”

Also from St. Louis, Neal Caine, was a longtime bassist for Harry Connick Jr.’s band and joins the Block brothers on their exploration of roots and music. Dan Block is well-regarded in mainstream jazz circles, but when I listen to his clarinet playing, I hear a lot of traditional jazz in his style, as well as tastes of Dixieland jazz. He’s diverse, moving easily from tenor saxophone to clarinet and has a long career of backing up such notable musicians as Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, Frank Wess, Toshiko Akiyoshi, Natalie Cole, Anne Hampton Calloway, Bobby Short, Linda Ronstadt and Rosemary Clooney. Classically trained at Juilliard, he has played nearly every style and genre of music. On this easy-listening project, his horns are warm and welcoming. His brother, Rob, is no slouch on guitar, boldly playing a memorable solo on “Dinner for One Please, James.” The tune “No, No, No” sounds incredibly close to the melody of “I Should Care.” They play it as a Latin flavored Salsa tune where Kimmel, on drums, can kick it happily into dance-mode. I enjoyed the ensemble’s interpretation of Thelonious Monk’s “Light Blue” classic, where Tadataka Unno takes a successful opportunity to express himself on the grand piano. All in all, this is a lovely album of familiar tunes, well-played by seasoned veteran musicians in jazzy celebration of St Louis culture and brotherhood.
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Sunnieside Communications, Inc.

Edward Simon, pianist/composer; guitarist, Adam Rogers; David Binney, alto saxophonist; Scott Colley, bass; Brian Blad, drums;Rogerio Boccato & Luis Quintero, percussion. SPECIAL GUEST: Gretchen Parlato, vocals; Chamber Quintet, Imani Winds.

This album is the result of support from Chamber Music America’s New Jazz Works, funded through the generosity of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. “Incessant Desires” and “Venezuela Unida” were created with support from SFJAZZ. At a time when jazz music is not always supported or played on our airwaves, and while sadly, our government is busy cutting back all support to the arts, it’s good to see that financial assistance was available to support Edward Simon’s latest project. It’s well worth the funding.

Edward Simon has composed and arranged every song. He produced this recording by himself with the exception of “Triumphs” that he co-produced with his alto saxophonist, David Binney. There are two suites of music. One is titled, “Sorrows and Triumphs” and the other is called, “House of Numbers”. Simon calls his quartet, “Afinidad” and they beautifully express his musical concepts. The blending of percussion, a tight rhythm section and the sexy sax work of David Binney is enough, but the addition of a chamber quintet known as Imani Winds brings these arrangements to a soaring climax. There is melodic excitement, all twisted together like a tightly rolled ball of yarn. Then a kitten comes along and dismantles the ball, chasing it and splashing the colorful notes, like pieces of fabric, all over my room. Edward Simon’s music is full of pulse and pictures. He conjures up stories within his creative arrangements. “Rebirth” celebrates his piano work and invokes the kitten and the ball of yarn. The Imani Winds make the music move with orchestral breezes. The grooves change and keeps the listener interested and attentive. Edward Simon’s music is inspirational.

Simon, a native of Venezuela, has made quite a name for himself as a jazz pianist, a unique composer/arranger and he is a Guggenheim Fellow and member of the SFJAZZ Collective. He came to America at age twelve and attended the Performing Arts School in Philadelphia. His family is musical. His father played guitar and sang. Chucho Valdes was Simon’s first influence on piano and later, after watching a tape of Dizzy Gillespie and Stan Getz, he was bitten by the jazz bug. Edward Simon won an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Jazz Album referencing his “Latin American Songbook” and four and a half stars in DownBeat Magazine in 2016 for that same recording. This new work appears to be following in the same successful direction. Listening to it brought me great peace of mind and enjoyment.
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April 11, 2018


By Dee Dee McNeil / Jazz Journalist

April 11, 2018

I took a brief trip to Detroit, Michigan last month. During my visit, I prowled the city in search of ‘live’ jazz. I was not disappointed. My hometown has consistently birthed and/or inspired a long and stunning succession of jazz icons including Kenny Burrell, Milt Jackson, Della Reese, Harold McKinney, Aretha Franklin (who sang and recorded jazz on Columbia before her hit, R&B records ), Tommy Flanagan, Paul Chambers, Barry Harris, Elvin Jones, Yusef Lateef, Ron Carter, Curtis Fuller, Frank Foster, Roland Hanna, Donald Byrd, Kenny Cox, Sonny Stitt, Alice Coltrane, Dorothy Ashby, Roy Brooks, Pepper Adams, Charles McPherson, Betty Carter, Geri Allen, Rodney Whitaker, Phil Ranelin, James Carter, Regina Carter and Thad Jones. Let me add, this is just a short list. Our own California-based vocalist, Barbara Morrison, who manages the Leimert Park Performing Arts Theater in Los Angeles, has deep roots in Detroit. I want to introduce you to another amazing woman and working musician in Detroit who is a multi-generational bassist, educator, recording artist, wife and mother. In celebration of Jazz Appreciation Month, meet Marion Hayden.

Marion Hayden is a double-bass player who has excelled in a mainly male dominated music industry, especially when it comes to females who play the upright bass. She is a phenomenal player; a fast and competent reader of musical charts and she exhibits exquisite tone. Not to mention, her timing is unreproachable. We recently met in her Detroit, Michigan home, where she fixed me a cup of Good Earth, Orange Spice Tea. Sitting in her comfortable kitchen, I found her smile as warm as the tea cup she handed me. Marion Hayden has a way of making people feel comfortable, both on and off stage.

MARION: “My whole thing is multi-generational. I was probably about fourteen or fifteen when I had my first gig with (reedman) Wendell Harrison and I just know that having that relationship with him, and with Marcus (Belgrave), (trumpeter/composer/original member of the Ray Charles band), Buddy Budson and Ursula (Walker), (pianist/producer/arranger and his vocalist wife) iconic drummer, Roy Brooks, those experiences I had were deeply formative for me as a musician. Deeply, deeply important! They made such a difference in my whole understanding of the music and how you put the music together. You know, how to work in an ensemble. My understanding of the whole musical concept was greatly enhanced by my relationships with those people over the years.

“I switched from cello (her first instrument) to bass when I was twelve. I was always a lover of jazz. My father was a huge jazz lover and had a big record collection. He actually played Piano. His listening choices were, … Oscar Petersen and that was probably his big favorite. I remember very distinctly, he had a record player with a long cord that stretched so he could put it outside while he was mowing the lawn. Right in the driveway, he would play some Oscar Petersen or Miles Davis while he was mowing the grass.”

NOTE: A young Marion Hayden would have been listening to the bass work of the great Ray Brown, who was part of the early Petersen trio, along with guitarist Herb Ellis, and Miles Davis would have featured Paul Chambers on the double bass.

MARION: “Then, my cousin, Kamau Kenyatta, you know him. He’s a wonderful pianist and saxophonist. At that time, he and a number of other young people spent many hours in our little young people incubator, playing music with each other. I learned a lot from Kamau. You know, how sometimes you can have a peer mentor? He’s like a brother to me and a peer mentor”

NOTE: Kamau Kenyatta produced groundbreaking, GRAMMY-winning, jazz albums on Gregory Porter and is currently based in California.

MARION: “I listened to a lot of Paul Chambers, a lot of Ray Brown and then one of the records that was really important to me was a record that Quincy Jones did in 1970 and it’s called, “Walking In Space.” It was a big band production, but it had a little contemporary feel at the time. That was one of the records that really helped me to understand the playing of the music and how big bands work. I also really loved Thad Jones’ music. My dad was a big fan of Thad Jones/Mel Lewis. In fact, he took me to see Thad Jones and Mel Lewis once.”

“My other favorite album in the whole world was the Nancy Wilson, Cannonball Adderley album. That was the first record I ever tried to transcribe. The first tune I ever tried to transcribe was “Never Never Will I Marry” from that record.”

NOTE: She was only ten-years-old when the famed Cannonball Adderley collaborative album was released, featuring up-and-coming vocalist, Nancy Wilson. This had to be another album Marion heard her dad, Herbert Hayden, play on his portable record player.

“You know, I had a chance to work with Nancy. Sometimes life will send you that quirky opportunity. It was maybe fifteen years ago, 2003 or 2004, and I was on a date with “Straight Ahead” (the all-girls group she has performed with for decades). I got a call from a friend who was working at the DSO (Detroit Symphony Orchestra) at that time, doing a lot of their programming. He said Nancy’s bass player, John B., couldn’t make the gig. What happened, after 911, they started making it very hard to get basses onto the airplanes. It just got crazy. I can’t even tell you how crazy it got and expensive. So apparently, something happened with John at the airport and he just couldn’t get into Detroit. I could have loaned him a bass. Anyway, my friend John at the DSO said, can you work with Nancy? I was like, YEAH! Needless to say, I could not have been more scared. I didn’t even have a chance to look at any of the charts and back in those days, the internet wasn’t rollin’ like that anyway. They weren’t sending pdf charts and all that stuff. It was paper charts. She had sent her charts ahead of time to the orchestra of course. But not for her bass player, because she had her established trio. I showed up there and tried to keep my little wits about me. That was one of the most thrilling things that happened in my life, because Nancy Wilson is such a hero to me. And she was so beautiful to me. She really treated me nicely. Let’s just be honest. She’s coming in. She doesn’t have her regular bass player and on top of that, a girl shows up on bass. I don’t know how many times even women don’t work with other women. I have to tell the truth about this bass. But I could imagine she was looking at me, a younger woman, and wondering, can she handle this? Is she going to F-up my show? She had to go on complete faith, because when I showed up, at that point, there was nobody else. Those other cats in the orchestra, they might be able to read some notes, but …. of course, I know the idiom. Basically, I had one rehearsal to look at her music. She did some things that I knew. The trio was me, Roy McCurdy and Llew Matthews. Her musicians were very gracious to me. A lot of times, people don’t know this, but the thing not to do, is to not be gracious. They accepted me and made me feel comfortable. I’m going to give myself a B plus. Later, her pianist, Llew Matthews, wrote a very nice compliment to me after that concert.“

I had to stop Marion right there. I know Nancy Wilson’s longtime musical conductor, Llew Matthews, very well. I am positive he would not have given her a compliment, and certainly not written her a letter of commendation if she hadn’t performed an A-plus, number-one job. She told me she had kept that E-mail letter from Llew for all these years. Marion Hayden went into another room and humbly retrieved the printed page to show it to me. It was then and only then that I remembered Llew Matthews sending me that very e-mail to compliment Marion Hayden on her bass excellence accompanying the great Nancy Wilson and working superbly with him and Roy McCurdy. He knew I was from Detroit and that I knew Marion. He hadn’t known how to contact her. So, I had actually forwarded his letter to her and then, totally forgotten about it. We had a laugh about that.

MARION: “Then, I had the chance to work with Llew again. Probably about three or four years ago down at Notre Dame with Jeff Clayton, fabulous alto saxophone player, sounding like Cannonball Adderley and he had Llew Matthews with him. I reminded Llew about the first time we had met and how meaningful that was to me.”

It hasn’t always been a smooth musical path for Marion Hayden. After attending Cass Technical high school and graduating from Henry Ford high school, she took classes at Michigan State University and later attended the University of Michigan, gaining a liberal arts degree with a minor in Entomology. That minor in the study of insects led the developing bassist to a day-job with the Michigan Department of Agriculture. In the 1970’s, Marion found herself frustrated and unsure of her musical career direction. She took a two-year hiatus before the encouraging of mentors, Kenny Cox and Roy Brooks cajoled her back to her instrument.

MARION: “I was in my early twenties and I just got frustrated. You know, it’s like when you say something to your children and it’s something that they probably need to hear and they get a little hurt. You know, when a person has been willing to give you some critical feed- back, especially when you needed it, even if you didn’t like it. But when that person turns around and says something good to you, then that means a lot! So, I love the ones who loved me. I just completely loved Ken Cox. I love Ken’s music. Ken just became someone I completely cherished. I’m very active in keeping his legacy alive. It meant so much to me when somebody turned around and said something like, I feel like I have Paul Chambers behind me … or said, you remind me of Doug Watkins. … Then you feel like you’re on the right path and steeped in the bass legacy. Probably one of the things that has been the most difficult for me is the loss of some of my mentors in the last several years. They just poured so much music into me and I thought, that can’t be the end of it. You’ve got to keep that legacy alive and continue to share it. So, I try to really pour that into the young folks I mentor. It’s just got to go down like that.”

While still working days, at night Marion woodshedded and joined the jazz nightclub circuit, playing with masters like trumpet icon, Marcus Belgrave, pianists, Charles Boles, Teddy Harris Jr, Buddy Budson and Kenny Cox. She added her sturdy bass lines to groups headed by reed master, Donald Walden and saxophonist, George Benson. She found herself very busy in the 1980s. She was part of the Ray Brooks historic group, “The Artistic Truth.” She worked on symphonic and cinematic music, pulling from her classical training. In the late 1970s, she worked with the all-female group, “Venus.” In 1989, She was one of the founders of another all-girls quintet that became quite popular in and around Motown. They called themselves, “Straight Ahead” and featured, Miche Braden on vocals, violinist, Regina Carter, pianist Eilene Orr, drummer Gayelynn McKinney and Marion Hayden on bass. When Braden moved to New York City to pursue an acting career, they replaced her with Cynthia Dewberry. In 1990, “Straight Ahead” opened for the amazing activist/pianist/vocalist Nina Simon at the Montreux-Switzerland Jazz Festival. Soon after, they were signed to Atlantic Records and cut three albums. Another member soon left to pursue a solo career. That was their violinist, Regina Carter, who has found great success on her own. However, the “Straight Ahead” group remains active to date, with the core members, Hayden, McKinney and Orr remaining in tact and close musical friends.

I told Marion that I remember interviewing Betty Carter and how she told me it was difficult to be female in the business of jazz. One reason was because she heard things in her head so far outside the box. Betty instituted a whole new realization of jazz and musicality, thinking more like an instrument than a vocalist. She said her male counterparts gave her a hard time, often not willing or unable to play the arrangements she heard in her head. Consequently, that led Betty Carter to learn to write her own arrangements. Once it was documented on the page, they had to play it. I asked Marion Hayden if she had encountered challenges because she was a female bassist?

MARION: “Well – you know what? It’s hard to say. But I’ll say this. I’m sure there were opportunities that I should have had. But I’ve not always been a person to dwell on such. My way, has always been to blossom where you are planted. Whatever circumstances that were given to me, I tried to enhance those circumstances fully. I tried to be tactful and make my presence known on my instrument. I tried to be a musical force for whoever I was working for. So, that made my presence there meaningful. I’m certain that there were some opportunities that I was probably over-looked for, but I prefer not to really dwell on that. I feel the ones that have come to me have been the ones that were meant for me. Detroit is not New York. True. It’s much smaller. But I have an entire college and jazz incubator in Detroit that I don’t know if I could have gotten in New York. I had my New Orleans education and introduction to traditional music through Charlie Gabrielle. Actually, he was the one that brought it to Marcus Belgrave. Charlie Gabrielle is the head performer with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. I don’t know where you would get any better than that! My Ragtime tradition and education came through my girlfriend, Tasilemah Bey, who is probably one of the few black women in the world to spend her entire life studying the music of Scott Joplin. She’s fantastic.

“I got my education in Avant Garde and Free Jazz with Marcus Belgrave, Wendell Harrison and with Spencer Barefield, who brought in people like (legendary saxophonist/composer) Roscoe Mitchell and I worked with Lester Bowie. It’s been a complete education and I’m not sure that I can find that education anywhere else the same way. So, I’m thankful for the opportunities that I’ve had. I believe more will come to me.

“One of my little stories is, and I tell this with love, because I truly love Donald Byrd. He gave me a really beautiful interview before he passed. I worked with him as a teenager and later, as an adult on the gig. Drummer, Roy Brooks put me on the gig. Roy Brooks was a huge supporter of my musicianship. So, we had a quartet with Donald Byrd at Baker’s.”

NOTE: Baker’s Keyboard Lounge is one of the oldest running jazz clubs in the United States.

“He kept a little baby metronome on a little string around his neck. He came up to me and said, we’re going to play “Lover Come Back To Me” about here, 300 beats per minute. Super-Duper fast! I think he was trying to intimidate me. (LAUGHTER)

MARION: “He didn’t know, I cannot be intimidated. He played it wherever he did it at that time and I was up for it. I was about twenty-six-years old. But he didn’t know that I was already in the habit of doing fast tempos, because I was raised by such great players. And I have to say one thing. I really loved these players. They were primarily men that raised me in the rhythm section sense. Because I was female, they didn’t expect any less of me. The bass is a work chair and the rhythm section is the engine of the band. No part of the engine can be weak. Somebody might like you, but they won’t hire you in their rhythm section if you can’t take care of business. That much I already knew. I always felt pretty confident that whatever situation I was in, I could handle it. … The bass is a pretty serious part of the engine. They might take away the piano, but they won’t get rid of the bass. Most people are not going to do without a bass.”

When Marion Hayden was growing up, she enjoyed and participated in confident-building programs like, ‘Metro Arts’ in Detroit. She has made it a point of creating and participating in community and private programs that encourage art and music appreciation in youth. The multi-generational aspect continues to motivate Marion, because she recognizes that what she learned from listening to and performing with music masters, those born in another generation, primed and inspired her. Now it’s her turn to share knowledge with young musicians from another generation. She explained her passion for these programs to me.

MARION: “Well, primarily I teach and I’m involved in some institutional programs; programs that are supported by the Detroit Jazz Festival. I’m the Resident Artist at an elementary and middle school via the Detroit Jazz Festival. I also teach through Michigan State University, a night class for teenagers. I directed a mentoring program that is an outreach program on behalf of the University of Michigan. We went into Detroit Public Schools and brought students from U of M down to work with public school students. I directed a Summer Camp for several years. Those have been very important contributions in a formalized way. I also believe, even more importantly, in the ‘informal’ programs. It’s a unity of one-on-one, in an African centered way. In other words, you come to my house. We play music. I also find performance opportunities for young people.

“Another little thing that I’ve been working on, kind of a little spiritual resurrection of some of Detroit’s places that ‘used to be’. Because one of the things that occurred to me, when you stay in the same place for a long time, … one of the things I noticed about black folks is that our precious cultural things that we develop, using music and art, a lot of times they don’t go on to institutions that are really lofty, high-funded institutions. They go on in little churches; you know? Our music gets developed in bars; in somebody’s basement; in somebody’s house. The cultural things we create in these circumstances are really important. But the environment in which they’re developed are often ephemeral. Playing music in the club, for example. The next thing you know, somebody else leases the club or they come through and bulldoze it. Because they like to bulldoze our black community, so they can put up whatever. Consequently, it occurs to me, that part of our legacy should be preserved. You and I. You have me, I go to your house and we work on music. So, as well as being involved in these beautiful, formalized programs, I try to have a more accessible, informal relationship with these young people. That’s important, because when you study music a certain way, then you start to hear things in thirty-two bar phrases. You know what I mean? And all that stuff is OK. But, you can also totally do it YOUR way.

“I remember, I’d go around the corner, park the car and go into Teddy Harris’s house. I’d go right down to his basement. Say ‘Hi’ to Martha (his wife) on my way down. See all those pictures on the wall of music people. I can’t remember who, but I had a conversation with someone who said, so-and-so is a mentor to you, right? Did they sit down and teach you things? But that’s not how I exactly learned. For me, it was more of an observation.”

Note: Teddy Harris Jr. always had a house full of musicians. He formed and rehearsed a big band regularly made up of seasoned players and young people learning to play. He wrote charts for people and for a while, acted as musical conductor for Motown acts like the Supremes. As well as being steeped in jazz, playing piano and a competent reedman, he was also an arranger and music educator, informally available to the community in his basement studio.

MARION: “I grew up under my mother. My mother was super beautiful and she would show me the details of how to set a table and those things were definitely specific. She was a super fabulous cook. Some things, like cooking, she’d go to the cook book and if it said ‘fold’ she’d show me how to fold the eggs in. Other kinds of things, I just learned by watching.

“The same is true in music. If I spent time on the bandstand with you, I learned by watching. You become one of my mentors. I took a lot of notes. First of all, if someone has you in their sphere on a regular basis, then there’s a reason why they had you there. I didn’t always need someone to sit down and tell me blah – blah – blah. But over time, they may be showing me what they did or how to put a show together; or how the business gets done, or how they write a grant. That’s mentoring as well. The lesson is in the living.

“Recently, I was on a recording session and it was really lengthy. But there were some things that the piano player was doing that were really extraordinary. His comping was really engaging me. Ken Cox and I were both huge fans of Horace Silver. So was Marcus. We loved Horace. One of the strongest parts of Horace Silver as a composer was that his piano comping was not random. His comping was deeply rooted in whatever composition he was performing. People forget about how important piano comping is to setting the rhythm section up to really be an important platform for the soloist or vocalist. Sometimes we get caught up in our egos and we feel the most important contribution we can make is during our solos. But my feeling is, as rhythm section players, you’re contributing on a moment-to-moment basis to the entire musical experience. So, your solo is, frankly, probably ten percent of the whole thing. The solo is fabulous, don’t get me wrong. But if you brought the entire ensemble to a really high level of musicality and expression, what higher importance could you have leant to the whole experience? I’ve had some great time on the stand with some wonderful comping pianists, that were not super fabulous soloists. But just to be in that space with them, and be a part of that engine, is just really what it’s all about.”

Jazz is a music always evolving. I asked Marion Hayden what she saw happening with young musicians today, compared to those coming up in yesteryears.

“I do see a lot of enthusiasm about the music. I really love that. I think that as much as they know, they still need those of us in the earlier generations to fill in the gaps. Just like I needed the musicians of my generation to fill in gaps for me and introduce me to somebody I didn’t know about or give me a different point of reference. … The pursuit of music is difficult and it’s very personal. A lot of times, young musicians may feel like, is anybody hearing me? They may feel a little different. I tell them, yeah – here’s some more people who were different. Don’t worry about that. Some of the people that I really like a lot were very, very different.

“I have a really good student out of Cleveland. You know I taught at the Tri C in Cleveland, Ohio, (Cleveland Community College) for seven years. I have a wonderful student down there. His name is Dean Hewlett. He’s fantastic. He’s one of my students that is just a tremendous young bass player. We have a couple of wonderful young students here in Detroit. One is Jonathon Cotten and another is Brian Juarez, both wonderful, young bass players. Brian’s from California. Then I have a really lovely, super young student who is in the sixth grade. His name is Troy Perkins.”

When Marion Hayden isn’t teaching at the University of Michigan, or giving private lessons, you’ll find her on the bandstand as part of several local ensembles. She is also a member of the Modern Jazz Messengers, led by drummer Sean Dobbins. Before his unexpected death, she was part of the Allan Barnes jazz ensemble. She still tours and does occasional concerts with the “Straight Ahead” girl’s group. She has created the Detroit Legacy Ensemble to carry on the jazz music of her mentors and to celebrate the music of some of our iconic ancestors. You may find her on the stage of The Dirty Dog Club or Baker’s Keyboard Lounge, the oldest jazz club in the United States, or performing in concert at various stadiums, theaters and/or festivals. She is part of the faculty in Michigan’s Department of Jazz and Contemporary Improvisational Studies and often directs the Carr Center’s summer jazz program. In 2016, she won the Jazz Hero Award from the Jazz Journalist’s Association. She was recently featured on Blue Note TV with an ensemble of outstanding Detroit jazz musicians and performs regularly at the Detroit Institute of the Arts, sometimes supplying music for her husband, abstract painter Safell Gardner’s art shows. Somehow, in between raising two very creative sons as a dedicated mother and loving wife, she has managed to host panels for “Meet the Composer,” participated in the Detroit Council for the Arts, and served as part of the committee for the Detroit Historical Museum. I asked her, as one performing mom to another, how she balanced her career demands with her personal life.

MARION: “I just have to say, my husband is a lovely man and he is just super-supportive. Between him and my mother, who really helped us raise these two boys, she never turned me down. I’m talking about road gigs and that kind of stuff. A lot of times, nobody wants to be bothered with your kids; their daddy or their grand mama’s. So, they had a grandmother who was right there. Also, I took my husband, children and mother on a lot of trips with me. That was one of the things that I made a decision about. I did not want to be a musician that went on the road and said ‘Bye bye, I’ll see you later’. So, whenever it was possible, I took my husband and my children on tour with me. They went to Mackinaw twice with us. Once, I took my husband, children, mother and her girlfriend to Jamaica with me. They had a great time. We’ve been on short appearances with me, like to Chicago and we flew down to Atlanta for tour dates. Whenever I could take my family with me, that was one of the ways I coped. It was a financial sacrifice for us sometimes, but it was a gift to have them with me. I could include them as a part of my life on the road. It was good for them and nice for my mother; a little vacation for her.”

Watching their mother perform, sometimes getting the opportunity to tour with her and also observing their talented dad paint and create beauty on canvas, both of her sons have followed a path of creativity.

MARION: “I encourage my youngest son, whose name is Michael Tariq Gardner, but he goes by Tariq. He plays drums in a really beautiful jam session that’s run by John Douglas, who is a wonderful trumpet player. He used to be in Teddy Harris’ band and was one of the younger cats. I totally appreciate him for giving my son an opportunity. Because that’s how you really learn how to play. Tariq’s in school and has some really, really beautiful teachers, but there’s no doubt in my mind that the major part of your growth as a musician will be on the bandstand. That’s really how all the wonderful things that you learn in school, that’s where all that comes together. It takes a good amount of time on the bandstand to really understand the music. He’s got a beautiful sound, a little different sound. Kamau says he reminds him of Joe Chambers plus Tariq is a composer. There’s not a lot of composing drummers. My oldest son, Asukile, just turned twenty-eight and he’s a visual artist like my husband.”

Like Marion Hayden told me, at the beginning of our conversation, it’s all just multi-generational. You encourage and keep passing the legacy on. This talented woman is a perfect example of walking the walk and setting a strong example of not only what to do, but how you do it. I’m honored to document a piece of her legacy as a creative and tenacious life lesson for us all.


April 5, 2018

By Dee Dee McNeil/jazz journalist

April 5, 2018

This month of April, celebrates National Jazz Appreciation Month. For some reason, I have been inundated with an arm full of albums that celebrate the first instrument; voice. In this month’s column, you will read all about GRAMMY Award-winning vocalist, GREGORY PORTER, who performs with the London Studio orchestra in celebration of Nat King Cole. Speaking of jazz legends, ALLAN HARRIS tributes the genius of Eddie Jefferson. Pianist, JOHN PROULX, has expanded his talents to embrace jazz vocals. Contemporary jazz stylist, ERIN McDOUGALD, blends nostalgic, old standards with contemporary arrangements and SHIRLEY CRABBE, whose tone and instrument recalls the legendary Ella Fitzgerald, offers us “Bridges” to cross with a voice that connects us. Also, a Straight-ahead jazz ensemble crossed my desk that was quite exciting by talented drummer, McCLENTY HUNTER JR. Finally, MEG OKURA & THE PAN ASIAN CHAMBER JAZZ ENSEMBLE blends her Japanese heritage and Jewish faith using jazz as a catalyst with the orchestrated production of Okura’s compositions.

Resilience Music Alliance

Allan Harris, vocals; Eric Reed, piano; George DeLancey, bass; Willie Jones III, drums; Ralph Moore, tenor saxophone; SPECIAL GUEST, Richie Cole, alto saxophone.

Eddie Jefferson’s awesome sound and vocal summersaults have long been a favorite of mine. Jefferson’s lyrics are superbly written and sung at paces that challenge the average vocalist. I was eager to hear Mr. Allan Harris’s interpretation of the genius of Eddie Jefferson and I was not disappointed. He has chosen some of Jefferson’s challenging melodies and creative prose to express himself. You will hear the familiar “So What,” “Sister Sadie,” and “Filthy McNasty.” Harris has a smooth, balladeer tone, but tackles the Straight-ahead and Swing successfully. He trades fours lyrically with the musicians on “Dexter Digs In” and doesn’t miss a beat. Prior to this production, Allan Harris recorded the songs of Billy Strayhorn and paid homage to Nat King Cole. This may be his most challenging tribute to date. “Billy’s bounce” is a mouth-full of words sung at an up-tempo pace. Harris makes it sound easy, but believe me, it isn’t. The band is a tight fit that supports each song with precision and agility. These musicians really swing! If you love the legacy of Eddie Jefferson, you will enjoy this smooth interpretation of his genius works by the very talented Allan Harris.

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Blue Note

Gregory Porter, vocals; Christian Sands, piano; Reuben Rogers, bass; Ulysses Owens, drums; SPECIAL GUEST, Terence Blanchard, trumpet; Flutes: Karen Jones, Helen Keen, Anna Noakes; Oboe: John Anderson & Jane Marshall; Clarinets: Jon Carnac, Anthony Pike, David Fuest; Bassoon: Dan Jemison, Gavin McNaughton, Richard Skinner; French Horns; Martin Owen, Richard Watkins, Laurence Davies, Richard Berry, & Pip Eastop; Trumpets: Andrew Crowley, Phil Cobb, Dan Newell, Christian Barraclough; Trombones: Mark Nightingale, Ed Tarrant, Andy Wood; Tuba, Owen Slade; Percussion: Frank Ricotti & Chris Baron; Timpani: Sam Walton & Bill Lockhart; Celeste, John Lenchan; Harp, Hugh Webb; Booth Reader, Tommy Laurence; Librarian, Dave Hage; Celli: Caroline Dale, Tim Gill, Vicky Matthews, Jan Burdge, Chris Worsey, Frank Schaefer, Tony Woollard; Double Bass: Chris Laurence, Stacey Watton, Steve Mair; Violins: Everson Nelson (lead violin), Ian Humphries, Steve Morristt, Roger Garland, Alison Dodstt, Dai Emannuel, Mark Berrowtt, Emil Chakalov, Debbie Widduptt, Philippa Ibbotson, Emlyn Singleton, Maciej Rakowski, Nicky Sweeney, Paul Willey, Natalia Bonner, John Bradbury, John Mills, Kathy Gowers, Cathy Thompson, Magnus Johnston, Patrick Kiernan, Simon Baggs, Rick Koster, Matt Ward, Morven Bryce, Kate Robinson, Daniel Bhattacharya, Dave Williams; Violas: Peter Lale, Bruce White, Andy Parker, Julia Knight, Cathy Bradshaw, Rachel Roberts, Kate Musker, Gillianne Haddow, Martin Humbey, Max Baillie, Ian Rathbone. NOTE: LOS ANGELES STUDIO MUSICIANS played on “Pick Yourself Up” and “Ballerina.” Woodwinds: Sal Lozano, Jeff Driskill, Dan Higgins, Phil O’Conner, Gene Cipriano, Rose Corrigan, John Mitchell; French horns: Steve Becknell, Brad Waarmar, Allen Fogle; Trumpets: Wayne Bergeron, Dan Fornero, Gary Grant; Trombones: Andy Martin, Bob McChesney, Ben Devitt; Tuba: Bill Reichenbach; Vibraphone: Emil Richards.

Gregory Porter, one of today’s premiere, male, jazz vocalists, has honored one of the world’s jazz icons on his latest project; the extraordinarily talented, Nat King Cole. Porter’s smooth as satin vocals caress twelve of Nat Cole’s very familiar hit songs, including “Mona Lisa,” “Smile,” “Nature Boy,” “L-o-v-e,” “Quizas, Quizas, Quizas,” and “The Christmas Song,” which features special guest, Terrance Blanchard. Porter is ably assisted by the lush, London Studio Orchestra, under the direction of Vince Mendoza. Although it’s nice to hear Porter’s vocals enriched by an orchestra, it does take away from the fluidity and improvisational qualities that Porter is capable of performing. Orchestration is often restrictive, although beautiful. That being said, on the composition, “L-O-V-E,” the production picks up the tempo and features special guest artist, Terence Blanchard. Until this song, everything on the album was a ballad. It is also a plus to hear Gregory Porter sing “Quizas, Quizas, Quizas” in Spanish. The dramatic introduction to “Miss Otis Regrets” soon became another sleepy-time ballad with orchestra strings that flutter like dove wings against a yawning sky. This orchestra arrangement is quite creative and dynamic with the pianist, Christian Sands (from Porter’s trio), unapologetically interjecting the blues on his grand piano. This particular arrangement of Cole Porter’s controversial composition really moved me. Porter is especially powerful vocally on “When Love Was King.” Another heart-felt performance was when Porter sang, “I Wonder Who My Daddy Is.” The listener breathes in the essence of this lyrical story from Porter’s convincing presentation.

All in all, this orchestrated Gregory Porter can be added to his list of amazing accomplishments. However, for this jazz journalist, I am anxiously awaiting Porter’s next album of original music and the freedom and spontaneity that comes with more open spaces and less charted instrumentation.

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Miles High Records

Erin McDougald, vocals; Rob Block, piano/guitars; Cliff Schmitt, bassist; Rodney Green, drums & cymbals; Chembo Corniel, percussion; Mark Sherman, vibraphone/percussion; Dan Block, also saxophone, flute & clarinet; David Liebman, tenor & soprano saxophones; Tom Harrell, trumpet.

This is the 4th studio recording for Erin McDougald. She had a birthday celebration on March 16th and gifted us with this release. The opening composition, “Don’t Be On the Outside” offers a cute lyric and Erin McDougald’s bright, second-soprano vocals adequately sells the song. She opens her album swinging, and I notice that even when she slows the tempo, she has a swinging lilt to her style and tone. It’s all about timing and McDougald has a handle on that.

On the old standard, “Begin the Beguine” the piano backing uses a very classical approach, note-by-note rather than solid chords, (like a slow arpeggio) that add an eerie, unusual arrangement where McDougald successfully balances her voice on top. She’s confident and talented enough to hold on to that melody, no matter what they throw at her. In Chicago and beyond, Erin McDougald is celebrated as an improvisational jazz singer and a progressive thinker. Although she’s consumed with nostalgia in her artistry, she attaches her vocals and music productions to a yoke of creative resistance and contemporary jazz. Like the above old standard song, she combines the vintage with a more contemporary mood. McDougald is not afraid to infuse jazz into various genres, using rhythm and arrangements to perpetuate her sometimes daring interpretations. Erin McDougald’s voice slides to the notes provocatively at times. At other moments, she uses her talented musicians to color outside the lines on songs like “Brother, Can You Spare A Dime.” They change a popular tune from the American Depression days to a Latin inspired arrangement. On the fade, they vamp into a tasty, Afro-Cuban ending. Trumpet master, Tom Harrell, plays beautifully on “The Man With the Horn.” McDougald becomes a horn herself, allowing her crystal, clear voice to effortlessly hold notes with precision and control. She often harmonizes with Harrell’s horn, blending flawlessly with his instrument. The time changes on “Midnight Sun” are surprising and pleasurable. Erin McDougald makes each song on this musical adventure her own! From her 5/4 arrangement of the 1950 Ballad titled, “Don’t Wait Up for Me” to “The Parting Glass,” a reimagined Irish funeral hymn that becomes a swing tune. On “Linger A While” where she scats her way into the very nostalgic “Avalon,” McDougald creates a unique medley of melancholy songs that, surprisingly, are played double time and with high energy. The musicians fly on this one! I wonder how Rob Block can make his fingers move so swiftly and precisely on his guitar? Any way you unwrap this belated birthday gift from McDougald to we, the listeners, it’s an appreciated and well-played surprise.

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John Proulx, vocals/piano; Chuck Berghofer, bass; Joe LaBarbera, drums; Larry Koonse, guitar; Bob Sheppard, tenor & soprano saxophones; Billy Hulting, auxiliary percussion; Alan Broadbent, string quartet arrangements; Gina Kronstadt, 1st violin/leader/contractor; Susan Chatman 2nd violin; Rodney Wurtz, viola; Stefanie Fife, cello; GUEST VOCALS: Melissa Manchester.

Pianist and vocalist, John Proulx, has always brought the very best of himself to every stage and opportunity. I have long admired his artistry. He’s developed into quite an excellent scat singer and I have watched that evolution. He has a feathery, light tone to his vocals, somewhat reminiscent of Michael Franks on tunes like “Scatsville.” When I look at the liner notes, I realize that song was composed by Michael Franks, another one of my favorite male, jazz, singer/ songwriters. The other artist John Proulx brings to mind is Chet Baker. He has that kind of timing and texture to his tone. On Michael Legrand, Marilyn and Alan Bergman’s composition, “The Summer Knows” John Proulx is complimented by a striking string section and Stefanie Fife’s cello blends beautifully with Proulx’s sensitive vocalization. Proulx has surrounded himself with some of our stellar West Coast musicians, like Larry Koonse on guitar, who offers a memorable solo on the title tune, “Say It.” On the Mose Allison blues tune, “I Don’t Worry About a Thing” the band gets a chance to stretch out, featuring Bob Sheppard on a smokin’ saxophone solo and Koonse once more injecting his guitar mastery into the tune. Proulx’s scat vocals sound like a horn and Joe LaBarbera is given an opportunity to be spotlighted on his drum kit. I wish Proulx would have taken a piano solo and pulled out his piano chops on this blues tune. It would have been the perfect vehicle for him to show the funky, rock-gut side of his piano personality. Because Proulx is a very fine pianist, I was expecting more instrumental songs on this album. I guess John has become a singer who plays piano instead of a pianist who sings, much the way Nat King Cole meta morphed into his singing career. In the liner notes, they mention that Proulx grew up listening to his guitarist grandfather’s record collection, with emphasis on Nat King Cole. So perhaps Cole was an influence early on in Proulx’s musical life. Proulx’s arrangements are sweet and surround his vocals with room and open spaces that allow his voice to shine. His duet with Melissa Manchester on their self-penned tune, “Stained Glass” is the only original included on this project. Their voices blend like bread and butter, tasty, natural and familiar. Proulx’s inclusion of the Strayhorn/Ellington tune, “Something To Live For” introduces us to Proulx’s perfect pitch on a tune that surprises us melodically with unexpected intervals and chordal twists and turns. It also gives us an opportunity to enjoy Proulx at the 88- keys and allows Chuck Berghofer to step forward on his double bass with a melodic solo. This entire album is both pleasurable and artistic, including songs from Joni Mitchell to Duke Ellington; from Alan Broadbent to Frank Loesser. Jazz Vocalist and producer, Judy Wexler, is to be congratulated on her production input. Each interpretation is well executed and rolls off my CD player like scented oil on glass; sweet, smooth, iridescent and difficult to wipe from your memory, in a very pleasant way.

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MaiSong Music & Entertainment

Shirley Crabbe, vocals; David “The Budman” Budway & Donald Vega, piano; Clovis Nicolas, bass; Ulysses Owens Jr. & Alvester Garnett, drums; Brandon Lee, trumpet; Chris Cardona, violin; Sean Carney, violin; Stephanie Cummins, cello.

I was taken aback from the very first phrase that this amazing woman sang. OMG. She sounds so much like Ella Fitzgerald that I was stunned. Her name is Shirley Crabbe. She has surrounded herself with a group of musicians who add jazzy authenticity to her stellar vocals. Opening with, “Isn’t This A Lovely Day,” accompanied by David “The Budman” Budway, who is a shining star on his piano solo. Ms. Crabbe makes me happy to listen to these old standards, because she brings such freshness and talent to each one. Surprisingly, Shirley Crabbe’s first dream was that of pursuing a career in opera. I say surprising, because I’ve heard many opera singers try to transition into jazz, with minimal success. Crabbe is the exception to that rule. However, fate played a part in bringing her beautiful voice to our jazz audience. A serious medical problem with her vocal cords changed Shirley Crabbe’s operatic plans. For quite a while, she never knew if she would sing again. Thankfully, doctors and surgery restored her voice. Lucky for us, during a long hiatus from performing, Shirley Crabbe began to fall in love with jazz. As I listen to her interpret challenging arrangements like “The Bridge” and “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was,” I realize this woman was destined to become a jazz vocalist. She swings so easy and her clarity, pitch and tone draw me into her music like a whirlpool. The arrangement on this familiar Rodgers and Hart tune is exciting and unique, with Donald Vega setting up the Latin groove beneath her silky, smooth vocals. Ulysses Owens Jr., is strong and rhythmic on drums, as the band moves from Latin to Swing in the wink of an eye. Brandon Lee adds his refreshing solo on trumpet. “The Windmills of your Mind” is arranged with an Afro-Cuban rhythm and Ms. Crabbe lets her voice float above the drums like a chant or a prayer. The timing on this song is challenging, based on Donald Vega’s rhythmic chops on the keyboard and Owens Jr. on drums, Shirley Crabbe is the conduit that brings it all together.

On this, her second released album, the concept of “Bridges” represents our connections with each other. There are bridges we cross, we burn, we build, both visible and invisible bridges that connect humanity in a most unique way. Shirley Crabbe is a musical bridge that each listener will find sturdy, beautiful, cement strong and comfortable to walk across. Her voice is a charming way to bring us all together.

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Strikezone Label

McClenty Hunter, Jr., drums; Eddie Henderson, trumpet; Donald Harrison, alto saxophone; Stacy Dillard, tenor & soprano saxophones; Eric Reed, piano; Christian Sands, piano/fender Rhodes; Dave Stryker, guitar; Corcoran Holt & Eric Wheeler, bass.

Sometimes I can just read the credits on a CD and know that I am in for a real treat. This was the case when I read who was on the newly released McClenty Hunter Junior production. When it comes to great jazz, these players deliver. It’s always interesting to hear the compositions of a drummer, because they are generally thinking rhythmically first. Hunter has composed four songs on this CD; “Autumn,” “My Love,” “I Remember When” and “Give Thanks.” On “Autumn,” the band establishes a lovely melody right up front, before allowing Eric Reed on piano and Corcoran Holt on bass to stretch out and improvise their way across the rhythm section. Stacy Dillard pumps the tune up with his tenor saxophone solo. Next, the ensemble tackles the Stevie Wonder tune, “That Girl” and they swing hard! Dave Stryker puts the funk and brilliance into the arrangement with his mad guitar solo. McClenty Hunter, Jr. is always underneath the ensemble, creating the energy and building the crescendos in the music with his masterful drum licks. Stryker has co-produced this recording with Hunter and they make a powerful team. Stacy Dillard is a lightning rod on Hunter’s tune “My Love”. I think I expected it to be a ballad. Wrong! It crashes on the scene with exponential power from Hunter. He slaps the musicians into comfortable submission on his original composition. Their laid-back arrangement on “Sack Full of Dreams” is lovely, giving Christian Sands, on piano, a chance to exploit his chops along with Dave Stryker back on guitar.

McClenty Hunter, Jr., has been a busy part of the New York music scene for the last decade. While studying at Howard University, he came under the tutelage of great drummer, Grady Tate. Hunter earned his master degree at Juilliard and studied there with Carl Allen. He’s added his solid drum mastery to a host of great players including three years playing with Kenny Garrett’s quintet.

He’s also performed with Lou Donaldson, Curtis Fuller, Javon Jackson and eight years with Dave Stryker’s trio. Hunter’s roots are in gospel music. He began his career in Maryland, playing with the gospel group, Darin Atwater of Soulful Symphony. Fondly referred to as “Mac, the Groove Hunter,” this premier compact disc clearly establishes that McClenty Hunter, Jr., can play it all, from funky shuffles to Straight-ahead madness. On his original composition, “Give Thanks,” he closes out this album employing mallets with an arrangement that brings a sense of prayer and introspection to the piece. It’s a nice way to end a very powerful new beginning for this talented drum master.

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Independent label

Meg Okura, violin/composer; Tom Harrell, trumpet/flugelhorn; Anne Drummond, flute/alto flute/piccolo; Sam Newsome, soprano saxophone; Sam Sadigursky, bass clarinet/clarinet; Rez Abbas, guitar; Brian Marsella, piano/electric piano; Riza Printup, harp; Jared Schonig, drums.

I learned from the liner notes that four years ago, Meg Okura converted to Judaism. This is important in describing the title of this album, because the word “Ima” in Japanese means ‘now’ and in Hebrew, it means ‘mom’. Composer/violinist, Okura, celebrates her grandmother and four generations of women with this musical expression. These seven original compositions celebrate her Japanese grandmother, her mother, Meg herself, and her seven-year-old Jewish daughter. Meg Okura sees this album as an exploration of her culture melding with her newly embraced Jewish faith and blending the music of East and West. It is highly classically influenced and orchestrated until “A Night Insomnia” invites ‘funk’ to the spotlight and Brain Marsella adds a bluesy piano to the mix. Up pops Smooth Jazz, with a lushly orchestrated arrangement in support of Meg Okura’s violin excellence.

Okura is no newcomer to music. She toured with the Michael Brecker Quindectet and with Emilio Solta y la Inestable de Brooklyn. Her recording with the latter was nominated for a Grammy. She received the New Music USA Project Grant and American Composer’s Forum’s J-Fund. For some time, she has wanted to assemble a multi-cultural, large chamber jazz ensemble that combines the exotic rhythms and haunting melodies of Asia and the Middle East with the excitement of the African-American jazz of North America. On this project, one of Okura’s dreams is becoming apparent. Utilizing a multi-cultural group of musicians, Okura’s music is all mixed together in a stew of European classical tradition. Meg Okura’s compositions are lush with culture, class, and creativity. Her mastery of the violin is evident and acts as the ribbon that gift-wraps this entire project.

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April 1, 2018


By Dee Dee McNeil/Jazz Journalist

March 31, 2018

GMR Records

Charlie Ballantine,guitar;Jesse Wittman,upright bass; Chris Parker,drums;Amanda Gardier,alto saxophone;Rob Dixon,tenor saxophone; Shawn McGowan,organ; Brandon Whyde, acoustic guitar/vocals; Mia Keohane,vocals/Wurlitzer.

This is a tribute album to the music and legacy of Bob Dylan by guitarist, Charlie Ballantine. The difficulty here is that Bob Dylan’s lyrics are as important as his melodies. Being a Folk Singer/ songwriter, Dylan’s messages are fifty percent of the importance of every one of his songs and his melodies are not as intricate or unique as his prose. Folk song melodies generally lend themselves towards simplicity and dance atop rhythmical chords. So, this project is challenged right off the bat, because it is all instrumental; no vocals. “Times They Are-a-Changin’” opens Ballantine’s CD and this melody is more involved than, for instance, “The Death of Emmett Till” that follows as cut #2. Once Dylan sets his melody up, it repeats for every verse of prose. There is rarely a bridge. Now Ballantine is left with an eight or sixteen bar verse of music that repeats over and over again. The way he handles this is to use a lot of echo and overlap techniques on his guitar to compensate. His style is simplistic and the CD mix does not allow for the creativity of drummer, Chris Parker, to be clearly heard, nor Jesse Whitman on double bass to lend rhythm solidity and contrast. On the Emmett Till selection, you get an opportunity to enjoy Whitman’s mastery of the bass during his solo. I enjoyed the Brandon Whyde gravelly vocals on the “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright” selection. I enjoyed Whyde’s style and vocal timbre.

In terms of jazz, without improvisation, you cannot truly call yourself a jazz artist. This is a fitting instrumental tribute to the melodies of Bob Dylan, and represent adult listening, easy listening and pop music. However, there is nothing that determines this artists’ individuality or style that represents jazz. He and his group are simply playing iconic music without putting a stamp of their own creatively on the music they play. They never stretch out.

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Rochlockmusic Label

Roch Lockyer, guitar/vocals; Ben Powell, violin; Rob Hardt, clarinet; Ed Bennett, bass.

The technique and precision that Roch Lockyer employs to play his guitar is extraordinary. Especially since he was involved in a terrible accident and after two reconstructive surgeries on his arm, for a couple of years he was uncertain about his musical career. His musicianship proves that he has healed and it immediately captures my attention. His singing, I found secondary to his instrument mastery and although he appears to be a young musician on his press photos, his voice sounds much older and wiser than his years. His vocal style reminds me of the strolling cowboys in the movies of yester-year or the voices of popular singers in the 1920s. There’s something historically warm and honest about this artist’s vocals that recalls images of an old grandpa sitting on his front porch and playing guitar, singing alone to himself. On the other hand, Lockyer’s inspired guitar playing definitely conjures up the spirit of Django. This album is a departure from Lockyer’s former recordings that are geared more towards modern jazz and bebop roots. This project is geared to celebrate the music of Frank Sinatra and the style and genius of Django Reinhardt. There is no doubt that Lockyer absolutely represents the style and grandeur guitar technique referred to as “Le Pompe” during this production. Ben Powell’s violin is exquisitely played on “Embraceable You.” Lockyer’s band is supportive and tasty. However, the delicious cake is Roch Lockyer’s sweet guitar mastery that he serves up with no apologies.

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Independent Label

Vinny Raniolo, guitar; Elias Bailey, bass.

Vinny Raniolo opens with a swinging rendition of “Come Fly With Me.” This guitarist is very rhythmical in his approach, using tight technique to set the tempo and the groove. He and Elias Bailey are off and flying high. This “Air Guitar” album celebrates flying and the open space. Every tune Raniolo & Bailey have chosen has a reference to flight; the sky, the sun, moon and the freedom that comes with flying.

“Blue Skies” settles down to a back-porch blues with a slow walking bass by Elias Bailey at first, but without a warning, Vinny Raniolo swings this tune into an up-tempo production. These two musicians oscillate with their string instruments and need no drums. They merge into a succinct blend, displaying impeccable timing and each astute and passionate on their instrument. John Denver’s composition, “Leaving on a Jet Plane,” is tackled like the other songs, always establishing the melody first and then exploring the chord changes with improvisational creativity, sometimes simple, but always with stalwart musicianship. Bailey is given several bars of solo time on this familiar Denver tune and plucks his way across the big bass strings, bridging the guitar chords like a tightrope walker. Their interpretation of Charmichael’s “Stardust” tune is absolutely lovely as it strolls, moderate tempo, across my listening space. As a touring musician, performer and educator, guitarist Vinny Raniolo takes flight with this premier CD release that celebrates his love of music and flying.

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Independent Label

Noshir Mody, guitar/composer/arranger; Mike Mullan, alto/tenor saxophone; Benjamin Hankle, trumpet/flugelhorn; Campbell Charshee, piano; John Lenis, bass; Yutaka Uchida, drums.

Noshir Mody’s music has a feeling of New Age wrapped like a blanket around his productions. The first tune on this CD is titled “Secrets In the Wood and Stone.” It opens mysteriously, with bassist John Lenis leading the way. Delicately, the guitar begins to play arpeggio chords across the bass lines. This tune strokes my attention and Mike Mullan adds a very complimentary jazz solo on saxophone. As a fifteen- minute-long composition, it still manages to capture my imagination, without becoming boring or redundant. It allows each musician in Mody’s ensemble to introduce themselves via lengthy solos. The second tune, with rhythm guitar strumming brightly, sets the tempo that quickly branches off into an electronic guitar solo. At first, the guitar seems more improvisational than as an establishing factor that marries itself to a composed melody. However, the melody does arrive, after an extended introduction, and Benjamin Hanide adds beauty to the tune on his trumpet. Noshir Mody has composed and arranged all the tunes on this album. It’s odd, but at times, his style of guitar playing reminds me of a harpist. “Precipice of Courage” explores a more Avant Garde approach to the arrangement, especially from pianist, Campbell Charshee. Perhaps Mody explains his compositions and inspiration for this production best in liner notes that read:

“Regardless of how generations have carved out boundaries, delineating our physical, social and spiritual belief systems, the human experience continues to be a universal one. The development of the human spirit is not in the comforts, conquests, luxuries and acquisitions of our external surroundings, but rather in the conflict of our aspirational selves with our base instincts. These deeply individual and personal conquests then in turn facilitate the collective consciousness moving towards a higher purpose.”

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Blue Forest Records

Chris Brubeck, electric bass/bass trombone; Dan Brubeck, drums/hand drums/percussion; Mike DeMicco, guitar; Chuck Lamb, piano.

Percussive creativity opens the familiar “Blue Rondo A La Turk” tune of Dave Brubeck, father of Chris and Dan Brubeck. These bothers are carrying forward the legacy of their iconic forefather with the assistance of Mike DeMicco on guitar and Chuck Lamb on piano. This is a spirited and more contemporary arrangement of Dave Brubeck’s tune and it’s full of spunk and spirit. Dan Brubeck is the force behind the drums, playing the doumbek, a Middle East type of drum popular in North Africa and East Asia. Chris Brubeck is competent on electric bass and bass trombone. DeMicco’s solo on this first tune establishes his musicality and technical abilities on guitar. Brothers, Chris and Dan worked in Dave’s band for many years, polishing their chops and expanding their musical horizons. Dan’s drumming, while power-punched, is still very melodic. I hear him sing along with melodic lines and it’s extremely impressive. Chris is a fine musician on both bass and trombone, and also leans more towards production and composition. He is exploratory when it comes to writing music, with his interest jumping from symphonic scores to jazz, or from blues, funk and soul to rock and roll. Thus, their unique and often innovative arrangements of their dad’s compositions obviously have repainted the treasured songs with fiery, fresh faces. For example, “Far More Blue” is steeped in funk and drives at a rapid tempo, sparking Dan to excel on his drum solo. He drives the band full-force, like a freight train. “Easy As You Go” features Chris Brubeck on bass trombone. It’s a beautiful ballad and the voice of Chris’s trombone sounds almost human. The Brubeck sibling plays with a great deal of passion and sincerity. I also enjoyed chuck Lamb’s sensitive piano solo on this tune.

This “1958 Timeline” CD celebrates the 60th anniversary of Dave Brubeck’s Historic State Department Tour. In 1958 the United States was deep in the trenches of a cold war with the Soviet Union. The State Department chose jazz music as a secret weapon, sending goodwill and positivity in the form of Brubeck’s 80-concert tour across fourteen countries. The tour was meant to promote and popularize democracy, using Brubeck’s band as an artistic vehicle to build bridges between our country and Russia, among others. Chris Brubeck remembers that tour this way.

“As Dave and Iola Brubeck headed to the airport for a marathon 3-month tour through fourteen countries, Dan, our sister Cathy and I were small children (ages 2,4 and 5). Too young to make the trip. We said our sad goodbyes to our parents. Joining them were our honorary ‘Uncles’, Paul Desmond, Joe Morello, and the newest member of the Dave Brubeck Quartet, Eugene Wright,”said Chris Brubeck.

(NOTE: Eugene Wright is a man this writer fondly knows as ‘The Senator.’)

In this time of stress and political incorrectness between the United States and Russia, the Brubeck brother’s musical celebration seems particularly relevant and inspirational. This is no pastiche. Every tune on this project is exquisitely recorded and musically wonderful with a freshness and energy that compliments their father’s legacy yet expands it. I enjoyed the arrangements and excitement that these four musicians brought to the recording studio. On “Since Love Had its Way,” guitarist Mike DeMicco offers a sparkling solo tribute and Chris Brubeck is fluid, playing his 1969 Rickenbacker fretless bass, while humming along during his inspired solo. Lovely! Chuck Lamb has contributed a few original compositions, as has Chris Brubeck and guitar master, Mike DeMicco. I enjoyed his “North Coast” composition with its Straight-ahead feel and catchy melody.

On this celebratory CD you will discover challenging time signatures, tastes of the blues and touches of world music, refreshing arrangements of familiar Brubeck tunes and the spontaneity that comes when the band is well-rehearsed and unafraid to jump off the roof without a parachute. Bravo to the Brubeck brothers, their amazing team of musicians, and the admirable resurgence of their father’s legacy.

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Fata Morgana Music

Lello Molinari, electric bass/double bass; Sal Difusco, elec. & acoustic Guitars; Marcello Pelliteri,drums; Dino Govoni,flute, tenor & soprano saxophone/EWI/clarinet; Meena Murthy,violin/cello.

Celebrated bassist, Lello Molinari, has once again returned to his Italian roots on his new CD titled “Lello’s Italian Job – Volume 2”. Molinari left his native Naples, Italy in 1986 to study jazz at Boston’s famed Berklee College of Music. This resulted in him becoming an educator at that same institution of learning. He’s also spent three decades touring as a bandleader with his quintet, in both the United States and Europe. Molinari is a master of both electric and upright, acoustic bass. In the year 2000, he recorded an album titled “Multiple Personalities” that blended three Italian tunes into an album that also included Thelonious Monk Classic compositions and other jazz tunes. He featured renowned Italian vocalist Chiara Civello on this production and saxophone icon, George Garzone. In 2016, he released “Lello’s Italian Job, Vol 1 and included traditional Italian folk songs, classical arias, and pop songs, all arranged in a very jazzy way. This year, his 2018 release continues that trend, offering a second collection of Italian music, transposed into jazz by an ensemble of master musicians who share his Italian heritage. The songs vary from a Respighi tone poem to popular Neapolitan songs, sung for generations. He also has included some original music for this C D.

Guitarist, Sal DiFusco, has composed “Sulla Strada Per Damasco,” a song rich with melody, that moves from what sounds like a Flamingo guitar introduction into a very Straight-ahead groove, allowing Dino Govoni to improvise and soar on his tenor saxophone. Quite unexpectedly, Lello Molinari pumps a double-time feel beneath what, at first, appears to be a ballad. Molinari and Pelliteri, on drums, lock and race the tempo to elevate this composition with a flurry of energy. A familiar song that has been performed in various languages all over the planet, from Perry Como to Andrea Boccelli, is “Anema e Core.” Molinari has chosen to arrange this Italian standard as a duet for bass and guitar. It’s quite moving and gives Molinari a platform to unleash his technique and artistry on his bass instrument.

“I had a desire to reconnect with my roots,” Molinari says. “I also wanted to incorporate these new things that I’ve learned over the years here in the States; take old material and give it a fresh face. … I play with a number of orchestras, so, I’ve reconnected with classical music and opera. Others are Italian Folk songs I grew up hearing, that I’ve known since I was a kid.”

Lello Molinari studied contrabass at the Scuola Civica in Sesto San Giovanni. In Italy. The talented bassist joined the Italian Vocal Ensemble, performing on radio and television and appearing with the group on jazz festivals before relocating to America.

“I guess, as I get more mature, I don’t need to play ‘punk jazz’ any more. … I can enjoy a simple structure, a simple melody. On Lello’s Italian Job Vol. 2, I am reinterpreting old material from a new, contemporary jazz point of view.”

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March 12, 2018

By Dee Dee McNeil/Jazz Journalist

March 12, 2018

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

Capri Records, Ltd.

Mike Jones, piano; Penn Jillette, bass.

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

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Zoho Records

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Toy Car Label

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Endectomorph Music (EMM) Label

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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M&M Records

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

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

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

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Playing Records

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Independent label

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

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

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

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

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

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March 4, 2018


By Dee Dee McNeil / Jazz Journalist

March 4, 2018

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


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

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Relsha Music

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

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

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

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

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Planet Arts

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

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

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

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

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

Mission accomplished Diane Moser!

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Bill Meyer Music

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

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

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

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

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

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Binxtown Records

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

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

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

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Woolgathering Records

Rob Clearfield, piano

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

Rob Clearfield’s liner notes read, in part:

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

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

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Unit Records

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Origin Records

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

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

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

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February 28, 2018


By jazz journalist, Dee Dee McNeil

February 28, 2018

Tall Man Productions

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

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

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

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CGN Records

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

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

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

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Vega Label

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

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

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Outside In Music

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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4th Stream Records

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

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

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

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February 17, 2018

BY Dee Dee McNeil/jazz journalist

February 17,2018

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

Independent Label

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

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

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

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

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Zoho Records

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

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

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

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

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ArtistShare Records

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

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

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

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

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

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Café Pacific Records

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Clavo Records

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

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

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

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

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