HOLIDAY MUSIC & NEW CD RELEASES FOR 2017

November 22, 2016

HOLIDAY MUSIC AND NEW CD RELEASES FOR 2017
By Jazz Journalist Dee Dee McNeil

November 21, 2016

JEFF COLLINS – THE KEYS TO CHRISTMAS
Crossroads Records

Jeff Collins, piano/keyboards; Tony Creasman, drums/percussion; David Johnson, elec. & acoustic guitars; Jeremy Medkiff, elec. & acoustic guitars; Jason Web, Hammond B3 organ; Roger Fortner & Tim Surrett, Upright bass; Sam Levine, saxophone; David Davidson, violin’; Steve Patrick, flugelhorn & trumpet; Cody McVey, orchestra arrangements. ORCHESTRA: David Davidson, concertmaster; Conni Ellisor, David Angell, Karen Winkelmann, Alicia Enstrom, Janet Darnall, Katelyn Westergard/violins; Jim Grisjean, Elizabeth Lamb/violas; Julie Tanner, Nick Gold, Sari Reist/celli; Craig E. Nelson, double bass; Sam Levine, flute/piccolo/clarinet; Somerlie Depasquale, oboe/English horn; Phyliss Sparks, harp; Steve Patrick, flugelhorn/trumpet/concertmaster; Mike Haynes & Jeff Bailey, trumpets/flugelhorns; Ernie Collins, Chris McDonald, Prentiss Hobbs, trombones; Gilbert Long, tuba; Jennifer Kummer, Beth Beeson, Leslie Norton, French Horns; Mark Douthit, Sam Levine, Jimmy Bowland, saxophones; Sam Bacco, percussion; Cody McVey & Kris Crunk, Programming.

Jeff Collins, pianist/keyboardist/producer and co-owner of Crossroads Marketing and Entertainment has put together a well-produced Christmas album including several favorite holiday songs and adding an orchestral arrangement. This is his second release of Christmas music; not because he’s a touring musician, but simply out of love for the holiday season. The core group of this recording include Collins on piano and keyboards; Tony Creasman on drums and percussion; David Johnson and Jeremy Medkiff on both electric and acoustic guitars; Jason Webb on Hammond B3 organ, with Tim Surrett and Roger Fortner on basses. Then, along comes Cody McVey to add orchestra arrangements. Here is the perfect holiday recording to pour a cup of eggnog or hot cider and snuggle up in front of a brightly lit Christmas tree or a roaring fireplace. The carefully picked tunes will set the mood and the talented musicians will offer you an in-house concert you will thoroughly enjoy.

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THE SWISS YOUTH JAZZ ORCHESTRA – LIVE AT JAZZAAR FESTIVAL 2016 – “HEAVEN HELP US ALL”
Shanti Records

Directed by Fritz K. Renold with SPECIAL GUESTS: Billy Cobham, drums; Oli Rockberger, vocals/keyboard; Neil Jason, bass ; Frank Greene, trumpet ;Tony Lakatos, tenor saxophone; Marques Young, trombone; THE YOUTH ORCHESTRA is comprised of: Mary Rassohovatskaya, keyboards; Claude Stucki, guitar; Roberto Carella, drums; Rit Xu, flute; Sara El Hachimi, alto saxophone; Felix Peringer, tenor saxophone/ewi; Mia Stauffacher, baritone saxophone; Gergo Szax, trumpet; Dmitry Zinakov, trumpet; Florian Weiss, trombone; Sebastian Wey, trombone; Sharon Renold, vocal/bass.

It’s wonderful to see how jazz has touched the lives of people all around the world. Here is a perfect example of how this amazing music continues to inspire people of all ages and nations. Track one is an overture written by George Duke and performed flawlessly by the Swiss Youth Jazz Orchestra, comprised of young players between the ages of sixteen and twenty-six years old. The orchestra consists of not only Switzerland youth but four Russians, a Hungarian and a Singaporean. Also in the mix are seasoned jazz veterans like Billy Cobham who makes a guest appearance along with UK born singer/songwriter/ keyboardist, Oli Rockberger.

This delightful recording introduces us to a fresh voice by the name of Sharon Renold, who happens to be the daughter of the producer and musical director of this orchestra. She caught my attention immediately when she covered Randy Crawford’s hit record, “Street Life” singing it impressively well. She has a unique vocal style that is completely recognizable once heard. This can make a strong impression on the public and immediately categorizes her as a jazz/blues stylist. I have to add blues as a description, because this young woman exhibits rich, blues overtones and both a soulful and emotional approach to her singing. At the time of this recording she was only eighteen years old. I expect the world will be hearing great things from this young talent. Her mother, Helen Savari-Renold is the CEO of Jazzaar Festival where this was recorded “Live” in Switzerland. Mom graduated from Berklee College of Music in Boston in 1988, with a degree in Jazz Composition and Arrangement. She ventured into music education in Switzerland. A surprising choice of relocations, since she’s originally from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Married to the producer and Musical Director of the Jazzaar Festival, they instituted the “Bandstand Learning with Role Models” program, now twenty-two years in operation in the city of Aarau.

The orchestra’s delivery on the Billy Cobham composition, “Red Baron” was exceptionally good with a strong funk drum pushing the soloists to spit out their best improvisations featuring Dmitry Zinakov on trumpet, Marques Young on trombone and Oli Rockberger on keyboard. I love the arrangement by Tim Akers. This tune really ‘swings’! The guest artists, all professional musicians, tutored twelve young talents and the results is this incredibly well-done recording. It was recorded “Live” at the annual Jazzaar Festival before an expressive and appreciative audience. You can hear it in their applause. “Crosswind” is another Cobham composition, this time arranged by Fritz K. Renold and well-played with energy and excitement. Mr. Renold has composed a couple of tunes on this project, including “Blues for George” that gives student pianist, Mary Rassohovatskaya an opportunity to shine with splendid technique and verve. I also enjoyed the flute spontaneity by Rit Xu and the spirited trumpet solo by Dmitry Zinakov.
There is not one bad tune on this entire artistic production. The title of their CD is taken from a song that my friend, Ron Miller, wrote during his tenure at Motown Records titled, “Heaven Help Us All.” Ron was a super talented composer (R.I.P) and I’m sure he would be very pleased with The Swiss Youth Jazz Orchestra’s arrangement and interpretation of his composition. I know I was!

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MISHA – “DREAMING WITH EYES WIDE AWAKE
Independent label

Misha, vocals/arranger/composer; Hendrik Meurkens, harmonica/vibraphone; Glauco Lima, piano; Michat Jaros, bass; Samuel Maretinelle, drums.

Misha Steinhauer’s melodies are lovely and Hendrik Meurkens supports those melodies on harmonica, enhancing this recording tremendously. Misha is a singer/songwriter with a knack for singing non-rhyming prose in a very melodic way. Her accompanying musicians have tastefully put together just enough of a track to let her voice float atop their backdrop. When the vocals stop, and the band is allowed to stretch out and improvise, I am intrigued and entertained by their talented playing. Meurkens moves from harmonica to vibraphone with ease and proficiency. Glauco Lima is innovative and creative on piano. Bassist, Michaet Jaros, locks the time and groove down with the astute help of time-keeper Samuel Martinelle on drums. It is this quartet that makes Misha’s recording interesting and turns her folksy songs into jazz compositions. On “Family Games,” after singing her no-rhyme story, Misha creatively scats her way through a couple of choruses. I recognize, with appreciation, that she is a fine composer musically. Her lyrics however, although rich with stories, do not necessarily lend themselves to be remembered right away. On most, there’s no hook or prominent, catchy, repeatable line. But the chord changes become a lush trampoline for the musicians to jump and play upon. Sometimes I feel Misha is influenced by the great Joni Mitchell, with her unusual melody lines and soaring intervals. Finally, when the title tune begins to play, I hear a “hook” clearly for the first time. It’s a ¾ waltz tempo’d-tune that’s ear-catching and the title is artsy; “Dreaming with Eyes Wide Awake.”
German-born Steinhauer has been based in NYC since 2014. She has studied and gigged throughout Europe, based in Moscow for a decade. I applaud Misha’s freedom and ambition. Here is a recording of all original songs by the artist, who proffers strong melodies and interesting chord changes. While listening, because of her range and pitch, I found her voice to be more like an instrument than a storyteller. But I kept thinking, I would have better enjoyed her work played instrumentally.
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THE SUGAR HILL TRIO – THE DRIVE
Goschart Music

Helge Christian Torkewitz, tenor sax & flute; Austin Walker, drums; Leon Boykins, double Bass on 1,2,3,4,5,6 & 11; Dylan Shamat, double bass on cuts 7,8,9 & 10.
A roll of Austin Walker’s Drums open the first cut on this CD in a spectacular way and then Helge Christian Torkewitz comes marching in on tenor saxophone, to leave his imprint on our ears. Leon Boykins pulls the strings of his double bass at a maddening pace and keeps the tension beneath the saxophone during Torkewitz’s several-bar solo. When it’s Boykin’s turn to become the soloist, the bass man doesn’t disappoint. Titled “The Drive”, this CD keeps the energy bursting from the premiere composition by Gigi Gryce, (“Minority”) to the last cut, “Theme for Basie.” There’s no guitar or piano to root the music, so the concept is very open and innovative. This trio obviously embraces modern jazz and avant garde concepts, while picking classic jazz tunes to rediscover and explore. Songs like Coltranes’ “Spiral” takes flight in creative ways, embracing the Afro-Cuban rhythm culture, mixed with a straight-ahead feel on saxophone and with Boykins always holding things firmly in place on double bass.

Torkewitz has thrown in a couple of original compositions. One is “Sunbeams,” where he pulls out his flute to offer a delightful change of musical pace and a more melodic approach, rather than the expected avant garde. Other favorite cuts are “The Night Has a Thousand Eyes”, Oliver Nelson’s, “The Drive” (which is the title tune) and “Theme for Basie” composed by Phineas Newborn Jr. These musicians fit well together, like a familiar key sliding into a front door lock. Their music feels comfortable, like home. Release date is January 6, 2017.
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YELENA ECKEMOFF QUINTET – BLOOMING TALL PHLOX
L & M Productoins

Yelena Eckemoff, piano/composer; Verneri Pohjola, trumpet/flugelhorn; Panu Savolainen, vibraphone; Antti Lotjonen, double bass; Olavi Louhivuori, drums/percussion.

As the very first tune plays on this exotic production, the music recalls ice chips and cracking icicles. At least, that’s what the music conjures up in my imagination. There is something cold, crisp and white as winter about this composition called, “Blooming Tall Phlox.”. But as the piano solo deepens, so does the season. Suddenly I see butterflies in the music, pollinating new growth and suckling budding flowers. It is Spring and the sun streams in rays of vibraphone music. On cut #2, “Apples laid out on the floor”, bassist Antti Lotojonen takes a solo that has me picturing green plants pushing their heads through brown earth, soaking up yellow sunshine and growing tiny leaves right before my eyes. This is the kind of album that taps into creative imagery with its free form movement and modern jazz approach to Eckemoff’s memories of her childhood in Russia. Over the course of six years, producing ten albums along the way, Eckemoff seems to be expanding her visions and artistry on this recording. It’s CD number eleven and features her concept of composing music that celebrates summer smells and winter smells. Intriguing! “Old Fashioned Bread Store” has blues under-tones and Olavi Louhivuori’s drums add a delicious, unpredictable flavor beneath the various tempos. He enhances the surprises that Eckemoff has in store for her listeners. She manages to blend classical technique and the sweet sounds of jazz like an expert baker. Eckemoff explains it best in her liner notes:

“I had the idea of writing music about smell for some time before I met with drummer Otavi Louhivuon in Finland. The idea came into focus when I saw how much Finland reminded me of Russia. It became obvious to me that it would be the best place to record an album about various aromas. I brought fifteen songs to the session, already named and designed to express certain smells. Writing the poetry came later, even though I nurtured my ideas along with the music. Then I had to select a title for the album. … It became clear that there is one smell that triggers my childhood memories; the smell of the phlox. So I decided to paint a picture of myself in my grandparent’s garden, sniffing the phlox, based on a black and white photograph from that time.”

The resulting, beautiful hand-painted CD cover is a testament to Eckemoff’s vast creativity and exceptional artistic talents. It’s a 2-CD set and I found the “Winter Smells” side to be my favorite, with a beautiful combination of seven classical and jazz soaked songs reminiscent of Miles Davis’ “Sketches In Spain” era. Verneri Pohjola adds lovely dynamics and mood to this audio treasure on trumpet and flugelhorn. Panu Savolainen’s stunning addition of xylophone throughout creates a textured or layered effects in the music, much like the painting on the cover; colorful and artistic. Ekemoff’s CD will be available January 20, 2017.
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MADS TOLLING & THE MAD MEN – “PLAYING THE 60s”
Madman Records

Mads Tolling, violin/viola/baritone violin; Colin Hogan, piano/Hammond B-3 organ/Fender Rhodes & accordion; Sam Bevan & Dan Feiszli, bass; Eric Garland, drums; Ricardo Peixoto, guitar; Joe Hebert & Susanna Porte, cello; SPECIAL GUESTS: Stanley Clarke, bass on track 15; Kenny Washington, Spencer Day & Kalil Wilson, vocals.

Here is a brand new and beautiful piece of audio art that entertained me from the first cut to the last. There are too few violinist who play jazz and play it well. Mads Tolling is one person who has mastered his instrument and can ‘swing’ with the best of them, starting with the first cut, “A Taste of Honey”. A strong, jazzy piano bass line establishes the groove and sets the tempo. Then the violin struts in like a self-assured rooster. Tolling takes control and leads the band with spirited technique and confidence. Colin Hogan offers an attention-getting solo on piano, utilizing the full dimension of the grand piano with fingers racing up and down the 88 keys. Sam Bevon, solid throughout on bass, becomes the sole buffer for Eric Garland on drums to express himself. This tune establishes the excellence of musicianship that Tolling’s album reflects continuously. “Meet the Flintstones” is played at an incredible speed, with Tolling racing like a shooting star across the strings of his instrument, in perfect control. Hogan once again shines brightly during his piano solo.

“Georgia” is performed with poignant emotion and very sweetly. Tolling has enormous talent and I was eager to hear their arrangement on “My Girl”, a popular Motown tune that originally featured the Temptations. On this cut, the strong vocals of Kalil Wilson add interest and contemporary flavor to a song that is creatively arranged in a very jazzy way. You wouldn’t be able to tell it’s the R&B hit record from the interesting introduction that is also repetitiously played throughout the first part of each verse. It’s very catchy, with classical undertones provided by Tollings string arrangement. “The Pink Panther” featured a spirited solo by bassist, Sam Bevan, who sang along with his improvisational solo. “Look of Love” is sexy and features Spencer Day on vocals. All fifteen songs on this album are well-produced, delightfully performed and completely entertaining. Every musician on this project is excellent and Tolling must be congratulated on his playing and production skills.

No wonder I listened to this CD seven times in a row. I just couldn’t get enough. Once I opened the accompanying press package I read that Mads Tolling is a two-time Grammy Award-winning violinist from Denmark and it all made sense. The concept of his project is based on Tolling’s love of the early 1960s and the AMC award-winning television series, “Mad Men.” You will find these compositions reflect television themes like “Meet the Flintstones”, “Hawaii 5-0”, “Mission Impossible” and films like “The Pink Panther” or “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly”. His CD title reflects this concept. Tolling brings new life to old songs, but (in my book) he could make nursery rhymes sound like exquisite jazz pieces on his violin and with this group of talented musicians. Release date is January 20, 2017. A must listen!

WHEN JAZZ HAD THE BLUES

November 21, 2016

http://www.plays411.com
WHEN JAZZ HAD THE BLUES
A “Live Production” Review by jazz journalist Dee Dee McNeil – Nov. 19, 2016

A musical play has opened in West Hollywood depicting the very private and personal life of Billy Strayhorn, directed by John Henry Davis. Billed as a “New Musical World Premiere” and written by Carole Eglash-Kosoff, I attended their opening weekend on Saturday, November 19, 2016. The producer, Leigh Fortier, has already garnered over 20 LA Weekly Awards for prior productions, so I anticipated an entertaining evening. “When Jazz Had the Blues” stars Frank Lawson as Billy Strayhorn, Michole Briana White as Lena Horne, Gilbert Glenn Brown as Strayhorn’s lover, (Aaron Bridgers), Boise Holmes as Duke Ellington and Katherine Washington as Trixie, the married Ellington’s mistress. Pianist, Rahn Coleman is the Musical Director and has put together a tight six-piece jazz ensemble featuring himself, Quentin Dennard on drums, Michael Saucier on bass, Stephan Terry on Keyboard II, Rickey Woodard on alto saxophone and Eric Butler on trumpet. They are somehow squeezed onto a tiny raised stage to the left of the 99-seat Matrix Theater on Melrose Avenue. Happily, the small quarters do not obstruct their big, beautiful, jazzy sound. The night I attended Ricky Woodard was missing and a sub was present.

The first scene features actor Boise Holmes playing a dual role as Strayhorn’s father, camouflaged in a long trench coat and floppy hat, trying to beat the ‘sweetness’ out of his son. Later, Mr. Holmes transforms himself into the very believable character of Duke Ellington. For those who are not familiar with Billy Strayhorn’s biography and legacy, many of his legendary compositions were stolen by Ellington, who often took credit or shared credit for tunes he did not pen, including “Take the A-Train.” The play shows how this transpired and how Strayhorn was bilked out of thousands of dollars; royalty money he rightfully should have received. Michole Briana White, plays a convincing part of a love-smitten Lena Horne who has fallen deeply for Billy Strayhorn. Strayhorn unfortunately thinks of Lena more as a sister and has no interest in the opposite sex. Ms. White has a forceful and dynamic singing style and brought the house down with her renditions of “When the Sun Comes Out” and “Lady Is a Tramp.” Below is an original composition by this singer/thespian to give you a taste of her voice.

Frank Lawson is believable as the character of Strayhorn with his horn-rimmed glasses and meek personality. However, there is nothing meek or frail about his voice. He sang a beautiful rendition of “Sentimental Mood” where his voice soared and was plush with emotion. He also was quite convincing as a pianist, although it was Musical Director Rahn Coleman that was actually playing the 88 keys behind the scenes.

https://www.youtube.com/user/lovelawsonsoul

Gilbert Glenn Brown, who plays Strayhorn’s love interest, also offered a powerful voice and performance. I enjoyed his rich, baritone rendition of “Do Nothing ‘Til You Hear From Me.” I would be remiss if I did not mention Michael Covert, who did an outstanding job of singing “My Romance”, although hidden behind a screen where only his profile along with a shadow dancer were shown. They were a back drop during an intimate conversation with Lena and Billy Strayhorn, but his vocals propelled that scene; smooth and memorable. I would like to have seen the songs listed in the program and the names of those actors performing these memorable jazz compositions.

This play deals with three complex relationships that Billy Strayhorn had with Duke Ellington, Lena Horne and Aaron Bridgers. Strayhorn is plagued with unrequited love, alcoholism and frustrated by the business of music. This production shows a side of America’s great, jazz genius that many may find sadly surprising.

Unfortunately, I thought the second scene of the play dragged a bit and I found some of the ensemble scenes unnecessary. On the other hand, the casting was superb and so was the music. I also would have enjoyed less unison and more harmony in the choral scenes. Historically, this play is informative. It reminds us of years ago, when Billy Strayhorn was standing proudly for who he was in a society that was quite unaccepting of gay rights. It also reminds us that Lena Horne was standing tall for civil rights when discrimination of African Americans was acceptable behavior in America. This artistic production is a reminder, and may we never forget, our important fight for equal rights and human dignity. http://www.plays411.com

WALTZING TOWARDS THE END OF 2016

November 2, 2016

WALTZING TOWARDS THE END OF 2016, I CELEBRATE JAZZ TALENT FROM SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA TO THE MIDWEST & NEW YORK / NEW RELEASES, SOME SCHEDULED FOR THE NEW YEAR OF 2017.
By Jazz Journalist/ Dee Dee McNeil

As we approach the end of this year, (2016), and head towards a new year with our new president and the hope of a better future, it is music that continues to bring healing and entertainment to a troubled planet. Below find my “live” review of a man who will soon turn 100-years-young and is still expressing his joy for life in song, (BENSFORD ‘SHEP’ SHEPHERD); a single-song-release by ANGIE WELLS, a terrific West coast jazz vocalist; a father who tributes his recording to the memory and memorial fund for his departed daughter (MR. MARCELLO PELLITTERI); a harpist, CAROL ROBBINS, who recalls for me, the era of Dorothy Ashby; a duo, CAROL LIEBOWITZ AND NICK LYONS, who express their modern, Avant Garde jazz in a flurry of freedom and creativity, as well as BRENT GALLAHER, who is deeply rooted in the classic tenor sax style of Wayne Shorter, John Coltrane or Joe Henderson. Read all about it!

ANGIE WELLS – “PEEL ME A GRAPE” SINGLE RELEASE
Independent label

Raphael Lemonnier, piano/arranger; James Leary, bass; Kenny Elliot, drums; Harry Kim, trumpet.

Opening with an African 6/8 rhythm, this is a really original arrangement of the Blossom Dearie standard, “Peel Me A Grape.” Angie Wells woos us with her amazing tone and style. She’s all jazz. Her group moves swiftly and smoothly from 6/8 to a solid 4/4 swing. Ms. Wells is a Southern California vocalist, who I feel has never gotten the crowning accolades she so deserves. If this is a sample of her upcoming album release, it’s bound to be a big hit.


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SADDLEBACK COLLEGE BIG BAND – Featuring BERISFORD “SHEP” SHEPHERD – “SWINGIN’ WITH SHEP!”

I first heard Shep Shepherd when I was a thirteen-year-old teenager working in my dad & Aunt Maude’s Triple M Shrimp Hut back in Detroit, Michigan. I played “Honky Tonk” on their store juke box just about every day! The family-owned, shrimp shack was located not too far from the Flame Show Bar and the popular Hastings Street music scene. Shep Shepherd was the drummer on my favorite Bill Doggett hit record.
When you see Shep Shepherd step up to the bandstand with confidence and ‘swag’, you might assume that he is somewhere between 55 and 60-years-old. I was very surprised to learn that he was born January 19, 1917. That would make him a sweet 100-years-old when the new year of 2017 unfolds. After hearing him sit-in at Baci’s Italian Restaurant in Huntington Beach, California a few nights ago, I was intrigued to hear his recording with Joey Sellers’ popular 2016 Saddleback College Big Band.

Let me give you a little background on Shep. Shepherd’s parents were West Indian. His dad worked on the Panama Canal and decided to send his pregnant wife to Philadelphia in the United States. She didn’t make it. Shep was born in route, popping out into the world in Honduras. When his mom finally did arrive in Philadelphia, he was raised in a mostly Jewish neighborhood of Philly. Early on, the family noticed Shepherd had an overwhelming interest in music, particularly drumming. By age fourteen he was being paid to play drums on gigs and he was proficient in reading sheet music for percussion instruments. In the 1930s, Shepherd worked in Philadelphia for band leader, Jimmy Gorham. By 1941, Benny Carter had contacted Shepherd, shortly after hearing him play, and encouraged him to move to New York City. Soon thereafter, Shep arrived in the big apple and among others, was working for Artie Shaw. On the side, he hustled work as a music copyist and also worked as a session musician for various recordings. He soon expanded his musicianship, playing both vibraphone and xylophone. During a four-year stint in the United States Army, Shepherd wound up conducting, arranging and composing for the Army band, as well as playing trombone. For a while, he played with Cab Calloway’s Band and later became Calloway’s go-to-arranger. Then, in 1952, he was part of Bill Doggett’s swinging group and is the drummer on Doggett’s signature song, “Honky Tonk,” one of my favorite 45rpm records.

On this current big band CD, Shepherd is the vocalist and he manages this with eloquent timing and singing lyrics that he makes you believe. For what he lacks in technique, he compensates for with emotion and heartfelt rendering of great standard songs from the past. This CD is a joy to listen to and the Saddleback College Band ‘swings’ hard. So does “Shep” Shepherd! He’s an incredible, living piece of jazz history and I salute his magnificent talent and tenacious drive to keep the music playing. Also, credit must be given to Joey Sellers who runs the jazz program at Saddleback College and put this whole thing together.
Recorded ‘live’ March 22, 2016, in concert and on campus, my favorite tunes are: “’S Wonderful”, “Make Someone Happy” and “When You’re Smiling”. Great arrangements, especially nice on “Shiny Stockings” where drummer, Bret Kramer, got to show-off his skills. Also “You Make Me Feel So Young,” where Shep makes you believe every word he’s singing with astonishing energy and commitment to the lyric. Finally, one of my all-time favorite tunes, “Blame it on my Youth,” has a stellar arrangement and Kudos to guitarist, Rymmy Andre, for his touching accompaniment of Shep’s sincere rendition of this song.

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MARCELLO PELLITTERI – “AQUARIUS WOMAN”
Marpel Music

Marcello Pellitteri, drums; Orazio Maugeri, alto saxophone; Salvatore Bonafede, acoustic piano/elec. Piano; Gabrio Bevilacqua, acoustic bass. Special Guests: George Garzone, tenor saxophone; Veronica Pelliteri, spoken word; Nedelka Prescod, vocals; Rino Cirinna, tenor saxophone; Lauren Kinhan, vocals; Yvonnick Prene, harmonica; Marcello Todaro, electric guitar/spoken words.

After hearing the very first tune on this CD, I said to myself, here is a musical treasure for the serious jazz lover to embrace and enjoy. Pellitteri composed this first cut titled, “Chasin’ the Zone” and it’s an exciting, high energy piece that lets special guest, George Garzone stretch out on tenor saxophone and Orazio Maugeri fly like a bird on alto saxophone. The horn harmonies splendidly sing the song’s melody and Pellitteri rolls across the drum kit like an Amtrak engine at full throttle. Marcello Pellitteri has also composed cut #2, titled “Longing”. It’s a moderately tempo’d tune with a strong walking bass line provided by Gabrio Bevilacqua and a simplistic, but tasty, solo by pianist, Salvatore Bonafede.
This album has been recorded as a sensitive tribute to Pellitteri’s daughter, Veronica, who left this earth way too early at the young age of twenty-three, only two years ago. She was born under the astrological sign of Aquarius, thus the title, “Aquarius Woman”. Pellitteri is an Italian drummer, composer and arranger based in New York City and is the drummer of choice for the iconic vocal group New York Voices. On the title tune, Pellitteri uses the voice of his daughter, recorded before her departure. Veronica is reciting one of her favorite works by Indonesian poet, Murtiningrum; a woman arrested and abused by the Indonesian military in the 1960s. it’s a poem about hope that Marcello had saved on his computer. He composed the lovely melody as a ballad accompaniment to his daughter’s recitation.

The Alicia Keys song was a surprise. The vocalist, Nedelka Prescod, adds a unique delivery and arrangement, adjusting the melody to her style and emotional performance. She reminds me of the great gospel vocalist, Kim Burrell. Pellitteri chose to include this song and a Stevie Wonder composition, “Ribbon in the Sky,” because they were two of his daughter’s favorite songs. One thing I didn’t understand was why the saxophonist felt he had to play the melody when the vocalist was perfectly singing it. “If I Ain’t Got You” lost some of its unique charm because that arrangement was confusing. Why didn’t the sax just play fills? The vocalist wound up being the instrument that sang the fills and I thought that was creatively clever at the end of the song. However, the saxophonist singing her melody throughout was definitely a distraction and I found it troubling. To the singer’s credit, Prescod stood strong throughout and held her own. Cut #11 was another one of my favorites, when the music returned to the ‘straight ahead’ mode on “Saxando”.

Because Pellitteri’s daughter Veronica was beloved by so many and in her honor, this talented artist is donating all the profits from this CD to the Veronica Pellitteri Memorial Fund, administered by Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts. Release date is November 30, 2016.

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CAROL ROBBINS – “TAYLOR STREET”
Jazzcats Record Label

Carol Robbins, harp/composer; Billy Childs, piano/Fender Rhodes; Bob Sheppard, saxophone/clarinet; Larry Koonse, guitar; Curtis Taylor, trumpet; Darek Oles, bass; Gary Novak, drums; Ben Shepherd, electric bass.

The harp is such a lovely, ethereal instrument. I was eager to hear what Ms. Robbins would bring to this jazz recording featuring her harp. The lineup of iconic West Coast musicians is impressive and I suspected I was in for a treat. I was correct. From the very first arpeggio of harp strings and brush of Gary Novaks drum sticks, “The Flight” took off like an American jet plane down the LAX runway. Billy Childs jumped in with a speedy and beautiful solo. Curtis Taylor gave an eyebrow-raising performance, boldly showing his technique and improvisational skills on trumpet. Carol Robbins is a wonderful composer and her melodic songs appear to inspire creativity, prodding these musicians to bring their best to the studio.

There’s been an empty space available ever since Dorothy Jeanne Thompson, (popularily known as Dorothy Ashby), died on April 13 of 1986. Ashby set the standard for jazz harp and Robbins seems to be carrying the torch like an Olympic runner. She’s not as modernistic or Avant Garde as Alice Coltrane, but she’s melodic like Ashby and all nine songs on this CD are well-composed by Ms. Robbins. Below is a sample of her work from a 2012 performance with many of the same players on this upcoming CD release. Listen while you read.

Some songs paint a colorful portrait of Robbins’ life story, like “Taylor Street” (one of my favorite cuts) and it is the title track of this CD as well. The composition is describing, with musical notes, the street in Chicago’s ‘Little Italy’ neighborhood where Robbins’ Italian grandparents and mother lived. It features Childs on electric Fender Rhodes piano, with a pumping electric bass solo by Ben Shepherd. “Deep Canyon” was inspired by the tucked away and winding Benedict Canyon Road in Southern California. Many homes of stars and music icons are hidden in those canyon hills. The jazz waltz she’s composed, “Full Circle”, is beautifully written and performed, but I find myself wondering, when is her time to solo and shine? The all-star musicians seem to take over this song and run with it. After all, it is Ms. Robbin’s artistic CD and I would like to have heard more of her on the harp and less jam session. That being said, she is prominent and upfront on her composition” Trekker” where Gary Novak sparkles on drums and propels the band. On “Smooth Ride,” Robbins explores a more contemporary sound and I enjoyed the interplay between the harp and Darek Oles on bass towards the end of this arrangement. “The Chill” reminds me, in an odd sort of way, of Burt Bacharach, whose composing skills I love and admire. I’d have to say it’s rather Pop-ish, until Bob Sheppard enters on saxophone and makes it very clear that this is jazz and only jazz. Here Robbins blends nicely with guitarist Larry Koonse in a jazz-waltz that makes me feel like singing, “Hey little girl, comb your hair, fix your make up…”. All in all, this is a well-produced, well-composed and very swinging production that properly introduces us to Carol Robbins and her jazz harp in a most prolific way. The music world has been awaiting someone just like Robbins to bring the jazz harp happily back into musical focus. Release date is scheduled for January 6, 2017.

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CAROL LIEBOWITZ/NICK LYONS – “FIRST SET”
Linearts Record.com

Carol Liebowitz, piano; Nick Lyons, alto saxophone

On a rainy night in the desert, this CD was the perfect musical glow to beam beneath this odd-man, thunder storm that is lighting up our sky. We sometimes get lightning storms 4300 feet above sea level, but not that much in the way of rain and thunder in the San Bernardino mountains. It’s a nice, Avant Garde change of nature. So is this recording; a nice, Avant Garde production of piano and alto saxophone. It’s a duet of freedom. Recorded ‘live’ in Brooklyn, New York at Connie Crother’s loft, Liebowitz and Lyons bring their original compositions and improvisational concept to much appreciative applause. If you are looking for distinctive melodies and meters that make sense, you won’t find them here. This music, like the artists, are free to interpret their feelings and creativity in a rich and unencumbered way. It’s perfect listening for a late-night rain storm, or introducing you to two very talented musicians. Release date is January 6, 2017.
The attached video includes an extra player, but will give you a glimpse of Liebowitz & Lyons’ Avante Garde style. It also features Ryan Messina on trumpet (who is not on this CD).

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BRENT GALLAHER – “MOVING FORWARD”
V&B Records

Brent Gallaher, tenor saxophone; Alex Pope Norris, trumpet/flugelhorn; Dan Karlsberg, piano; Aaron Jacobs, bass; Anthony Lee, drums.

Gallaher’s original composition, “Serendipity” opens this project with ‘Straight Ahead’ energy perpetuated by the healthy trap drum excellence of Anthony Lee. Gallaher, with Norris on trumpet, begin the tune with horn harmonics and to establish the melody. Cut #3, “Gratitude” is exquisitely beautiful with an outstanding piano solo by Dan Karlsberg. It’s a ballad where Gallaher gets to stretch out his emotions for the listener’s examination. His style is deeply influenced by John Coltrane, Joe Henderson and Wayne Shorter. Brent Gallaher is a jazz reedman favored and solid on the Cincinnati jazz scene. This project should help him become more well-known country-wide. Other favorite tunes are “Cesar”, written by pianist Karlsberg and “Moving Forward”, the title tune composed by Gallaher. “Cesar” caught my attention because of its odd intervals and melodic structure. It gives a sparkling platform for Aaron Jacobs to step center stage and bask in the light with his double bass. This album is scheduled for a January 6, 2017 release date.


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JAZZ AND BEYOND: A LOOK AT NEW MUSIC & UNIQUE ARTISTS

October 11, 2016

JAZZ AND BEYOND: A LOOK AT NEW MUSIC & UNIQUE ARTISTS
By Dee Dee McNeil/Jazz Journalist

October 10, 2016

This month’s music celebrates unique artists and various musical genres including jazz and beyond. From Brazilian duo, IAN FAQUINI and PAULA SANTORO, who ‘wow’ me with their inspirational simplicity, to the bluesy MATTHEW KAMINSKI QUARTET who uses his organ to slap the blues up-front and in your face. VALERIE GHENT began recording her latest release in France titled “Velour” and crosses musical genre’s and styles with her original compositions and vocal stylings. Guitarist/composer GREG DIAMOND writes songs to celebrate his mixed heritage and his New York community, while WADADA LEO SMITH writes a 28-page suite of music to celebrate America’s National Parks. BRENT FISCHER thrills me once again with his unique arrangements and Latin Jazz Big Band. They focus on playing the music of his famous father, DR. CLARE FISCHER, using some of the biggest names in Latin Jazz, with guest appearances by the amazing, ROBERTA GAMBARINI and SHEILA E. Finally, all the way from Singapore, ALEMAY FERNANDEZ brings a refreshing album of original music that embraces jazz, but also delves into performances that recall the famous Andrew Sisters and duets that are spiced with pop and R&B overtones. If you’ve been seeking unique artistic performances, you may find them in this group of CD releases.

IAN FAQUINI + PAULA SANTORO – “METAL NA MADEIRA” (Metal on Wood)
Ridgeway Records

Paula Santoro, vocals; Ian Faquini, acoustic guitar/vocals/producer; Rafael Barata, drums/percussion; Vitor Goncalves, accordion/Fender Rhodes; Sergio Krakowski, pandeiro; Scott Thompson, bass; Jeff Cressman, trombone; Havery Wainapel, alto saxophone/clarinet/some arrangements; Spok, soprano saxophone/spoken word/arrangements;Vivien Monica Golcwajg & Sandy Cressman, background vocals.

As soon as the first strains of the premiere tune played, I knew I would love this recording. It’s rich, warm and beautifully simplistic. Just voice and guitar pop out, blending like sugar and soft butter, to offer us something sweet for our ears. This is a luscious desert after sitting in my office and listening to a plethora of music mediocrity. Here is something fresh and lovely. Never mind that I can’t understand the lyrics. I can feel them. On cut #1, Paula’s whispery Brazilian vocals float above Scott Thompson’s solid bass line and Rafael Barata’s percussive drums. The beat swirls and dances beneath Paula Santoro’s vocals like a musical whirlpool. They pull us into the ‘mix’. Ian Faquini joins in with his acoustic guitar rhythms and we begin our world music journey.

The linear notes explain the concept and the CD title (“Metal on Wood”). The artists have extracted inspiration from Xylography, a traditional art form popular in Northeastern Brazil in which the artist develops an image by engraving wood with a metal object. Similarly, Faquini and Santoro endeavor to create their own art with metallic harmonics and warm, wooden tones from Faquini’s guitar and from Santoro’s compelling and effortless vocals. Sometimes Faquini sings with her, as if inspired to improvise and harmonize. It’s easy and spiritual, like morning prayer.

On “Dorival Pescador” It’s just the two artists, voice & guitar, entertaining us very intimately. On the very romantic and emotional, “Maeda Lua,” Viter Goncalves is exquisite on accordion. When the two main artists return to their exciting duo production on “Aos Olhosda Tarde” you get to enjoy Santoro’s honey-thick-alto voice. Her range is impressive.

Guitarist, Faquini, has co-written every song on this production. He’s born in Brasilia, but has lived in Berkeley, California since age eight. As a graduate of the California Jazz Conservatory, he was immediately invited to join their faculty and teaches guitar and Brazilian music at his alma mater.

Santoro was born in Minas Gerais where her career began. She toured Brazil as lead singer and established her style as a mix of jazz and Brazilian Popular Music. This vocalist is well-known worldwide for her various recordings and frequent television appearances. She won the Troféu Faisca Award, the Visa Award and has earned wide critical acclaim in both Brazil and Europe. Together, they make magic happen in the studio and on the stage. Judge for yourself.

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THE MATTHEW KAMINSKI QUARTET w/Special Guest KIMBERLY GORDON
LIVE AT CHURCHILL GROUNDS

Chicken Coup Record Label

Matthew Kaminski, Hammond SK2 Organ; Chris Burroughs, drums; Rod Harris, Jr., guitar; Will Scruggs, tenor saxophone; Kimberley Gordon, vocals.

Opening with a slow blues, Kaminski (on organ) leads his group onto center stage with a spirited tune called “Sail On Sailor”, followed by Lou Donaldson’s tune, “Hot Dog”. Both are full of spunk and funk with drummer, Chris Burroughs, spitting fire all over his trap drum set. Kaminski has put together a royal, blues sound with this group of expert musicians. Rod Harris, Jr., plays his guitar, both complimenting Kaminski’s organ and celebrating his own style and technique with outstanding and gut-wrenching solos. Will Scruggs elevates the energy on tenor saxophone and recalls ‘Sam-the-man-Taylor’ from back in the fifties when Rock & Roll groups were ruling the concert stages, but a bit more jazzy. This CD is nothing but jazz and blues. Kaminski celebrates the late, great Jimmy Smith, playing the masters composition, “Midnight Special” and doing it justice! I’m a sucker for an organ ensemble, so this recording is one that I found very appealing. On “If I Had You” the group’s guest vocalist steps forward and swings hard. Kimberley Gordon has a memorable voice and brings a strong jazz style to the forefront. You can tell that Ms. Gordon admires both Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan, although still maintaining her own vocal personality and integrity. Like a succulent Thanksgiving turkey, every song on this recording is stuffed with blues. Even when they play Jobim’s popular “So Danco Samba” and the rhythm has your feet tapping and your hips longing to dance, the blues is predominant in Will Scruggs’ horn. “It Shouldn’t Happen to a Dream” is one of my favorite jazz standards and Gordon performs it beautifully. There’s not one bad tune on this album. It’s totally entertaining, well produced and well-played. This is particularly impressive because it was recorded “live” at Churchill Grounds in Atlanta, Georgia. No studio tricks here. This is pure talent from all participants and you can tell the audience loved it as much as I did by their approval applause.

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VALERIE GHENT – “VELOURS”
Independent Label

Valerie Ghent, lead vocals/background vocals/piano/ Hammond B3 organ/Clavinet/Fender Rhodes; Jerome Buigues, guitar/backing vocals/bass; Robin Macatangay, guitars; Pierre Siibille, synthesizer/Hammond B3/harmonica; Philippe Jardin, Kevin Johnson & Franck Taieb, drums; Bashiri Johnson, percussion; Eluriel “Tinker” Barfield, bass; Paul Shapiro, tenor saxophone; Nicolas Baudino, alto and tenor saxophones; Briggan Krauss, baritone sax; Steven Bernstein, trumpet; Rob Mounsey, strings; Dave Eggar, cello; Katie Kresek, violin/viola; Alfa Anderson, Dennis Collins, Keith fluitt; Dan Levine, trombone; John James, Keith Fluitt, Dennis Collins, Alfa Anderson & Ada Dyer, backing vocals; Special Guest: Mano “Korani” Camara, lead vocal on cut #1.

Clearly Valerie Ghent is not someone I would classify as a jazz artist. However, after listening to her music I had to give her a thumbs up for songwriting, producing and arranging. She has composed or co-written every song on this recording. “Velours” is her fourth solo album and showcases her prolific songwriting ability, one that embraces Soul music, R&B, Reggae and funk. I guarantee songs like the infectious, “Love Divine” will be played on Smooth Jazz radio stations time and time again. This production definitely lends itself to World Music. On “Love Divine,” the complimentary lead vocals of Mano “Korani” Camara are striking and stylized. I would love to hear more from this artist. Ghent’s syncopation on “It’s Got To Be You” is captivating. This is a project that features strong compositions, good productions and excellent musicianship.
Ghent has worked with music icons, touring with the likes of Ashford & Simpson and Debbie Harry. She’s shared the stage with Nina Simone, Maya Angelou, Roberta Flack, Peabo Bryson and Billy Preston, but she is tenaciously her own artistic person. During childhood, as a native New Yorker who grew up in Greenwich Village and was raised by a musical family, she fell asleep listening to her mom’s string quartet rehearsals or Ornette Coleman practicing upstairs in their apartment building. Consequently, Ghent developed a rich and diverse love of music.
Ghent is the founder of Songwriter’s Beat, a monthly night for performing songwriters. She’s also well noted in New York for creating an arts education nonprofit called “Feel the Music”, a program that uses music and art to heal. This album was recorded in New York and France, because she entertains overseas often. As you can see by the attached video, she’s also a proficient pianist.

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GREG DIAMOND – “AVENIDA GRAHAM”
Zoho Records

Greg Diamond, guitar; Stacy Dillard, tenor/soprano saxophones; Seamus Blake, tenor saxophone; Mike Eckroth, piano; Peter Slavov, bass; Henry Cole, drums; Mauricio Herrera, congas/percussion.

In his biography, Guitarist/composer, Greg Diamond tells us he is half Eastern European Jewish and half Columbian. His father, a former opera singer and classical pianist, is New York born and his mother is Colombian. Diamond spent two years in Colombia right after graduating high school. That gave him an even deeper knowledge of his Latin roots. According to his liner notes, this recording is a reflection of both cultural roots and his New York City experience. The opening composition “Synesthesia” is a bit too repetitive for my taste. The melody is drilled into my head like a dentist needle for seven minutes and fifty-eight seconds. The second cut, “Rastros” gives drummer, Henry Cole, a blank canvas to splash his sticks and brushes against. His percussive excellence is palatable. On “Hint of Jasmin” I can finally listen to Diamond. He opens the tune very acoustically. It’s a tender ballad and he plays his guitar with great emotion and technique. This particular original composition is one of my favorites. “Gentrix” is written in five/four time and Diamond incorporates Mauricio Herrera on percussion to fatten the sound. Sometimes it was rhythmically confusing, veering off into an Afro Cuban mood, somewhat scattered like puzzle pieces on a cardboard table that suddenly settled back into the ‘five’ structure as a sort of hook to pull the composed picture back together. On”Laia” Peter Slavov sets the tune up with only his bass as an introduction, while Diamond sits, strumming his guitar using arpeggio chords in the background. Stacy Dillard sings the melody on saxophone, when suddenly the Latin rhythm enters. It lifts this song and refreshes the arrangement. Mike Eckroth is the one who sets up the Latin feel on piano. To this point, I never heard Eckroth solo on the 88 keys and I thought that was odd. When at last Eckroth is allowed to solo on piano, I found it lack-luster. “Ultima Palabra” is another favorite of mine, melancholy and gives us a pure taste of Diamond’s talent. Pulling at, what sounds like nylon strings, he offers his emotional delivery with sincerity.

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WADADA LEO SMITH – “AMERICA’S NATIONAL PARKS”
Cuneiform Records

Wadada Leo Smith, trumpet/director of the ensemble; Anthony Davis, piano; Ashley Walters, cello; John Lindberg, bass; Pheeroan Aklaff, drums; Jesse Gilbert, video artist.

This is a double-set CD set that uses modern jazz to describe America’s National parks with music. It’s an intriguing concept and features Wadada Leo Smith on trumpet and director of the ensemble. Together, these musicians present a tightly woven, six-movement suite of inspired jazz to celebrate the history and importance of the spiritual nature that is captured in the United States national park system. Smith’s music is appropriately released amidst celebration of the centennial of National Park Services. The Park Services were acknowledged by an act of Congress way back in August of 1916. This album was inspired (in part) by the outstanding Ken Burns twelve-hour documentary series about the National Parks system, but Smith has a slightly different outlook than nature being ike a cathedral.

“The idea that Ken Burns explored in his documentary was that the grandeur of nature was like a religion or a cathedral,” Smith stated. “I reject that image, because the natural phenomenon in creation, just like man and stars and light and water is all one thing, just a diffusion of energy. My focus is on the spiritual and psychological dimensions of the idea of setting aside reserves for common property of the American citizens.”

Smith’s concept is a recording of improvisation and imagination. The suites are long, (by radio-play standards), and heavily soaked in classical music. There are traces of blues and each musician adds dynamic and technically beautiful talent to the exploration of 28 pages of Smith’s music score. He has worked with this line-up of musical excellence for the past 16 years and you can detect a sensitivity and familiarity in their playing. You probably won’t be humming any of these modern jazz, free-form melodies, but the music they make offers a lovely background or inspiration for a modern dance group, or for a journalist, like me, sitting at the computer, writing something creative or reviewing compact discs.

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CLARE FISCHER LATIN JAZZ BIG BAND DIRECTED BY BRENT FISCHER – “INTENSO!”
Clavo Records

Dr. Clare Fischer, composer/arranger/keyboards (except where noted),vocals; Brent Fischer, producer/arranger/conductor/mallet instruments/electric bass (except where noted), guitar, auxillary keyboards; Guest Artists: Sheila E., timbales on Solar Patrol; Roberta Gambarini, vocals on Gaviota & The Butterfly Samba; Scott Whitfield, vocals/trombone on the Butterfly Samba; Luis Conte & Kevin Ricard, all percussion; Walfredo Reyes, Ron Manaog & Tris Imboden, drums; Quinn Johnson, keyboards; Ken Wild, elec. Bass; Woodwinds: Alex Budman, soprano & alto saxophone/flute/piccolo/clarinet; Kirsten Edkins, soprano & alto saxes/flute/clarinet/ Don Shelton, soprano sax/flute; Brian Clancy, tenor sax/flute/alto flute/clarinet/Recorder; Sean Franz, tenor sax/flute/clarinet/bass clarinet/recorder; Ron Hardt, tenor sax/flute/alto flute/clarinet; Lee Callet, baritone sax/flute/alto flute/clarinet/recorder; Bob Carr, bass sax/flute/piccolo/E flat contrabass clarinet. Trumpets: Carl Saunders, Ron Stout, Rob Schaer, James Blackwell, Brian Mantz, Michael Stever, Anthony Bonsera. Trombones: Scott Whitfield, Francisco Torres, Phillip Menchaca, Jacques Voyemant, Steve Hughes, bass trombone.

Here is a stellar piece of work that is well-produced and brilliantly arranged. Brent Fischer continues to keep his father’s legacy alive and in the forefront of the music industry for on-air and public consumption. This is another example of his father’s incredible talent as a prolific composer/pianist/arranger and the younger Fischer’s brilliance as a producer, arranger and musician. From the very first piece, “Algo Bueno” (something good) to the second cut, “Gaviota” (seagull) featuring the silky smooth vocals of Roberta Gambarini and an all-star group of big band connoisseurs, it was evident this was going to be a piece of music to be revered and enjoyed. Brent explained the first couple of pieces in his liner notes.

“My father, having written all the arrangements for Dizzy Gillespie’s Portrait of Duke Ellinton, was a longtime friend and admirer of Diz. His arrangement of Diz’s Manteca on his own album of the same name is legendary. This piece, also known as Woody ‘n’ You, was turned by Clare Fischer into a Salsa master piece… alternating between afro-Cuban 6/8 and Mambo. In the manner he added fifteen horns to many of his small group arrangements, I have done the same here, creating a new big band arrangement based on his original version. On Gaviota, featuring the incomparable Roberta Gambarini on vocals … my horn arrangement is specifically tailored to the way he (dad) played it in the twilight of his life after so much creative evolution.”

This reviewer was so taken with the arrangement on “Gaviota” that I had to play it three times in a row to soak in all the tasty nuances and the beauty of Ms. Gambarini’s voice. She is amazing! On “The Butterfly Samba”, singing at the speed of sound, she is joined by Scott Whitfield, who shines on vocals and trombone.
The “O Canto” arrangement was plush with harmonics embracing five and six part harmonies. Brent Fischer embellished the composition by playing both six string bass and his guitar, plus vibraphone. Carl Saunders sounds magnificent on trumpet and Clare Fischer himself is soloing at the keyboard while singing along. His son used electronics to include his father’s recorded performances. Brent Fischer says this is the only recorded example he knows of his father soloing on “O Canto” and singing along. Dr. Clare Fischer’s legendary playing is heard on seven out of ten new tracks of mostly his original music with a few standards that are completely reinvented. Not only is this a historic recording of Dr. Fischer’s work, interpreted by his son, along with iconic jazz musicians, but it’s a true work of art that is pleasing to the ear and the spirit.
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ALEMAY FERNANDEZ – “HARD TO IMAGINE”
Interrobang Records

Alemay Fernandez, vocals/producer/arranger; Shawn Letts, Music Director/producer/tenor saxophonist/pianist; Kerong Chok & Oliver von Essen, piano/organ; Christy Smith & Ben Poh, double bass; William Gathright & Casey Subramaniam, electric bass; Pablo Calzado, Rizal Sanip, Wenming Soh, Eddie Layman & Erik Hargrove, drums. Navin Kumar Nagpal, percussion; Munir Alsagoff, guitar; Steve Cannon, Mark Kelly & Dave Newdick, trumpet; Marques “Q sound” Young, trombone; Guest Performers: Vanessa Fernandez, Sabina Fernandez & Michaela Therese, vocals; Richard Jackson, duet vocalist.

Alemay Fernandez is based in Singapore and is revered in that community as “Singapore’s Most Well-Loved Jazz Singer”. Her album’s title tune is performed with only the double bass as an accompanist on video at her website. She and Internationally acclaimed bassist, Christy Smith, perform her song as a jazz duo. This vocalist’s voice is smoky rich and powerful. You can tell she is self-assured and pitch perfect. Watch her with the Count Basie Orchestra below.

The simplicity of this recorded production features her timbre and tone riding boldly atop her band. On “Being You”, penned by Alemay Fernandez and William Gathright (her electric bass player), you hear her approach to a more commercially fluid song that could be categorized as Pop or Smooth Jazz. “Spare me the Details” has a delightfully honest lyric that Fernandez delivers with jazzy conviction. It was composed by Will Kern and Shawn Letts who is her musical director and tenor sax man. This cut is bluesy and believable. “I Believe”, a popular pop song from the 1950s, is revamped into a harmonic treasure featuring Fernandez with Featured guests, Vanessa Fernandez, Sabina Fernandez and Michaela Therese (who did the vocal arrangements). They sound like a jazzy Andrew Sisters kind of girl group. It’s a pleasant vocal surprise and showcases Kerong Chok on organ. Some of the tunes are a little too pop-ish to call jazz, but all are performed with strength and clarity by Fernandez. Richard Jackson’s beautiful R&B tinged vocals add a Luther-Vandross-like feel to “Heaven Wrote A Song”, when he duets with Fernandez. She closes with a Latin tinged tune called, “I Got the Feelin’”, another original composition Fernandez co-wrote with Shawn Letts. This composition is full of percussive spark and energy, featuring Navin Kumar Nagpal’s percussive accents. This Fernandez CD, her second solo recording, re-introduces this talented, singer/songwriter to the world and makes for a pleasant listening experience.
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CONCERT AT THE BEACH – Redondo Beach, CA

September 29, 2016

September 27, 2016 – A balmy, Tuesday Evening

CONCERT AT THE BEACH – Redondo Beach, California
By Dee Dee McNeil – Jazz Journalist

There was a great air of expectancy in the “Seascape Ballroom” at the Crowne Plaza Redondo Beach & Marina Hotel. Master guitarist, Doug MacDonald, had put together an unbelievable line-up of thirteen jazz musicians (including himself) who are some of the top names on the Southern California jazz scene. Their goal was to honor a sprinkling of the greatest jazz composers of all time, including Thelonious Monk, Clifford Brown, Horace Silver, and Duke Ellington. At the same time, the concert was being recorded ‘live’ for an upcoming Blue Jazz Record release. I was excited to be present.

The intimate ballroom was located right off the main hotel lobby and was set up with dinner tables that could comfortably accommodate about 60 to 75 people. There was one of those hotel stages that they had constructed for the evening, a couple of feet tall, with a multitude of microphones and a plethora of electric chords stretching like centipede legs all across the cluttered stage. A white grand piano sat in the back of the stage on the right-hand side, dimly illuminated by undistinguished ceiling lights. Waiters and waitresses bustled from one table to another, taking drink orders and passing out dinner menus. It was 6pm and I was ready for a meal, a glass of merlot and some amazing jazz entertainment.

Executive Producer, Don Thomson, took the microphone and introduced the all-star, jazz participants who would be performing. “From the historic Buddy Rich band, two notable trumpet players are with us this evening; Carl Saunders and Bob Summers,” Mr. Thomson informed us. Welcoming applause filled the room.

We learned that on tenor saxophones, two of the very best in the business were on hand; Rickey Woodard and Pete Christleib. Lanny Morgan was on Alto saxophone, and the only female on the bandstand was trombonist, Linda Small. There were two upright bass players, Jim Hughart and John B. Williams, as well as two pianists; Josh Nelson and John Campbell. Finally, we were told, there would also be two drummers featured at various times; Roy McCurdy and Paul Kreibich.

Paul’s wife, Merle Kreibich, was on hand as the ‘hostess with the mostess’ and acting publicity expert. Her dedication to keeping jazz alive in Southern California is undeniable. Half of me was there to enjoy the awesome music and the other half of me was there to support Merle and my long-time friend and musical director, Doug MacDonald. Doug told the expectant audience that the program would begin with Tad Dameron’s composition, “Our Delight,” a swinging little number that featured all the various on-stage icons, along with the first rhythm section consisting of John B. Williams on bass, Roy McCurdy on drums and John Campbell at the grand piano. It was a great way to begin the evening concert.

The next tune was the familiar Thelonius Monk Standard tune, “Round Midnight.” Doug shuffled the musicians like a Las Vegas card dealer. He dismissed some and this time featured Carl Saunders and Rickey Woodard. Saunders is dynamic and his technique on trumpet is flawless and admirable. He’s also fun to watch, standing straddle-legged, knees slightly bent, transforming right before our eyes from man to instrument, pouring his soul out through the bell of his horn. Rickey Woodard sprayed the room with rich, warm saxophone sounds that always remind me of the late, great Gene Ammons, while John Campbell added tasty licks on the eighty-eight keys with his splendid accompaniment and offered a spell-binding solo on this beautiful ballad that was full of depth and emotion. I loved the rhumba feel on the ending. It surprised and pleased an enraptured audience.

On the Horace Silver tune, Strollin’, Musical conductor, MacDonald, featured Pete Chrislieb on tenor sax and Bob Summers on trumpet. On “Con Alma” the personnel changed again. Paul Kreibich manned the drums, Jim Hughart took over the double bass and Josh Nelson slid onto the piano bench. Lanny Morgan brought his alto saxophone and the party was on.

So the evening went, with the performers playing an intriguing game of musical chairs and musical microphones. I really enjoyed “Da’Ood,” the Clifford Brown composition that was counted in at a speedy pace, with the musicians off and running like the Santa Anita races. The wooden ceiling and carpeted floors made for a beautiful, warm sound in the ballroom and the sound engineer had a decent mix on stage. The eight page Ellington medley was challenging for seasoned veterans and senior citizen eyes in the low stage lighting. Doug made jokes about the 8-page music charts, but the arrangement of Duke Ellington’s work including “Just Squeeze Me,“ “ What Am I hear for? “, “Sophisticated Lady” and “Cotton Tail” magnified the talents of those on-stage-players and the medley was worth every page of the arrangement by Randy Aldcroft. Linda Small, though petit and slight of build, showed true excellence on the slide trombone and was tenacious and creative. Jim Hughart sounded amazing on his bass and John Campbell thrilled me on the ‘keys’. This was followed by a beautiful Brazilian Bossa Nova titled, “Bossa Don,“ a Doug MacDonald original composition. MacDonald took center stage on his guitar and made the instrument talk. His rhythm and harmonics on his Buscarino guitar were mesmerizing. At one point, during his improvisational solo, Eleanor Rigby snuck into the song and briefly grabbed my attention.

Continuing, MacDonald told us that his dearly departed friend and pianist, Art Hillary, had introduced him to “Blue Capers” by Blue Mitchell and he has loved that song ever since. It was another swinger and quickly became one of my favorites of the evening. Roy McCurdy was on drums this time and the hard licks he was hitting soon had the horns and the piano jumping in, to accent his rhythm. It was an exciting arrangement. I don’t know if it was written on the page or improvised and spontaneous, but it worked and was certainly wonderful!

All in all, it was an awesome September night of continuous jazz that went straight through, no breaks, from seven pm to Ten pm. It was a thrilling evening of quality musicianship, a celebration of jazz history and the price was right. In a California County that boasts some of the most talented and internationally respected jazz musicians on the planet, the room should have been packed. It wasn’t. If you were there, you got more than your money’s worth. If you weren’t there, you should have been.
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Watch edited Doug MacDonald live here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yd9J48cuDhI

JAZZ CONTINUES TO EVOLVE AND ENRICH A NATION

September 25, 2016

JAZZ CONTINUES TO EVOLVE AND ENRICH A NATION
By Dee Dee McNeil – jazz journalist

September 25, 2016

Like everything else in nature, art evolves and reflects the past and present, wrapped like a beautiful gift that we cannot wait to open and explore. Below are four very different and talented jazz artists who exemplify the evolving nature of jazz. Each, in their own unique way, enrich our culture and encourage their listeners to open their ears and minds to new ways of appreciating jazz music. There is RICHARD SUSSMAN, who believes that fundamental to “The Evolution Ensemble” is the belief that to meet the changing needs and cultural shifts of the twenty-first century, it’s essential for composers and performers to evolve in their aesthetic perspectives by changing the artistic landscape. DAVID GIBSON uses his trombone to pull at his ‘Inner Agent’ inside himself and finds freedom in jazz music. ALLYSA ALLGOOD looks to the past, learning from the masters and putting her own lyrical spin on compositions and jazz melodies created by iconic Blue Note artists, while LOU CAIMANO and ERIC OLSEN endeavor to transform classical Arias into palatable jazzy, new works of art. Each artist has the goal of evolving the music to one extent or another. Here’s my take on what I heard.

RICHARD SUSSMAN – “THE EVOLUTION SUITE”
Zoho Records

Richard Sussman, piano/electronics; Scott Wendholt, trumpet/flugelhorn; Rich Perry, tenor saxophone; Mike Richmond, acoustic/electric bass; Anthony Pinciotti, drums; The Sirius Quartet includes: Gregor Huebner, violin, Fung Chern Hwei, violin; Ron Lawrence, viola; Jeremy Harman, cello and Special guest Zach Brock, electric violin.

The warm tone of violins opens the first track and the other instruments join in, sporadically building on the strings like busy fingers. Here is an orchestrated suite, composed and arranged by Sussman, that is richly rooted in the classical genre, but incorporates jazz as a means of parading improvised solos atop the base. There are rhythms and percussive textures that sometimes remind me of gun shots. Staccato Horn lines sing, while the piano chords play in a legato fashion beneath, locking horns with the rhythm section to create “Into the Cosmic Kitchen”. Scott Wendholt is splendid on trumpet.

Richard Sussman’s “Evolution Suite” written for Jazz Quintet, String Quartet and Electronics is a labor of love that Sussman admittedly has worked on for almost a decade. The five-movement composition was funded by a Chamber Music America New Jazz Works Grant and premiered in December of 2015 at the Leonard Nimoy Thalia of Symphony Space in NYC. It was recorded live and the results is this unusual and very beautiful production. Somehow, Sussman has brought together electronics, Straight Ahead, contemporary classical and pop music in his unique arrangements. Track two of the 5-part suite delivers a lovely ballad titled “Relaxin’ at Olympus”. There’s a bit of blues in the saxophone that enters after a very classical piano introduction. It’s sultry and sweet, played by Rich Perry, with the string quartet, rich as cream, chiming in to elevate the arrangement in a chamber-music-kind-of-way.
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DAVID GIBSON – “INNER AGENT”
Posi-Tone Records

David Gibson, trombone; Freddie Hendrix, trumpet; Theo Hill, piano; Alexander Claffy, bass; Kush Abadey, drums; Doug Webb, tenor saxophone; Caleb Curtis, alto saxophone.

I have to begin this review by complimenting Positone Records. Every CD this company has sent to me reflects a high quality of jazz artists. It’s been a joy listening to each and every one of them. David Gibson is no exception to this course of excellence. “Inner Agent”, the title tune, is an original composition by Gibson and sets the mood for this entire project. It’s Straight Ahead, no nonsense jazz, just the way this reviewer likes it. Using a quartet of horns to thicken the musical brew, Gibson graciously shares his stage with a group of seasoned musicians. He lets each one solo and sparkle like jazzy jewels. Hendrix is compelling on trumpet, drawing the listener in with big bold tones and dynamic technique. Doug Webb always brings tenor madness to the studio, playing from the heart and Caleb Curtis on alto is a saxophone force to be enjoyed and celebrated. This is my first time hearing Theo Hill on piano and he’s impressive, innovative and skilled, knowing just how to comp and support the artist, then stretching out with solos that make you pay attention. Abadey on drums is powerful and relentless, giving this band the push and rhythmic inspiration they need to spiral up and over his percussive chops. However, it is Gibson’s trombone voice that bathes in the glow of a singular spotlight. They say that trombone is the closest instrument to human vocals and Gibson sings with emotional dexterity and polished technique. He’s an accomplished composer as well as a musician and offers four original tunes on this project. One is “The Scythe”, a high-powered, Be Bop tune that burns with fiery energy with Gibson’s solo floating solidly atop the rhythm section. You can hear Abadey’s drums throughout, egging the band on like a matador’s cape in front of an angry bull. I love the mix on this recording. Bassist, Alexander Claffy, has written “AJ”, a moderate tempo ballad that allows Gibson to set the melodic theme along with his horn section, sometimes harmonically but mostly in unison. If I were to have any criticism, it would be that Gibson’s improvisational solos are way too short. Gibson tackles two compositions by my Detroit home-boy, trombonist Curtis Fuller; “The Court” and “Sweetness”, where he shows admirable technique and self-expression. This is an album of music to be treasured in any collection. Perhaps Curtis Fuller said it best when he gave Gibson this dynamic compliment:

“Out of all the young players I hear in the music today, David is one of very few who speaks the language of jazz.”

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ALYSSA ALLGOOD – OUT OF THE BLUE
Jeru Jazz Records

Alyssa Allgood, voice; Dan Chase, organ; Tim Fitzgerald, guitar; Chris Madsen, saxophone; Matt Plaskota, drums.

Here is a poet/vocalist who has taken on the challenging task of writing lyrics to some well-recognized, popular jazz standards composed by iconic Blue Note record company artists. Starting with “Watch Me Walk Away” originally titled, “Dig Dis” by Hank Mobley, her poetry is a reflection of her last name, ‘All good’. She sings in the mode of Lambert Hendricks & Ross or Eddie Jefferson; scatting with words. Allgood’s accompaniment is outstanding, with Dan Chase playing a mean organ and Tim Fitzgerald laying down an innovative guitar solo on this very first composition. Mobley’s swinging-shuffle-of-a-tune is a good sounding board to introduce the listener to Allgood’s band of musicians, minus saxophone. Madsen’s sax appears on the second cut, John Coltrane’s “Moment’s Notice,” where Allgood sings Kim Nazarian and Peter Eldridge lyrics. “Speak No Evil,” Wayne Shorter’s composition, features Allgood as a lyricist again and I enjoyed her scat-singing on this cut as well as her poetic storyline. She trades fours with Matt Plaskota’s drums, while singing along with Fitzgerald’s guitar licks. Plaskota is given a moment to shine with his percussive solo taking stage center. Alyssa Allgood is to be commended for tackling some difficult intervals and challenging jazz compositions, like Sam Rivers’ “Beatrice”. Again, she has put lyrics to the Rivers song. But (for me) her voice is lacking that special stylization and ‘Swing’ that jazz demands. Jazz divas like Betty Carter, Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday and Nancy Wilson have set the bar high for style and delivery. On the other hand, she’s pitch-perfect, as well as a fine songwriter. She’s young and has time to develop her style.

Meantime, her talented group carries her with fortitude and professional tenacity. All in all, this is a well-produced CD and when she becomes an instrument, scatting instead of singing words, I find myself more comfortably drawn to Allgood’s music. That’s when she really swings. Allgood has won several jazz awards already in her young career including the 2014 DownBeat Magazine Student Music Award for Best Undergraduate Vocal Jazz Soloist and was recently named a 2016 Luminart’s Jazz Fellow through the Lumninarts Cultural Foundation in Chicago.

Allgood is based in Chicago and her organist and co-arranger, Dan Chase, along with her entire ensemble, are lauded as mainstays on the Chicago jazz scene. Chase is endorsed by Hammond Organ. Tim Fitzgerald has a critically acclaimed book titled “625 Alive: The Wes Montgomery BBC Performance Transcribed” said to be among the ’50 greatest guitar books’ of all time. Chris Madsen has performed with and written for Wynton Marsalis, Victor Goines, Wycliffe Gordon, Bobby Short and more. Drummer, Matt Plaskota, is an educator who performs regularly throughout the Midwest area.
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LOU CAIMANO/ERIC OLSEN – “DYAD PLAYS JAZZ ARIAS”
Ringwood Records

Eric Olsen, piano; Lous Caimano, alto saxophone; SPECIAL GUESTS: Randy Brecker, trumpet/flugelhorn; Ted Nash, tenor saxophone.

If you are a lover of classical music, you will find this melding of jazz with master aria composers like Bizet, Verdi and Mozart quite interesting. Using only piano as the rhythm section, Olsen lays down a lush classical track for Caimano’s alto saxophone to improvise on top of, allowing jazz and the classics like “Habanera” to co-mingle. The result is a challenging blend of musical freedom with the more structured classical arias. On the very first cut, “Finch’ han dal Vino” by W.A. Mozart, Randy Brecker breaks the icy and repetitive piano line with his creative approach on trumpet. It was Brecker’s instrumentation that held my attention captive during the duet. Having studied piano, this jazz journalist has a limited background in the classical compositions. However, I believe that when you enter the world of jazz, you have to be able to ‘swing’ and to transform classical ideas from the structured to a dance of freedom. Although competent and obviously, technique-wise, astute on his instrument, I never heard Olsen get totally free on his piano during this premiere aria. I applaud the arrangements and the producing of an album that attempts to marry these two musical styles. I know that Ellington has attempted the same thing in the past, as has George Gershwin when he composed, “Rhapsody in Blue”. However, taking well-known operatic arias and transforming them into jazz arias will take more than a concept to birth a healthy and well-favored baby.

This duo has been performing together for sixteen years under the name of DYAD. The meaning of the word ‘Dyad’ is “two persons in a continuing relationship involving interaction.” Five of these recorded arrangements were written by Olsen with two arias having the arranging credit shared by his musical partner, Caimano; (“Flower Duet” and “Meditation”). I enjoyed the jazz waltz arrangement on the Léo Delibes’ composition, “Flower Duet”, that was written exclusively for two soprano singers in classical ¾ time. Like the operatic singers, Ted Nash and Lou Caimano harmonize beautifully, then break out into individual solos. I was impressed with Olsen’s walking, left-handed bass-line, while his right hand deftly kept the rhythm with opulent, harmonic chords. I also found their final tune, “Dio! mi potevi scagliar” very well adjusted to jazz and converted from classical in a most creative and unique way; almost sounding Avant Garde at times. Again, it features both saxophonists Lou Caimano and Ted Nash, and pulls the best out of each musician in a jazzy way that transcends musical boundaries. I suppose that was the goal of this recording in the first place. On these two songs, mission accomplished.

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VOLUMES OF JAZZ

September 11, 2016

VOLUMES OF JAZZ
By Dee Dee McNeil/Jazz Journalist

September 11, 2016

This month I was sent quite a few CDs that boasted Vol 1 or Vol 2 of several musical projects by a diversity of artists. First was RAY OBIEDO whose Latin jazz album was beautifully produced and offers a volume one full of pleasant listening. AL STRONG boasted about his “Love Strong” music and also labeled his premier recorded release, volume one. His musical venture was more Be-Bop. On the flip side, CRAIG HARTLEY called his “Books on Tape” volume two, featuring a trio presentation. LITTLE JOHNNY RIVERO brought volumes of energy to the table and DAVE STRYKER brought back his ‘Eight Track’ concept for the second time around, with volumes of oldies-but-goodies repurposed and wonderful. MEHMET ALI SANLIKOL blends Turkish roots with American jazz along with a group of master musicians calling themselves, “Whatsnext”. Finally, CAROL BACH-Y-RITA adds her vocal, percussive improvisation to the mix. Thus my title, “Volumes of Jazz” takes on a double entendre, encompassing several hours of music and various CDs that reference volumes of work and also offer volumes of talent.

RAY OBIEDO – “LATIN JAZZ PROJECT VOL. 1”
Rhythmus Records

Ray Obiedo, acoustic & electric guitars/synthesizers; David Belove & Marc van Wageningen, bass; David K. Mathews, piano/organ; Paul van Wageningen, drums; Karl Perazzo, congas/timbales; Roger Glenn, flute/alto flute/piccolo; Elena Pinderhughes flute; Sandy Cressman, vocals; Peter Michael Escovedo, bongo/timbales; Derek Rolando, congas; Norbert Stachel, tenor/soprano saxophones/flute; Phil Hawkins, steel pans; Michael Spiro, percussion; Peter Horvath,piano solo; Bob Mintzer,tenor saxophone; Orestes Vilato, timbales; Mike Olmos, trumpet; Ray Vega, trumpet solo; Jeff Cressman,trombone; Jon Bendich, congas; Sheila E., conga solo/percussion; Mike Rinta,trombone/horn arrangements.

The first thing that grabs me about this project is the percussive excellence. From the very first notes, it’s the drums and percussion that sweep me into a musical moment of danceable, Latin jazz. I am propelled along by the sweet double time excitement of the drums on Tito Puente’s composition, “Picadillo”. When Obiedo enters on his guitar, he picks his solo with precision and improvisation, after the ensemble has properly established the melody in concert and with gusto. But throughout, thanks to a sensitive mix and mastering, Karl Perazzo on congas and timbales, with ginormous support from Paul van Wageningen on trap drums, supports this music like a cinder block basement, along with several other guest percussionists. The addition of Sandy Cressman’s background vocals on cut #2, “Coral Keys” and on “Vera Cruz” takes this production to another level, embracing smooth jazz and easy listening at the same time. “Coral Keys” prominently features the flautist, Elena Pinderhughes. Obiedo bounces around from acoustic to electric guitars, throwing in synthiziser for good measure, and gives ample solo time to his all-star cast of characters. “Caravan” features Norbert Stachel on soprano saxophone. Siblings, Sheila E and Pete Escovedo Jr., are also featured on this project, presenting a forceful final number called, “Cool for Now”. Mathews is tasteful and impressive on piano throughout and another special guest is the talented reedman, Bob Mintzer. I enjoy the rhythm guitar licks on “Vera Cruz” and the groove is infectious. “St Thomas” is one of my favorite Sonny Rollins tunes and Obiedo paints it with fresh, bright, Latin colors, much like the cover of this CD, shiny with blue and bright orange, brilliant yellow and rich green buildings. There is a colorful fusion feel to this production of the Rollins tune. Mintzer brings Straight-Ahead to the Latin party on tenor saxophone during cut #6, “Cubo Azul”. This happens to be one of three original compositions by the artist, Ray Obiedo. Bassist, Marc van Wageningen, (not to be confused with Paul) is a mainstay of lock-down rhythms, blending his bass licks with the drums to offer a strong foundation for the ensemble to build upon. Another of Obiedo’s original compositions that I enjoyed immensely is “Child’s Dance,” where both the artist and his bassist show off their talent and instrument techniques with spontaneous solos. This entire album of Latin jazz resonates splendid joy and happiness.
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CRAIG HARTLEY – “BOOKS ON TAPE VOL. II – STANDARD EDITION”
Independent Label

Craig Harley, piano; Carlo De Rosa, bass; Jeremy ‘Bean’ Clemons, drums.

Sometimes the simplicity of just a trio is all you need to enjoy a collection of jazz standards. It’s like a good book, the “standard Edition”, on a chilly night by the fireplace. You curl up with the musical story and enjoy. Craig Hartley is very creative on piano, with improvisation pouring out of his right hand while his left hand deftly keeps the time with appropriate chords. “Jitterbug Waltz” never sounded so good.

Clemons on drums knows just when to crescendo and when to dance softly beneath the music. De Rosa is cleverly and skillfully present on bass. When they complexly blend Miles Davis with Bach, I am totally impressed. Hartley has arranged the jazz standard “Solar” as part of Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Prelude No. 2 in C minor.” The artist explains in his liner notes:

“Here I am able to show how my eclectic interests and inspirations allowed me to intertwine two major standards from two different genres.”

When they move from a classical presentation to hard-bop swing, I am enchanted. I enjoyed hearing Carlo De Rosa’s double bass solo on this arrangement and was fascinated with how Jeremy ‘Bean’ Clemons complimented that solo on drums in a most unique and artistic way.

The stories this trio tells is represented by the works of Duke Ellington, John Lennon, Miles Davis, Bill Evans, J.S. Bach, Fats Waller and Paul McCartney. Although the songs are familiar, they have been completely re-arranged and consequently reinvented. These compositions sound fresh and revitalized, from the much recorded “Caravan” to the beautiful and somewhat obsolete composition by McCartney titled, “Junk.” The faces of these musical masterpieces are presented in uniquely different lights. Here are three dynamic musicians who smartly bring be-bop, pop and classical music together seamlessly and wrap us warmly in their musical garment. The release date for this awesome recording is October 7, 2016.
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AL STRONG – “LOVE STRONG – VOLUME 1”
Independent Label

Al Strong, trumpet/flugelhorn/steelpan; Jeremy ‘Bean’ Clemons & Lajhi Hampden, drums; Lance Scott, bass; Ameen Saleem, acoustic bass; Ryan Hanseler, piano/Fender Rhodes; Lovell Bradford, piano/organ/Wurly; Joel Holloway & Charles Robinson, Hammond B-3 organ; JC Martin, guitar; Brevan Hampden, percussion; Shaena Ryan Martin, baritone saxophone; Bluford Thompson, tenor saxophone; James ‘Saxmo’ Gates, alto saxophone; Alan Thompson, soprano saxophone; Jordan Baker, Charles Robinson, Jeremy “bean” Clemons & Bluford Thompson, Jr, Party Boys vocals; SPECIAL GUESTS: Ira Wiggins, alto flute; Joey Calderazzo, piano; Devonne Harris, Fender Rhodes; Ameen Saleem, Acoustic bass; Brian Miller, tenor saxophone; Lummie Spann, Jr., alto sax; The KidzNotes Mozart Chorus – Children’s Voices.

Al Strong comes be-boppin’ into the room complimenting his name; strong! The cut is titled “Get Away 9” and these musicians exemplify the concept of taking flight and ‘getting away’ excellently, starting with Jeremy ‘Bean’ Clemons on drums. He rumbles onto the set and spurs the horns into action right from the first four bars of this up-tempo-get-away. Wait! Didn’t I just hear this drummer on another CD I recently reviewed by Craig Hartley? Looks like he gets around in the studio. The featured artist, horn to lips, blows with gusto on this, his original composition and conveys a story of a possible road trip where musical friends indulge in spirited conversation along the way. They each have a lot to say, reflecting the magic of this project from the very first solos by Ameen Saleem, solid on acoustic bass. Other conversationalists are Clemons, dynamic on drums; Lavell Bradford, improvisational on piano and Bluford Thompson on tenor saxophone. Between Thompson’s commanding solo and Al Strong playing with time on his horn and riffin’ trumpet descants against the tenor sax lines, this listener experiences a conversation of sorts between ‘the cats’. Saleem is no slouch on his big, fat bass notes that support the entire ensemble throughout this song. This is a jazzy party, in the basement with the blue light on! I played this interestingly arranged tune four times before I could go on to the rest of the album.
The children’s voices caught me off guard on cut number two; (the kidzNotes Mozart Chorus). Singing a’cappella with innocence and sincerity, they performed the familiar “Itsy Bitsy spider” nursery rhyme. Strong has developed this happy-go-lucky childhood memory into a jazz tune worthy of a listen. He puts the blues into the mix, along with modern jazz, inclusive of free-flowing improvisational solos going on beneath his solo, like the walking bass and Ira Wiggins on a fluid alto flute. This time Lajhi Hampden is on drums.

It appears Al Strong has gathered a number of musicians, hand-picking those he felt would best interpret his arrangements and original compositions. “Lilly’s Lullaby” plays like a dirge and features the sensitive accompaniment of Joey Calderazzo on piano. But it’s always Al Strong, whose trumpet sensitivity and technique bring musical magic to each song. Be it familiar or original, he pours his heart and soul into playing it. I also found the freedom in his arrangements glamorize his accompaniment in extraordinary ways. It’s not often that an artist so lovingly and openly let’s his musicians shine with such strength and clarity. Often, they play simultaneous to solos. I find myself listening to the background musicians and instrumentation as much as the front line players. Strong is to be complimented on his deftness as a producer, arranger and free spirited musician.
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LITTLE JOHNNY RIVERO – “MUSIC IN ME”
Truth Revolution Records

Little Johnny Rivero, congas/bongo/timbales/talking drums/Quinto/barril de bomba/chants & minor percussion; Zaccai Curtis, piano/Fender Rhodes; Luques Curtis, bass; Ludwig Afonso, drums; Brian Lynch, trumpet/Louis Fouche, alto saxophone; SPECIAL GUESTS: Conrad Herwig, trombone; Jonathan Powell, trumpet; Alfredo De La Fe, violin; Natalie Fernandez, vocals; Anthony Carrillo, bongo/bata/barril de bomba/cuas/maracas; Luisito Quintero, timbales; Giovanni Almonte, poem; Manny Mieles, chant vocals; Edwin Ramos, coro.

Now here we have a bright, happy music project that is a true pleasure to attend and enjoy. My feet start patting and I am invigorated by the percussive energy, delightful horn licks and master musicianship. Percussionist/composer, Little Johnny Rivero successfully combines New York City East Coast energy with his Puerto Rican roots and infuses his production with Afro-Cuban rhythms. The very first tune, “Mr. LP” sets the standard for this entire project. Danceable and energetic, Rivero dedicates his composition to L.P. Founder, Martin Cohen, who he refers to as a dear friend and father figure in his liner notes. Special guest, Conrad Herwig, brings substance and creativity on his trombone. However, it’s Luques Curtis on bass and Rivero who steal the spotlight with their exciting rhythms and the locked down tempo and groove dancing beneath the Zaccai Curtis piano solo and Herwig’s trombone talents. Jonathan Powell, on trumpet, is also powerful on this cut. “Music in Me”, the title tune, is a sweet, Latin, jazz Rhumba with the intro melody playing cut-time atop multi percussive double-time rhythms. Brian Lynch’s trumpet solo is formidable, followed by the smooth, sexy sound of Louis Fouché on alto saxophone. Pianist, Z. Curtis, and Rivero have co-written this composition and it’s dynamic in production. I enjoyed the “La, la, la” vocals of Natalie Fernandez on “Palmieri, Much Respect”, cut #5. Fernandez has a unique timbre and tone that immediately catches the attention, even though she sang not one word, except “La-la” to reference the melody. It was an interesting concept that worked. In fact, this entire musical menu is delicious to the creative palate and to the discerning taste of this jazz aficionado.

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DAVE STRYKER – EIGHT TRACK II
Strikezone Records

Dave Stryker, guitar; Steve Nelson, vibraphone; Jared Gold, organ; McClenty Hunter, drums.

Once again, guitarist Dave Stryker has taken a basket full of hit pop and R&B tunes, then transformed them into jazz using organ, vibraphone, guitar and drums. He opens with “Harvest for the World” a popular Isley Brothers hit record. The problem for me, right off the bat, is that I miss the strong bass line that pumps tunes like this up into the Billboard top ten. No matter how hard excellent drummer McClenty Hunter plays, he can’t compensate for the lack of that strong bass line. I enjoy Stryker’s unexpected introduction on “What’s Going On”, made famous by Marvin Gaye and recorded a million times by many other musicians. Once again, the lack of a strong bass line takes away from the strength of this arrangement. Although Nelson’s vibraphone work is admirable and Gold’s organ accompaniment and solo are well played, I am still missing that bass line. I can hear the organ bass line on “When Doves Cry” way in the background. Perhaps it’s the mix on this project that is troubling me. That being said, I commend Stryker for choosing a list of eleven popular songs for us to rediscover in a jazzy way. He offers “Trouble Man”, “Midnight Cowboy”, Stevie Wonder’s, “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” and “Send One Your Love”; the Temptations, “I Can’t Get Next to You” (written by Barrett Strong and Norman Whitfield). These Motown gems for sure deserve to be ‘funk’ infused somewhere. “Send One Your Love” is very sweetly done, almost like a Bossa Nova, but not quite. Hunter tears the drums up on “I Can’t Get Next to You”, putting funk into the production, but without that all important bass line, it’s still lack-luster. To his credit, Stryker always manages to give a new perspective to these old, familiar songs and all the players manage to improvise so well that at times you totally forget what hit-parade composition they are improvising over. This is the case with “I Can’t Get Next to You.” Every solo is spirited and exciting, in spite of the lack of bass groove. Then, on the very end of the song, I hear that organ bass line being pumped out in a ‘walking bass’ that is intriguing. I think on “Time of the Season” they finally got Gold’s bass line delivered, where it sounds mixed into the production properly. The ensemble found a strong ‘Swing’ shuffle groove on this composition. When the musicians Traded Fours it stamped this Zombies tune with jazz approval.

As always, Stryker remains tenacious in delivery and improvisation on his six-string guitar. After 30 plus years in the music business, he continues to showcase his power as an arranger, as well as a player. Jaren Gold is also to be commended on his arrangement input on tracks 1, 2, 5 and 6. One of my favorites was Striker’s arrangement of “One Hundred Ways” and “Sunshine of Your Love”. All in all, just subject to the nostalgia that these wonderful songs conjure up, Stryker should get plenty of airplay on this, his 27th CD release as a leader.
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MEHMET ALI SANLIKOL & WHATSNEXT? – “RESOLUTION”
Dunya Records

Mehmet Ali Sanlikol, conductor/composer/arranger/harpsichord/clavinet/oog prodigy/keyboards/ney/cumbus/ud/talking drum/wter pot/vocals; Utar Artun, piano/Phil Sargent, electric guitar; Fernando Huergo, electric bass; Bertram Lehmann, drums; George Lernis, bongos/darbuka/def/tamvourine/cymbals; Mark Zaleski, alto saxophone/flute/clarinet; Dave Milazzo, alto sax/clarinet; Rick DiMuzio/tenor saxophone/clarinet; Aaron Henry, tenor saxophone; Jared Sims, baritone sax/bass clarinet; Mike Peipman, trumpet; Jeff Claassen, Tom Halter & Jerry Sabatini, trumpet/flugel horn; Chris Gagne, Clayton DeWalt & Tim Lienhard, trombone; Gabe Langfur, bass trombone. GUEST ARTISTS: Anat Cohen, clarinet; Dave Liebman, soprano saxophone; Tiger Okoshi, trumpet; Antonio Sanchez, drums; Nedelka Prescod, vocals.

From Turkish rhythms to full, swinging, big-band-arrangements, here is a project that speaks volumes about how jazz touches cultures and how cultures embrace jazz as the epitome of freedom and self-expression. I own a middle Eastern keyboard that has a multitude of cultural rhythms programmed into it. I was interested in hearing how this creative effort might embrace Malfouf, Fallahi, Maksum, Kazak, Saidi and various other Middle East rhythms. Starting with the very first cut, “The Turkish 2nd Line (New Orleans Ciftetellisi)”, this multi-talented artist opens with Middle East microtones and rhythms that quickly liquesce into something resembling a New Orleans orchestra. The production features lush horn harmonics built upon a rhythm section that sounds very Turkish in origin. This complete project is music Sanlikol (the artist) composed in the summer of 2015 and is meant to reflect the point where two cultures meet; his Turkish roots and American jazz. It was Mehmet Ali Sanlikol’s desire to discover his musical roots that led to a decade or more of unearthing Turkish music and soaking up microtones, Middle Eastern modes and rhythms.

“When I realized that I didn’t know much about my roots, that was a big shock and I think it triggered something in me that’s deep,” he explained in liner notes.
The second composition, full of minor modes and a male voice that sings like a distant chant or prayer over unusual rhythms and sparse orchestration, takes us back to a time and place far from American shores. So does cut #3, “Whirl Around.” This third composition takes us through a series of moods and musical revelations that are both interesting and creatively compelling, this time featuring a male voice and female vocalist, Nedelka Prescod, who moves from Turkish mode with English lyrics to improvisational scat at the snap of a finger. It’s an interesting concept. This music is unlike any jazz album I’ve heard before and that is quite a statement for this jazz journalist to make. I’ve listened intently to jazz music for most of my life and this concept is fresh.

When “Concerto for Soprano Saxophone and Jazz Orchestra in C” begins to play, I am enthralled with the various song cycles. One is titled, “Ballad, Reminiscence.” I am taken aback by the bluesy beauty of this composition. This production lends itself to an Ellingtonian sound with lovely horn arrangements and featuring emotional and moving solos by Dave Liebman with the jazz orchestra.

Mehmet Ali Sanliko was born in Istanbul and studied piano with his mother. He began performing publicly at age five. Winning a scholarship, he arrived in Boston to attend the prestigious Berklee College of Music and earned both Master’s and Doctorate Degrees from the New England Conservatory of Music. Dunya is a Boston-based independent record label that he co-founded and it’s used as a collective vehicle for contemporary music influenced by Turkish traditions.
The titles of these compositions, like the music itself, I found challenging, creatively excellent, intricate, and plush with styles, rhythms and musical persuasions that cross borders and fully entertain the listener.
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CAROL BACH-Y-RITA – “MINHA CASA / MY HOUSE”
Arugula Records

Carol Bach-y-rita, vocals; Bill Cantos, piano; Larry Koonse, guitar; John Leftwich, bass; Mike Shapiro, drums/percussion; Dudu Fuentes, percussion on track 9.

From the first cut, I have the feeling this is going to be a special musical offering. “Morning Coffee” is creative and cohesive, with a wonderful lyric and catchy, memorable melody. It’s composed by pianist Bill Cantos. Bach-y-rita sells the song and adds percussive vocals for good measure. She makes the song come alive and fades with just her voice and percussion. Nice! I love the arrangement on the old standard “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home to” with the guitar trio employing a Latin, 6/8 feel that makes it a unique listening experience. Carol Bach-y-rita has a propensity for using her voice to scat percussion and I appreciate her technique and creativity. It sets her apart from the average singers and enhances her platform as a jazz vocalist. I am impressed with her timing and tackling Eddie Jefferson’s version of “Night in Tunisia” is not for the faint of heart. Obviously, she has picked a group of amazing songs to sing and thanks to unusually fresh arrangements, as well as the sensitive group of musicians she is working with, here is a collection of pure talent. The last time I enjoyed “Tis Autumn” was when I heard Gloria Lynn sing it. Ms. Bach-y-rita has changed all that with her successful vocal on this beautiful jazz standard. Larry Koonse is a sensitive and established guitar accompanist. To top off the ice cream sundae of a musical experience, both sweet and tantalizing, this vocal artist tackles the Joni Mitchell and Charlie Mingus composition, “The Dry Cleaner from Des Moines.” It’s arranged by herself and reedman, Robert Kyle. They call it a Samba Reggae. LOL. Refreshing! I thought I had heard “Nature Boy” in every type of arrangement until Carol Bach-y-rita decided to sing it for us as a duet with drums. Just in case you had any doubts that she is a real jazz singer, this arrangement will put them to rest! Drummer, Mike Shapiro, plays beautifully and totally supports the artist with percussive excellence. The two of them have written and arranged “Trust”, a composition that follows, utilizing a Maracatu rhythm beneath the haunting melody. The artist performs in Portuguese with no problem and great emotion. I learned, from reading the liner notes, that she is conversant in five languages. Impressive!

The suggestions for airplay of this album reads, “File under jazz/vocal/Brazilian/world.” However, I say this is simply great music, featuring a beautifully recorded artist, who is shades of a female Al Jarreau or Bobby McFerrin and who is not afraid to jump off the precipice of music without a parachute.
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A MUSIC SOUP: SMOOTH JAZZ, BLUES, LATIN AND AVANT GARDE TAKE CENTER STAGE

August 26, 2016

A MUSIC SOUP: SMOOTH JAZZ, BLUES, LATIN AND AVANT GARDE TAKE CENTER STAGE

By Dee Dee McNeil / Jazz Journalist

August 26, 2016

TOM McCORMICK – “South Beat”
Manatee Records

Tom McCormick, tenor & soprano saxophones/flute; Pete Wallace, piano; Nicky Orta, electric bass; Eric England, acoustic & electric bass; Carlomagno Araya, drums/percussion; David Chiverton, drums; Edwin Bonilla, congas/bongos; Humberto Ibarra, guiro; Doug Michels, trumpet/flugelhorn; John Kricker, trombone. Special Guest Artists: Jonathan Kreisberg, guitar; Leo Quintero, guitar; John Lovell, trumpet/flugelhorn solos.

Energetic funk horns bounce into my listening room with gusto. The tune is “South Beat”, the title of this musical package and an original composition by the artist. McCormick offers pick-you-up music. Jazz that rejuvenates. After putting on three or four CDs that disappointed me, I was really pleased to hear this production. McCormick brings a fresh face to old standards and previews some original compositions that sound like they could easily become jazz standards. For example, two of his compositions, with strong Latin influence like “Iridescence” and “Blue Cha,” sound as though I have heard them before and are well produced and beautifully melodic. Carlomagno Araya on drums and Edwin Bonilla, percussion, dance away with rhythm personified. McCormick solos strongly on tenor and soprano saxophones throughout, while the horn section appropriately embellishes the production on “Iridescence”. McCormick has written all arrangements and co-produced tracks 1,2,4,8 & 10 with Araya. Another favorite original composition is “Mantra” with a stellar solo by guest artist, Jonathan Kreisberg on guitar and this tune delivers a catchy melody. You’re bound to sing along with this one. John Coltrane’s “Naima” is always a treat to hear and this group of musicians does it justice with Pete Wallace basking in the spotlight on his piano solo. Another favorite of mine is Victor Young & Ned Washington’s tune, “My Foolish Heart”. It’s such a beautiful song, featuring a very bluesy, sexy solo by McCormick, with Eric England making a stand-out, solo statement on double bass. This group transitions easily from straight-ahead to funk; from Brazilian and Cuban beats to rich blues and strong swinging arrangements. I played this Compact Disc four times and liked it more with each spin.

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MUSIC SOUP – “CUT TO THE CHASE”
Chicken Coup/Summit Records

Evgenia Karlafti, organ/piano/vocals; Nestor Dimopoulos, guitar; Vagelis Kotzabasis, drums; Anastasis Gouliaris, drums; Dimitris Popadopoulos, trumpet; Dimitri Vassilakis, tenor saxophone; Antonis Andreou, trombone.

No one loves an organ based jazz group more than I do, so when I heard that organ on the first song of “Music Soup’s” recording, I was happily expectant. “Cut to the Chase” is the title of this Cd and the song title of cut number one. It was composed by keyboardist, Evgenia Karlafti and guitarist, Nestor Dimopoulos. In fact, they have individually written or co-written every song on this project. The title tune bounces the time from 5/4 to 6/4 to 5/8 and races at top speed. I recognize immediately that these serious musicians are challenging the listener and themselves to play outside the box. Their next offering, titled “The Theme,” features Karlafti singing as well as playing organ. I prefer them as an instrumental group and I miss the B-3 organ bass pedal licks, but Karlafti is definitely multi-talented.

Music Soup is a good name for this trio of musicians because they embrace a mixed bag of styles and musical concepts that mirror their decade of playing together and their individual personalities. Nestor summed it up by saying, “We don’t limit ourselves stylistically.”

This organ trio, based in Athens, Greece, is an integral part of the Greek jazz scene. According to the liner notes, Athenian music conservatories began offering jazz programs in the late 90s and jam sessions sprung up all around the city. Jazz audiences and interest kept growing and today, their Greek National University has a Department for Jazz Studies that offers in-depth jazz courses. Here is a rich example of how our indigenous, American musical art form has inspired musicians from continent to continent. Because they have been working together for ten years, Music Soup has a tight, cohesive sound. Their music is well written and produced. On “Your Song” horns join the group. Special guests Dimitris Papadopoulos on trumpet, Dimitri Vassilakis on tenor sax and Antonis Andreou on trombone fatten the sound. However these horns, (nicely arranged by Haris Ziouva) are merely icing on the creative cake that Karlafti and Dimopoulos have baked. Nestor’s bluesy guitar and Evgenia Karlafti’s organ mastery are the fireworks of this production.
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DAVE BRADSHAW JR – “SET ME FREE”
Independent label

Dave Bradshaw, piano/synthesizer/organ/string programing/drum programming; Darren Rahn, tenor saxophone/keyboards/synthesized bass/drum programming/horn section/Wurli; Allen Hinds, guitar; Mel Brown & Ken Friend, bass; Tarell Martin, drums; Jason Rahn, trumpet; Christian Teele, percussion; Marqueal Jordan, vocals.

I’ve been looking forward to Dave Bradshaw Jr. being set free to do his solo project and show the world his composition skills and piano/keyboard technique. This is super happy music and well worth the wait. Bradshaw has co-written every song on his newly released CD with producer Darren Rahn. The first cut, “West Coast Jammin’” is playful and funky with Bradshaw playing piano and synthesizer and Rahn adding tenor saxophone, keyboards, synthesized bass and drum programming. Allen Hinds on guitar is musically strong throughout, but he comes to life on the second cut. This song sounds like it was based on the popular “Sunny” composition, but it has a fresh melody and Bradshaw overdubs his outstanding piano parts with organ and synthesizer. Tarell Martin brings fire and funk to the project with real drums replacing the programmed ones. “Guys’ Night Out” quickly becomes one of my favorite cuts on this CD. I especially like the fact that Bradshaw brings passion to the piano and isn’t afraid to stretch out and improvise over the tenacious tracks he’s laid down. Another favorite of mine is “Saboroso: with its Latin flavors and exciting percussive work by Teele and Martin. Mel Brown plays a strong groove throughout on bass. This is Smooth Jazz at its best, with Bradshaw bringing his knowledge of ‘Straight Ahead’, blues and swing, then mixing it up with funk and fusion. The blend is as natural and delicious as ice cream with cake. And Bradshaw’s premiere CD endeavor is as joyful as a birthday party. It will make you want to get up and dance.

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GENERATION BLUES EXPERIENCE – “PRIVATE ANGEL”
R Music, Inc

Ray Goren, Rhythm guitar/lead guitar/vocals; Jamie Powell, rhythm guitar/vocals; Sammy Lee, harmonica/vocals; Lester Lands, bass/rhythm guitar/vocals; Albert Trepagnier, Jr; drums; Tadg Galleran, keyboard; Rhythm guitar, Terry DeRouse; Andrew Bush, keyboards; Bobby ‘Hurricane’ Spencer, musical director/horn arranger/tenor saxophone; Dan Weinstein, Cornet/trombone; Retha Petruzates, Lester Lands, Robert Spender, Background vocals.

I visited the Seabird Lounge in Long Beach on Friday night and I was in for an exceptional treat. The Generation Blues Experience Band was performing and they put on a high energy, exciting show. The audience was literally dancing in the aisles and standing up to testify. Each of the male group not only played instruments but could sing lead and background vocals. Similar to this album, each took a turn to perform a solo song, every musician exhibiting a unique sound and vocal timbre. Sammy Lee is magnificent on harmonica and his voice is rich and gritty all at the same time. When he sings “Little Mama,” the women in the audience scream and shout. Pianist, Tadg Galleran, brought the house down when he sang “Even White Boys Get the Blues”, falling to his knees on the last chorus and, at one point, playing Ray Gorens guitar while Goren went to the keyboard to play an impressive blues solo. Speaking of Goren, his soulful rendition of the Bill Withers composition, “Ain’t No Sunshine” coming from a young man who is only sixteen years old, was surprising. But what really got the applause was his amazing technique on guitar. I could tell immediately that this youthful blues player is going to be a huge star.

Goren sings three songs on this album including “Ain’t No Sunshine”, “Rainin’” (co-written with Goren by drummer, Albert Trepagnier, Jr.) and “Private Angel” that Goren co-wrote with the band’s musical director, Bobby Spencer. I remember Lester Lands on bass from recently seeing him playing with a blues group at La Louisianne in Los Angeles. He stepped up to the microphone, still laying down a solid bass- line while singing “Shake, Rattle and Roll”. The audience chimed in on the ‘hook’ of the song. Every time Lester sang “Shake”, we all gladly came in with the familiar lyrics, “rattle and roll”. And the party was on! Ray Goren gave an exquisite guitar blues solo and once again I could hardly believe that someone so young could play with such finesse and expression. Lady GG came to the stage and entertained us with a couple of songs including an emotional rendition of “The Sky Is Crying”. She is not on the album, but she appeared with the band during their live performance Friday at the Seabird. She exhibited a strong voice and much rolling of the hips. Her songs ooze emotion. Drummer, Albert Trepagnier, has a beautiful voice and closed the second set out playing drums and singing. He’s not featured as a vocalist on this album, but I hope he will be on the next one.

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SONUS INENARRABILIS – “NINE LIVE plays the music of JOHN CLARK”
High Records

John Clark, composer/French horn; Kinan Azmeh, clarinet; Lynn Bechtold, violin; Dan Cooper, 7-string electric bass; Jennifer DeVore, cello; Stephanie Griffin, viola; Cesare Papetti, drums; Michael Rabinowitz, bassoon; Rob Stephens, keyboards; Thomas Carlo Bo, conductor.

This work of art is an EP rather than a CD, featuring only six songs, but still giving us the full breath and width of each composition by playing them each over five minutes. Consequently, you end up with nearly 40 minutes of music. The unusual CD title translates to “underfinable sound”. I note that the credits on the CD jacket list instruments one would consider more like chamber music than jazz instrumentation. Once the first cut, “Sibilia Colubri” begins to play, I find the composition very classically constructed. Rob Stephens’ keyboard work introduces us to a lovely melody and puts the jazz component into this piece. Clark’s French horn is unique unto itself and the strings add a touch of symphonic or string quartet magic to the mix. About mid-way through, Cesare Papetti kicks in on his trap drums, putting a funk face on the piece. I enjoy this unusual and creative arrangement, although I find the tune itself repetitive. The melody keeps repeating over and over, using various instruments to sing the same melodic line. Perhaps a bridge in the song would have helped. “Die Kreuzotter” is dark and ominous in tone and presentation. I can picture a villain creeping into a shadowy room with a hood over his head and a weapon in his hand. Come to think of it, the more I listen to the music of John Clark, I think he could submit this project to some motion picture company or perhaps consider scoring for film. He knows how to build tension in his music and the repetitious lines lend themselves to film scoring. The title “Nine Live” pertains to the nine musicians who have recorded this album. Just like the CD title boasts, Clark’s musical ensemble and his compositions come without boundaries and are difficult to define.

John Clark is no newcomer to the world of jazz. Early on he played with several NEA jazz masters like McCoy Tyner, Miles Davis, George Russell and Gil Evans. He was a familiar participant with the Gil Evans Monday Night Orchestra that reigned supremely popular at New York City’s Sweet Basil jazz venue in the 1980’s. Currently, Clark is on the faculty of Manhattan School of Music and passing the baton to the next generation of musicians.
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QUINSIN NACHOFF – “FLUX”
Independent label

Quinsin Nachoff, tenor saxophone/composer; David Binney, alto saxophone; Matt Mitchell, piano/fender Rhodes/Wurlizer/moog rogue/organ; Kenny Wollesen, drums/timpani/tubular bells/handcrafted percussion.

If you enjoy Avant Garde jazz and exploring unknown musical territory, Quinsin Nachoff’s newly released CD is perfect for you. Here is an artist that stirs up the territory between modern jazz and contemporary classical in a most unique way. Nachoff is unafraid of exploring the depth of untested musical waters. He dives right in with no restrictions, no life preserver and no limits. This bass-less ensemble includes musicians who are all leaders in their own right. Drummer, Kenny Wollesen, is the founding member of ‘the New Klezmer Trio’ and ‘Sex Mob,’ but has also worked with Bill Frisell, Norah Jones, Tom Waits and John Zorn. Matt Mitchell, is the pianist and keyboard expert. He’s worked as part of the faculty of the New York-based Center for Improvisational Music. Reed man, David Binney’s Mythology label is releasing this album and Binney is a prolific player/composer/producer who has collaborated with Donny McCaslin, Uri Caine and Chris Potter.

Tenor saxophonist, Quinsin Nachoff, is a graduate of the University of Toronto and has composed music for a variety of ensembles including the Toronto Jazz Orchestra, the Cecilia String Quartet, his own Horizons Ensemble and more. He also leads the Pyramid Project that brings together a saxophone brass quintet with drums. He has coached at the Banff Centre for the Arts, taught at the University of Toronto, at Humber College and served as artist-in-residence at the Queensland Conservatorium in Brisbane, Australia. He has composed all the music recorded on this compact disc and all four of these talented music men breathe vivid life into his work, at times sounding like way more than just a quartet.

These arrangements are pulled and stretched like a huge rubber band across the universe, using staccato like a sling shot and bouncing the tones around like polished stones against the sky. Here is an unconventional recording, featuring a quartet minus the bass, obviously on a quest for unbridled freedom.
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THE BIG BAND THEORY AND A TRIBUTE TO JOHN COLTRANE

August 12, 2016

THE BIG BAND THEORY AND A TRIBUTE TO JOHN COLTRANE
By: Dee Dee McNeil/Jazz Journalist

AUGUST 15, 2016

I had fun this month, listening to numerous and varied big band arrangements. There was MICHAEL GAMBLE AND THE RHYTHM SERENADERS who took me back to the 1930’s and ‘40’s with his Swing arrangements. HECTOR MARTIGNON’S BANDA GRANDE infused his band with Latin roots. RICARDO BACELAR blends Brazilian music with jazz fusion in a ‘Live’ concert recording. LOU CAPUTO delivers a big sound from his “Not So Big Band, Uh Oh!” and STEVE HECKMAN gives us a heartfelt tribute to John Coltrane. Finally, MICHAEL DAVIS and his HIP-BONE BIG BAND take a more modern approach with funk/fusion and punchy horn lines while celebrating big band excellence.

MICHAEL GAMBLE AND THE RHYTHM SERENADERS “RS”
Organic Records

Michael Gamble, bass; Jonathan Stout, lead guitar; Keenan McKenzie & Paul Cosentino, clarinet/all saxes; Russ Wilson & Laura Windley, vocals; Brooks Prumo, rhythm guitar; Gordon Au, & Noah Hocker, trumpets; Craig Gildner & James Posedel, piano; Josh Collazo, drums; Lucien Cobb & David Wilken, trombones.

If you love the music of the 1930’s and ‘40’s, this is a production that will bring you great happiness and joy. It is reminiscent of the big band era of Harry James, Stan Kenton, and Charlie Barnet. Michael Gamble has carefully chosen musicians who obviously “honor the legacy of this genre with integrity.” You can picture those girls in bobby socks and ballooning, full skirts Jitterbug dancing to this music with hands, feet and skirts flying in all directions. This is a tribute to big bands at a season when they were the popular music of the day; filling dance halls with young, stomping feet and majestically orchestrated big band sounds. From the very first cut, with the vocals of Laura Windley, we are transported to that time and space on “Back In Your Own Back Yard”. Boy, I haven’t heard that song since I was a little girl. Artie Shaw, Tommy Dorsey, Count Basie, Duke Ellington and Woodie Herman set the precedence for dance music and orchestrated jazz in my mother and Father’s Day. Gamble has proudly taken their baton and directed his orchestra in the same, historic manner.


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HECTOR MARTIGNON’S BANDA GRANDE – “THE BIG BAND THEORY”
Zoho Records

Hector Martignon, piano/accordion/conductor/composer/arranger saxophones; John Benitez, bass; Vince Cherico, drums; Samuel Torres, congas/maracas; Chistos Rafalides, vibraphone; Andy Hunter, Rafi Makiel, Luis Bonilla, Alvin Walker, Chris Washburne, Trombones; John Walsh, Seneca Black, Steve Gluzband, Julie Desbordes, Fabio Morgera, trumpets; Enrique Fernandez, Chelsea Baratz, Alejandro Aviles, David De Jesus, Jason Arce & Alex Han, saxophones; String Quartet: Nuine Melikian, Everhard Paredes, Samuel Marchan, & Diego Garcia. SPECIAL GUESTS: Brenda Feliciano, vocals; Joe Burgstaller, solo trumpet; Edmar Castaneda, Colombian Harp; Jorge Glem, cuatro; Roberto Quintero, cajon; Martin Vejarano, gaita (a Columbian flute)/tambura/maracon.

“The Big Band Theory” brings us a completely different look at orchestration and presentation. Hector Martignon is aggressive in arranging and celebrates a Latin perspective, along with showcasing his composer skills on this recording. There is nothing old-school about this production. I love the addition of vibraphone, which I first prominently noticed on “99 MacDougall Street”. This is Martignon’s third CD release, after being GRAMMY nominated twice. Colombian-born and now living in Harlem, New York, pianist Hector Martignon offers us daring, somewhat visionary arrangements, including compositions by Classical composers Bach & Mozart and the great jazz composer/pianist, Bill Evans. He dives into a composition of Brazilian songwriter, Hermeto Pascoal and surprisingly mixes things up by tossing Mozart in the mix. Martignon speaks of the 1990’s and the turbulent 1960’s era in the United States as inspirational, as well as his time in Germany during the Christmas holiday season. His music composition celebrating the “Trombone Chorale” is reflective of the pulsating rivers of people streaming like worker ants in and out of subways and/or trains, with Christmas music playing in the background. I found the arrangement on “Estate” to be awe inspiring. Martignon is an artist whose brush becomes his fingers across the 88 keys of his piano or placed colorfully on his accordion. He merges the music and emotion of his Colombian culture into jazz and classical music with strong strokes of creativity and genius.

Below is his take on the Bill Evans composition “Interplay” featuring the art of Wassily Kandinsky.


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RICARDO BACELAR – “Concerto Para Moviola ao Vivo”
Independent label

Ricardo Bacelar, acoustic piano/keyboards; Ronaldo Pessoa, guitar; Luizinho Duarte, drums; Miquélas dos Santos, bass; Marcus Vinicius Cardoso, violin; Marcio Resende, soprano/tenor/ & flute; Hoto Junior, percussion; Maria Helena Lage Pessoa, keyboards & percussion.

This CD begins as a well-orchestrated tribute to one of America’s premiere producer/arrangers; Mr. Quincy Jones. The Brazilian band plays Joe Zawinul’s “Birdland” composition and “Killer Joe” (by Benny Golson), two songs famously arranged and recorded by ‘Q’. The orchestration is lush and mirrors Quincy’s original arrangements. They were always favorites of mine. Ricardo Bacelar is a Brazilian pianist, as well as a composer and arranger himself. On this project, his focal point is the 1970s and 1980s jazz fusion era, featuring familiar compositions by Weather Report, Pat Metheny, the Yellowjackets, Moacir Santos and Antonio Carlos Jobim. This CD was recorded “Live” during the Guaramiranga Jazz and Blues Festival in Brazil and is his second album release as a leader. Michel Legrand’s tune, “The Windmills of Your Mind” is beautifully executed featuring the violin of Marcus Vinicius Cardoso, as well as a rousing electric guitar solo by Ronaldo Pessoa. The funk undertone keeps the familiar pop tune modern. Ricardo Bacelar has composed four tunes on this jazz fusion adventure and offers us a very enjoyable hour-plus of fine, well-executed music. Because the band is recorded live, you can hear that the audience is enthusiastic and receptive.


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LOU CAPUTO – “NOT SO BIG BAND, UH OH!”
Jazzcat 47 Records

Lou Caputo, baritone/soprano saxophones/flute; Joel Perry, guitar; Bill Crow, bass; Don Stein, piano; Dave Smith & John Eckert, trumpet/flugelhorn; Virginia Mayhew, tenor saxophone; Jason Ingram, trombone; Dale Turk, tuba; Geoffrey Burke, alto saxophone/flute; Warren Smith, vibraphone; Mike Campenni & Rudy Petschauer, drums; Eddie Montalvo, conga; Leopoldo Fleming, percussion.

On cut number one, the very first thing I hear that grabs my attention is the rich, exciting sound of a baritone saxophone soloing on “Black Nile,” a familiar Wayne Shorter composition. I turn to the CD jacket to see who’s playing that baritone sax solo. It’s Lou Caputo. As the disc spins and various musicians are featured on solo bars, I’m impressed with their individual master musicianship. Virginia Mayhew swings hard on tenor saxophone and so does Dave Smith on his trumpet during the delivery of this Wayne Shorter tune. And wow! Who was that rolling across those drums like that? Rudy Petschauer is powerful! Caputo has gathered a sparkling array of New York’s best to play these “not so big band” arrangements and make them shine. On the Don Elliot composition, “Uh Oh!” I enjoy Warren Smith’s vibraphone talents. One of the impressive things about this recording is the excellence of ‘the Mix’. Bravo to the engineers that mixed and mastered this recording. Was that you, Mike Marcianao at Systems Two? You can hear every nuance of instrumentation; every brush across the drums and each percussive expression on the conga. Bill Crow is balanced perfectly on bass to lock in with Don Stein on piano, Joel Perry on guitar and either Petschauer or Mike Campenni on drums. Here is a delightful, jazz adventure with rich, well written arrangements by Caputo and the late Chris White, that explore straight ahead jazz at its best. The “Not So Big Band” (which by the way sounds way big!) has been performing for over a decade in New York City and various concert venues. I’ll be playing this CD over and over again for years to come.


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STEVE HECKMAN – “LEGACY: A COLTRANE TRIBUTE”
Jazzed Media

Steve Heckman, tenor & soprano saxophones; Grant Levin, piano; Eric Markowitz, bass; Smith Dobson V, drums.

This music is rolling right up my lane. Coltrane is one of my favorite jazz artists and Steve Heckman has performed a heartfelt tribute to the master, daring to record it in ‘live performance’ at the Hillside Club in Berkeley, California. When I say ‘dare’ I mean it as a great compliment. So many artists these days go into the studio and lay down tracks, then use technology to fix things. Heckman shows his listening audience that he is up for the task at hand and needs no technology to enhance his recording. He does it ‘old school’. Walks up to the microphone and plays the music from his heart, using his own unique technique and expression. Heckman is well supported by Grant Levin on piano, Smith Dobson V on drums and Eric Markowitz on bass. I appreciated, enjoyed and respected the group’s ability and tenacity to tackle Coltrane’s astonishing legacy. This is an hour-long concert that brought me pure bliss and reminded me of the amazing talent and awesome body of work that John Coltrane left us to enjoy. It’s Heckman’s fifth CD as a leader. He resides in the San Francisco Bay area and All eight songs on this project are Coltrane compositions, with the exception of Rodgers & Hart’s “It’s Easy to Remember” from ‘Tranes’ 1963 ballad album. This gorgeous ballad was one of my favorite cuts on his album. The title tune, “Legacy” was composed by Heckman himself. It’s well-written and well-played, just like all the cuts on this ‘live’ production.

Heckman’s own legacy includes playing with trumpeters Eddie Henderson, Howard McGhee, Chet Baker and Tom Harrell; trombonist Roswell Rudd; pianists Andrew Hill, Benny Green, Jessica Williams, Jim McNeely, George Cables and guitarists John Abercrombie, Mimi Fox and Bruce Foreman. Let’s not forget drummers Jimmy Cobb, Eddie Moore, Donald Bailey and Pete Escovedo or vocalists Jackie Ryan, Madeline Eastman and Kellye Gray. And his legacy continues.
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MICHAEL DAVIS – “HIP-BONE BIG BAND”
Hip-Bone Music

Michael Davis, composer/arranger/producer/trombone; Andy Ezrin, piano; David Finck, bass; Will Kennedy & Jared Schonig, drums; SAXOPHONES: Dick Oatts & David Mann, alto; Bob Malach, Andy Snitzer and Charles Pillow, tenor; Roger Rosenberg, baritone; TRUMPETS/FLUGELHORNS: Nick Marchione, Jim Hynes, Tony Kadleck, Scott Wendholt, Kent Smith, and Zaq Dvis; TROMBONES: Michael Davis, Marshall Gilkes, Nick Finzer, Keith O’Quinn, Conrad Herwig, Bob Chesney, Andy Martin, Birch Johnson, Michael Dease and Amy Salo; Jeff Nelson. George Flynn and Bill Reichenback, Bass trombones.

New York trombonist and educator, Michael Davis, has put together his eleventh CD release to celebrate his composing and arranging skills, with the help of Kickstarter donations. From 1994 to 2007 Davis was the trombonist for the Rolling Stones. He also toured and recorded with Frank Sinatra from 1988 – 1994. He’s used his trombone skills to perform or record with a wealth of diverse talent including Michael Jackson, James Taylor, Bob Dylan, Aerosmith, Tony Bennett, Jay Z, Sarah Vaughan, Sting, Branford Marsalis, Bob Mintzer, Paul Simon, David Sanborn and Terence Blanchard, just to name a handful. He’s composed over one-hundred-fifty songs, ten of them he is featuring on this recent recording of a dozen songs. The first two compositions, “Butter Ball” and “Zag Attack,” feature horn lines that are punchy and repetitious, acting as a harmonic trampoline for the soloists to leap and dance upon. “Butter Ball” has a funky drum line that motivates this arrangement and Will Kennedy definitely is inspired on his drum kit. Davis’ composition, “Zona,” has a ‘Smooth Jazz’ feel with a catchy melody, where Davis takes a solo and so does Dick Oatts on alto saxophone. Davis had made sure that many of his band members get an opportunity to solo and show their masterful skills throughout this project. But for the most part, eighty percent of the Davis music is arranged for ensemble playing by the big band. Because he uses a more modern approach in arranging, with funk drums as a solid base for the players to dance atop of, I would never have guessed that at age 21 he was working as part of the Buddy Rich big band for two years. Later, he landed a position in Sinatra’s touring band that lasted seven illustrious years. Keeping this kind of company so early in his career had to greatly inspire and educate him. However, in this project there is no “Swing”. Instead, he has seamlessly blended today’s hip-hop/fusion sound into his big band production; thanks to the power and smash of drummers Kennedy and Jared Schonig.

One of my favorite tunes on this CD is the old standard “Sentimental” with Bob McChesney offering a triumphant trombone solo. I love Davis’ arrangement on this beautiful ballad. I also enjoyed “Show Up”, composed by Michael Davis & Cole Davis, that had an Avant Garde flair floating above the funky drums and amidst the fusion-like-harmonics of the horn section. Credit would have to be given to Bob Malach on tenor saxophone, Scott Wendholt on trumpet and Andy Ezin on piano who all added improvisational depth and character to the arrangement with their individual solos.
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JAZZ SPANS CONTINENTS & CULTURES

August 2, 2016

JAZZ SPANS CONTINENTS AND CULTURES
By Dee Dee McNeil/Jazz Journalist

August 2, 2016

This month I was inspired by two women who brought culture and unique perspective to jazz with the use of international languages and refreshing productions by amazing, world-class musicians. I’m talking about San Diego’s Allison Adams Tucker and Brazilian diva, Kenia. Speaking of culture, Harold Lopez-Nussa brings us a belly full of Cuban jazz, seasoned with African roots and American jazz and blues. Steve Fidyk, a forceful and creative drummer, charges out of California’s West Coast gates with an all-star group and vocalist, Catherine Russell reminds us of Harlem in the early years of jazz, big bands and chanteuses like Billie Holiday and Ethel Waters. Finally, UK’s own Benn Clatworthy brings his saxophone prowess to the forefront and asks us an appropriate question in today’s United States climate; “What’s Going on?” I tell you all about it in this column of CD Reviews.

ALLISON ADAMS TUCKER – “WANDERLUST”
Origin Records

Allison Adams Tucker, vocals; Josh Nelson, piano/fender Rhodes/pump organ; Scfott Colley, bass; Antonio Sanchez, drums; Chris Potter, bass clarinet/tenor sax/flute; Rogerio Boccato, percussion; Romero Lubambo, guitar; Mike Moreno, guitar; Stephane Wrembel, guitar.

This vocalist is quite extraordinary. She sings well in English, French, Portuguese, Italian, Spanish and Japanese on this groundbreaking recording. Yes, six languages and all sung with emotion, passion and sounding very authentic to this listener’s ear. The singer and her longtime pianist, Josh Nelson, flew to New York and recorded with an International group of musicians. The results is a unique and pleasurable project. Tucker majored in linguistics and minored in music. This album combines both passions. Her sweet soprano voices caresses each song and each language with plenty of expression.

The entire album is a very easy-listening experience and the musicians accentuate each song beautifully. I especially loved the guitar work on “Sous Le Ciel de Paris” by Stephane Wrembel. His guitar licks are rhythmic and enchanting. The arrangement on “Pure Imagination” is stunning and creative. Josh Nelson stands out, like a beaming star in the heavens, with his piano playing and accompaniment. Allison Adams Tucker sparkles with her ability to not only sing in varied languages, but also offers us an exciting menu of music, including Jobim’s popular “Aguas de Marco” sung in Portuguese and Pat Metheny’s “Better Days Ahead” where she shows off mad scat skills. Kudos to Matt Pierson who produced this project and brought the best out of everyone.
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KENIA – “ON WE GO”
Mooka Records

Kenia, vocals; Sandro Albert, acoustic & elec. Guitar; Romero Lubambo, acoustic guitar; Paul Socolow, bass; Adriano Santos, drums; Mark Soskin, keyboards & acoustic piano; Hendrik Meurkens, harmonica; Ago Pisztora, surdo; Lucas Ashby, percussion.

Born Kenia Acioly in Rio de Janeiro, Kenia always brings a rich, mellow sound to her music. In the 90’s and 90’s her singing was a pleasant introduction to contemporary Brazilian jazz, blended with pop. On this CD, the songstress reunites with members of her first band after nearly two decades. Her opening song and the title of this CD, “On We Go” is composed by Eric Susoeff with lyrics by Lorraine Feather; (songwriter and jazz historian, Leonard Feather’s little girl). The composer also arranged this tune, but for the majority of the twelve recorded songs, Kenia herself is the accomplished arranger.

She has also penned lyrics for a couple of the compositions. Ivan Lin’s “Closer to me” features the lovely addition of harmonica by Hendrik Meurkens and the rhythmical accompaniment of guitarist, Sandro Albert. This is one of my favorite tunes on this CD. The simplicity of the production draws the listener closer to the lyrical content, and Kenia loves scatting over the track, exemplifying her theme of freedom. Kenia’s voice is like a summer wind, gently rustling the leaves of a palm tree. Her music is soothing and smooth as a cloudless sky. She sings in her native Portuguese as well as English, and sometimes just scats with joyful sounds; no words necessary! Other favorite songs are: “On We Go”, “Melancia” with her voice soaring like an eagle above this well-produced track/no lyrics; “Zureta” and the happy, up-tempo, “Pra Qué Qué Inventaram A Bahia?”
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HAROLD LOPEZ-NUSSA – “EL VIAJE”
Mack Ave Records

Harold Lopez-Nussa, piano/keyboard/backing vocal; Alune Wade, bass/vocal/backing vocal; Ruy Adrian Lopez-Nussa, drums, percussion/triola/backing vocal; Mayquel Gonzalez, trumpet, flugelhorn; Dreiser Durruthy, tambores bata, vocal; Adel Gonzalez, percussion; Ruy Francisco Lopez-Nussa, drums.

This Cd enchanted me right from the cover, with a keyboard lying singularly inside an abandoned canoe. The artwork was compelling. The canoe is floating on a rippled lake with the artist’s name and CD title hoovering above it. Then the hum of a male voice appears, singing the melody of an unfamiliar song that strangely sounds as though I should know it. This voice, unpretentious and simple, singing in a language I do not speak nor understand, entices me. I feel the vocalist’s passion and his love. In face, I find this project full of love, life and creativity. Harold Lopez-Nussa, the composer/vocalist /pianist touches me deeply. When his piano playing begins, it both stuns and amazes me. Lopez-Nussa is unequivocally an extremely talented pianist/composer.

This artist, with a dual citizenship in both Cuba and France, is the first to release an album internationally since the Obama lifting of restrictions and the long-standing, U.S. trade embargo. Lopez-Nussa was born into a musical family in Havana on July 13, 1983. Both his father and uncle are working musicians. His deceased mother, Mayra Torres, was a highly regarded piano teacher and by the mere age of eight years old, young Lopez-Nussa was enrolled at the Manuel Saumell Elementary School of Music. After years of classical training, at age eighteen, he discovered jazz. Now, listening to this man’s virtuosity, I can only say his piano mastery is startling, beautiful and undeniable.

“Jazz was scary. Improvisation was scary; that idea of not knowing what you are going to play,” he shares in his liner notes.

Not to worry! Lopez-Nussa has mastered improvisation in the same way he has mastered his instrument and his composition skills. Surrounded by outstanding musicians, including his father (Ruy Francisco Lopez-Nussa) on drums and his younger brother Ruy Adrian Lopez-Nussa on drums and percussion, they never stop surprising me with energy, improvisation and technical skills. His bassist, Alune Wade, is from Senegal and you hear his vocals throughout this recording. On cut #6, trumpeter Mayquel Gonzalez executes a compelling solo. Lopez-Nussa incorporates blues, gospel, call and response, as well as Cuban cultural chants into his arrangements. I find myself totally engrossed in his concepts. Lopez-Nussa has a way of transporting the listener to various places with his music. One moment you are attending a party in Cuba and the next you are in Africa, surrounded by chanting voices and percussion. Then, suddenly you are in New York at a jazz club listening to Thelonius Monk’s popular composition, “Evidence”. All of this wrapped up in one composition, titled “Feria”.

“I’ve always liked the idea of projecting myself to the world from here,” Harold lopez-Nussa says in his liner notes, referring to his beloved Cuba.

This artist moves smoothly between classical, Cuban cultural music, popular and jazz music. His musical notes, wound together in this CD like a tightly wrapped ball of twine, compel the listener to become like a cat, who playfully pokes at the yarn watching the production unravel in creative and beautiful ways.
Release date is September 9, 2016.
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STEVE FIDYK – “ALLIED FORCES”
Posi-tone Records

Steve Fidyk, drums; Brian Charette, organ; Joseph Henson, alto sax; Shawn Purcell, guitar; Doug Webb, tenor sax.

This record company, Posi-tone Records, seems to have a group of musicians who are comrades and they make it a point to support each other by recording in concert and exchanging leaders. Just last month, I reviewed Doug Webb’s CD with most of these same players. However, on this recording, it’s the drummer who is featured as ‘leader.’ Monk’s composition, “Evidence” is a good way to begin any project. All those short, snappy, staccato notes that spell out the melody in that uniquely, creative way, are great for a drummer to be-bop along with and Fidyk takes full advantage of this opportunity. On Fidyk’s original tune, “Good Turns” he approaches the percussion support with a flurry of cymbal crashes and high energy that pulsates the song straight-ahead, rolling it forward like a freight train at top speed. Fidyk turns out to be a competent composer. “Caffe” is another one of his originals and is a lesson in straight-ahead drum chops that uses an awesome horn section to set-up the melody. Then, flying like a bat out of cave on fire, Fidyk pushes this wonderful group of musicians to their limits. The unusual breaks and harmonics remind me of Thelonius Monk’s composer skills. Just when I thought I was going to get all straight-ahead jazz and bebop, Fidyk flicked the switch on “Doin’ the Shake” where he shows he’s equipped to play funk with the best of them. This song gives Purcell a chance to showcase excellent guitar skills and by the way, Purcell wrote this piece. On “Moose the Mooche” the excitement peaks and the listener gets to enjoy Charette’s amazing talents on the organ. I had to play this one twice and both times it left me breathless. Fidyk obviously enjoys playing up-tempo, with challenging breaks and a band that brings the best of what they have to the session. Both horn players, Henson & Webb, perform unforgettable solos throughout, strutting their improvisational talents like finely tailored Italian suits. They’re sharp, trendy and play to impress.

Fidyk comes from a musical family. His father, John Fidyk, who played tenor saxophone in several East Pennsylvania groups, proudly took his eight-year old son (Steve) to gigs and had him sit-in as a substitute drummer when only a mere child. Both parents recognized their son’s musical talents early on. Consequently, they encouraged little Steve to hone his percussive skills. He majored in Music Education at Wilkes University and played drums in several big bands. To date he has performed on over 100 recordings and has an extensive discography. This CD will be a shining star to add to his growing constellation.
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CATHERINE RUSSELL – “HARLEM ON MY MIND”
Jazz Village/Harmonia Mundi Records

Catherine Russell, lead vocals/background vocals; Matt Munisteri, guitar/banjo/music director; Mark Shane, piano; Tal Ronen, bass; Mark McLean, drums; Jon-Erik Kellso & Alphonso Horne, trumpet; John Allred, trombone; Mark Lopeman, tenor & baritone saxophone/clarinet; Andy Farber, tenor saxophone; Dan Block, alto saxophone; SPECIAL GUEST: Fred Staton, tenor saxophone.

Catherine Russell has reached back to the potpourri of 1920’s, 1930’s, and 1940’s African-American music with emphasis on the golden age of Harlem. Compositions like “Blue Turning Grey Over You” by Fats Waller & Andy Razaf or “You’ve Got the Right Key but the Wrong Keyhole” bring Bessie Smith’s memory to the project. Other tunes like Ray Noble’s popular standard, “The Very Thought of You” and “Swing! Brother, Swing!” bring Billie Holiday and Ethel Waters to mind. “Let Me Be the First to Know” was composed by Leroy Kirkland, Pearl Woods, and the queen herself, Ms. Dinah Washington. However, Russell doesn’t sound like Dinah or any of these historic singers. She brings her own vocal stylings to the table. There’s no trace of Dinah’s phrasing or Billie’s poignant style. Russell proffers her own vocal persona, although there are times when her timbre and tone do remind me of Abbey Lincoln.

Russell explains, “It’s about not forgetting your roots. This album is comprised of songs from artists who played at the Apollo in Harlem, where all African American artists of note appeared.”

Ms. Russell comes from strong musical stock. Her father, Luis Russell, was a legendary pianist/composer/bandleader and served as Louis Armstrong’s musical director. Her mother, Carline Ray, was one of the pioneering vocalist/guitarists and bassists who performed with the historic International Sweethearts of Rhythm. These songs recall an era when her mother and father were working musicians. No doubt she heard many of these precious compositions as a youngster while growing up.
This is Russell’s sixth CD release and 2016 has proved to be a very busy year for her. She was featured in an hour-long concert on PBS television’s American Songbook as part of the NJPAC series. As a seasoned and touring background singer, Russell joined fellow members of David Bowie’s last touring band in February of this year for an emotional tribute to Bowie at the 2016 Brit Awards. She appeared at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. to sing the grand finale at the 2016 NEA Jazz Masters Award Ceremony, before traveling to L.A. for a live taping at Radio Deluxe with John Pizzarelli. In December, she will be a guest vocalist with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and Wynton Marsalis on their annual Holiday Tour.
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BENN CLATWORTHY – “WHAT’S GOING ON”
Laughing Lettuce Records

Benn Clatworthy, tenor saxophone; John Donaldson, piano; Simon Thorpe, bass; Matt Home, drums.

Marvin Gaye has written or co-written many amazing songs, but none has stood the test of time, politics, and cultures like “What’s Going On?” Decades after he composed it, I find myself asking that question over and over again, daily; especially in today’s highly charged American political climate. “What’s going on?’ Clatworthy has taken a new look at Marvin’s tune, honing it through the eyes of a jazz perspective (which Marvin would have loved since he was a great lover of jazz) and adding a unique arrangement that moves from the pop version to a double time, walking bass with a flurry of improvisational saxophone notes on the ‘hook’ of the song. Donaldson, on piano, gives us a superlative solo and Matt Home drives the familiar composition at a solid pace with drum sticks crashing and cymbals singing. Thorpe pumps that walking bass with splendid accuracy and locks in with the drums to hold both a ¾ time Segway and an exciting double time that captivates. I heard Clatworthy play this piece “live” at Maverick’s Flat in Los Angeles recently, and it was even more exciting in person using the iconic Henry Franklin on bass and Carl Burnett on drums with young, up-and-coming keyboardist, Sam Hirsh. The breathtakingly beautiful composition, “Here, There and Everywhere,” composed by Lennon and McCartney (of the Beatles fame), is performed with deep emotion and heartfelt sincerity. On “Limehouse Blues,” Matt Home gets to show off massive drum skills on his solo. But it is Clatworthy, with his Coltrane-ish approach to the music and his free form, improvisational skills, along with well-honed technique, who is the star of this recording. Surrounded by gifted musicians, they come together in a cohesive knit that makes us want to slip inside the music, smooth, comfortable and full of quality, like curling up in a cashmere sweater or inside your lover’s arms. This is music you play over and over again.
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