MARCH GOES OUT LIKE A LION & MUSIC MARCHES STRONGLY INTO SPRING

March 21, 2017

By jazz journalist/Dee Dee McNeil

March 21, 2017

I’m excited about the worldwide, new music I’ve been listening to and the youthful jazz talent I see developing in and around the Los Angeles community. With pride, I recently was one of several judges for the 34-year-old Dolo Coker Scholarship Foundation that funds young people pursuing musical careers in jazz. It’s good to know that there are youth who are interested in playing America’s indigenous treasure of jazz. It’s also enlightening that people like Sybil Coker are carrying on the legacy of her jazz musician husband, Dolo Coker, to fund young talent. Especially when we have a current political administration that is deleting art in the schools and destroying positive programs like the NEA (National Endowment for the Arts) and suggesting the deletion of government funding for PBS (Public Broadcasting System). So it was good to see students, some as young as fifteen-years-old, auditioning for Scholarships and playing jazz standards as their songs of choice. Very impressive! See http://dolocokerjazz.org

As this month goes out like a lion, Spring arrives, bringing a rebirth of talent and good music. The newly released music is colorful and peeks like flowers through the snow. I’d like to suggest some of the compact discs I found particularly entertaining. MICHAEL RABINOWITZ brings the bassoon front and center as a significant instrument for interpreting jazz. ALMA MATTERS is a group made up of musicians who are two generations of San Francisco area jazz masters, related by friendship and family. Reed man, JIMMY GREENE releases a second tribute album to his departed six-year-old daughter, who was murdered during the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, along with nineteen other students and six educators. Brazilian pianist, ANTONIO ADOLFO, celebrates the music of Wayne Shorter, blending cultures and LUKE SELLICK, a gifted composer and bassist, attempts to transform his compositions from mundane to magic and paper sheet music to gold. Below is my opinion.

MICHAEL RABINOWITZ – “UNCHARTED WATERS”
Catz Paw Records

Michael Rabinowitz, bassoon; Rusian Khain, bass; Nat Harris, guitar; Vince Ector, drums.

Listening to a bassoon sing jazz is a distinctive pleasure. After hearing Bennie Maupin and Yusef Lateef tackle this instrument, I have a certain appreciation and expectation of the bassoon’s power and persuasion. Michael Rabinowitz appreciates and exploits the acoustic characteristics of the bassoon and this makes his “Uncharted Waters” CD a joy to my ears. He does use pick-ups and electronic effects at times, but for the most part, Rabinowitz seems to be enthralled with featuring and preserving the raw beauty of the bassoon. He has composed four out of nine songs on this CD and I thoroughly appreciate his composer skills. Starting with the first cut and title tune, Rabinowitz brings the bassoon front and center to a stage of improvisational excellence. He is supported by three conscientious musicians on bass, drums and guitar. They give cement support to this artist, as he drives across their solid rhythm section. “Harold’s Blues” is the next original tune. The melody is infectious, with an arrangement steeped in staccato rhythms and a mind-blowing, improvisational solo by Rabinowitz twice; once at the introduction, featuring just the bassoon, with Vince Ector on drums. Ector has been an occasional drummer for the Charles Mingus Orchestra, where Rabinowitz first met him. This percussion master plays hard beneath the improvisation, making his trap drums dance and sing, while all the time supporting Rabinowitz’s artistic expression. Nat Harris, on guitar, offers an impressive 44-bar solo and takes the song to another level along with Rusian Khain, who walks his double bass emphatically beneath like a series of exclamation marks on the page. Speaking of Khain, he too gets his share of attention during this arrangement, both as a soloist and as the thick, bluesy, musical foundation always present just below the surface. He holds the rhythm section firmly together like Elmer’s glue. I played cut #2 over three times in a row. Perhaps because I enjoy the blues, but mainly because the musicianship is so well-executed and blended. “Caravan” is played at the speed of light. Fasten your seat belts. Rabinowitz has written a Bossa Nova song for his mom and dad titled, “Kiki’s Theme” that is quite lovely with lots of minor changes. Michael Rabinowitz’s mother played violin with the New Haven Symphony and was accepted to Julliard. His father was an abstract, expressionist painter and art teacher. They obviously bequeathed their love of art and music to their son. Wes Montgomery’s composition, “So Do It” is celebrated royally as a straight-ahead jazz arrangement. Rabinowitz is king on the bassoon, crowning the tune with improvisational creativity. This delightful CD is scheduled for an April 2017 release.

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ALMA MATTERS
Independent Label

Peter Apfelbaum, keys/tenor sax/flute/drums/percussion/string/woodwinds arrangement; Samora Pinderhughes & Ben Heveroh, keys; Jonathan Stein & David Belove, bass; Mark Whitfield, Jr., Mathias Kunzli & Charlie Ferguson, drums; Josh Jones, drums/percussion; Ivan Jackson, trumpet; Natalie Cressman, vocals/trombone/brass arrangements; Elena Pinderhughes, flute/vocals; Jeff Cressman, trombone/cornet/bass/Engelhart castanets; John Schott, guitar; Jill Ryan, vocals/alto saxophone; Will Bernard, guitar; Sandy Cressman, vocals; Paul Hanson, bassoon/clarinet; Erik Jekabson, flugelhorn/ trumpet; Steven Bernstein, trumpet; Marcus Rojas, tube; Robin Bonnel, cello; Rachel Durling, violin; Tony Lindsay, Julianna Cressman, Destani Wolf, & Terrance Kelly, vocals; SPECIAL GUEST: Jeff Weinmann, vocals/flute.

Lovely horn harmonics open this recording like a red velvet curtain parting to introduce a lush theatrical performance. Natalie Cressman’s lead vocals appear like the central character. Her voice is light and lilting, soaking up the warm, yellow spotlight. She has also composed this tune titled, “The Unknown” and she’s featured playing trombone. Talented lady. Jeff Weinmann is the creative force behind Alma Matter’s musical production, gathering two generations of San Francisco area jazz masters for his Tone Traveler Production company. It took four years to record this project, because one of the main creative forces, (co-producer Jeff Cressman, who’s also a sound engineer) was consistently on the road with the Grammy Award winning group, Santana. Weinmann explained:

“We’d record over holidays when everybody’s around. …I’m the facilitator … the project is really about celebrating these long and sustaining relationships.”

Peter Apfelbaum (another co-producer) has composed the next two songs. They are as different as sunrise and sunset. He brings his multi-talented skills playing keys, tenor saxophone, flute, drums and percussion. On the first composition, “Shadow Woman,” Jeff Cressman joins him playing trombone and bass. John Schott adds rhythm guitar on this high-spirited, Latin fusion production. The next composition, “Use It All,” is folksy, with Apfelbaum adding gospel overtones on the keys. Voices carry the melody, but it’s the horns that bring the element of jazz front and center.

This is a fresh and innovative group of seasoned musicians, talented instrumentalists, composers and vocalists. More and more, especially from the youthful Millennial musicians, I’m hearing the combining of cultures and musical styles on a single project. Perhaps, since art reflects society, this is an example of the world coming closer together. I certainly hope so. On the other hand, it challenges the labeling of styles for air play, while embracing artistic differences. As an example, this production suddenly becomes a hodge-podge of art forms. Cuts #5 and #6 issue in “Hold On” as a pop tune and “Get Involved” is a composition by George Jackson that sounds like a song Soul Man, James Brown would record. The jazz horns turn into back-up band “licks” from the Soulful Seventies, similar to Brown’s famed orchestra, Tower of Power or The Ohio Players. Cut #7, “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” is a traditional gospel hymn with added lyrics by Jeff Weinmann. The track itself could have been a Gil Scott Heron track or the background music from a scene in “Shaft”. There is obviously a great influence of the 1970s soul-music era reiterated by this group. Jonathan Stein’s bass groove on “You’ll Never Follow” sounds like a song Erykah Badu might record. So now we have moved into Hip Hop/Soul fusion, featuring the stunning vocals of Elena Pinderhughes. This is one of the cuts that sounds quite commercial. Is it jazz? Not really! But it’s still one of my favorite songs on this recording.

Percussionist, Josh Jones, makes a memorable performance solo on “Gospel Sermon” that sounds more jazzy than gospel. With strong horn arrangements throughout and the addition of voices, Negro Spirituals and even a South African flavored production of “Wade In the Water,” I am reminded of a Broadway Production. These musical choices leave me a bit confused, but definitely entertained.
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JIMMY GREENE – FLOWERS – BEAUTIFUL LIFE, VOLUME 2
Mack Ave Records

Jimmy Greene, soprano, alto, tenor & baritone saxophones; Jean Baylor, vocals; Rogerio Boccato, percussion; Otis Brown III, drums/percussion; Kevin Hays, piano/Rhodes elec piano; Mike Moreno, guitar; John Patitucci, acoustic and elec. Bass; Sheena Rattai, vocals; Renee Rosnes, piano/Rhodes elec. piano; Jeff “Tain” Watts, drums; Ben Williams, bass.

Green is Assistant Professor of Music and Coordinator of Jazz Studies at Western Connecticut State University in Danbury, Connecticut. Previously, he served as Assistant Professor of Jazz Saxophone at the University of Manitoba. Jimmy Greene is not only a prolific reed player and educator, he’s also a consummate composer and has composed every song except for one on this CD.

Three years ago, Greene suffered the unexpected murder of his six-year-old daughter, Ana Marquez-Greene, as one of nineteen other children and six educators who were killed during the despicable Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre. His first CD released on Mack Ave Records was “Beautiful Life” and celebrated his young daughter’s life.

With this new recording, Greene uses his talents to honor and memorialize the child’s life once again, with a superb collection of original compositions that strive to capture his daughter’s love of dance and singing.
Green recalls a comment Horace Silver made to him after listening to the reed player’s first commercial release. He told Greene he wanted to hear more songs that folks could tap their feet to and a more danceable groove. Jimmy Greene paid attention to the jazz giant. who was a frequent employer of his talents during the late 1990’s.

Jimmy Greene’s departed daughter once had a special greeting for her six-and-a-half-foot-tall dad. She used to say “Hey, big guy” and that becomes the title of Green’s first tune on this CD. The artist explains in liner notes that he used a 20-year-old piece of sheet music by Jackie McLean as his inspiration for this song’s chord changes, but came up with his own unique melody. Kevin Hays is both prominent and complimentary on both grand piano and Fender Rhodes, sometimes sounding like a tinkling descant to Greene’s flowery tenor saxophone horn lines. Ben Williams races his walking bass, keeping up with the swiftly played drums of Otis Brown the third, turning this tune into a hard, Swinging bebop.

“Stanky Leg” is Latin inspired. Greene picks up his soprano sax for this tune and is joined by the distinctive bass playing of John Patitucci. Patitucci plays both acoustic and electric basses on this composition. Renee Rosnes adds grand piano and electric piano to the track. It’s an interesting concept to use both acoustic and electric on the same session, fattening the track and preparing a solid platform for Jeff “Tain” Watts to explore his drums. The production is expanded by Rogerio Boccato’s tasty percussion work. The title tune, “Flowers” has lyrics that tear at my heartstrings, performed by vocalist Sheena Rattai. Her soprano voice floats above this solid production like petals blowing in the breeze. Rattai sweetly delivers the song, with a perfumed voice that lingers in your mind; especially the way she hits that high “F” so pure and beautifully. Greene employs all four horns on this tune, over-dubbing harmonics to express himself and letting his soprano saxophone fly like a bird atop the lush production.

When Greene returned home, after a long vigil on the same day his beloved, little girl was killed, he remembers finding a book of hand-drawn, hand-colored flowers inscribed ‘from Ana to Dad,’ in his daughter’s playroom. Consequently, the CD title was inspired.

“It was Christmas time, but it wasn’t supposed to be a Christmas gift. She just wanted to do something nice for Dad. She’d normally do things like that for no other reason than to brighten someone’s day. That is indicative of who my little girl was.”

Here Is a recording of memories and spiritual emotions that endeavor to conjure up the spirit of his daughter and the tenderness, joy and sweetness she freely shared during her short time on Earth. Like a bouquet of gorgeous flowers, these colorful tunes are offered lovingly to the public.
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ANTONIO ADOLFO – “HYBRIDO”- From Rio to Wayne Shorter
AAM Records

Antonio Adolfo, piano/elec. Piano/arrangements; Lula Galvao, elec. Guitar; Claudio Spiewak, acoustic guitar; Jorge Helder, double bass; Rafael Barata, drums/percussion; Andre Siqueira, percussion; Jessé Sadoc, trumpet; Marcelo Martins, tenor & soprano saxophones/flute; Serginho Trombone, trombone; Ze Renato, vocals.

With this recording, Antonio Adolfo celebrates the amazing music of Wayne Shorter. On the hand-painted cover, it states, “From Rio to Wayne Shorter,” and it was recorded in December of 2016 in Brazil. Adolfo explains:

“The music of the great Wayne Shorter … has especially inspired me through his melodies and harmonies. … This repertoire presented here is mostly from the ‘60’s and, as incredible as it may seem, is of an unusual relevance, giving us the chance to travel musically; infinitely. … Finally, the musicians and I gave the musical mixture our viralata (mongrel) and mestizo touch, to translate it into what is presented on this new CD.”

Adolfo opens with “Deluge” where you immediately hear him combining cultures and musical genres. Rafael Barata and Andre Siqueira fire it up percussively. Adolfo’s arrangements cushion the horn players with a rhythm section that works like a springboard. Jesse Sadoc stretches out on trumpet, with a colorful solo, as does Marcelo Martins on saxophone. Adolfo has taken familiar pieces like “Footprints,” “Black Nile,” and “Speak No Evil,” infusing these treasured jazz compositions with Latin rhythms and his own unique arranging skills. Every song on this artistic work is composed by Shorter with the exception of Antonio Adolfo’s original titled, “Afosamba.” On Footprints, he features vocals by Zé Renato and Claudio Spiewak adds a pleasing acoustic guitar solo. Antonio Adolfo’s piano prowess is notable throughout, leading this group of highly qualified musicians fearlessly and with intent and purpose. Martins’ flute solo on “Beauty and the Beast” is stellar. On “Prince of Darkness” Adolfo paints a canvas of colors with his piano melodies and rhythms. Unlike the tune’s title, his arrangement is light and bright. Jorge Helder’s double bass is always busy building a strong foundation for the others to rest upon. Here is a work of art I will play over and over again that brings continuous audio joy, peace and happiness.

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LUKE SELLICK – “ALCHEMIST”
Cellar Live Recods

Luke Sellick, double bass/composer; Adam Birnbaum, piano; Andrew Renfroe, guitar; Kush Abadey & Jimmy Macbride, drums; Jimmy Greene, tenor saxophone; Jordan Pettay, alto saxophone; Andrew Gutauskas, bass clarinet; Benny Benack III & Mat Jodrell, trumpet.

Luke Sellick is a gifted composer and demonstrates this by presenting nine original songs on his album entitled, “Alchemist”. According to Webster’s Dictionary, one of the definitions of an alchemist is one who transforms creation in a magical process or scientifically can convert base metals into gold or find a universal elixir. Sellick’s attempt to create magic with his music is successful.

He employs his talents on double bass to solidify this group of expert musical technicians. They transform his ideas from paper sheet music into a beautiful recording. “Q-Tippin” is Latin jazz with a no-apologies, straight ahead feel and features Jimmy Greene on saxophone and trumpeter, Mat Jodrell. The horn refrain is catchy and melodic; their solos soar like wild birds in flight. His composition, “Brothers” is more laid back, medium tempo, but energetic. It allows Sellick to step into the spotlight and take a big, double bass bow, introducing his solo early in the tune and locking down the rhythm section along with the steady drum sticks of Jimmy Macbride. Macbride’s drumming on this tune recalls the beat of Ahmad Jamal’s ever popular “Poinciana,” using mallets and performing with rhythmic fluidity. On the Sellick composition titled, “Hymn”, Adam Birnbaum makes the piano dance and sing, joined by the sensuous tenor saxophone of Greene. Underneath their innovative creativity, another stellar drummer, Kush Abadey, adds color and crescendo wherever necessary. “Dog Days” brings the blues front and center. Sellick’s compositions are strong and memorable. This ensemble of musicians certainly embellish his music with beauty, power and technique, while telling his story of the alchemist in subtle, yet provocative ways.
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OUTSTANDING PIANISTS, A GUTSY GUITARIST, BASS BAND LEADERS & EPIC ENSEMBLES

March 4, 2017

JAZZ INSTRUMENTALISTS: OUTSTANDING PIANISTS, A GUTSY GUITARIST, BASS BANDLEADERS AND EPIC ENSEMBLES
CD Reviews by jazz journalist, Dee Dee McNeil

March 3, 2017

This month, I celebrate some gifted jazz musicians who have recorded an array of excellent music for our listening pleasure. BILLY CHILDS is an internationally respected pianist (based in Los Angeles) whose “REBIRTH” CD celebrates his composing, arranging and producing skills. BILL O’CONNELL offers a solo piano recording, ‘Live’ at the Carnegie Farian Room in Rockland County, New York. The MICHAEL LE VAN TRIO beautifully interprets Le Van’s original compositions. Double bass player, STEVE MESSICK, leads his Endemic Ensemble onto the scene featuring all original material. Vibraphonist, ARTHUR LIPNER, brings us the best of himself in “Two Hands, One Heart” and guitarist, STEVE KHAN, chooses several standard jazz and pop songs, then transforms them into Latin soaked, musical gems.

BILLY CHILDS – “REBIRTH”
Mack Avenue Records

Billy Childs, piano/producer; Steve Wilson, alto & soprano saxophone; Hans Glawischnig, bass; Eric Harland, drums; Claudia Acuna & Alicia Loatuja, vocals; Ido Meshulam, trombone; Rogerio Boccato, percussion.

I remember many years ago, watching Billy Childs walk up to the grand piano where Detroit jazz icon, Tommy Flanagan, was playing. Childs took a seat on the floor at the foot of the master, folded his long, slender legs under himself, and watched with focused eyes every move, every nuance that the gifted pianist made. What a tribute to the master jazz icon and to Billy Child’s own unique journey towards perfection and honing his own extraordinary talent. Today, Billy Childs is a master himself.

From the first few bars of “Backwards Bop” Childs’ establishes his amazing style and precision with crisp, clean accuracy. No wonder he has been nominated for thirteen Grammys and won four Grammy awards. It is his arrangement capabilities and accompaniment that led vocalist Dianne Reeves to jazz popularity. He has also added his playing and arranging skills to the music of Sting and Yo-Yo Ma; Kenny Burrell, Freddie Hubbard, Wynton Marsalis and J.J. Johnson, to name just a sprinkling of the great talents he has worked with. Childs produced Claudia Acuna’s 2002 “Rhythm of Life” album as well as arranging and orchestrating it. Acuna co-wrote the title tune on this project, “Rebirth,” with Childs. It celebrates a re-emergence and warm reminder of Billy Childs’ genius. Who can play this swiftly with such accuracy on both note and rhythm? Who flushes out such gritty, tender, exciting emotions from the 88 keys like Billy Childs? No One! He builds his own hurdles of excellence and then works on leaping each one, raising the bar higher every time.

Surrounded by a group of other amazing artists, this ensemble holds his compositions up like a banner for the world to see and hear. Childs’ technique is impeccable. He thrills me and challenges listener-ears and human feelings to embrace his arrangements, both rhythmically unusual and aggressive. Childs’ offers melodies that haunt. For example, “Stay”, featuring vocalist Alicia Olatuja. The harmonics move in one direction beneath her powerfully beautiful voice, while the melody Childs composed challenges her pitch and perfection as it floats on top. The melody reminds me of a leaf, adrift in the swirling sea of music beneath it, while Olatuja’s voice pulls at our senses in an unforgettable way. “Tightrope” is another memorable and rich composition, offering Hans Glawischnig an opportunity to sing his expressive bass solo in the spotlight. He captivates. But it is always Childs who magnifies the production and arrangements with his inspired piano playing. He is the catalyst that creates the fire that Steve Wilson brings front and center on “The Starry Night”. Child’s opens this song, tinkling the keys like an antique music box. He is the shimmering star here, shooting across the galaxy, offering us a great crescendo of remarkable music.
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BILL O’CONNELL – “MONK’S CHA CHA LIVE AT THE CARNEGIE-FARIAN ROOM”
Savant Records

Bill O’Connell, pianist/arranger/composer/producer.

I was somewhat misled by the title of this CD, incorrectly assuming that O’Connell would be celebrating the music of Thelonius Monk, perhaps with Latin overtones. Instead I find that composer/pianist, Bill O’connell, has included the works of Kern and Hammerstein, Jobim, Burke/Van Heusen and Mongo Santamaria, along with his own compositions. Never the less, here is an engaging production, that celebrates solo piano. From the very first strains of “The Song Is You”, (played at a maddening pace and executed with technical perfection), I find myself captivated.

O’Connell’s lush work of musical art is captured ‘Live’ at a concert venue in Rockland County, New York. This gifted pianist sits at the grand piano, absolutely vulnerable and accessible to audience and critics alike. I am impressed with the way he builds each song, establishing the melody and then taking creative liberty to grow his self-expression with fluid improvisation. He plays proficiently, with no other accompaniment to enhance or color this production and O’Connell exhibits unwavering time. You immediately recognize him as imaginative and technically astute. He showcases his gift of improvisation on this recording, as well as reinventing standard songs like “Dindi, “Afro Blue” and “It Could Happen to You,” sharing his own talent and unique, solo arrangements. Here is a magnificent representation of singular piano excellence.
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MICHAEL LE VAN TRIO – “A DIFFERENT SHADE OF BLUE”
Independent label

Michael Le Van, Piano; David Enos, bass; John Ferraro, drums

I became acquainted with Michael Le Van last month when he sat-in with my trio in Huntington Beach, California. The first thing I noticed was his rich harmonic creativity. That evening, he inputted chords and inversions into the standard composition,m “Lover Man,” that I was not used to hearing. Consequently, I was curious to listen to his new CD, featuring all of his own creative compositions. His recording did not disappoint me. Beginning with “Do You Know What I mean,” once again I was captivated by his sense of harmony. This composition crossed genre’s, touching on Smooth Jazz one moment and Straight Ahead the next, with overtones of Latin jazz. David Enos is featured on a bass solo that is inspired. The title tune, “A Different Shade of Blue” is a lovely ballad with a poignant melody. Perhaps Michael explained this song best in his liner notes.

“The creative process is difficult to describe; inspiration comes to me in various ways. sometimes I associate colors with a particular harmony or musical idea. “A Different Shade of Blue” is an example of this, where the harmonic contour brought to mind a distinct shade of luminous blue. But for the most part, the act of composing is a fascinating struggle. I battle over which chord is most perfect and beautiful at the right place. … I can spend sleepless nights before I’m satisfied.”

Speaking of satisfied, I especially enjoyed hearing John Ferraro cut loose on drums during their presentation of “Fantasia In G Minor”, a spirited, Straight Ahead composition that captured my complete attention. Le Van answered my unspoken question, “but can you play the blues?” with his composition, “Remember That”. It Swings hard and gives all three players a chance to rubber-band-stretch their talents during improvisational escapades. I think that listeners will find this piece of CD art totally satisfying. Le Van and his competent trio present a flowing ribbon of original music that is both expressive and classically based jazz. Add to that, the expert musicianship of Ferraro, Enos and the artist himself. You will enjoy a colorful array of hand-painted, musical notes that reflect the canvas of Le Van’s innovative and artistic mind.

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ENDEMIC ENSEMBLE – “TANGLED”
Opus Funkus Music

Steve Messick, double bass/band leader; Travis Ranney, tenor & soprano saxophones; Matso Limtiaco, baritone saxophone/bass clarinet; David Franklin, piano; Christian Krehbiel, drums.

Endemic Ensemble’s first tune dances into the room waltz-time, with the horn section harmonically delivering the melody. Travis Ranney leaps to the forefront with a smooth, yet aggressive sax solo, followed by Matso Limtiaco. Then the two horns play tag across the silver disc, trading fours and challenging each other creatively. Enter Steve Messick on his double bass, calming the moment with tonal security and his big bass sound. Messick is not only the bandleader and bassist, but he has composed this first tune titled, “Sugar Art” and sweet it is! The second cut was composed by pianist, David Franklin, and is the title tune, “Tangled.” We get an opportunity to hear the trio up close and personal. They are a tightly woven garment that supports the horns like Spanks.

“The Snort” makes good use of the baritone saxophone and staccato notes. Although it sounds nothing like “The Pink Panther” song, it reminds me of it because of the production. Once again, Messick is the songwriter.

Based in Washington State, this ensemble has a signature sound by prominently adding a baritone saxophone and with three of the six players contributing original compositions. They have a group cohesiveness and their original music is well-written and well-produced. The horn arrangements are excellent, although no credit for same is given in the liner notes. I do wish I had heard a few tunes that were more fiery and explosive. The moderate tempo throughout leaves this listener with a desire for something more. “The Tolovana Stomp” almost satisfies my yearning when Limtiaco steps it up, playing double time on his saxophone solo, along with Ranney on tenor sax. Perhaps, if the drums had been mixed to the surface a bit more, this would have fused the group’s music with more energy. Trap drummer, Christian Krehbiel, cuts loose and plays an ear catching solo on “The Tolovana Stomp” and I would have enjoyed hearing more of his drums in the mix throughout.

All in all, here is a wonderful recording full of creative compositions and musicians who work together like a well-oiled machine.
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ARTHUR LIPNER, BEST OF – “TWO HANDS, ONE HEART”
Malletworks Media

ACOUSTIC MUSICIANS: Arthur Lipner, vibraphone, marimba; Jack DeSalvo, classical guitar; Bob Rodriguez & Fred Hirsh, piano; Todd Urban & Harvis S., double bass; Jon Berger, percussion; Vic Juris, acoustic guitar; Nelson Faria & Manny Moreira, acoustic guitar; Nanny Assis, Ney Rosauro & Glen Velez, percussion; David Darling, cello; Joe Meo, flute; Mike LaValle, bass; Bruce Williamson, clarinet.

ELECTRIC MUSICIANS: Arthur Lipner, vibes/marimba/steel drums; Bruce Williamson, soprano sax/keys; Adriano Souza, piano; Glenn Alexander, Vic Juris, Bill Bickford & Jerome Harris, elec. Guitar; Paul Adamy, Tom Barney, David Fink, Mike LaValle, David Dunaway & Randy Landau, elec. Bass; Nick Bariluk, keys; Ze Luis Oliverira & Vanderlei Pereira, percussion; Tommy Igoe, Mauricio Zotarelli, Jim Mola, Warren Odze & Joel Rosenblatt, drums; Bob Mintzer, tenor sax; Gary Schreiner, harmonica; Nanny Assis, lead vocal/percussion; Wycliffe Gordon, trombone/vocals; Chip Gawle, trumpet; Vanessa Falabella & Kathy Caprino, background vocals; Joyce Stovall, vocals.

Adjectives this CD brings to mind are beautiful, stunning, easy-listening, innovatively excellent, and ear-candy. From the first tinkling notes of his vibraphone on “Crystal Mallet,” the listener is whisked into a space of imagination and jazzy comfort. “Rio”, the second cut, takes us on a Latin ride with guitarist Jack DeSalvo setting the mood. Lipner’s music makes me happy. This is a two CD set. The first CD is all acoustic jazz and the second focuses on his electronic side. Wycliff Gordon is featured on trombone & scat vocals, setting fire to a Jimmy Guiffre composition called, “Four Brothers.” The tracks Lipner show-cases are pulled from recordings that date back to 1990 through 2015. For the most part, they are original compositions. He explained in his liner notes:
“Every moment is of the present, uniquely singular. For me it’s always the same, whether my album, or a United Airlines commercial; put on the headphones, shutout all else. Hear magic. Paint with sound.”

And paint with sound he does, surrounded by a diverse group of contributing musicians, Lipner brings us a surprise package wrapped in artistic expression and tied with bow-ribbons of classical-rooted technique and anatomical musicianship. This generous and well-produced CD offers twenty-four songs and a few precious hours of non-stop, easy-listening entertainment.

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STEVE KHAN – “BACKLOG”
ToneCenter Records

Steve Khan, guitar; Ruben Rodriguez, baby bass & elec. Bass; Mark Walker, drums; Marc Quinones, timbal/bongo/percussion; Bobby Allende, conga/bongo; SPECIAL GUEST ARTISTS: Randy Brecker, trumpet; Bob Mintzer, tenor saxophone; Mike Mainieri, vibes; Rob Mounsey, keyboards; Tatiana Parra, voice.

The Khan arrangement of Thelonius Monk’s tune, “Criss Cross,” is surprisingly infused with Latin rhythms and quite creative. You’ll want to slip on your Bossa Nova shoes for this one and prepare to swivel those hips. Productions like cut #4, “Our Town” (a Sammy Cahn/Jimmy Van Heusen composition) lilts along at a moderate pace, pushed by sensitive percussions and enhanced by Rob Mounsey’s keyboard strings. It’s easy to visualize horseback riding along a peaceful lake, with this song as the back drop. I love a bolero!

Khan’s guitar is always in command and at the forefront of his ensemble. On the Bobby Hutcherson tune, “Head Start”, Khan adds vibraphone to the mix, featuring Mike Mainieri in their spirited production. Once again, it’s Walker on drums and Quinones and Allende on percussion who drive this music hard, like cattle ranchers.
According to the liner notes, this is Khan’s fifth studio album since returning to solo recordings after nearly a decade. “Backlog” is perhaps his most innovative reimagining of musical material, generously splashing this repertoire with Latin and Afro/Cuban overtones. Compositions by Ornette Coleman, Greg Osby and even an infectious song written by Stevie Wonder called “Go Home” are all steeped in Latino rhythms. On Stevie’s composition, right from the first couple of bars, Ruben Rodriguez drops the bass groove down like a whip; crisp and commanding. Then Khan’s guitar brings the blues front and center on this Motown icon’s work.

This body of work celebrates Khan’s extraordinary creativity and technical abilities on his axe. The artist introduces special guests on this creative project, like Bob Mintzer, who lavishly sprays tenor saxophone colors on Ornette Coleman’s tune, “Invisible”. Randy Brecker also makes a guest appearance on Ornette’s “Latin Genetics” composition. As I listen to the final piece, Andrew Hill’s “Catta,” this innovative guitarist adds harmonic voices, singing like horns to enhance his production. For a brief moment, Khan’s guitar style reminds me poignantly of Wes Montgomery on this particular production. All in all, here is a recording that brings pleasure, energy, Latin rhythms and the innovative spirit that jazz inspires. Perhaps Khan explains it best.

“Because my general sound is intended to be big and warm, an impression of a jazz guitar sound, people don’t realize how loud and tough we’re all playing. The music …is very physical and intense. We were hittin’ hard!”

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UNFORGETTABLE JAZZ VOICES, PAST & PRESENT

February 13, 2017

By Dee Dee McNeil/Jazz Journalist

I am a huge LITTLE JIMMY SCOTT fan for over half a century. I was super pleased to see that music producer, RALF KEMPER, invested time and talent to produce Scott’s final album and a film documentary at the same time. It was humbling to review this biographical look at Scott’s final days in the studio. and to hear his swan-song recording before the last, life curtain fell. MICHOLE BRIANA WHITE is a new jazz voice on the horizon worthy of attention and ROBERT McCARTHER returns with his second solo album produced by KAMAU KENYATTA. Finally, VIRGINIA SCHNECK offers a very emotional tribute to ABBEY LINCOLN, singing Lincoln’s original compositions, with a ‘kickin’ band supporting her spoken word and vocals. Read all about it below.

February 13, 2017

I GO BACK HOME – A film documentary REVIEW featuring iconic vocalist, LITTLE JIMMY SCOTT

The film opens in 2007. An orchestra is pictured and a man with tussled gray hair is seated in an open field of grass. Fade to a white couch where this same man speaks to the camera in German. I wish there had been English sub-titles. Ralf Kemper is the music producer of this film and the man on the couch. His goal was to tribute the magnificent vocalist, Little Jimmy Scott.

A youthful Scott, with a baby face and slight of frame, appears on the screen in a childhood photo. Fade to Las Vegas, Nevada. This is where Jimmy Scott was living in the final days of his life. We see he and Ralf Kemper reviewing music at Scott’s home. Sheet music clutters the area and then cameras flash to Jimmy donning a black and white tie decorated with a multitude of musical notes. Kemper helps him adjust his tie and then the camera rolls back and we see Little Jimmy Scott being rolled out to a van in a wheel chair. My heart drops at the sight of him in that wheel chair.

I think back to Leimert Park, the Brooklyn-like community of Los Angeles, and the last time I saw Little Jimmy Scott. He was sitting across from me at Fifth Street Dick’s, a popular after-hours spot located on the second floor of a strip-mall building in the black community. There was always a well-attended jam session at this popular jazz room and many celebrities came to the Crenshaw area to participate musically or vocally. Still, I was floored to look over and see the great, Little Jimmy Scott sitting an arms -reach from my chair. He was friendly and kind when I ogled over him, embarrassing myself by telling him in all sincerity, “Little Jimmy Scott, I love you.”

Jimmy Scott is loved by many. You see that in this documentary. One of his admirers is producer, Ralf Kemper. His film captures the additional admiration of several notable super-stars, all who recognize the exceptional talent and impact of Little Jimmy Scott’s talent on our world of music. Among them are David Sanborn, actor Joe Pesci, who is pictured playing guitar and singing a duet with Jimmy Scott in the studio. By the way, Pesci sounds amazing. I didn’t know he could sing jazz like that and I’m impressed as he vocalizes, “I like New York in June, how about you?”

The sound track of this movie features Little Jimmy Scott, the vocalist I have admired and listened to for half a century. Scott’s beautiful vocal style is the one Nancy Wilson patterned herself after, as well as Etta Jones. This man changed the face of jazz with his behind-the-beat approach to music and phrasing. Pesci tells the camera, “Jimmy’s music is a serious spiritual experience.” He’s right!
Ralf Kemper has spent mountains of money on this project. You will view and listen to a full, 60-piece orchestra and a line-up of musical stars that all testify to the amazing capabilities of Little Jimmy Scott and his indelible mark on the music industry. Sadly, he never received the fame or made the kind of sensational money that today’s popular music stars wave, twitter and Instagram in our faces. Unless you are a die-hard jazz fan, you may not even have heard of Little Jimmy Scott. I suggest you Google him.

Monica Mancini is a huge fan. She shares that he inspired her as well as Madonna. Phil Ramone testifies to Jimmy’s ability to ‘swing’ hard, but be subtle at the same time. Quincy Jones remembers when he and Little Jimmy Scott were touring with Lionel Hampton’s big band. He says it was 1951, ‘52 and ’53 when Jimmy had that hit record, “Everybody’s Somebody’s Fool.” Black folks couldn’t sleep in white hotels back then, so Quincy said they used to sleep in a funeral parlor with the dead bodies. He shutters at the memory, and so do I
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Fade to James Moody laying down a solo at the Westlake recording studios in Los Angeles. Moody says he used to call him “Cryin’ Jimmy Scott” because of the elongated way he could extend a note. Not to mention the way his emotional delivery could touch souls.

Joey DeFrancesco appears on organ, pumping out the blues the fantastic way that he and he alone can do. Jimmy sits in his wheelchair, headphones on his ears, head tilted back and all this power and expression spewing out of his mouth; sweet as honey; mystical as fairy dust. The man is magic!

David Ritz, autobiographer and co-writer of Jimmy’s autobiography, “Faith In Time” is interviewed during the filming. He explains, Jimmy Scott led a troubled life. His father was an alcoholic. Jimmy was devoted to his loving mother, but she died in a horrific car accident when he was just twelve years old. At which point, Jimmy and his siblings were put into an orphanage. At age fifteen, doctors diagnosed Jimmy Scott with a hormone disease that stopped his growth. His voice would never mature, nor would his body. Thus, he grew no mannish body hair and his high tenor vocals remained strong his entire adult career. Add to this, his singing style and demeanor that were like nothing anyone had heard before or since. None of this made for an easy life. Scott was bullied and taken advantage of, in one form or another, his entire career.

Ray Charles said Little Jimmy Scott was the only singer who could make him cry. When no one would give Scott a record deal, Ray stepped up to the plate and the resulting production was released briefly in 1963. Everyone thought that album would be a big hit for Little Jimmy Scott. That’s when a small time record company owner, (a man named Labinsky) popped up to claim that Scott was still under contract to his company. The record album was pulled from the market and sat on a shelf gathering dust until 2004 when it was finally re-released.

Scott worked as a nurse’s orderly and even an elevator operator to make ends meet. Doc Pomus, a historic songwriter, who also has a wonderful documentary on the market that I reviewed, was so angry about the way Little Jimmy Scott was being treated by the music industry that he wrote an open letter to Billboard Magazine challenging Music Executives and demanding they give Jimmy Scott a record deal. Unfortunately, Doc Pomus died before he saw any movement by the music industry to offer Scott a recording contract. Strange how some things work. Little Jimmy Scott was invited to sing at the Doc Pomus funeral services. His stunning version of “Someone to Watch Over Me” captivated the crowd and several music moguls were present. As if Pomus was working magic from heaven, Little Jimmy Scott was rediscovered at his friend’s celebration of life. This resulted in Scott teaming up with Tommy Li Puma to make the beautiful album entitled, “All the Way.”

If you know of this man’s incredible work, or if you don’t, this documentary film will introduce you to a jazz vocalist deserving of accolades. The plethora of jazz giants who play on this production and testify to the greatness of Little Jimmy Scott is also worth your time and attention.

On the accompanying CD release and the final Little Jimmy Scott album, you will enjoy the star-studded contributions of Kenny Barron, Joey DeFrancesco, Martin Gjakonovski, Hans Dekker, Joe Pesci, Michael Valerio, Peter Erskine, Oscar Castro-Neves, Gregoire Maret, John Pisano, Renee Olstead, Till Bronner, Bob Mintzer, Monica Mancini, Arturo Sandoval, James Moody and the HBR Symphony Orchestra.
Opening with “Motherless Child” featuring Joey DeFrancesco on organ, Scott speaks the words to the song before breaking into a heart-wrenching interpretation of this old and beautiful standard. On film, you see him struggle to hold notes that used to be strong, but the emotion and style of his voice are no less magnificent, even at this weak point in his life. Despite failing health and fatigue, he manages to sell each song and capture our attentiveness in a web of sincerity. His duet with Joe Pesci, an old comrade from back-in-the-day, is impressive. You can hear Little Jimmy Scott’s influence on Pesci’s style and delivery. “For Once in my Life” is a memorable duet with Dee Bridgewater.

The same way that Billie Holiday could affect an audience, Little Jimmy Scott’s vocals move me in a way that stretches my heart strings and makes my eyes tear-up. Joined by Brazilian star, Oscar Castro Neves, “Love Letters” becomes a lilting Latin tune. Every vocalist should take a listen and a lesson from this great, talented man. May he never be forgotten.
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MICHOLE BRIANA WHITE – “THE OTHER SIDE OF ME”
Independent label

Michole Briana White, vocals; Eric Reed, piano; James Leary, bass; Billy Higgins, drums; Charles Owens, saxophone.

“You Don’t Know What Love Is” is performed uniquely and memorably; from soft, fuzzy, warm ballad to a double time that separates this vocalist from a million others who have sung this song. Ms. White is a force to be reckoned with and she performs with a freedom and expressiveness that is both fresh and uniquely interesting. On “You’ve Changed” she delivers the aches and pain that love can bring, selling us the lyric, but somehow using her vocals to show resilience and power instead of whining or giving up. Eric Reed, as always, is more than competent as an accompanist and exceptional as a soloist. James Leary, on bass, shows what magnificent stuff he’s made of in the realm of talent, proficiency and his exceptional ability to feel the artists around him and pull the rhythm section tight as a sling shot. When he lets go, with power and technique, it is his solid basement that supports this jazz house. Speaking of iconic support, posthumously, Billy Higgins appears on drums. This project was recorded when he was alive, some years ago, and has been sitting in the ‘can’ until this apropos moment. His drums propel the third cut on this EP, “Yesterdays,” with clean, crisp rhythm and unbreakable time that pushes Michole Briana White to her maximum potential. What a trio. Bravo! This talented vocalist brings something fresh and unexpected to each song. She delivers on her promise to entertain us, but never forgets the importance of telling a story to her audience. Ms. White has a wonderful range, good execution and more importantly, she doesn’t sound like anyone else on today’s jazz scene. She’s also pitch perfect. The bonus track, after a heart-felt rendition of “Don’t Explain” is one of her original compositions titled “Game Over” and was co-written by Kurt Farquhar and Jared Keith Griffin. All the vocal overdubs are her own harmonics and she has a natural, hip-hop, new age sound on this bonus track. Here is a vocalist that can sing it all and probably will.
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ROBERT McCARTHER – “STRANGER IN TOWN”
Independent Label

Robert McCarther, vocal; Kamau Kenyatta, piano/ soprano saxophone; Marion Hayden, bass; Thadieus Dixon, drums; Curtis Taylor & Dwight Adams, trumpet; Alex Rogowski, lead guitar; Vincent Bowens, tenor saxophone.

Robert McCarther brings a fresh perspective to the jazz scene with velvet, smooth, baritone vocals and his astute ability to ‘Swing’. After reviewing his premiere recording (“That’s Me”), I was waiting impatiently for this release. Accompanied by some of the best Motown jazz musicians, his second solo CD tackles compositions by Thelonius Monk to Bill Withers and Paul Williams. When I listen to the musical interpretations of Robert McCarther, I feel great joy. Here is a vocalist who consistently makes you pay attention to the lyrics. For example, on “Hi Fly,“ tastefully recorded in three-quarter waltz time, I was very familiar with this song’s melody, yet somehow I felt I was hearing the words for the very first time. The title tune, “Stranger In Town” sets the tone for McCarther’s entire recording. It features the sensational trumpet work of Curtis Taylor with complimentary horn arrangements by Kamau Kenyatta. This song exudes energy, while setting the tone for an album of straight-ahead jazz. Kamau Kenyatta also produced these sessions and is probably best known for his work with Gregory Porter’s Grammy Award winning albums. He’s also pianist on these sessions.

McCarther is no newcomer to jazz. His dad, Louie Barnett, played saxophone with the Maurice King big band. As a young man, Robert often went on ‘the road’ and sang with that historic band. McCarther was also a strong contributor to the “Broadnax Voices”, a Detroit jazz choral group that was put together by composer/arranger and Motown writer, Morris Broadnax. The jazz vocal group was born upon McCarther’s insistence. Robert explained, “I was over Aretha’s (Franklin) house one day and Nax (Morris Broadnax nickname) came by and (as usual) I started singing his tunes. I suggested he start a vocal group that just sang his many, jazzy compositions. Eventually, he did it. We were very popular, working in and around Detroit for several years.”

During McCarther’s six year tenure with “The Broadnax Voices,” McCarther sang harmonics in the background, as well as front-lining for the group as a solo artist. In fact, he and Broadnax have collaborated on one of these album songs as co-writers titled, “Ya’ll”, a swinging little tune about self-realization. Broadnax also contributed two more tunes to this recording project, including the title tune, co-written with myself and his self-penned, “Lately.” You will find Robert McCarther’s choice of repertoire both unique and introspective. He seems to be drawn to songs that not only have a strong melodic line, but also offer the listener prose that tickle our minds and stories of life that mirror our own. Here is a jazz vocalist who puts love and sincerity into every word he sings, while keeping the time like a master percussionist and inspiring us with his straight-ahead, musical truth.
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VIRGINIA SCHENCK – “AMINATA MOSEKA: AN ABBEY LINCOLN TRIBUTE
Independent Label

Virgina Schneck, vocals; Kevin Bales, piano; Rodney Jordan, bass; Marlon Patton, drums; Special Guest: Kebbi Williams, alto saxophone.

Abbey Lincoln, who is also recognized as Aminata Moseka, an African name gifted to her during a trip to the motherland. She was a friend of mine who I deeply admired. Abbey Lincoln was a force of nature with her musical abilities and thespian artistry. She wasn’t always easy on the establishment or the ‘powers that be’ and she and I met during our revolutionary activism days back in the 1970’s. I was part of the Watts Writers Workshop and she was often down the street at the Mafundi Institute. We often appeared on the same stages during these Black-and-Proud days. She was using music as her catalyst and I, as part of the Watts Prophets, was using a combination of poetry and music. We had two other things in common. We were both songwriters and we both studied vocals with the iconic vocal coach and pianist, Eddie Beal. In fact, when I established (along with Dwan Smith and Shirley Washington), The Eddie Beal Foundation, Abbey Lincoln bought a full-page ad in our Eddie Beal brochure. So, it was with extreme interest that I listened to this tribute to my friend and her compositions.

Lincoln’s songs are lyrically beautiful and rich with stories. I’m appreciative that Ms. Schenck has chosen to celebrate Lincoln’s songwriting talents. Some of her melodies are challenging with melodic movement that confronts the vocal range, while others are sing-song simple. You can clearly hear the melodic intervals challenge the vocalist in the very first song, “Talking to the Sun.” The trio is staunch and amply provides Schenck with tenacious support. There are some pitch problems in this opening tune, but Virginia Schenck’s emotional connection to these songs is to be applauded. On the 2nd cut, “Another World” the arrangement is extremely interesting with voice & bass playing tag with each other. This unique arrangement grabs the attention like the jaws of life. Kevin Bales shows his prowess on piano during their interpretation of “Bird Alone”. “The River” celebrates the Abbey Lincoln I remember with her husband, iconic jazz drummer, Max Roach, when they were recording very Avant Garde jazz music in her early career. It also recalls Lincoln’s penchant for acting, as Schenck recites the words like poetry. The musicians are awe-inspiring throughout. On this piece, they feature special guest, Kebbi Williams, soaring freely on alto saxophone. I thoroughly enjoyed their take on “Blue Monk” with an outstanding bass solo by Rodney Jordan. I do wish Schenck had not taken so many liberties with Lincoln’s amazing melodies. For the composition’s sake, as singers we usually sing a song down once the way the composer wrote it. Then, in the jazz vein, we improvise with the freedom jazz inspires. Being a published poet myself, I do applaud Schenck for including this art form in her recording and for celebrating the mastery of Maya Angelou with Abbey Lincoln’s music on,” Caged Bird”.

This is important work, not just for introducing us to the vocalist, but for reintroducing the world to the unforgettable compositions and the exceptional composing talents of Abbey Lincoln. Thank you for that, Virginia Schenck. I look forward to enjoying other vocalists, who will be inspired to tackle Lincoln’s smart, lyrical material.
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WINTER WEATHER: TIME TO WARM UP WITH HOT JAZZ MUSIC

February 2, 2017

By Jazz Journalist/Dee Dee McNeil
February 2, 2017

VOCALISTS, TUBA PLAYERS & ABSTRACT PRODUCTIONS SURPRISE ME

On a winter night, warming up with some hot jazz is a lovely way to spend time. I recently enjoyed listening to a number of new CD releases including extraordinary drummer BOB HOLZ, and a new, male, jazz vocalist and composer, SIDNEY JACOBS. HOWARD JOHNSON and his GRAVITY group absolutely floored me by presenting the tuba as a unique and forceful jazz instrument. Guitarist, BARON TYMAS, celebrates Montreal, Quebec on his latest release and a few CDs that came across my desk truly surprised me, like BEATA PATER, who exercises a completely new methodology to vocalizing and expressing herself on her new CD, “Fire Dance.” JOSH GREEN, a Herb Alpert ‘Young Jazz Composer recipient,’ presents an album that is quite abstract and truly unusual.

BOB HOLZ – “VISIONS & FRIENDS”
MVD Records

Bob Holz, drums/percussion; Larry Coryell, guitar; Ralphe Armstrong, bass; Randy Brecker, trumpet; Billy Steinway, keyboards; Alex Machacek, guitar; Mike Schoetter, bass; David Goldberg, saxophone; Rob Stathis, accompanying piano; Scott Gerling, percussion; Zoe Stathis-Sandor & Tori Higley, vocals;

Here is a production that comes on strong from the first high energy composition titled, “Flat Out”. The dynamic percussion is infectious. The Holz trap drums push the entire ensemble to their maximum potential. An attention demanding trumpet sings the melody and dances along with the undisputable groove that Holz perpetrates. Mike Schoettler lays down a tenacious bass solo and holds the rhythm section in place like super-glue. Holz has composed this song and the next one, “Take if From Maurice” with co-writer, Billy Steinway. Steinway also mans the keyboards on this project. This original composition is an ode to Maurice White of ‘Earth, Wind & Fire’ fame. Larry Coryell is featured guitarist on this second track and Detroit’s iconic bass man, Ralphe Armstrong, struts his stuff in his own inimitable way. “Take It From Maurice” has a very catchy melodic line and once again, although more moderate in tempo, Holz makes it memorable with his steady sticks and solid rhythm chops. “Five Times the Winner” is a Coryell composition and it challenges time and space, with Armstrong walking his bass underneath Coryell’s creative improvisation. This recording is a joyful piece of creativity that celebrates wonderful compositions, contemporary jazz, funk-fusion and excellent musicianship.

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SIDNEY JACOBS – “FIRST MAN”
Baby Chubs Records

Sidney Jacobs, vocals/composer; Josh Nelson, piano; Michael Jarvey, piano/elec. Piano/viola; Zephyr Avalon, acoustic bass/electric bass; Efa Etoroma Jr., drums/percussion; Wendell Kelly, trombone; Greg Poree, guitar; Nolan Shaheed, trumpet; Justin Thomas, vibraphone/marimba; Francesco Canas, violin; Cathy Segal-Garcia, background vocals.

Sidney Jacobs has a powerful voice that he has directed towards jazz, but often veers into the vernacular of Pop and/or Rhythm and Blues music. As a composer, he opens with “First” and then “First Man,” showcasing very smooth and fluid scatting. On “First” he features Greg Poree on guitar and no words are mouthed. Jacobs sets the jazz bar high with his scatting abilities. “First Man” (another original composition), could be compared a wee bit to Al Jarreau’s substantial sound and influence. On “My Favorite Things”, Efa Etoroma Jr opens the tune with an exciting drum solo. Jacob’s rich, baritone vocals float on top like silky water lilies. He continues spicing up the interludes between verses with his scatting abilities. I enjoyed Justin Thomas’ vibraphone sound on this tune, that lightened and brightened the arrangement. As a composer, Jacobs has a pronounced style that is uniquely his own. I can hear the Hip-Hop influence in his writing, especially lyrically. However, as an old-school composer myself, I miss hearing a distinctive ‘hook’ and its importance to the story being told. At times, there is a trace of Gil Scott Heron’s tonal quality in Jacobs style and even reflected in some of the Smooth Jazz productions like cut #6, “Sabine’s Grind,” that is another Jacobs original bending Hip-Hop, funk and R&B into his jazz production. On “Fly” he sings prose, with little to no rhyme on this tune. It’s an original and surprisingly, his voice distinctly reminds me of the great Dwight Trible’s style and vocal technique. Consequently, I believe this young talent is still in search of his own unique sound. He seems on the path to developing a style, and in time he will establish his own distinct sound.

I found myself more interested in Jacobs approach to standard or familiar songs and composers like, “Lonely Town Lonely Street” by Bill Withers, where I could listen for emotional connection in his vocals and the way he interprets a song. I was disappointed, because the ‘groove,’ which is always paramount in every Wither’s compositions, was distinctly missing. Next, I was excited to hear how he would interpret youthful R&B/Hip-Hop composer/Rapper, Kendrick Lamar’s song, “You Ain’t Gotta Lie.” Once again, he loses the ‘groove’ by slowing it down, without the funk drums and the double time lyrics dancing on top. This causes the lyrics and melody to lose power. Perhaps Jacobs needs a producer to bring out the best of his talents. He certainly has the vocal chops. Sacha Distel’s “The Good Life” is one of my favorite songs and Jacobs begins with just bass and voice. Josh Nelson brings a sensitivity and excellence to this arrangement on piano. No drums on this one. I finally get a clear glimpse of Sidney Jacobs, where his style and delivery is upfront and the production uncluttered. There is just bass, piano and voice to sell the song. Sometimes that’s all you need.
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BARON TYMAS – “MONTREAL”
TMDC Records

Baron Tymas, guitar; Joshua Rager, piano; Sage Reynolds, acoustic & elec. Basses; Jim Doxas, drums; SPECIAL GUESTS: Jeri Brown, vocals; Charles Ellison, trumpet.

The very first original composition on this album captivated me. The melody is catchy and I was soon singing along with it, as though it was a jazz standard. “The Laval Syndicate” is a very well written song by artist/guitarist, Baron Tymas. It features special guest, Charles Ellison, on trumpet and Ellison’s sensitive horn is the perfect interpreter of this Straight-Ahead melody. Tymas is a fine composer and a seasoned guitarist with strong improvisational skills. On “Orange et Veret,” Jim Doxas offers a stellar drum solo. Each one of the Tymas ensemble brings excellence to the forefront. On “Do Right,” bassist Sage Reynolds is allowed to explore his creative side on a long and very interesting double bass solo. Tymas doesn’t mind sharing his stage and it expands and drives his music, letting us get acquainted with his musicians and his compositions. The addition of the award-winning voice of Jeri Brown, a legendary Canadian jazz singer, adds interest on “And Oui,” (Oui meaning ‘yes’ in English). Her rich, classically trained voice curls and scats around the melody. There are no lyrics; only scatting. Joshua Rager, on piano, is always supportive in the rhythm section and during his frequent solos, one can appreciate his even and perfectly timed innovative qualities. “Wishbone” gives Tymas an opportunity to dig into the realms of Smooth jazz and funk, as does “Chicken on the Beach”. However, I am more enamored with the Tymas Straight-Ahead compositions. In the video included, Tymas is the guitarist to the far left in the suit.

This recording, and its gifted band, represent the city of Montreal, Quebec in Canada. Tymas wrote most of these original compositions, during his tenure of being a Fulbright Fellow at Concordia University in late 2015. The music here is based on the sights, sounds and people of this amazing Canadian city and performed by some of Canada’s premiere jazz musicians.
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HOWARD JOHNSON AND GRAVITY – “TESTIMONY”
Tuscarora Records

Howard Johnson, BB flat Tuba/F Tuba/baritone saxophone/penny whistle; Velvet Brown, ENS/Lead F Tuba; Dave Bargeron, E flat tuba; Earl McIntyre, E flat tuba; Joseph Daley, BB flat tuba; Bob Stewart, CC tuba; Carlton Holmes, piano; Melissa Slocum, bass; Buddy Williams, drums; SPECIAL GUESTS: Nedra Johnson, vocals; Joe Exley, CC Tuba; CJ Wright, Butch Watson & Mem Nahadr,background vocals.

This is an infectious album of great music, including a few original compositions by co-writers, Howard Johnson and Nedra Johnson. It’s unexpectedly pleasurable listening to Tubas play Straight-Ahead jazz with such energy and precision. I was very impressed with Johnson’s horn solo on the McCoy Tyler tune, “Fly with the Wind” and fly he does! This tune also features Dave Bargeron on E flat tuba. Carlton Holmes on piano is dynamic throughout, but I was enthralled with his solo on McCoy’s tune.

The next cut, Carole King’s famed “Natural Woman” composition, features Johnson pushing the blues through his tuba like no other I’ve ever heard. Velvet Brown adds a tenacious solo along with Johnson. Yes, Howard Johnson is full of surprises. After digging deeply into the soulful, rich, deep sound of both B flat and F Tubas, and sometimes playing baritone saxophone, he picks up a ‘penny whistle’ and serenades us on his self-penned, “Little Black Lucille.” I enjoyed Howard Johnson’s blues composition, “Working Hard for the Joneses” where he shows off his vocal skills and his ensemble adds tasty background vocals, reminding me of Jeanie and Jimmy Cheatham’s famed blues band, back in the 1980’s.
Howard Johnson is no new comer to the jazz scene. Critic Nate Chinen crowned Johnson, “…the figure most responsible for the tuba’s current status as a full-fledged jazz voice.” There wasn’t an existing repertoire for tuba in jazz in the early 1960s. Johnson caught the interest of the iconic, jazz bassist Charles Mingus and Mingus wrote adventurous parts for him to play. It’s said that even seasoned trombonists didn’t want to play those challenging notes written on the musical page. Johnson was also admired by Gil Evans and Carla Bley. When you listen to this album of creative and inspirational music, you too will become a fan.
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BEATA PATER – “FIRE DANCE”
B & B Records

Beata Pater, vocals; Sam Newsome, soprano saxophone; Anton Schwartz, tenor saxophone; Aaron Lington, baritone saxophone; Scott collard, keyboard; Aaron Germain, bass; Alan Hall, drums; Brian Rice, percussion.

This project is unusual in that the artist’s vocals are used entirely like an instrument; no words spoken nor stories unfolding. This is comfortable background music that explores the art of scatting with the concentration on melody rather than storytelling. Beata Pater uses vocal layering as a technique to interpret eleven compositions. She invited Alex Danson to the project as her unique and gifted composer. Pater’s concept is to utilize her extraordinary vocal range and sing multi-parts, from deep alto to high soprano, sometimes using as many as sixteen studio tracks to accomplish her determined goal. At times, her sound reminds me of someone using a vocoder or vocal harmonizing device. According to the liner notes, Ms. Pater would rather be considered a lead instrumentalist than a vocalist, flipping the idea upside down that a jazz group has to simply support the singer. Instead, she melts her unique vocals into the world-music stew pot, becoming the meat of the matter. Yes, I said ‘World Music’ because this is not Be-bop, like Manhattan Transfer, or ‘Swing ‘ Jazz. The Danson compositions lend themselves to various cultures and musical credos. There’s nothing “Straight Ahead” here, but rather a comfortable blend of easy listening, instrumental productions. You might easily hear this recording on a World Music program, NPR, or alternative and smooth jazz stations. From an artistic perspective, I appreciate Beata Pater’s desire to color her music outside the designated lines and vocally step outside the box. However, as a lover of jazz and improvisation, and because improvisation is one of the most important facets of jazz music, the structured way this project is recorded appears more classical than spontaneous; especially when it comes to the vocals. Additionally, I miss hearing a story or lyrics delivered emotionally by the vocalist. Without the use of a vocoder, I wonder how this concept could be reproduced on concert stages as a ‘live’ performance. However, as a recorded project, her concept is fresh and Pater’s vocal intonation is stellar.

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JOSH GREEN & THE CYBORG ORCHESTRA – “GREEN TELEPATHY AND BOP”
Independent Label

Josh Green, composer/band leader ; Charles Pillow, oboe/alto and tenor saxophones; Todd Groves, EWI/flute/alto and tenor saxophones/E flat clarinet/contrabass clarinet; Jay Hassler, B flat clarinet/bass clarinet; Nathan Schram, viola; Nick Revel, viola; Clarice Jenson, cello; PUBLIQuartet: Curtis Stewart, violin; Jannina Norpoth, violin; Nick Revel, viola; Amanda Gookin, cello; John Lake, trumpet; Chris Mich-Bloxdorf, trombone; Nathan Kochi, accordion; Sungwon Kim, guitar; Michael Verselli, piano; Brian Courage, bass; Josh Bailey, drum.

If you are looking for the officially abstract approach to jazz and orchestral arrangements, Josh Green and his sixteen-piece Cyborg Orchestra will fulfill those desires. Beginning with “Boy & Dog in a Johnnypump,” Green’s strange string arrangements and punchy horn lines unfold in a cacophony of sounds and energy. As a composer, Joshua Green could easily be labeled quirky. He seems to concentrate on melting modernistic jazz on top of classical roots, like A candy-cane scented wax candle melted a top a giant ice cream sundae of multi-colored flavors. It’s an odd combination. From the very first ‘cut,’ you find yourself transported to the outer-limits of musical boundaries and floating in an open space where anything can happen. On “Lauer Faceplant – Based on a True Story”, the music begins as odd as the title and very classical in nature. The contrary motion of a monk-like melody line played against a smooth and charming counter melody sets the stage for an inspired saxophone improvisation. According to the liner notes, this tune was composed in tribute to a strange meeting the composer had with TV celebrity anchor, Matt Lauer.

I was touched by “La Victoire,” arranged like a sensitive ballad and featuring Todd Groves on saxophone. Finally the composer’s beautiful side settles down into something I can consciously enjoy in its lovely simplicity. “La Victoire” is an artistic ballad. I discover (in the liner notes) that this composition is based on an image by artist Magritte and is one that is also played in a condominium commercial scored by Green. Another favorite is “Improvisation & Nebula,” featuring some Avant-Garde piano playing by Michael Verselli.

Joshua Green was recently awarded a Herb Alpert Young Jazz Composer Award from ASCAP and he is a Music Supervisor for ITV America, producing soundtracks for multiple film and television projects. He also contributes his composing and arranging talents to Broadway musicals. His Cyborg Orchestra includes some un-traditional instrumentation like accordion, the Electronic Wind Instrument (EWI) and unexpected voices.

If you are looking for a fresh approach to jazz and the classics, you will find this project both defineably different and strangely beautiful.
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CONCERT REVIEW: JOSH NELSON’S DISCOVERY PROJECT

January 30, 2017

CONCERT REVIEW: JOSH NELSON’S DISCOVERY PROJECT
By: Jazz Journalist/Dee Dee McNeil

Concert on Saturday, January 28, 2017

Remembering the last time I attended The Blue Whale, I arrived early in order to get a good seat. The place is generally packed. For those of you who haven’t joined the youthful and high energy downtown Los Angeles scene, for a moment you might feel you are in Tokyo or New York. The Weller Court Plaza is near a five-star hotel and sparkles with green and blue lights inside a tunnel like entrance off of 2nd Street. The Little Tokyo courtyard is peppered with small shops and the second and third floors feature a multitude of restaurant choices. A huge amber umbrella stretches above the courtyard and many people sit on the outdoor benches, even though the night is a little windy and quite cool.

Doors open at 8pm and I find a cushion against the wall where I can rest my back. I’m surprised to see that the club has added concert seating in fold-out chairs. When it first opened, there was only Japanese style seating on low-to-the-ground square cushions. For Westerners, the added seating is a big improvement. The unelevated stage space was cluttered with music stands and chairs. A grand piano sat stage front, a guitar propped-up near bye; drums, vocal microphones off to the side and a projector of his CD Cover, “The Discovery Project” in black and white sat on a movie screen hanging above the piano. It was also reflected as a backdrop behind the band. The standing room only crowd was half way to the door by the time Josh Nelson and his ensemble took to the stage.

Nelson featured a narrator, Robert Peterson, who is also a historian. For this multi-media experience, Petersen stepped to the mic and introduced us to pieces of Los Angeles history, while Nelson tinkled the keys beneath the narration. This introduced us to “Bridges and Tunnels”. The screen filled up with black and white movie scenes, famous L.A. tunnels and bridges featured predominately, while the original composition serenaded us. The collage of moving images was punctuated by a harmonic horn section.

Nelson welcomed the crowd after the first song and told us he was raised in Long Beach and loves Los Angeles. Thus, began this tribute to the city of his upbringing. At thirty-eight-years young, he has already performed as musical director for Natalie Cole, accompanied Sheila Jordan, Sara Gazarek, played with Dave Koz, Kurt Elling, John Pizzarelli, Lewis Nash, Peter Erskine, John Clayton, Benny Golson and too many more to list here. Nelson is a well-respected, jazz pianist, composer, educator and recording artist. He introduced us to his band. His guitarist, the son of the late, great, big band leader, Gerald Wilson, Anthony Wilson. Alex Boneham on bass; Dan Schnelle on drums; Brian Walsh on clarinet; Josh Johnson on saxophone; Chris Lawrence manning the trumpet; Kathleen Grace & Lillian Sengpiehl , both featured vocalists. Nelson thanked them all, including Travis Flournoy for his live video projections and Jesse Ottinger and Claudia Carballada for their scenography.

Peterson, the historian and narrator, once again stood behind the mic to give us a brief history of Griffith Park. We were told it was named for an alcoholic man who terrorized his wife, Tina. Because of his jealous personality, he wound up shooting the poor woman in her face one evening during a drunken rage. Although she survived and he was incarcerated, we learned that Griffith only spent two years in jail for this heinous act and built the City of Los Angeles, (and the political powers that be), the famed Griffith Park Theater and Griffith Park Conservatory. There was a collective gasp in the room.

The song that followed featured lyrics that professed, “The cities different but the sky remains the same” and was performed beautifully by guest vocalist, Kathleen Grace. Drummer Dan Schnelle slapped a back beat into the song and Nelson told us that featured vocalist, Grace, had co-written the piece with him.
The next composition, (“Stairways”) celebrated the Los Angeles’ four-hundred-and-fifty historic stairways that wind up and down hillside areas. On this original composition, Nelson made the 88-keys climb, while we watched black and white films of men in suits running and sometimes struggling up brick and cement stairs built into L.A.’s hilly terrain. This song featured amazingly beautiful solos by trumpeter, Chris Lawrence and saxophonist, josh Johnson. The groove in this song was warm and washed across the audience like island waves. Throughout, bassist, Alex Boneham, swings like a pendulum and was rich with tonality. In the movie sequence, when a woman in a black dress obviously struggles up the stairs on some hillside, Nelson plucks the grand piano strings to create a musical ambience along with experienced and stellar chops on the keys. I found humor in the film, but swallowed my laughter, because the musical arrangement was so stunning that laughing was inappropriate.

“Water” was the next topic and referenced the Roman Polanski film of 1974, “Chinatown,” nominated for eleven Academy Awards. Nelson’s arrangement was ripe with blues. Josh danced atop the multi-media and rhythm trio like a finger ballerina; twirling, spinning, skipping triplets up and down the ivory and ebony keys. His fingers caressed waterfalls out of the instrument before us. He made the ‘water’ topic came alive. Trumpeter Lawrence once again was awe inspiring, as was Anthony Wilson on guitar. Underneath, the splash of drums colored the film of the Los Angeles aqueduct bursting. As the water breached and flooded L.A., the band became Avant Garde, letting modern jazz and improvisation spill across the room. On film, the dam broke and their music exemplified that power, freedom, urgency and destruction. Impressive!

There was a visual artist (Claudia Carballada) who began to draw during one of the musical presentations and that was interesting.

All in all, it was a highly creative and innovative production. Jazz and multi-media make for a happy marriage.

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GREGORY PORTER AND MAVIS STAPLES RECEIVE STANDING OVATIONS

January 25, 2017

GREGORY PORTER AND MAVIS STAPLES RECEIVE STANDING OVATIONS
Concert Review by Dee Dee McNeil/Jazz Journalist

January 20, 2017

It rained in sheets, reminding me of Thailand’s monsoon rain storms. The Inland Empire, (often referred to as the I.E.) was wet with water and blown by wild winds that gusted up to fifty-miles-per-hour. Ms. Ruby Kia, my ten-year-old, red SUV that still looks young and vibrant, crept down the Cajon pass from 4300 feet above sea level to Orange County. For those of you who don’t reside in California, that’s about a 100- mile trek down the I-15 freeway; a well-traveled passageway that winds from San Diego, California to Las Vegas, Nevada. As Nick & Valorie Simpson sang, “No wind – no rain – will keep me from you baby.” No way was I going to miss this Gregory Porter and Mavis Staples concert at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, California. My long-time, Detroit friend, (Ricky) had bought these tickets way in advance. Even though I have seen both iconic vocalists before, I was still excited. To my sweet surprise, we were seated in the front row. Sitting before us was a cow-bell, a tambourine, a vocal microphone stand and another stand that would soon support an electronic tablet of music. No more paper music scores. Technology has come a long way in the last 20 years.

Enter Mavis Staples, dressed in black pants, a floaty black chiffon like blouse decorated with a long, gold chain. Her band took to the stage a few minutes before her appearance. Vicki Randle stood in position before the percussion set-up and locked her tablet into place. You may have seen Ms. Randle before as part of Kevin Eubanks’ Primetime Band on the former Late Show hosted by Jay Leno. Jeff Turmes on electric bass walked across the large wooden stage. Rick Holmstrom cradled his guitar and plugged-in, while Stephen Hodges settled behind the trap drums. Deacon Donny Gerrard stood next to Vicki, an amazing background vocalist who would shine during this performance, harmonizing with Vicki and sometimes letting his amazing range show-off using a killer tenor vocal. Right from the first stoke of Jeff Turmes’ fingers on the bass guitar, he set the groove and commanded the stage for the petite and iconic gospel star with the big voice. Mavis joined them with dimples flashing.

They opened with “Come Go With Me,” a song that sounds very similar to her big hit, “I’ll Take You There.” Then, from her album, “Livin’ On A High Note“ she sang “Take Us Back”, a song about family and people sticking together in support of each other. Vicki Randle was outstanding on vocals and percussion, blending smoothly with Deacon Donny’s voice to support the always energetic and spirited Ms. Staples. Ms. Randle commanded the cow bell and tambourine with a deft hand. The David Burke composition that The Staple Singers recorded back in 1982, “He’s Alright,” was rich with gospel musicality. Their hit record, “Respect Yourself” brought back warm memories. When she sang “What you gonna do when death comes creepin’ in your room,” the low down blues guitar had the concert audience captivated. Mavis Staples was animated on the song her talented father, “Pop Staples,” wrote for the MLK Selma march to Montgomery. She sang, “March Up Freedom’s Highway” with gusto. Her hour plus opening concert for Gregory Porter resulted in a standing ovation by the sold-out crowd. As an encore, she took us back down memory lane, turning the clock hands back to her 1971 hit, “I’ll Take you There.” The audience was again on their feet and demonstratively joyful. She received a second standing ovation.

After a short break, Gregory Porter and his high-energy band arrived, cool as a rainy California night. One of the most captivating things about this jazz vocalist is Porter’s ability to fly freely over his multi-talented rhythm section and make every familiar, original composition brand new. These are songs we love and play over and over from his hit albums. Yet, believe it or not, he makes each one fresh and more beautiful and exciting than the recordings we hold so dear. Porter opened with “Holding on,” encouraging Emanuel Harrold to fire the band up with his drum skills. Mr. Porter held the crowd in the palm of his huge hands as he sang, “On My Way to Harlem,” a song from his “Water” CD. He serenaded us with the title tune from his recent CD release, “Take Me To The Alley” and told us that his mother taught him about having an open heart and inspired the writing of this very spiritual song. He also thanked a young woman on FaceBook that he had viewed singing his song with conviction and talent. He said she reminded him of his mother and her spiritual passion.

Porter delivers a song like a prayer. He inspired the audience to shout and emote and say “Hallelujah,” as though we were in some Baptist church instead of a concert hall. Yes – We were all fired up by the ensemble’s offering of “Liquid Spirit” that had the entire concert hall flush with hand-clapping and featured young, Marietta, Georgia saxophonist, Tivon Pennicott. Porter is friendly with his audiences and honest, like a best friend. He tells us that there is a young man,(Pointing to the theater balcony) the son of a college mate from his time at San Diego State University, to whom he dedicates his next song. With gusto and power he sings, “Young Man, I’m Counting On You.” You can’t help but feel this artist is sincere and genuinely cares about people and his community. “The Consequence of Love” is so beautiful that it bullies my emotions and tears well up in my eyes. Behind him, his super talented bass player, Jahmal Nichols, plays with a smile as wide and colorful as a rainbow. He offered up an amazing bass solo that set the stage for Porter to surprise us with a Motown Standard song, originally sung by The Temptations. “Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone” never sounded so good. After one verse and a chorus, the bass player took over once again and Nichols led the ensemble into “I Do Not Agree … Musical Genocide.” Chip Crawford, the pianist who has been with Porter since his first recording, played an inspired piano solo, incorporating several songs into the chord changes from Reggae to “America the Beautiful”. Gregory entered with his rich baritone voice resting against our ears like a plush, cashmere blanket. He wrapped the attentive audience in a magical cocoon when he sang, “Leave your innocents and vulnerability with me.” When I left that concert hall, I felt I had done just that. All my emotions were scattered like puzzle pieces on the floor beneath my seat, spent in hand-clapping, tears and shouts of praise. These things could not begin to express the healing I received from Gregory Porter’s songs. The oneness of an enthusiastic audience, coming together to enjoy this master musician’s vocals and songwriting skills, was amazing. We found incomparable love and compassion in his presentation. We fed him bits and pieces of praise with two standing ovations. His encore, dedicated to our outgoing United States President and our incoming President, was carefully chosen. He sang us his message (as only he can) and filled our minds with love, hope and prayer; “When Love Was King.”


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A NEW YEAR UNLEASHES INVENTIVE COMPOSERS AND CREATIVE LYRICISTS

January 4, 2017

January 4, 2017
CD Reviews by jazz journalist/ Dee Dee McNeil

As the New Year rolls into town with bells and whistles, a few new CD releases offer an ear full of creative composing and arranging. Among them are RON BOUSTEAD with his be-bop vocals and exciting lyrics, LISA HILTON as a prolific composer and pianist, along with DAVID WISE, another fresh composer and jazz saxophonist. CHRIS ROGERS woo’d me with his Straight-ahead compositions and master band. Each offers a specific style and invites us into their world of songwriting, poetic license and self-proclaimed composition and arranging talents. Here’s my take on them.

RON BOUSTEAD – “UNLIKELY VALENTINE”
Art-Rock Music

Ron Boustead, lyricist/vocals; Bill Cunliffe, piano/Fender Rhodes/Hammond B3 organ; Mitchel Forman, piano/Fender Rhodes/Hammond B3 organ/accordion; John Leftwich, acoustic bass; Jake Reed, drums/percussion; Pat Kelley, acoustic and elec. Guitar; Bob Sheppard, saxes/flute; Bob McChesney, trombone; Ron Stout, flugal horn; Fabiana Passoni, guest vocalist.

One thing that has been missing or limited from the jazz scene is a male vocal in the style of Jon Hendricks. On the first cut, Boustead offers the listener some extraordinarily creative lyrics, sung in a swift-paced, be-bop style. It conjures up the image and artistry of Lambert, Hendricks and Ross. The following song is familiar, picked from the 1950s Era of doo-wop records popularized by crooner groups with eccentric stories, like “Love Potion #9.” This hit record was originally recorded by The Clovers. Several others covered this song, but I remember the Clovers rendition the best. Boustead’s arrangement is quite jazzy and far from the R&B roots of this Mike Stoller and Jerry Lieber composition, thanks to the creative Bill Cunliffe arrangements. “Coffee” is a lovely ballad extolling the plea of a gentleman asking someone out for a frothy latté or a cup of French Roast. Boustead’s lyrics are believable and compliment these melodies rhythmically. He exhibits a songwriting gift to be admired. “I Won’t Scat” shows me that indeed, he has studied the vocal somersaults of Lambert, Hendricks and Ross, because he mentions them in this catchy tune with comedic poetry that pokes fun at ‘scatting.’ The addition of a B3 organ to this tune lifts it to another degree of hotness. An example of Boustead’s unique lyrical composing is in the ‘hook’ of this song.

“… I won’t scat, tell you flat, off the bat, Keep my hat, kiss a rat, but not that .. I’m just not that cat…”

Surrounded by arrangers that push the boundaries of jazz like Mitchel Forman, Bll Cunliffe and Pat Kelley, Boustead basks in their rich glow. Together they bring new perspectives to old standards like “Autumn Leaves” and, as mentioned above, the Rhythm and Blues tune, “Love Portion #9”. The band is tight, supportive and features some of the best musicians that Los Angeles has to offer. Ron Stout sounds amazing and engages us on his flugelhorn during a provocative solo on, “Love’s Carousel.”

I find Ron Boustead totally engrossing and fresh. Some shades of Dave Frishberg dance in these catchy lyrics, but Boustead’s voice is a lot smoother and less nasal. He’s pleasant to the creative palate and tasty with his honest, sometimes spicy, poetic stories. This album is scheduled for a Valentine’s Day release and would make a sweet surprise for you or your loved one.
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LISA HILTON – “DAY & NIGHT”
Ruby Slippers Productions

Lisa Hilton, Steinway & Sons piano. Al Schmitt & Gavin Lurssen, GRAMMY award winning engineers.

A solo performance of any kind leaves an artist totally vulnerable and objectifies their art to the eyes of the public. It takes a very talented and confident artist to record a complete album as a soloist. In the spotlight, Lisa Hilton blossoms, presenting us with a package of original compositions that, she explains in her liner notes, are a tribute to one of her favorite composers; Cole Porter. Thus the title tune, “Day and Night” referencing in a round-about way Porter’s famed song, “Night and Day”. In her own words, Hilton describes the song as “… my commitment to discover and savor every day moments; to see the beauty in a day from the first glow of sunrise to the dimming sky at sunset, and to acknowledge and share these rich times with others.”

Hilton’s work is steeped in classical music, obvious right from the very first original composition, “Caffeinated Culture.” She has composed nine of ten songs, including one Cole Porter standard, “Begin the Beguine.” On “Sunrise” you can hear her blues roots. Although hugely inspired by Cole Porter, Hilton admits she is also influenced by jazz pianist/composers Horace Silver and Count Basie, as well as Blues by B.B. King and Brownie McGhee. You can hear Latin influences in her solo piano during cut #6 titled, “A Spark in the Night.” It brandishes a memorable melody and two-handed rhythms that encourage the feet to pat or dance a tango. Unafraid of the treble register, her fingers race around the 88-keys, demanding the best from all the notes, with special attention to the upper ends, especially notable on “Seduction.” “Dark Sky Day” is unforgettable and sexy, with smooth key changes, blues undertones and a beautiful melody that pleads for lyrics.

As an independent artist, Hilton has produced and released a total of nineteen albums. When not tickling the Steinway keys and playing solo piano, or working on her original compositions, you will find Lisa Hilton collaborating with such jazz luminaries as Christian McBride, Sean Jones, Marcus Gilmore, Lewis Nash, Billy Hart and many other jazz notables on various music projects. However, if you are a lover of piano and originality, here is a lovely album to add to your collection.
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DAVID WISE – “TILL THEY LAY ME DOWN”
Independent Label

David Wise, tenor and baritone saxophone/vocals on track 8 & 9; Bruce Forman, guitar; Alex Frank, bass; Jake Reed, drums; Special Guests: Mitchell Cooper, trumpet; Glenn Morrisette, alto sax; R.W. Enoch, tenor sax; Amy K. Bormet, keyboard; Mikala Schmitz, cello; Jason Joseph & Laura Mace, vocals; Josh Smith, guitar.

The opening song, “What More Could One Man Want?” is an original composition sung by special guest Jason Joseph. It’s dirge-like in feel and harmonic changes. I can almost see a New Orleans funeral procession marching slowly down a Louisiana avenue playing this catchy melody and celebrating the life of some departed soul. The lyrics have nothing at all to do with my reflection, but that’s how the music itself moved this listener. I thought it was beautifully mournful. Josh Smith, on guitar, performs an unforgettable and electric solo. The horn arrangements share the harmonic spotlight and feature some special guests who only appear on that particular cut including Cooper, Morrisette, Enoch and Bormet. The Wise composition, “Sylvia,” uses the same one-line melody as “I Love You Porgy” to open the verse. It’s a pretty ballad, but I wonder if he realizes he borrowed that well-sung line from the Porgy and Bess song? “Here’s That Rainy Day” swings, as does Alex Frank, who plays a powerful walking bass to keep the groove intact.
There is a touching sadness to all of the Wise original tunes, buried in his arrangements like tears flowing from woeful eyes. For example, the ballad, “Home” has lovely changes, but wreaks of blues. Nothing wrong with blues! I love a good blues and Wise flies through this song on his saxophone with emotion and admirable technique. Bruce Foreman’s guitar solo on this gutsy tune is lovely. They work together quite well, Forman being professor of jazz guitar at the University of Southern California and touring regularly with David Wise as a part of the “Cow Bop” group that Forman leads. “Kol Nidre” is a traditional Jewish song celebrating Yom Kippur and Wise takes an opportunity to play it solo on his baritone saxophone. “Till They Lay Me Down” is another blues tune that Wise explains, “ means that for as long as I’m here, I’ll be me and I’ll carry, as a part of me, every single person I’ve ever met and every single thing I’ve seen heard, smelled, tasted and done. You know who you are.”

Wise sometimes has a gritty, breathy signature sound on his horn and his band brings out the best of his compositions. Originally from Richmond, Virginia, Wise received a Bachelor of Arts from Oberlin College in African-American Studies, as well as a Bachelor of Music from Oberlin Conservatory in Jazz Saxophone Performance, and was mentored by Gary Bartz. He currently resides in Los Angeles.
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CHRIS ROGERS – VOYAGE HOME
Art of Life Records, LLC

Chris Rogers, trumpet/keyboards/composer; Michael Brecker, tenor saxophone; Ted Nash, tenor & alto saxophone; Steve Khan, guitar; Xavier Davis, piano; Jan Anderson, bass; Steve Johns, drums; Guest Musicians, Barry Rogers, trombone; Roger Rosenberg, baritone sax; Art Baron, trombone. Additional musicians: Mark Falchook, synthesizer/keyboards; Willie Martinez, congas/percussion.

From the first flowing notes of a tune called, “Counter Change,” I was in love with this album of straight-ahead jazz featuring original compositions by Chris Rogers. Rogers not only has composed all nine songs on this project, he has also arranged them. The late, great Michael Brecker made a guest appearance on the first and third track, (“Whit’s End”) and is stellar on both. A flurry of bass notes open the premiere tune and bassist, Jan Anderson, definitely snatches my attention. Pianist Xavier Davis adds solid support to the rhythm section throughout and his solo on this cut soars. “Voyage Home” is sexy and blue, with Ted Nash adding his own creative saxophone licks on this arrangement and Rogers selling the lovely melody with trumpet bravado. I enjoyed the way Rogers and Nash interacted with each other on the fade, offering a sense of freedom with their splendid improvisation. The horn harmonics and arrangements on “Ballad for B.R.” are lush and enhanced the melody sweetly. Willie Martinez’s percussion on cut #6, “Rebecca,” added spice and excitement to this composition, as did Steve Khan’s rhythm guitar. The Afro Cuban flavor infused this project, lifting it to another dimension. I enjoyed every song Rogers composed and his bandmates interpret his artistry to perfection.

The liner notes explain that Rogers celebrates his multiple families by creating this musical treasure. His father is a legendary Salsa and jazz trombonist, (Barry Rogers), and consequently his son was exposed to excellent music and musicians his entire life. These artists included the Brecker Brothers, who his dad played with during their jazz fusion ensemble, ‘Dreams’. For his premiere recording, Chris Rogers has surrounded himself with some of the best musicians the East Coast has to offer and they become his extended family. On this journey to becoming a solo artist, he has wandered a musical path that put him on stages and in studios with icons like Chaka Khan, Mongo Santamaria, Maria Schneider, Ray Barretto, Lee Konitz, Frank Sinatra, Buddy Rich, Eddie Palmieri and Gerry Mulligan. I had never heard of this talented trumpeter before this recording, but I will be listening for him from this moment forward. Here is a conglomerate of great music to be enjoyed over and over again. The Chris Rogers album is scheduled for a February 3 release.
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RACING “STRAIGHT-AHEAD” INTO THE NEW YEAR – CD REVIEWS

December 14, 2016

RACING “STRAIGHT-AHEAD” INTO THE NEW YEAR – CD REVIEWS
By jazz journalist – Dee Dee McNeil

STEVE SLAGLE – “ALTO MANHATTAN”
Panorama Records

Steve Slagle, alto saxophone/flute; Lawrence Fields, piano; Gerald Cannon, bass; Roman Diaz, congas; Bill Stewart, drums; SPECIAL GUEST: Joe Lovano, tenor saxophone (1 & 7 track)/G mezzo soprano sax (8)

The title of this latest Slagle CD release, “Alto Manhattan” translates to the ‘Upper Manahattan’ neighborhood of New York City, and is a slang by the Latino community to depict ‘the Heights’. Slagle has called this area home for the past twenty years. The drums propel his first cut with hurricane force. Bill Stewart on trap drums and Roman Diaz on congas light fire under this sextet. Lawrence Fields is no slouch on piano. His harmonics and comping chords punch the rhythm with a force that matches the power of Cannon on bass. You can really hear them merge and become the adhesive that holds the rhythm section tightly in place on the title tune, “Alto Manhattan”. There is all the NYC energy and magnificence wrapped up in this Slagle composition.

I was wow’d by the first take, but later on down the line, they add Joe Lavano to the mix and cut this tune again. It’s powerful both times. Slagle gives his band a break and records his own rendition of “Body & Soul,” simply solo. Playing a’cappela makes a memorable, musical statement. This tune and another one of my favorites, “Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out to Dry,” are the only two songs that are not composed exclusively by Slagle. I enjoyed his bluesy take on “I Know That You Know,” where Cannon took an opportunity to give us a creative and gutsy bass solo. “Inception” is another straight-ahead, original composition and favorite of this reviewer. Each musician takes a definitive solo-space to splash their creativity across the space canvas. Yes! Here is an album of jazz I will play over and over again.
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LAURA DUBIN TRIO – “LIVE AT THE XEROX ROCHESTER INTERNATIONAL JAZZ FESTIVAL”
Independent Label

Laura Dubin, piano; Klaran Hanlon, bass; Antonio H. Guerrero, drums

Here is a live recording that reflects the mastery and high energy of three awesome musicians and places the listener, thanks to the incredible ‘mix’ job, in the front row of a concert production. I was enraptured by their sound and Dubin’s notable technique, beginning with the Steve Allen composition, “This Could Be the Start of Something Big.” Right away, Laura Dubin establishes her breadth of power and musical persuasion. She has a light touch, never ignoring the piano’s treble register, but she’s powerful at the same time. This standard jazz tune is played at a clipping pace. Ms. Dubin jogs across the black and white keys to establish the catchy melody and then plunges into improvisation with style and creativity. The trio’s excellence continues non-stop. “Thunderstorm” features Dubin’s compositional skills and is beautiful, forceful and well-written. Hanlon on bass and Guerrero on drums are the perfect partners for interpreting her music and establishing a trio sound that mirrors the perfect trine. Per the title, this composition sounds like a thunder and lightning experience thanks to the astute attention to detail of Guerrero, on trap drums, as well as Hanlon’s solidity on bass. You can enjoy Halon’s solo and get to know him better on “Ode to O.P.”, another Dubin original that really swings. Everything on this recording rewards our ears and places the big “S” firmly in grooves that “Swing” non-stop. Bravo! This is a concert you will want to attend over and over again. By the Way, this is a two-disc recording that includes a taste of the jazz festival on video and press photographs.

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EL TORO – “ZARABANDE”
Independent Label

El Toro (Alfred Flores), marimba/malletKat/producer; Joe Caploe, vibraphone/percussion; Mark Little, piano; Pete Ojeda, bass; Dean Macomber, drums.

Mark Little’s grand piano chords are solid, demanding and grand. They take stage front immediately, from the first bar of the first track of this CD. This group is forceful and jazz is at the forefront, in-your-face and fearless. When the vibraphone arrives, like the pulsing hooves of “El Toro”, the mood changes from straight-ahead to Latin. El Toro’s marimba mallets fly and we are off and running. The vibraphonist, Joe Caploe has composed the first tune and two others on this production. From the very first composition, I am hooked. Pianist, Mark Little, has composed all the other songs. El Toro, (Alfred Flores) is a force to be reckoned with on Marimba and MalletKat, pulling from West African cultures and Latino roots. On the Title tune, “Zarabande,” Dean Macomber gets to showcase gargantuan talents on drums. On the third tune, “The West Wind,” the music changes to a more Pop/Smooth jazz style, showing the diversity of the group. Another favorite of mine is cut #6, titled “Praise”; a beautiful ballad. It’s unusual to combine a vibraphonist and marimba player on the same recording, but Flores and Caploe make it work effortlessly. Alfred Flores remains the bull, racing across the face of the music with lightning-fast mallets. His group works in concert, like matadors flashing their bright, red capes.
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ANDREA CLABURN – “NIGHTSHADE”
Lot 49 Labs, LLC – Independent label

Andrea Claburn, vocals/arrangements; Matt Clark, piano/Fender Rhodes; Sam Bevan, acoustic/electric basses; Alan Hall, drums; John Santos, percussion; Terrence Brewer, acoustic/electric guitars; Erik Jekabson, trumpet/flugelhorn; Kasey Knudsen, alto sax; Teddy Raven, tenor sax; Rob Ewing, trombone; Mads Tolling, violin/viola; Joseph Herbert, cello.

This conglomerate of jazz musicians bursts on the scene and sets the tone for a stunning recording project. As I listen to the amazing musicianship, they remind me of the bands that Betty Carter used to mentor; strong players, who are a force of nature on their own. I wonder what the vocalist will sound like. I don’t have long to find out. Andrea Claburn has composed this first cut and the lyrics race, like the jazz ensemble accompanying her. It’s not her voice that catches my interest, but instead her songwriting skills that grab my attention. Cut #2, “Bird On A Wire” she has co-written with Pat Metheny. Once again, her lyrics and her attention to the details of a challenging melody captures me creatively. I love this song! Claburn has a degree in ‘Jazz Studies’ from California Jazz Conservatory in Berkeley, California. She has arranged all tunes on this CD except “Skylark.” The other eleven arrangements are all hers and are very well done. Seven of the dozen songs recorded are her original compositions, some co-written with others. This is an interesting blend of challenging jazz compositions by respected composers mixed with Claburn’s own songwriting. The arrangements are exquisite and the musicianship is top notch. I applaud her composition talents and although she uses her voice like an instrument, the one thing I listen for in a jazz singer is that special ‘it-factor’ represented by quality of style and tone. Carmen McRae had it; Ella had it; Nancy Wilson has it; Chris Connor had it; Diana Reeves has it. Billy Holiday had it. Betty Carter had it. Ann Hampton Calloway has it. Cyrille Aimee has it and Sarah Vaughan had it. Claburn’s vocal style is indistinctive. However, I think she is a dynamic composer/lyricist and arranger. Much of her music swings hard,the way good jazz should.

Check her out “Live” below singing a Monk tune.

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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