CD Reviews

FROM LA TO CHICAGO, NEW ORLEANS TO MEXICO; JAZZ RULES !

CD Reviews by Dee Dee McNeil / Jazz Journalist

Read all about recently released CDs by LYNDA REED, The ROY McGRATH QUARTET, KEVIN A. O’NEAL featuring PATRICE QUINN, ART “TURK” BURTON AND THE ART ENSEMBLE OF CHICAGO, KIM NAZARIAN, STEPHANIE HAYNES, JOSEPH DALEY, The LARRY NEWCOMB QUARTET, and LOU VOLPE.

LYNDA REED – “OUR TREE”
Independent label

Lynda Reed, vocals/background vocals; Frank Zottoli, piano/keyboards; Abraham Laboriel, bass; Roberto Montero, guitars, backing vocals, Cavaquinho (and percussion); Enzo Todesco, drums; Abe Laboriel Jr., drums/tambourine; Justo Almario, flute/tenor and soprano saxophones; Rigue Pantoja, keyboards; Dave Compton, Chromatic Harmonica; Edgar Sandoval, violin; Leo Costa, percussion; Munyungo Jackson, percussion; Joe Fabio, percussion; DJ Theory (Nick Fabio), Vinyl scratch.

Lynda Reed’s whispery vocal style is infectious. She’s a local singer, based in Los Angeles County, who has a passion for lyric writing and jazz. Her soft tones gel perfectly with the Brazilian and Latin arrangements on this CD, starting from the very first cut, “Loving You” (formerly titled “Ponte Das Cordas”). Roberto Montero composed the song and once Reed heard it, she was inspired to put words to the haunting melody. According to Reed, Roberto has “…been my guiding light and melhor amigo throughout this entire project…” The joyful “Fiesta Lynda” was written by Abraham Laboriel to celebrate this multi-talented woman’s graduation from Boston, Mass General Hospital Institute. She first heard the song at the Baked Potato in Studio City when he surprised her with a loving introduction to his composition. It was an instrumental, until Reed picked up her pen and added lyrics. Laboriel’s amazing bass artistry is stellar throughout this CD as is Montero’s fluid and expressive guitar work. This singer/songwriter has surrounded herself with the best of the best and it shows in the arrangements and execution of these songs. “Remembering” is also a Laboriel Sr composition that Reed wrote lyrics for and the harmonica addition is genius. I am quite surprised and captivated by the unusual arrangement on “Stormy Monday.” Who could have thought that this familiar blues song could be transformed so completely by Montero into a fresh work of art? The title tune, “Our Tree/Tronco Do Jequitiba” is a Bossa Nova and Reeds light, bright voice fits perfectly inside the arrangement. Her lyrics tell stories of love, life and lessons learned. Not only does Lynda Reed write poetry, lyrics, and sing; she also has painted the cover art for her “Our Tree” CD. This artist offers us sixteen songs, including some jazz standards, but most of my favorites are Reed’s original compositions.

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ROY McGRATH QUARTET – “MARTHA”
JL Music

Roy McGrath, tenor saxophone; Joaquin Garcia, piano; Kitt Lyles, bass; Gustavo Cortinas, drums.

McGrath and his band are based in Chicago. Cortinas, the drummer, has New Orleans roots and was raised in Mexico City. Bassist, Lyles, is from Greenville, South Carolina and currently resides in Evanson, IL. Pianist Garcia is his own music director and is working on his premiere cd scheduled for a spring 2016 release. McGrath has San Juan, Puerto Rican roots and sang in choirs before picking up his horn and pursuing jazz. They all converged at Northwestern University, where each musician in the group received a Masters Degree. McGrath says in his press literature, this recording is an attempt to portray, in sound, a diary of the last four years of his life. It’s also a tribute to his grandmother, Martha Albelo, who had an amazing influence on his character and life path. Consequently, he has dedicated this musical tribute to her in name and spirit with the CD title: “Martha.” McGrath is showcased as a composer and arranger, as well as a reed man. Here’s a smooth recording with blues undertones and for the most part, easy listening jazz, with most of the tunes moderately tempo’d. I would be remiss if I did not mention the nearly unreadable inside album jacket and remind the CD designer that it’s hard to read font the size of ant footprints and that the names of the players are important and did not standout in orange against a green backdrop. Thank goodness for the accompanying press information from Jazz Promo Services. Musically, this work is beautifully melancholy and makes me want to curl up beside a roaring fireplace and cuddle with someone special.

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KEVIN A. O’NEAL featuring PATRICE QUINN – “SUNSET TO SUNRISE”
A New Way of Thinking, LLC

Kevin O’Neal, voice/contra bass/piano; Ribbecke Halfling 5 string acoustic bass guitar; Patrice Quinn, vocals; Otmaro Ruiz, piano; Jeff Goodkind, piano; Bruce Forman, nylon string guitar & Ribbecke Halfling guitar; Sid Jacobs, Ribbecke Halfling guitar; Aaron Serfaty, drums; Henry Mejias, percussion; David Cowan, drums.

This is a recording of the Great American Songbook with a sprinkling of Ellington and Strayhorn to keep the jazz premise strong. Los Angeles based O’Neal enjoys arranging and finding new, unique ways to present well-worn standards like “The Way You Look Tonight”. He uses timing to stretch the limits of this beautiful song, with the drums doing a swing, double-time underneath his unique freedom of rhythm, while singing his melodic lines. O’Neal’s vocals sweeten the arrangements to express an unforgettable lyric in an unforgettable way. Actually, I am pleasantly surprised to hear O’Neal sing. I know him as a bassist/arranger and producer around town. His smooth vocal style is appealing and honest. I believe him when he sings the lyrics of “Jersey Bounce” and others. “Frim Fram Sauce” is a 1940s, popular addition to the Great American book of standards. O’Neal and Quinn present it as a creative duo. I enjoyed Forman’s guitar solo on this slow swing number. The duet sounds like both artists are having a joyful time and their playful exuberance rubs off on me. Some of the songs chosen are sweet surprises like Billie Holiday’s composition co-written with Reginald Lewis, “Now or Never,” arranged as a Bossa Nova. “Pannonica” also is arranged with a Latin theme, but for me the gorgeous melody of Monk’s composition is lost, rather than supported by this arrangement. It could be that the vocals were challenging and perhaps O’Neal should have employed another vocalist on this particular tune to embellish his arrangement. For the most part, here is a recording full of well produced music and talented musicians. O’Neal himself is a multi-talented player, manning a number of instruments on this project (as listed above), as well as singing, producing and arranging. Quinn has a pleasant tone to her voice and shines on “Cai Dentro” singing in Portuguese a song that the great Brazilian singer, Elis Regina popularized. Quinn and O’Neal blend like peanut butter and jelly on the duets they sing, including the rarely heard “What Am I Here For” by Ellington/Laine. This is a musical sandwich worth taking a bite into and savoring.

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ART “TURK” BURTON AND CONGO SQUARE – “SPIRITS: THEN & NOW
Independent label – TNT Cd101

Art “Turk” Burton, conga drums/samba & bird whistles; Vincent Carter, soprano/tenor saxophones; Mwata Bowden, baritone saxophone; Ari Brown, tenor/soprano saxophones; Douglass Ewart, alto saxophone; Taalib-Din Ziyad,vocals/flute; Kirk Brown, piano; Theodis Rodgers Jr., piano; Harrison Bankhead, acoustic & fender bass; Donald Rafael Garrett, bass;
Reggie Nicholson, drums; Avreeayl Amen Ra, drums; Sammi “Cha Cha” Torres, bongo drums, cowbell, shakere, guiro(chant on track 5); Luis Rosario, timbales & Brazilian percussion.

In the early 1970’s, when I first met Sherry Scott, Don Whitehead and Wade Flemmons, (who, at that time, were some of the original members of the fledgling Earth, Wind and Fire group) my friends were always singing the praises of the AACM (Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians). The group was based in Chicago, where Scott, Whitehead & Flemmons had once resided. This organization was founded on the important traditions of Black American Music and Sherry Scott had cut her jazz teeth singing with this respected organization of Avant Garde musicians. Fifty years ago, Jack DeJohnette, Henry Threadgill, Roscoe Mitchell and Muhal Richard Abrams birthed the AACM. The idea was to inspire members to compose and perform distinctive and often Avant Garde jazz music. So I was particularly interested in reviewing a CD that celebrates the 50th anniversary of the AACM, an organization still alive and well. It features jazz masters along with up-and-coming jazz musicians based in the Chicago area. The legendary Art “Turk” Burton on congo drums appears, along with Ari Brown on tenor and soprano saxophones. From the very first cut, you feel that Midwest energy. It slaps you in the face like a wet, winter wind off the Great Lakes. “Cuba: A Tribute to Chucho” is beautifully performed with emphasis on Turk’s strong and articulate percussive work and a memorable soprano sax solo by Vincent Carter, with Theodis Rodgers Jr. tearing up the keys on piano. The music is celebratory of Cuban jazz pianist and band leader, Chucho Valdés and composed by Burton. “When Sunny Is Blue” follows with musical energy high and palatable, featuring a ‘Live’ Jam session with youthful reed players challenging each other on the busy bandstand. The tension builds, with the explosive energy dancing off the recording. However, the bad notes and poorly executed riffs of young people “showing off” (perhaps polishing their craft on the bandstand instead of practicing at home) is somewhat disappointing. The Mongo Santamaria composition, “Afro Blue” follows with unforgettable lyrics by Chicago’s own Oscar Brown Jr. It’s beautifully performed with exemplary percussive work and a bass line similar to one I heard on a Dianne Reeves recording. The down-side of this excellent production is the vocalist, Taalib-Din Ziyad, who is slightly off key throughout. This takes away from the over-all spirit and excellence of the composition. With technology in studios, those notes could have easily been fixed. It’s too bad no one took time to fine-tune the vocals. On the other hand, the musicianship is outstanding and “Turk” shines on his conga drums, as does Reggie Nicholson on trap drums. The reed players are exciting and the rhythm section dynamic. Ziyad redeems himself on flute when he solos quite elegantly on “A Love Supreme”. This is a recording full of excitement and improvisation, featuring several solid compositions by Art T. Burton. I applaud the ACCM group for holding true to the premise of recording ‘live,’ featuring original compositions and promoting the philosophy of developing one’s own sound. The experimental factor is ever prevalent in this recording. Known more today as the Art Ensemble of Chicago, this AACM organization continues to spearhead a legacy that started in the 60’s and proudly still pushes the boundaries of our jazz music scene today.

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KIM NAZARIAN – “SOME MORNING”
Independet label

Kim Nazarian, vocals; Jay Ashby, trombone/co-producer/arranger/engineer; Gary Burton, vibes; Paquito D’Rivera, clarinet; John Pizzarelli, guitar; Sean Jones, trumpet; Roger Humprhires, drums; Jamey Haddad, drums; Peter Eldridge, vocals; Mark Shilansky, piano; Mark Soskin, piano; Marty Ashby, guitar; Jiro Yoshida, guitar; Dwayne Dolphin, bass; Leo Traversa, bass; Greg Nazarian, sax; Anna Nelson, ensemble clarinet; Jesse McCandless, bass clarinet; Alexa Still, flute; Steve Hawk, trumpet; Catlin Merhtens, harp; Ian Ashby, vocal.

I was eager to hear this CD, because Kim Nazarian gained initial fame as a founding member of the internationally acclaimed jazz vocal group, ‘New York Voices.’ I am a big fan of that group. Nazarian has special guest jazz icons on this project like Gary Burton, Paquito D’Rivera, and John Pizzarelli. They pop up to add zest to an already spicy CD, with Nazarian being the hot sauce on the meat of the matter. From the very first tune, a medley of “Robbin’s Nest”and “Boneology,” Nazarian lets you know she’s not just another pretty face on an album cover. This is a really talented vocalist, with control, tone, and swing wrapped up tightly in an impressive package of well-chosen compositions that are tied together by excellent Jay Ashby arrangements. The vocalist tributes Betty Carter with the song “Tell Him I Said Hello,” citing Carter’s early days as a big band vocalist. “Gotta Be This or That” is a swinging little duet featuring John Pizzarelli blending perfectly with Nazarian’s stylish vocals. “All In My Heart” shows the versatility of Nazarian, whose vocal side is now rooted more in Joni Mitchell-type melodies and Buffy St. Marie folk music. Her voice is a lovely instrument that cascades up and down the scales, supple and efficient as a flute. She exhibits her talents as a lyricist on “Still Life,” composed by her husband, Jay Ashby, who is also co-producer, arranger and engineer on this project. The Stevie Wonder composition, “If It’s Magic,” is interestingly arranged in 6/8 time and joins a string of songs that are performed more pop than jazz. However, the last song, “Road to Kursk” snatches me back to my jazz roots, featuring a wonderful horn section with tight harmonics and decorated by Nazarian scatting atop the swing with Cleo Laine tones. Sean Jones and Steve Hawk are noteworthy on their trumpet solos, as is drummer Roger Humphries. This is an artistic endeavor where the featured artist, like a high paid model, changes styles like outfits and models them on a runway that sometimes veers off the jazzy path. But her voice is always magnificent and totally impressive.

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STEPHANIE HAYNES – “JAZZ SINGER”
Independent Label

Stephanie Haynes, vocals; Piano, Karen Hammack; Paul Gormley, bass; Paul Kreibich, drums.

When I first met Stephanie Haynes at Joe Spirazzo’s “Club Lido” in Newport Beach several decades ago, I was impressed with her tone and especially with her ability to ‘swing’ the music. This is the problem I personally have with a lot of the jazz singers around town. Some can’t swing! That element of our historical and indigenous American art form of jazz is one of the most important components, along with improvisation. Jazz singers should be able to ‘Swing’. Haynes could sing and she could ‘swing’. When you hear iconic jazz singers like the queen mother, Ella Fitzgerald, the human instruments of Sarah Vaughan, Cleo Laine and Anita O’Day, Nancy Wilson, Carmen McCrae, the ultimate arranger/risk-taker, Betty Carter or smooth as silk, Gloria Lynn or Peggy Lee, they could all ‘Swing.’ To me, that is one of the marks of a great jazz singer. So I respect and applaud Haynes on the title of her still unreleased CD demo; “Jazz Singer”. In the wake of her untimely death, I had to give her props on an impressive CD recorded ‘live’ with some of Los Angeles’ top jazz musicians. She deserves to be reviewed and to be revered. From the very first tune, Haynes comes out ‘Swinging’ hard as Muhammad Ali in the ring against Joe Fraser. This up-beat arrangement of “I Wish I Knew” never sounded so good to my ears. Karen Hammock is an outstanding accompanist as well as a dynamite pianist. “Serenade In Blue” is arranged as a Brazilian Rumba and Paul Kreibich sounds amazing on this cut, as does Gormley on bass. Haynes has a rich, warm sound that conjures up memories of Chris Conners and Carmen McCrae. Her recording project introduced me to some fresh, interesting songs like the Bossa Nova grooved, “This Heart of Mine” and the uptempo waltz tune, “Friendly Star,” both with lovely melodies and strong lyrics. I don’t know who the composers are, because they aren’t listed on the demo, but bravo to good songwriting and a voice who properly interprets their songs. Hopefully some record label will read this review, hear this project, and properly press it up in loving memory of Stephanie Haynes.
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JOSEPH DALEY – “THE TUBA TRIO CHRONICLES”
JoDa Locust Street Music Label

Joseph Daley, tuba; Warren Smith, percussion; Scott Robinson, saxophones

Not only did this album title peek my interest, but the cover artwork by Jeff Schlanger captivated me, enticing me to slip this CD into my player. Joseph Daley is a composer and tuba player who has melted his heart and soul into this compact disc. Using only a trio of musicians, here is an ethereal trip into the universe of his creative mind. He’s dedicated the music to his friend, mentor and visionary composer, reed-man and pianist, Sam Rivers. The compositions explode like star-showers around my ears. This is a trip to musical outer space that explores the edges of improvisation and creativity. The instrumentation, though odd, works; (tuba, drums and saxes). A wide spotlight on low brass specialist, Daley, this obviously showcases the artists’ talents on tuba. But his co-conspirators, Warren Smith on drums and Scott Robinson are integral and important pieces of this musical puzzle. Put them together and enjoy a rocket ship ride into unexpected territory. Just as Sam River’s music was designed as launching pads for exploration and development, Daley carries on that tradition incorporating gongs, euphonium, contrabass sarrusophone, jazzophone, tympani, bass drum, Chinese cymbals and a host of other surprises. Fasten your seat belt and enjoy the ride.

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LARRY NEWCOMB QUARTET – “LIVE INTENTIONALLY!”
Essential Messenger EMI12015

Larry Newcomb, guitar; Eric Olsen, piano; Dimitri Kolesnik, bass; Jimmy Madison, drums.

Newcomb decided to record his latest release to challenge his spontaneity, creativity and with the premise of producing live, on-stage music. This artist boasts a Ph.D in Music History and has studied jazz guitar from icons like Bucky Pizzarelli, Pat Martino and Randy Johnston. However, it wasn’t until I got to cuts numbered two and three that I felt connected to Newcomb, the artist. When I looked on the album song list, the first thing that hit me was that both those compositions were by Newcomb himself. The standard songs of “Be My Love” and “All the Things You Are” were adequately performed, but when Newcomb and his band dug into his original compositions, the energy changed for the positive. On “Sure Thing” Kolesnik’s short bass solo is noteworthy and prominent. The other original compositions by Newcomb are “Thanks Jack!” and “Instant Water”; both enjoyable and swinging tunes. Madison gets to ‘trade fours’ on “Instant Water” and shows off his excellent drum skills. Olsen, on piano, never gets in the way of Newcomb’s guitar and is supportive in laying down a substantial groove to solidify the rhythm section.

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LOU VOLPE “REMEMBERING OL’ BLUE EYES”
Jazz Guitar Records

Lou Volpe, guitar/keyboards; Delmar Brown, keyboards; Mel Davis, keyboards; Onaje Allan Gumbs, keyboard; Stanley Banks & Leo Traversa, bass; Gary Fritz, percussion; Buddy Williams, drums; Sipho Kuhene, drums.

From the first strains of “I Remember April”, Lou Volpe is off and running, with fingers flying faster than Santa Anita racehorse legs. This is an instrumental tribute to Frank Sinatra and Volpe has chosen some favorite jazz standards that old blue eyes used to sing, arranging them in Volpe’s own inimitable style. Favorite cuts are: “One For My Baby”, a very funky rendition of That’s Life”, and “The Best Is Yet To Come” as a happy Bossa Nova. “All the Things You Are” is performed at a race car speed where we get a chance to hear Traversa’s strong walking bass and the Buddy Williams signature drums padlock the rhythm into place. “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” is played slow and arranged as a provocative ‘Cha Cha.’ “Europa” is performed very sexily! If you enjoy tight grooves, melodic riffs and a rhythm section that blends like a well-oiled machine, then you’re going to love this CD.

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