MELODIC LANDSCAPES UNVEILED IN THE NEW YEAR 2016

CD Reviews by Dee Dee McNeil/Jazz Journalist – January 23, 2016

Combing through a stack of new CD releases, here are my views on projects by the Lew Tabackin Trio, Lori Bell’s Quartet, Deborah Shulman, Svetlana and the Delancey Five, Theo Saunder’s Sextet, Groove Legacy, Cyrille Aimee and Infinite Spirit. Enjoy.

LEW TABACKIN TRIO – “Soundscapes”
Independent Label

Lew Tabackin, tenor saxophone/flute; Boris Kozlov, bass; Mark Taylor, drums.

On a cold, wintery, California afternoon, Tabackin and his trio warmed my house with the rich sounds of jazz. As raindrops fell and mud slid down the parched, burned, Los Angeles hillsides, I found fireplace comfort listening to Tabakin’s new CD, “Soundscapes.”

The opening tune is John Lewis’ composition, “Afternoon in Paris.” played at a moderate, Swing tempo, that features each outstanding artist of this trio standing solo-strong. Tabackin’s original work titled, “Garden at Life Time” was beautifully played on his flute and complimented by Kozlov’s bass line that repeated like a Hip Hop ‘loop’ beneath the lovely melody. On another original composition, “B flat, where it’s at” Taylor holds the unusual trio together with drums that lock the groove in place like a Brinks truck. Strangely, I didn’t miss the piano or guitar normally associated with a jazz trio. As these artists paint daydreams, Mockingbirds and sunsets with melody, rhythm, harmony and improvisation, I realize why this project is titled, “Soundscapes”. This is a melodic landscape, both remarkable and artistic, featuring reeds, bass and drums. It’s fresh, innovative and pleasing to the senses. Tabackin serenades like a bird trapped in a man’s body.

I was surprised to read in Tabackin’s linear notes that this recording took place at Steve Maxwell’s drum shop in Manhattan, except one tune; a stunningly beautiful arrangement of “Yesterdays” that they recorded in Tabackin’s basement. I have even more respect for this project as a “live” recording; so clean, well-mixed and seemingly perfectly arranged, that I supposed it to be a studio session. As Tabackin explains:
“Most of the tunes require little explanation. I was trying to retain some of the more traditional jazz values in an open, communicative way. Not much was pre-set. The three originals are a kind of a Japan Trilogy. ‘Garden at Life Time’ was inspired by the garden of Yoshinobu, the last shogun of the Edo era. The garden is adjacent to a wonderful jazz club (Life Time) owned by Mr. Yutaka Kubota, who loves to play bebop piano and is a great supporter of jazz and other arts. ‘B flat, Where it’s At’ is a light-hearted tune written for B Flat, a wonderful venue in Akasaka (Japan) where Mr. Akira Suzuki has given us unconditional support for several years. A little explanation of my ‘cerangement’ of ’Sunset and the Mocking Bird’… I tried to incorporate as much Bird shit as I could, even quoting a little yard Bird in my opening solo.”
With this CD, Tabackin gives us a lesson in pure, untampered improvisation performed by three master musicians who uphold the name of Jazz with pride, professionalism and an abundance of creativity.
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SVETLANA AND THE DELANCEY FIVE – “Night At the Speakeasy” featuring Wycliffe Gordon
OA2 Records

Svetlana Shmulyian, vocals; Adrian Cunningham, woodwinds/vocals; Charlie Caranicas, trumpet; Dalton Ridenhour, piano; Vinnie Raniolo, guitar; George Delancey, bass; Rob Garcia, drums; Special Guest: Wycliffe Gordon, trombone/vocals.

If you love the music from the 1930’s, this CD is the perfect choice. From the very first cut, (“All I Want”), composed by vocalist Svetlana Shumulyian, you are transported to a time of ‘Flapper’ dresses, tight fitting skullcaps and cups full of Moonshine. The arrangements set the mood for the musicians to perfectly interpret. An Ellington and Strayhorn tune, “Just A Sittin’ and A Rockin’” is fresh to my ears and recalls that space and time when Speakeasies ruled and liquor was banned for public consumption. On the third cut, “You Won’t Be Satisfied” Shamulyian has written a verse to the song that introduces us to the multi talents of Wycliffe Gordon. Their vocal duet recalls the Ella Fitzgerald and Louie Armstrong collaboration albums. Wycliffe and Rob Garcia have done most of the arranging on this production and they’ve succeeded in establishing the musical setting for, “Night at the Speakeasy” in support of their CD title. Shmulyian has a voice that swings and she also scats with precision and ease. Her vocals seem perfect for this ragtime, hot jazz, Speakeasy project, reminding us when bands featured girl singers and dance floors were full of folks doing the Jitterbug and the Lindy Hop. The Delancey Five back-up musicians have recreated a sound and energy of yester-year magnificently. This is a tightly polished band who reminds us of New Orleans jazz roots and their historical significance, while fully entertaining us. But it’s Shmulyian’s interesting vocals that carry this band and keeps things interesting.
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LORI BELL QUARTET – “Brooklyn Dreaming” http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/loribellquartet

Independent Label

Lori Bell, flute; Tamir Hendelman, pianist; Katie Thiroux, bassist; Matt Witek, drums.

I first heard flautist Lori Bell on the San Diego, California jazz scene some years ago. Nine CD releases later, she continues to grow and blossom. On this latest recording, Bell proudly celebrates her Brooklyn East Coast roots, although she has lived a number of years on the West Coast. Bell’s competence on flute has garnered both fame and respect worldwide during performances and for her composition and arranging skills. This is a creative work that ‘swings’ and purrs, showcasing her virtuosity and hard core improvisational skills, as well her as softer side. To support Bell’s amazing talents, the flautist has surrounded herself with some of Southern California’s celebrated jazz artists, who are also solo recording artists in their own right. Tamir Hendelman on piano lends visceral support, as does Katie Thiroux with solid bass accompaniment. Matt Witek holds them all in place like a steel pipe fitting. He staunchly secures the grooves and the rhythm. Bell has composed six out of nine songs and arranged everything on this project. Each tune shines like a precious stone in a glamorous necklace.

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DEBORAH SHULMAN – “My Heart’s In the Wind”
Summit Records

Deborah Shulman, vocals; Terry Trotter, piano; Larry Koonse, guitar; Ken Wild, bass; Joe Labarbera, drums.

Shulman has a sweet soprano sound and her choice of songs celebrate iconic composers like Johnny Mandel, Harold Arlen and Stephen Sondheim. She reminds me of “The Sound of Music” with her Julie Andrews tonal quality on “The Shining Sea” written by Mandel & Peggy Lee. Trotter’s arrangement is noteworthy. One of my favorite songs is “My Foolish Heart” and Shulman sings it with sincerity. However, the guitar and the piano seem to be battling over the same space. The result is far too much harmonic contrast behind her vocals. Even when Koonse struggles to solo, (and a wonderful solo it is), the piano is continuously in the way. There is an art to each instrument complimenting the other, especially when accompanying a singer. It just felt way too busy until the rubato on the end, when I sighed in relief to be able to actually hear what the vocalist was feeling. This is an easy listening recording with several ballads strung together like lullaby songs. I could barely hear the bass and drums in the mix, and this could have elevated some of the productions, if only those important instruments had been pulled closer to the forefront.

Shulman is a native Angeleno who was inspired by a family with deep roots in music. Her father was a singer and her parents lived as newlyweds in the back of their little music store at Carnegie Hall. She grew up with music as an integral part of her life and has appeared in numerous stage productions including her portrayal of ‘Jellylorum’ in the second National Company of CATS at the Schubert Theater in Los Angeles. She’s also a product of her studies at the Civic Light Opera Workshop at the L.A. Music Center.
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THEO SAUNDERS SEXTET – “Jassemblage”
Independent label

Theo Saunders, piano; Henry Franklin, bass; Kendall Kay, drums; Louis Van Taylor, alto saxophone; Chuck Manning, tenor saxophone; George Bohannon, trombone; Special Guest: Sal Marquez, trumpet.

“Nuttiness” is a medley of Thelonius Monk songs strung together like black pearls. Saunders is obviously a lover of Monk’s music and technique. You can hear it in his piano excellence. In the opening cut on this production, he has assimilated Los Angeles community all-star jazz players to interpret “Nutty/Friday the 13th/Little Rootie Tootie/Hackensack/Misterioso/Let’s Cool One and Brilliant Corners” all composed by Monk and elucidated beautifully in one song. This entire compact disc is an arrangement mastery. Saunders’ has taken some of his jazz heroes and iconic jazz composers and combined their classic jazz masterpieces into magical medleys. Up next came Joe Zawinul’s “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy” blended into Horace Silver’s “Song for My Father”. Saunders title’s this one, “Father Mercy’s Song”. George Bohannon’s trombone solo is memorable. Next comes “Also What” that mixes the Miles Davis compositions “So What” and “All Blues” together in a delicious stew of flavors with Sal Marquez spicing things up on trumpet as a special guest. Henry Franklin, (a master recording artist in his own right), opens this piece with his formidable bass expertise and an improve solo. When Saunders enters, he promptly sets the mood for this Miles Medley. I love Bohannon’s trombone on this interesting production. Kendall Kay is as tasty as ever, locking in the flavors and putting the pots on to boil with drum mastery. Taylor and Manning are two of my favorite reed players around this Southern California town. They each bring extraordinary energy and creative improvisation to these exquisite Saunders’ arrangements. I am particularly enthralled with how Saunders combined John Coltrane’s “Naima/Equinox” tunes to create his self-titled, “Naimanox.”

Theo Saunders describes this recording project in his linear notes.
“I first met assemblage artist, George Herms, (NOTE: who designed his CD cover) in 2010 and we began collaborating (along with Bobby Bradford) on a performance piece that was staged for three nights in 2011 at the Redcat Theatre in Los Angeles. It was titled “The Artists Life”, a Jazz Opera, and included Bobby Bradford’s Motet (7 pieces) on stage as well as my sextet, which I called the Lesstet; (6 pieces !). George has been a jazz fan for most of his adult life and a number of his works are dedicated to some of his favorite musicians; Monk, Trane, Miles and the like. He inspired me to write some music assemblages that reflected his work. This recording is an expansion of those original arrangements. I call it “Jassemblage”. I’ve used many of the iconic jazz compositions from the last half century or so and assembled them in a way so that, not only do the melodies, harmonies and forms weave in and around each other, but the improvisations are based on a combination of the chord changes from each song, as well as the forms of each one.”

That being said, here is an album of great depth, unforgettable historic relevance, and a superb listening experience. Not only is Saunders proficient on the piano, he is a masterful arranger with fresh, creative ideas. Saunders and his sextet celebrate some of our true jazz giants, standing very tall on their own.

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GROOVE LEGACY
Independent label

Bill Steinway, fender Rhodes; Travis Carlton, bass; Lemar Carter, drums; Tim Curle, percussion; Chris Lovejoy, percussion; Sam Meek, rhythm guitar; Paulie Cerra, tenor saxophone; Andrew Lippman, trombone; Special guests: Larry Carlton, guitar; Robben Ford, guitar; Kirk Fletcher, rhythm & lead guitar; Lee Thornburg, trumpet/valve trombone; Ricky Peterson, B3 Hammond Organ.

This recording is the results of several Los Angeles musicians forming a band to re-live the Funk music era in a big way. Thus was born, ‘Groove Legacy’. The very first cut titled, “Sweetness,” struts off this Compact Disc, energetically propelled by Travis Carlton’s heavy bass line and Lemar Carter slapping his drums like a jockey slaps his horse. We are off and running! Tenor Sax man, Paulie Cerra and pianist Bill Steinway have composed nine of the ten songs and they are each brilliant in their own funky right. “Cornell,” is a composition that features Larry Carlton on guitar as a special guest and Ricky Peterson on B3 Hammond Organ. It is the only composition that Cerra co-wrote with Travis Carlton and it’s a groove binder with strong horn licks and blues undertones. This band reminds me of ‘The Crusaders,’ blending old-school 1970 fusion funk with the newer Smooth Jazz in a very complimentary way. The members of this group each have their own biographical legacy in the music business, having worked with a number of iconic artists, from Al Green and Stevie Wonder to Sara Bareilles and Carrie Underwood. This is Soul Jazz at its best, combining the excitement and groove of R&B with Rock fusion and reminding us how Miles melted straight-ahead jazz into a ‘Bitches Brew.’ The melodies are beautiful; the harmonics are ear-enticing and the musicianship is masterful. This is a group that has embraced a vintage sound to create their own ‘Groove Legacy’.
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CYRILLE AIMEE – “Let’s Get Lost”
Mack Ave Records

Cyrille Aimee,vocals; Adrien Moignard, guitar; Michael Valeanu,guitar; Sam Anning, bass; Rajiv Jayawera, drums; Matt Simons, vocal on “Each Day.”

Here is a voice that sits up front and in your face with minimum accompaniment featured in a very acoustic production. Aimee has a pure, youthful sound with a unique, compelling twang to her vocals. She creates a category all her own. It made me question, would I call it jazz? Not exactly, but certainly adult contemporary listening. That is until she sings “Let’s Get Lost”. Her scat abilities are unique, impeccable and pleasing to the ear. I have to delete my first impression of Miss Aimee. The Harry Revel/Mack Gordon tune, “There’s A Lull in My Life” is beautifully produced and I fell in love with her take on this tune. She sells the lyrics and the melody with clarity and sensitivity. This is the merit of an artist and a genuine and heartfelt vocalist. Aimee is not just another singer. She’s an artist in development, whose lovely tone and control draws you into her music like a musical hypnotist. She is accompanied by an Australian rhythm section, that knows just how to compliment Aimee’s unique sound. Using two guitars, drums and bass creates a superb trampoline for Aimee’s voice to bounce around on and tantalize us with sounds that range from banjo boogies to jazzy Django gypsy music. The musicians bring jazz to the forefront with their excellence and improvisational spirit. Singing in French and Spanish, Aimee Cyrille spotlights her International roots. She was raised in France by a French-Dominican parentage and you can hear the cultural influences in this, her second self-produced album. Kudos to her co-producer, Rob Dupont, who brought out the very best of Cyrille Aimee in the recording studio. Her passion and musicality is perfectly captured and the results in intriguing. Finally, she is also a songwriter and her compositions reflect undeniable jazzy roots. To finally make me a complete believer in her jazz capability and improvisational skills, she scats through Oscar Pettiford’s “Laverne Walk,” where I hear shades of Ella Fitzgerald. Here is a singer that can do it all and does it with shiny excellence. Cyrille Aimee is a sparkling vocal star on the rise.
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INFINITE SPIRIT: Revisiting Music of the Mwandishi Band
FMR Records

Bob Gluck, piano/electronics; Jabali Billy Hart, drums; Mganga Eddie Henderson, trumpet; Christopher Dean Sullivan, bass.

Typical of the Mwandishi Band, the element of freedom is strong in this production and represents jazz at its best. Jazz is freedom of expression and perhaps that’s why it was so feared and was banned for years in Communist countries like China and Russia. At times, I get weary with people claiming their latest release is jazz, when it actually lacks the most important element of pure jazz; improvisation! You will find lots of that in this recording; a tremendous amount of freedom and improvisation! Hart sets the mood on drums painting rhythm pictures, reminding me of rain forests and yester-dreams. This music makes me feel like I’m In a jungle somewhere lush, green and full of insect and animal sounds. Cut one is a Herbie Hancock composition titled, “Sleeping Giant.” I’m sure that Giant was resting in some orchid field near a waterfall and under a bright pink and purple sun. This recording makes me see colors and tickles my imagination. The players have recorded their artistry in memory of Ornette Coleman and with gratitude to Herbie Hancock, Julian Priester, Bennie Maupin, Buster Williams, Patrick Gleeson, and Fundi Billy Bonner. Gluck has arranged all the tunes, with the exception of “Spirit Unleashed” that was arranged by bassist, Christopher Dean Sullivan. Gluck and Maupin collaborated on the third cut as composers; “Sideways/Quasar”. It’s sweet, opening with a repeatable piano phrase that becomes a theme throughout. Sullivan gets to feature his bass chops on this tune before Henderson and Hart join in with their trumpet and drum mastery. This arrangement puts me in a space of ‘Sketches in Spain’; that kind of groove and freedom is infectious. Here is definitely music for our “Infinite Spirit”.

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