Archive for May, 2016

JAZZ IS MUSIC WITH FREEDOM & ZEST FOR LIFE

May 31, 2016

JAZZ TOUCHES ALL STYLES OF MUSIC WITH FREEDOM & ZEST FOR LIFE
By Dee Dee McNeil / jazz journalist

The one thing that amazes and pleases me, is when I listen to recent CD releases and how artists today stretch the boundaries of style and culture in music. Dizzy Gillespie did it when he incorporated Latin culture into his jazz arrangement. The artists I listen to take the music and expound on it; improvise on the chord structures and melodies, while at the same time enhancing each piece of music in a brilliant and positive way. Jazz allows you to get rid of your inhibitions and find freedom in the music. It brings people together. The CD reviews below are great examples of this concept and why jazz is so important to our world. Read all about Brazilian composer/vocalist CARLA HASSET, Flaminco guitarist, JASON McGUIRE, Australian pianist MATT BAKER, composer/conductor, and MATT LAVELLE’s “Solidarity” album leaves me speechless. BERNIE MORA & TANGENT combine R&B, funk and Smooth Jazz in a very successful way and Argentinian, JULIO BOTTI brings us “Sax to Tango” with the University of Southern Denmark Symphony Orchestra; the brilliance of GREGORY PORTER’s new CD is spell-binding and finally, Hawaiian composer/vocalist and pianist, MAGGIE HERRON, brings class and creativity together with her satin smooth voice.

CARLA HASSETT – “+ BLUE”
Paulista Records

Carla Rigolin Hassett, vocalist/composer/guitarist; Joao Pedro Mourao, guitars/viola Caipira/Cavaquinho; Andre de Santanna, elec. & upright bass; Leonardo Costa, drums/percussion; Gibi, Felipe Fraga & Alberto Lopez, percussion; Pablo Medina, Wurlitzer; Chris Bautista, trumpet; JP Floyd, trombone; Wes Smith, flute/alto, tenor and baritone saxophones; Thalma de Freitas, vocals; Bill Brendie, accordion; Ben Lewis, Fender Rhodes & Mellotron; Evan Greer, drums/tambourine; Matt Rhode, Hammond B3 Organ; Caro Pierotto, Grecco Buratto & Felip Fraga, backing vocals; Fabiano do Nascimento, 7-string nylon guitar; Aaron Serfaty, snare & cymbals; Benedikt Braydern, violin; Jacob Hassett, viola; Sarah O’Brien, cello.

There is something soothing about Brazilian jazz. It puts me in a mellow mood and fills my spirit with joy. Carla Bassett brings us a package of delightful, original music sung in Portuguese and English, intermittently. Her vocals are pleasant, light, sweet and fresh as Açaí na tigela or whipped cream on mango. What’s really impressive are her composition skills. Hassett’s songs sound like Brazilian Standards. “Forté” is a melancholy ballad with a rhythmic undertone of guitar and percussion. It’s lovely with a melody I begin to sing along with as though it was a familiar song on the radio. Hassett knows how to create a ‘hook’ to her tunes; one that lingers at the end of each song production in repetitious beauty. She plants the melody in your brain like a fruitful seed. This talented composer has written seven out of ten songs on this CD and they are each well-written and pleasantly produced. Cut #2, “Pois É E Tal” is full of spunk and spice, inviting me to dance around the room without inhibition. On this song, Hassett is joined by Thalma de Freitas on vocals. Freitas is a Brazilian star renowned as the lead singer for Orquestra Imperial, as well as for her role on a popular soap opera. Hassett is also a proficient guitarist and plays as well as sings on one of her compositions, “Guerreira Vai” , that features a rich accordion solo by Bill Brendie. Carla Hassett has cut several different recording sessions, adding musicians and musical instruments as she goes to accentuate her arrangements. Here is an album of world music that inspires gladness and introduces us to a charming singer with an admirable composition and arrangement proficiency.

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JASON McGUIRE – “TERCETO KALI”
Jason McGuire Music

Jason McGuire, Flamenco guitar; Paul Martin Sounder, bass; Marlon Aldana, drums; José Cortés, vocals; Kina Mendez, background vocals; Manuel Gutierrez and Jose Cortes, palmas.

It’s not often that I get to experience an exciting, master Flamenco guitarist like Jason McGuire. In this recording, he is innovative enough to incorporate his flamenco music with jazz. McGuire has composed all of the tunes on this project and they are rich in culture and dynamically produced. According to the press package, McGuire is a native Texan, with Irish roots, who now lives in Northern California. His work is greatly admired by flamenco aficionados across the nation and especially in Spain. McGuire is currently musical director for Caminos Flamencos, a world class dance and music company that is based in the San Francisco Bay area. His music is invigorating and refreshing. It has a much fuller sound than one would expect from such a small group of musicians. On “Mira Mira” the bass and percussion put excitement into the mix to support McGuire’s amazing agility on his guitar. This is a Rhumba with a swift paced energy that will have hips wiggling and feet stomping to the rhythm. McGuire tackles bulerias, tangos, rondena, and everything in between with obvious passion and love for the music. He’s technically astute on his instrument. I learned there are over fifty flamenco styles (or Palos) that are recognized by the structure of their rhythm. Speaking of rhythm, Marlon Aldana on drums is a rhythm master. Palos are also characterized by chord progressions and their area of origin. This is sexy music, from start to finish. It’s written and interpreted by McGuire in a very unforgettable way.

McGuire explained in his linear notes, “Back in Texas, in my early 20’s, I was hungry for music of all sorts. Playing guitar since age 9, inspired mainly by Jimi Hendrix and the British blues players of the late 1960’s, alongside the intense influence of the classical and jazz music I was introduced to at school, seemed to open my musical curiosity. I bounded from one genre to another, ignoring the boundaries between them. Flamenco came to me and stopped me in my tracks at sixteen, and I’ve never looked back …”

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MATT BAKER – “ALMOST BLUE”
Jazzelm Music

Matt Baker, piano/vocals; Lage Lund, guitar; Luques Curtis, bass; Obed Calvaire, drums; Bashiri Johnson, percussion; Joel Frahm, tenor saxophone.

“This Is the End of a Beautiful Friendship” never sounded so joyful. Baker’s sextet sets the pace and spirit of his CD from the onset of the very first tune. This is the pianist’s fifth CD as a leader and his second since he relocated to New York City from Sydney, Australia. Baker is a deliberate player, one that enjoys presenting the melody of these standard tunes clearly and decisively. As a twelve-year-old, Baker studied piano and by fifteen he was working at a café close to his school. His father is a jazz trombone player. So young Baker grew up listening to an eclectic record collection. His idols are Oscar Peterson, who befriended him when they first met at the Blue Note in New York City. They remained friends until the icon’s passing. He also found encouragement and received gifted knowledge from Herbie Hancock. Baker says he’s inspired by the work of Wynton Kelly, Red Garland, Thelonious Monk and Brad Mehldau. Then there are jazz greats like Bud Powell, Art Tatum and Jacky Terrasson, who he also admires. For the past six years he has been studying with Taylor Eigsti, who introduced Baker to producer Matt Pierson. The outcome is this album.

On cut #7, the title tune of “Almost Blue” gets a nice set up by Curtis on bass and then Baker’s voice sings the haunting story of broken hearts and teary, red eyes that are ‘almost blue’. This song boasts great lyrics with a poignant melody. I enjoyed his vocal interpretation on this song composed by Elvis Costello. However, on the whole, I prefer his piano skills to his vocals. I love what Frahm brings to the project on his tenor saxophone and Lund’s melodic guitar solos and rich rhythm guitar work adds butter to this musical cookie. Calvaire is sweet on drums and hard hitting. He knows just when to punctuate the moment, the phrasing, and when to color the crescendos. I truly enjoyed the group’s arrangement of “I’ll Be Seeing You.” Baker steps outside the realms of what I heard on the first three tunes and explores chordal structure and classical overtures inside his improvisation and experimentation. He touches me deeply during his execution of this song. Luques Curtis plays a compelling solo on his double bass, as does Calvaire on drums. Other favorites are the arrangement and production on “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning,” “Reflections,” and “Lonely Avenue.”

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BERNIE MORA & TANGENT – “TRANSFORMATION”
Rhombus Records

Bernie Mora, guitars; Doc Anthony, drums; Robert Vance, bass; Doug Webb, saxophones; Corey Allen, keyboards; Lee Thornburg, horns; Charles Godfrey, percussion; Special Guest: Brian Brombert, fretless & upright bass.

Bernie Mora has composed or co-written all the songs on this explosively energetic album. The cover of this CD is eye-catching. The artwork is by the late, great Ray McNiece and it is a beautiful painting. Inside, you will find a blend of Smooth Jazz, R&B, Straight-ahead and pop music. Yes, you read it right. All those genres are wrapped up in one small package. The horn section reminds me of 1980’s R&B groups like Tower of Power, the Ohio Players, Average White Band, or even the James Brown Orchestra. The punch and energy that this group of musicians produces is exciting and infectious. Mora incorporates the ‘funk’ in everything he writes. “Blue Moon Funk” is a perfect example of a track reminiscent of a James Brown album before he laid down his vocals. This production is extremely tight musically, fun to listen to and well-arranged and produced. Mora plays a dramatic guitar solo on Cut #4, titled, “For Cryin’ Out Loud” where his guitar sounds like it’s actually weeping, screaming and hungry for attention. There’s a Latin/Spanish undertone to this composition and, at the same time, a Jimi Hendrix Rock influence. Meantime, the saxophone solo brings us back to Smooth Jazz in a comfortable, but surprising transition. All of that in one tune keeps me alert and actively listening. Corey Allen ‘Swings’ on keyboards when “Take That” follows as Cut #5. When Allen’s keyboard sweeps into Latin grooves from ‘Swing’ mode, it makes my ears perk up. Then comes Vance on bass, soloing at an exciting tempo just before the tune ends in a blast of horns and staccato notes. Wow! On the tune “Reckless” Mora does it again. He makes that guitar talk!

Perhaps Bernie Mora explained it best when he wrote in his linear notes, “We like to think of it as soulful. Experience the variety and layers we have created for you. Hopefully, you will be transformed as we were.”

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MATT LAVELLE’S 12 HOUSES – “SOLIDARITY”
Unseen Rain Records

Matt Lavelle, cornet/flugelhorn/alto clarinet & conductor; Lee Odom, soprano saxophone/clarinet; Charles Waters, alto saxophone/clarinet; Ras Moshe Burnett, tenor and soprano saxophone/flue/bells; Tim Stocker, baritone saxophone/bass clarinet; Mary Cherney, flute,piccolo; Claire de Brunner, bassoon; Chris Forbes, piano; Laura Ortman, violin; Gil Selinger,, cello; Anders Nillson, guitar; Jack DeSalvo, banjo, mandola; John Pietaro, vibraphone, percussion; Francois Grillot, double bass; Ryan Sawyer, drums; Anais Maviel, voice.

The first song Is dark, full of strings and horns that remind me of gardens packed with honey bees and flies. The instrumentation encourages strings to be bowed and tones to be bent. Consequently, they sound very much like insects to me. It’s titled “solidarity”, the same as the CD. The composer must have had something specific in mind, but I probably would have titled it, ‘Spring Garden.’ Lavelle has composed everything on this production. He is the conductor and plays cornet, flugelhorn and alto clarinet. His concept is to hire master jazz players and challenge them to improvise on his musical themes using both traditional, classical instruments. This includes Claire de Brunner on bassoon and Gil Selinger on cello; Ras Moshe Burnett on reeds and Charles Waters on alto sax and clarinet. It’s not an odd premise to throw traditionally classical instruments into the arms of jazz musicians, since jazz is often referred to as America’s unique classical art form. However, this project seems to be melting chamber orchestra and big band music together over an unusual premise of improvisation, freedom and Avant Garde. The song “Faith” gives us a taste of New Orleans verve and Kansas City spicy ‘Swing’. However, the resulting responsiveness between players fosters explosive musicality to interpret Lavelle’s compositional focus. His desire to mix genres is both interesting and challenging. It leaves the final review to be culminated by the ears and in the hands of you, the listener.

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JULIO BOTTI – “SAX TO TANGO”
Zoho Records
Julio Botti, soprano & tenor saxophones; Pablo Ziegler, piano/music director & producer; Saul Zaks, conductor; The University of Southern Denmark Symphony Orchestra.

Here is an impressive example of jazz saxophone featured with a symphony orchestra that is playing tangos. It’s rich, absolutely compelling, sexy and dramatic from start to finish. Of course it’s more structured and less improvisational, but you can still here the culture of Latin America and the culture of American jazz brought together in a very unexpected way. Under the direction of pianist/ arranger/composer and orchestrator/producer, Pablo Ziegler, and conducted by the magical baton of Saul Zaks, the University of Southern Denmark Symphony Orchestra is beyond beautiful as they interpret nine iconic Astor Piazzolla Nuevo tangos, one tango standard and three compositions by Ziegler. What an amazing backdrop for Julio Botti to float on top, letting his brilliant reed playing become an important voice throughout this production. Ziegler, on piano, adds his own jazzy zest to this recording. These two gentlemen (Botti & Ziegler) have collaborated in the past. Their first artistic success was “Tango Nostalgias” featured in a quintet setting and recorded in both New York and Buenos Aires. It achieved a Latin Grammy nomination in the “Best Tango Album” category. That was in 2013. This album marks their second collaboration and is far more ambitious than their first. I learned something when Ziegler wrote in the linear notes:

“Saxophone was never a traditional tango instrument, but Julio Botti found a way to express Nuevo Tango through the saxophone, just like a tango singer. That is why I consider Julio an extremely unique and talented artist.”

I agree! With ‘improvisation’ being the most important element of jazz music, Ziegler is opening new doors with this project by adding a saxophone as a primary soloist voice in the tango genre. That’s what jazz is all about; stretching the boundaries and striving for freedom while employing improvisation to create something fresh and new. Mission accomplished.

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GREGORY PORTER – “Take Me To The Alley”
BlueNote Records

Gregory Porter, vocals/songwriter/producer; Alicia Olatuja, voice; Chip Crawford, piano; Aaron James, bass; Emanuel Harrold, drums; Keyon Harrold, trumpet; Yosuke Sato, alto saxophone; Tivon Pennicott, tenor saxophone; Ondrej Pivec, organ.

The music of Gregory Porter is compelling and honest. In an artistic way, it reminds me of the compositions of Bill Withers. Porter touches the listener with melodies that stick like fly paper to our ears and with lyrics that tug at the truth. We understand his blues and celebrate his joyfulness. When he sings “…though my past has left me bruised, I ain’t hiding from the truth, when the truth won’t let me lie right next to you,” we can relate. That relatability and his beautiful voice continue to bounce this unique singer/songwriter up the charts. At times his tone reminds one of Lou Rawls, at other moments he takes us to a gospel church in Harlem and fires us up. He can weave a folk song around us and make us hear poetry in his words with unquestionable sincerity in his delivery. Songs like “Holding On” and “Take Me to the Alley” give the listener pause, perhaps to dig deeply into our human frailness.

These songs encourage us to be better than we were moments ago. Alicia Olatuja sweetly harmonizes with Porter’s vocals. They blend comfortably like honey and herb tea. “Consequence of Love” is pure poetry put to music. The simplicity of this production allows us to hear and digest these words of wisdom and contemplate their meaning. The melodies make me want to hum along. Porter has reunited with Kamau Kenyatta to produce this gem of a recording and they just keep turning out masterpieces. I was pleasantly impressed when I recognized the artist, Kem, singing along with Porter on “Holding On”. Another special guest is the amazing Lalah Hathaway on Porter’s tune, “Insanity”. It’s a beautiful song with a deep lyrics. I love the Keyon Harrold muted trumpet solo. “Don’t Be A Fool” recalls the Donny Hathaway and Roberta Flack duets in tone and groove. I expect this to be another Grammy Nominated album that sells millions.

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MAGGIE HERRON – “BETWEEN THE MUSIC & THE MOON”
Independent Label

Maggie Herron, vocals/piano/producer; Bill Cunliffe, piano/arranger/producer; Grant Geissman, guitar; Dean Taba, bass; Abe Lagrimas, drums/ukulele; Bob Sheppard, saxophone/flute; Brian Scanlon, baritone, sax; Bob McChesney, trombone; Ron Stout, trumpet/flugelhorn; Alex Acuna, percussion; Ramon Stagnaro, guitar; DeShannon Higa, Guest trumpet solo;

Right from the first smoky vocals, I was hooked on Maggie Herron’s style and a few minutes later on her composing skills. This lady is a prolific songwriter. The first cut, “Wolf,” is a creative play on the story of Little Red Riding Hood and real life drama. It’s very smartly written, by Maggie & Dwan Herron. Vocally, Herron has a rich alto voice and a tone reminiscent of the great UK Diva, Cleo Laine. The studio band elegantly supports her vocal talents, with arrangements on this song by Bill Cunliffe and a stellar sax solo by Bob Sheppard. Cut #2 is another well-written original composition titled, “I Can’t Get To Sleep”. Herron shows off her piano chops on this tune, featuring a sweet Ukelele solo by Abe Lagrimas, who also competently plays drums throughout this production. The title tune come next and it’s beautifully written, arranged and produced. Bill Cunliffe is the pianist and arranger and this song is a diamond stud in my ear. It sparkles even brighter when Ron Stout plays a sexy flugelhorn solo. Jazz vocalist Denise Donatelli adds her harmony vocals to strengthen the ‘hook’ that is hauntingly beautiful. The first five compositions on this CD are written by mother and daughter and the combination is perfect. “I lie Just A Little” focuses on a bluesy delivery with just vocals and bass. I listened to this CD for two days straight, admiring the lyrical content, catchy melodies, smart arrangements and Maggie Herron’s obvious multi talents.

She’s winner of Hawaii’s prestigious 2015 Na Hoku Hanohano Award for Jazz Album of the Year for her CD, “Good Thing”. She has another CD titled, “In the Wings.” With the release of “Between the Music & the Moon,” she offers fifteen original and well-written songs that she successfully interprets with her beautiful voice. Additionally, she woos us in French on “Notre Amour” and in Spanish, “Ritmo Latino”. Impressive.

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THE NEW ARTIST SERIES: YUKO MABUCHI

May 3, 2016

THE NEW ARTIST SERIES: YUKO MABUCHI

By Dee Dee McNeil / Jazz Journalist

May 14, 2016

Yuko Mabuchi is a wisp of a woman, petite and delicate, until she sits down at the piano. Then, before our very eyes, she transforms into a mighty giant! The packed audience at the historic Maverick’s Flat witnessed this on May 8 of this year when she was a special guest of piano master, Billy Mitchell. Once her slender fingers touched the piano keys, we were all captivated by her enormous energy and spirited performance. She gets so wound up in her music that several times she jumped up from the piano bench and never lost a beat. Her leg kicks out (reminding me a bit of the late-great Dorothy Donegan). Yuko throws her head back, caught in the joy of the moment. She catches the groove and won’t let it go, smiling that secret smile as her feet dance, unencumbered beneath the piano bench.

Born June 21st in Fukui, Japan, a small city West of Tokyo and near the ocean, little Yuko was surrounded by music early on. Her mother is a classical piano teacher and Yuko began studying the piano at age four. Her father played Earth, Wind and Fire records and listened to Latin music and the Brazilian jazz of Jobim. As a child, Yuko was surrounded by a variety of musical genres and she embraced them all. She played piano by ear, picking out the melodies and soaking up the grooves of the popular music scene, including pop and hip hop. But there was a freedom she found in jazz and it touched something deep inside her.

As a teenager, Yuko tuned-in to the Japanese jazz station on her radio. It was there, she became familiar with Oscar Petersen and Herbie Hancock. She started attending concerts in Japan and was inspired by the work of Gerald Clayton Jr., Donald Vega, Kenny Baron, Junior Mance, Hiromi and Cyrus Chestnut. She was still studying classical music, but after high school Yuko attended the AN School of Music in Kyoto, Japan under the tutelage of Kunihiro Kameda. Right away, he noticed her amazing potential and blooming talent. Professor Kameda had once lived in the United States and had played with our own West Coast drummer, Kenny Elliott. He suggested that if Yuko really was serious about pursuing jazz, she should go to America where is was bred and born. Yuko’s father agreed, although both he and his wife were concerned about their daughters jazz direction. Her mother had hoped their talented daughter would become a famous, classical, concert pianist. Neither parent had in mind that their first born would pursue a career as a jazz artist.

Once she decided to go to America, Yuko auditioned to attend the famed Berklee School of Music in Boston and received a Scholarship. But instead, she chose to come to Los Angeles. In 2010, Yuko Mabuchi arrived in Southern California and enrolled at the Music Performance Academy in Alhambra, a California community of mainly Asian and Latino cultures with a sprinkling of others. MPA (Music Performance Academy) was Japanese owned and brought many Japanese students to America encouraging the study of American music and artistic culture. This is where I first met Yuko, because I taught at that school for approximately three years; part time. Yuko was studying with Billy Mitchell and Gary Shunk, while soaking up the recordings of Monte Alexander, George Duke and Gene Harris. She hunkered down in the school, learning the funk and groove that Mitchell was teaching her and the technique and improvisation that Shunk inspired. She studied voice and artist development with me and I saw her growth and willingness to practice and challenge herself. It was under the direction of her mentor, Billy Mitchell, that she recorded her first demo project entitled, “Red Special.” It was sponsored by MPA and featured all original compositions.

Yuko donated her time as the accompanist for the Watts-Willowbrook Youth Symphony and took great pride in inspiring young people from that Los Angeles inner-city. It wasn’t long before she began performing all over town; at Catalina Jazz Bar, downtown at the Biltmore Hotel, in Old Town Pasadena at the Levitt Pavilion Summer Concert Series, at small jazz clubs and popular hotel chains like the Crowne Plaza. Her name and reputation were growing.

Yuko Mabuchi’s first full length CD was released in 2012 on Vista Records titled, “Waves”. Again, it featured her original compositions. In 2013, Yuko returned home triumphant, new CD in hand and with her artistic development evident. She busied herself with work, forming a jazz trio and performing at the Jazz Spot J in Shinjuku, Tokyo and also as a participant of the Fukui Jazz Festival in 2014 and 2015. She also appears as a regular soloist at Keio Plaza in Tokyo.

Yuko’s next CD release on Vista Records was “My Life.” Again, her composer skills were flowering and featured. This time, she added jazz reedman, the great Justo Almario on flute as well as smooth jazz saxophonist, Andre Delano. This album is a testament to her growth and polish as an artist and jazz musician.

Yuko enjoys teaching and inspiring young people, but her goal is to become a great musician and to work at her craft, tour the world, and leave her mark as a respected jazz artist. That dream is unfolding right before our eyes.
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TRIO’S, TRIBUTES AND BRAZILIAN JAZZ

CD Reviews by Dee Dee McNeil / jazz journalist

May 2, 2016

Recently, I was sent several trio CDs to listen to. It was refreshing to hear the clarity and expression that three people bring to jazz. I found each trio unique in its own way. There was the JOE MULHOLLAND TRIO, MIKE BOGLE TRIO, and JANE IRA BLOOM who stretched the boundaries by recording a trio of soprano sax, bass and drums. DICK OATTS and MATS HOLMQUIST, along with the NEW YORK JAZZ ORCHESTRA celebrated the genius of Herbie Hancock and the ROCCO JOHN QUARTET celebrated people and their inherent need for inspirational change. Bassist, MARCOS VARELA captivated me with his ingenuity and talent, while ANTONIO ADOLFO and CAROLINA SABOYA brought me to the tropical shores of Brazil and bathed me in Portuguese culture. Finally, the BRANFORD MARSALIS QUARTET, featuring KURT ELLING on vocals, took me on an “Upward Spiral.” Read all about it.

JOE MULHOLLAND TRIO – “RUNAWAY TRAIN”
Zoho Records

Joe Mulholland, piano; Bob Nieske, bass; Bob Tamagni, drums

Bob Tamagni was the ‘Runaway Train’ on cut number one, taking a drum solo, at the very top of the tune that was animated and inspired. Mulholland sets up the melody at the ‘get-go’ and establishes his composition skills. Then he proceeds to take us on a journey of smartly written original music (six out of nine tunes) with two songs celebrating the iconic Jimmy Giuffre and Miles Davis, along with the beautiful “Alone Together” by Dietz and Schwartz. Based in Boston, Mulholland is professor of Jazz Harmony at Berklee College. This is his debut CD for Zoho Records. His trio is tight, moving methodically, like the well-oiled wheels of an Amtrak train. I enjoyed Nieske’s underlying heartbeat of a base line, dancing beneath another Mulholland original titled, “The Same Sky”. He definitely compliments the simplistic style of Mulholland, whose focus seems to be more on chordal structure and harmony than racing arpeggios or smart improvisational scales. I found the arrangement on “Alone Together,” quite nice, with a call and response attitude between piano and drums at the top. Tamagni, on the trap drums, keeps the tune moving like a freight train. This is a spirited, easy listening, debut album on Zoho Records, bound to travel through many jazz stations and pick up a multitude of listening passengers on the way.
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MIKE BOGLE TRIO – “MIKE BOGLE TRIO LIVE AT STONEY’S”
MBP/GROOVE! Records

Mike Bogle, piano; Lou Harlas, bass; Steve Barnes, drums

Chick Corea’s “Humpty Dumpty” opens this CD as the first cut and sets the tone for what is to follow. With Bogle’s fingers racing like someone whipping up scrambled eggs, the piano comes alive under his masterful touch. Steve Barnes is magnificent on drums. After his solo, you hear patrons holler their support and appreciation. You can really see what musicians have going for them in a ‘Live’, intimate setting. There’s no studio knobs to protect you. When performing ‘live’ you are vulnerable. Joey Lamas, their recording engineer, is to be congratulated on the clarity and tone of this CD.

At age fourteen, Mike Bogle wrote his first big band chart. At sixteen he graduated high school and enrolled in the Miami School of Studio Music and Jazz, on a scholarship. By seventeen he was performing with such stellar artists as Tom Jones, Burt Bacharach, Diana Ross and Linda Carter. By age 30, he was Grammy nominated for “Best Arrangement” of Chick Corea’s “Got A Match?” He’s a fine composer and that is evident on this recording.

“Speak Like a Child” follows the trio’s first cut and is a Herbie Hancock composition. It’s tender instead of tenacious like the Corea tune and Bogle slyly incorporates strings into the Latin feel at apropos times. His piano work on this song reminds me of fluttering hummingbird wings; light, swift and airy. Barnes on trap drums keeps a double time feel underneath that perpetuates the energy as Bogle tinkles ‘Figaro, Figaro, Figaro’ above the solid rhythm. Harlas offers a heartfelt solo on double bass until the melody and the strings make a resurgence. Nice arrangement! “Ninguno Experiment” (a Bogle original) has a Latin feel and features Bogle keeping solid rhythm with his right hand while roaring around the bass clef of the piano with his left hand and walking like a bass player. In fact, I think he’s doubling with the bassist. Lou Harlas brings the ‘Swing’ with his authentic bass instrument. He walks the blues right into the tune. I am hooked and feeling captivated, just like those club patrons had to be. Dexter Gordon’s “Fried Bananas” is performed light and breezy at a pleasing moderate tempo. Bogle always manages to put a little blues on the stove when he cooks. This is an outstanding jazz trio that I would pay big money to see in the intimacy of a club, or on the grand stage of a concert hall. Bravo!
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MARCOS VARELA – “SAN YGNACIO”
Origin Records

Marcos Varela, bass; George Cables, piano; Billy Hart, drums; Eden Ladin, piano on cuts 2 &7; Kush Abadey, drums on cuts 2 & 7; Logan Richardson, alto saxophone; Clifton Anderson, trombone; Dayna Stephens, tenor saxophone; Arnold Lee, alto saxophone.

Careful! This CD is combustible. From the very first arrangement of “I Should Care”, the ‘familiar’ transitions to the ‘awesome.’ George Cables’ arrangement of this old standard turns it upside down and gives it a fresh face. The tune is flush with excitement and dynamic harmonics. Varela is ever present and complicit on bass. Billy Hart (as always), dances masterfully around his trap drums with sticks of power and aggressive perfection. He cuts loose on the track called, “Mitsuru,” and his solo is answered by Varela with big, fat tones on his upright bass. This is the kind of jazz that inspires the listener and reminds me that this is our indigenous American classical art form and how important it is. These musicians take the music and mold it into art, right before our ears. Every single cut entertains me with the compositions being played by master musicians and interpreted with such caring and love that I am hypnotized by the beauty of it all.

Who is this bass player that has captivated me with his ingenuity and musical skills? Marcos Varela was born and raised in Houston, but traces his ancestry back to San Ygnacio, Texas where his family has lived on the same ranch since the 1750s. Thus, the title of this album is a reflection of his heritage and family roots. Varela’s composition, “Colinas de Santa Maria” is the name of his family’s ranch. Eden Ladin is featured on piano this time, along with Kush Abadey on drums. Varela has been living and working in NYC for the past dozen years and has built solid relationships with drummer and mentor, Billy Hart, jazz giant and piano master, George Cables, and longtime employer, Clifton Anderson on trombone. As a graduate of Houston’s renowned high school for the Performing & Visual Arts, he joins a notable list of accomplished entertainers in the music field like Jason Moran, Robert Glasper and even Beyoncé. New York has allowed this young bass man to perform with a wide range of artists including pianist Geri Allen, the Mingus Big Band and even The Last Poets. He is blossoming as a composer and has several film and TV projects under his proverbial belt.

Perhaps legendary bassist Ron Carter sums it up best when he writes in the linear notes, “Varela’s tone, choice of notes and compositions will place his playing and name on the list of bassists to be heard.”

I agree.
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ANTONIO ADOLFO – “TROPICAL INFINITO”
AAM Records

Antonio Adolfo, piano & arrangements; Leo Amuedo, electric guitar; Jorge Helder, double bass; Rafael Barata, drums; André Siqueira & Rafael Barata, percussion; Serginho Trombone, trombone; Marcelo Martins, tenor & soprano saxophone; Jessé Sadoc, trumpet & flugelhorn.

I believe this is the first time I’ve heard a Latin production of “Killer Joe” and it’s quite entertaining and solid. The horns add depth and excitement to this entire album production. They are tastefully placed and make for a very celebratory experience. Benny Golson’s “Whisper Not” is the second cut on this very upbeat production, and Golson’s song is always a pleasure to hear. The horn solo on this tune is perfection. Adolfo has a flair for arranging. He makes this project come alive with his unique gifts. There is joy wrapped up in these hand-picked compositions and the musicians make me want to dance and clap my hands with happiness. Antonio Adolfo clearly captures the exhilarating Brazilian culture in his music. He has been a longtime educator of Brazilian music and music history. Featuring his new octet, Adolfo explores jazz of the 1960s, using richly arranged Sambas, punchy percussive rhythms and harmonic horn arrangements. Everything reflects a mixture of America’s indigenous art form, generously spiced with Brazilian expressiveness. His original compositions are well written and fit right in with these master composers, including Oliver Nelson’s “Stolen Moments”, Horace Silver’s “Song for My Father” and Hammerstein & Kern’s “All The Things You Are.” Adolfo’s compositions deserve to be played, center stage, along-side the excellence of these composer celebrities. His songs are just that good. Here is a pianist/producer/composer/arranger who surrounds himself with excellent players and together, they make this project shine with brilliance.
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JANE IRA BLOOM – “EARLY AMERICANS”
Outline Records

Jane Ira Bloom, soprano saxophone; Mark Helias, bass; Bobby Previte, drums.

Mark Helias walks his big, bad bass into the song and sets the mood for Jane Ira Bloom to plant her soprano saxophone powerfully on top. This is a trio of bass, drums and saxophone, unique and clean cut; leaving the listener to enjoy the simplicity of the production and the mastery of these three musicians. Bloom is unafraid to step out front and blow the lid off the music, letting it bubble up like the goodness locked inside a chilled bottle of expensive champagne. She’s the real deal. Her tone and technique are evident and her artistry is an example of the freedom that jazz brings to the listener’s palate. This is a delicious and triumphant approach to freedom of expression and composition. Bloom has composed all twelve songs. Track #3, “Hips and Sticks” is beautiful and features her singular horn blowing like a bird song in the wind. On cut #9 titled “Cornets of Paradise” the energy and excitement is fused by drummer, Bobby Previte who solos under Bloom’s tenacious saxophone splendor. She closes this, her sixteenth CD as a leader, with a performance of Bernstein & Sondheim’s composition, “Somewhere” and it’s dynamic, with no one but Bloom pouring the melody out of her horn, sweet honey from the cone. As it says in her press package, these are “fearless jazz explorers who share a commitment to beauty and adventure.”
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CAROLINA SABOYA – “Carolina Saboya”
AAM Music

Carolina Saboya, vocal; Antonio Adolfo, piano; Jorge Helder, double bass; Claudio Spiewak, acoustic guitar on cut #9; Leo Amuedo, guitar; Rafael Barata, drums/percussion; André Siequeira, percussion; Marcelo Martins, flute/alto flute/soprano saxophone.

This production of Carolina Saboya is minimal and celebrates her voice. She is a Brazilian vocalist with a wispy, soft and compelling sound. I would have enjoyed hearing more of a rhythmic double bass to contrast and compliment her light and appealing style on the first cut. I missed that thick, prominent bottom that propels Brazilian music. The percussion is mixed upfront and delicately, to support the arrangements. On cut #2, the bass is more prominent and dances solidly beneath clusters of vocal notes that race in unison with the busy flute played by Marcelo Martins. Carolina Saboya sings three songs by Jobim and two by the 2016 Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award winner, Djavan. Most of this CD is performed in her native tongue of Portuguese as she celebrates popular Brazilian composers. At times, she uses her own scat sensibilities to merge with the ensemble in a very musical and instrumental way, like on cut # 10, “Zanzibar,” where her voice mimics an instrument and wordlessly joins the band. This is one of my favorite tracks along with the very melancholy “Faltando um Pedaco.” In English she sings the Sting composition, “Fragile” and “Hello Goodbye” by John Lennon. Her voice is pleasant and easy listening at its best.
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DICK OATTS/MATS HOLMQUIST NEW YORK JAZZ ORCHESTRA – “A TRIBUTE TO HERBIE +1”
Summit Records

Mats Holmquist, arranger; Dick Oatts, lead alto & soprano saxophones; Mark Gross, alto & Soprano saxophones; Walt Weiskopf & Robert Nordmark, tenor saxophone; Frank Basile, baritone saxophone; Paul Meyers, guitar; Adam Birnbaum, piano; Martin Wind, bass; John Riley, drums; Nick Marchione, lead trumpet/flugelhorn; Jon Shaw, Tatum Greenblatt, Frank Brodahl, & Joe Magnarelli on Trumpets/flugelhorns; Jakob Gudmundsson, trumpet on “Eye of the Hurricane”; Larry Farrell & Steen Nikolaj Hansen, trombones; Max Seigel, bass trombone; John Mosca, lead trombone.
I was excited when I saw that a jazz orchestra had tackled compositions by Herbie Hancock. Here is a Grammy winning, jazz changing, innovator and pianist of our times who certainly is deserving of such a tribute. Opening with the familiar and popular “Cantaloupe Island” composition, I enjoyed the way arranger, Mats Holmquist layered the horn harmonics, almost giving an echo effect to the brass. The alto saxophone solo by Mark Gross is ear-pleasing. On “Chameleon” I found the arrangements to be a little redundant for my taste. I felt all the brass repetition got in the way of the song. The arrangement was over eleven minutes long and I thought it could have been edited down. The arranger states in his linear notes that his premise was to create chaos; and that he does as the song progresses. I breathed a deep sigh of relief when “Dolphin Dance” made an appearance. Everything on this recording seems brash, as though it’s being played at a serious forté throughout. I wanted some relief from the constant attack of the horns. It comes when various soloists perform, but nothing was sweet and gentle. If you love busy, brass harmonies sung forte throughout, then you will enjoy this production. John Riley, on drums, is a magnificent manifestation of energy that propels the instrumentation forward relentlessly. I was especially impressed with his prowess on “Eye of the Hurricane”. “Jessica” was performed with a lovely bass introduction by Martin Wind. All too soon the layered brass came marching onto the scene to take over the sweetness with power and tenacity. Birnbaum on piano and Wind on his bass, superbly plucking and bowing it, brought relief midway through with candy sweet solo interludes. It’s the only ballad on this recording. Dick Oatts made a memorable statement on soprano sax and is featured throughout. All the cuts on this recording are approximately seven minutes long or longer. I thought the orchestra presentation and Holmquist’s arrangement on “Toys” was smart. Weiskopf and Nordmark’s tenor solos added spunk and soul to the presentation. Riley once again comes to the forefront with his powerful drum solo and inspired drum licks. I think “Toys” is one of my favorites on this album.
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BRANFORD MARSALIS QUARTET & KURT ELLING – “UPWARD SPIRAL”
OKeh Records

Branford Marsalis, saxophone; Joey Calderazzo, piano; Eric Revis, bass; Justin Faulkner, drums; Special Guest, Kurt Elling on vocals

I was lucky enough to get a sneak peak of the Branford Marsalis Quartet’s new CD scheduled for a June 10, 2016 release. “There’s A Boat Dat’s Leavin’ Soon for New York” combines the crystal clear vocal tones of special guest, Kurt Elling, with the saxophone excitement of Branford Marsalis. The melody is challenging. The swift pace and ‘swing’ of the arrangement represents New York City very well and acts as a springboard for these amazing musicians to leap and play. Calderazzo on piano takes a spirited solo, dancing around the melody, plunging through chord changes with improvisational skill, until Elling swings his way back into the song.

Marsalis explained why he added a vocalist on this project.

“The goal here, even though he sings lyrics, was to highlight Kurt’s voice as an instrument.”

I was wondering how they picked the songs for the “Upward Spiral” album. Branford Marsalis explained.

“For example, I had been listening to the Oscar Brown song `Long as You’re Living’ for two years before the date. The first time I heard Sting’s `Practical Arrangement,’ I called him and asked for a lead sheet, because I wanted to play that song with the quartet even before the idea of recording with Kurt came up. I also chose `Só Tinha de Ser Com Você,’ a Jobim song that has not been done to death. I told everyone to study Elis Regina’s version, because I wanted us to sound authentic rather than generic. Doing `Blue Gardenia’ was my idea, while Eric originally suggested Chris Whitley’s `From One Island’ when we were talking about more recent songs. Elling also brought ideas and songs to the partnership. He suggested ‘Doxy,’ the Sonny Rollins classic with lyrics that Mark Murphy introduced; ‘West Virginia Rose,’ with music and lyrics by pianist Fred Hersch; and ‘Momma Said,’ with the quartet responding spontaneously in the studio to the Calvin Forbes poem.”

“Blue Gardenia” is one of this reviewer’s favorite ballads. The blend of Marsalis’s horn with Elling in tight harmony grabbed me by the ear and happily pulled me into the song. They have recorded a tender and sweet rendition of this composition; one I first heard Dinah Washington sing many years ago. I love the way Elling’s voice and the Marsalis horn blend. “From One Island to Another” is a song I’ve never heard before with a soaring arrangement that moves like a whirlpool, twisting and turning as the momentum builds on the piano solo. Elling is clearly the storyteller in his own distinctive way, until the band comes crashing in, like waves against a quiet island shore. When Marsalis comes to the forefront, he brings more swirling energy, with innovative notes that fall over each other; sound-pebbles rolling down a mountainside. “I’m A Fool to Want You” is stunning with just voice and saxophone making a duo statement. Finally, “Blue Velvet” was another production that was poignant and beautifully produced. Based on these four songs as an example of what this new Branford Marsalis Quartet recording is all about, then “upward Spiral” appears to be a perfect addition to any jazz lover’s music collection. Maybe even a Grammy winner.
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ROCCO JOHN QUARTET – “EMBRACE THE CHANGE”
Unseen Rain Records

Rocco John Iacovone, alto & soprano saxophones; Rich Rosenthal, guitar; Francois Grillot, double bass; Tom Cabrera, drums.

If the eclectic and Avant Garde is your cup of tea, sit back and pour yourself a cup of the Rocco John Quartet. Drums and saxophone explode on the scene with intensity and purpose. Every song on this production is composed by Rocco John Iacovone. His bandmates unweave the story inside each composition with sincerity and creativity. The composer says his music is meant to be a comment on our evolution as human beings. I find his music eerie, but strangely beautiful. On a song called “72’s” the drums and cymbals color the presentation as Rosenthal’s guitar astutely explores melodies and emotions. When the sax enters, it brings another character to the forefront and the three begin a sensitive conversation. Musical phrases pour out of them in streams of tempo and scales, spurred by Cabrera’s deft percussion. It sings to me in a minor mode. I am intoxicated by this track. When Grillot bows his bass, it changes the mood and texture of this composition. Each cut on this eight composition album brings a theme of exploration. This is thought provoking music. There is the unexpected, always present and looming in the next musical phrase. Yet, there is also something soothing about this recording.

Rocco John Iacovone’s has studied with the legendary Lee Konitz and Sam Rivers. His preoccupation with composition led him to the doorstep of Nadia Boulanger. This artist hopes that he and his talented band elicit unmitigated passion and interest in the listener. Perhaps the composer said it best in his linear notes:
“While we all hear the loud voices telling us what to do and how to do it, we really need to quiet down and listen to the whispers of our inner self.”
His music seems to encourage us to ‘embrace the change.’
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