COMPOSERS COME TO THE FOREFRONT OFFERING FRESH, JAZZY IDEAS AND INNOVATIONS
By Dee Dee McNeil/Jazz Journalist
June 26, 2016
As a songwriter myself, it’s always interesting to hear the melodic musing of other composers. I am open to their musical tastes and creative expressions. I enjoy hearing their lyrical ideas and it’s exciting to discover new voices in jazz exploring unique pathways. The composer/artists below each have a little piece of themselves to share with us, should we care to take time and listen. TODD HUNTER uses a jazz trio to interpret his compositional skills. NOVIA M. YUKUMI strives to combine musical genres with keen compositional skills and good producers. RON KING is triumphant on trumpet expressing his original compositions. JOE POLICASTRO’s guitar trio transforms several popular genres into jazz with unique arrangements. JIM SELF AND THE TRICKY LIX LATIN JAZZ BAND show the world how tuba can be relevant in jazz and beyond. Finally,“BRAZZAMERICA” combines Brazilian culture with American jazz roots and comes up with a winning concept. Read all about it below.
TODD HUNTER TRIO – “EAT, DRINK, PLAY”
Todd Hunter, piano; Steve Hass & Aaron Serfaty, drums; Dave Robaire, bass; Rufus Philpot, elec. Bass.
With a catchy title like “Eat, Drink, Play”, I figure Todd Hunter and his group must have an exploratory purpose for this recorded music. After all, I’m very familiar with the best-selling book, “Eat, Pray, Love” that documents a woman’s journey across Italy to find herself. It would appear that Todd Hunter has already found himself. He is composer of every song on this CD and arranged them as well. Hunter’s also the producer and pianist. His melodies are memorable and his songs well-written. This is an easy listening project that showcases Hunter’s songwriting/arranging skills, incorporating the talents of Robaire on upright bass and mostly Serfaty on drums with the exception of the final tune, “210 to the 15,” where he uses Rufus Philpot on electric bass and the first tune, “Big Bird,” where Steve Hass is the Trap drum player. BTW, for those unfamiliar with Southern California highways, I have driven that “210 to the 15” that heads to San Diego going South and Las Vegas going North many times. This is a very mellow album, even when Hunter tackles Sambas and ‘Swing’ it pretty much stays at a level keel throughout. Favorite cuts: “I See More Than One” and “Snake In The Bottle”. I wanted to put lyrics to “Moments I Remember”, its melody is so pensive and lovely with unusual and unexpected chord changes. It’s the perfect music for eating, drinking and playing; pleasant and unobtrusive throughout.
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NOVIA M. YUKUMI – “BELIEVER”
Novia M. Yukumi, vocals/alto and soprano saxophone; Michael Angel, guitar; Juan Tyus, keyboards; Alex Al Dunbar, bass; Donnell Spencer Jr, drum; Andréa Cole & Charla Emel, background vocals.
I first met this young lady when she was a Japanese student at the Music Performance Academy in Alhambra, California where I was vocal coaching part time. Yukumi was full of excitement about her music and exhibited a beautiful voice, as well as a love of saxophone and songwriting. Now, several years later, it pleases me to listen to her first album release. She has composed, or co-composed, all of the songs on this, her premiere recording endeavor, and clearly is a very good songwriter. The challenge of taking her native language of Japanese, and translating her thoughts into English, makes for some very poetic lyrics. This CD is more Smooth jazz and leaning towards Pop, but it’s well produced by Yukumi and Juan Tyus. On “Flowing In the Water” Michael Angel’s electric guitar brings a Jimi Hendrix, 1960 kind of feel to the jazz and Yukumi’s voice is rather like a folk singer. That makes for a fresh approach to her original compositions and cements her vocal styling as uniquely hers. The arrangements are plush with background vocals and harmonics as rich as a string section. “Little Drops” features Yukumi on Alto saxophone with Dunbar on bass and Spencer Jr on drums pushing the music ahead like a strong freight train climbing up a mountain. Together, with Tyus on keys, they build the excitement. The production is solid. “If You Go To Wherever” utilizes descants with voices singing the lyrics in the background like distant angels interpreting a poignant message of love lost and still staying strong in the face of heartache. Yukumi’s sound on her reed instruments is all her own, just like her vocalization. At times, she makes the Alto saxophone almost sound like a soprano sax; light and feathery. “Inside Color” is another instrumental where she is actually playing soprano sax and it lends itself to funky, Smooth jazz stylings. I am particularly engaged with Yukumi’s composition abilities. The title tune, “Believer” is very catchy. Here is a young star on the rise. I hope she gets the airplay that she deserves on this her first album release. This album could easily be played on Christian radio, Smooth Jazz stations and cross over to Pop.
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RON KING – “TRIUMPH”
Ron King, trumpet/flugelhorn/keyboards; Vienna Spencer, co-producer/vocals; Johann Frank, guitar; Jeff Lorber, piano; Bennett Brandeis, guitar; Preston Shepard, French horn; Andy Langham, piano; Hamilton price, bass; Bob Sheppard, flute/tenor saxophone; Gary Novak, drums; Gina Kronstadt, Kirstin Fife, violin; Brianna Bandy, viola; Stephanie Fife, cello; Rob Lockhart, tenor sax; Tom Ranier, piano; Dave Carpenter, bass; Lanny6 Castro, congas.
Here is an interesting “Smooth Jazz” concept featuring King’s trumpet and exalting him as arranger/ performer and composer of every track on this album. This piece of extraordinary creativity is co-produced by Vienna Spencer and beautifully engineered by Talley Sherwood. On a couple of the songs, King is responsible for playing all the instruments. For example, on “Peace & Love” he is featured singularly on trumpet, rhythm and keyboards. On his composition, “Atlantic Thoughts” he plays trumpet (Harmon mute) and all other instruments except for the piano solo by Andy Langham. Langham is an amazing and gifted pianist. I like the production. The strings are a sweet surprise. My favorite cuts are the more straight-ahead “A Long Home Home”, where Gary Novak on drums and Lenny Castro on Congas offer quite an exciting mixed percussion solo. “If You Could Only Know My Mind” combines Smooth and straight-ahead in a unique way that pleases my ears. Hamilton Price performs an outstanding bass solo. Andy Langham races around the piano keys with technique and purpose, while King wraps his trumpet around this tune, exploring the sweet melody and diving off into creative, improvisational places. This is an artistic musical endeavor you will probably listen to more than once the way I did.
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THE JOE POLICASTRO TRIO – “POPS”
Joe Policastro, bass; Dave Miller, guitar; Mikel Avery, drums. Guest Artists: Andy Brown & Andy Pratt, guitars.
“Wives and Lovers”, the familiar tune by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, opens this CD. Right off the bat, Policastro’s bass seems to be the glue that holds this trio solidly in place. His bass line becomes the unifying element in the first tune’s arrangement, while the guitar sings the melody in a somewhat choppy manner, being played very acoustically. I had to adjust my ears to this stylized acoustic presentation. “Harvest Moon”, the popular Neil Young composition, has a little more finesse and smoothness about the arrangement. I found it more palatable for my taste. Policastro’s trio is used to playing nightly in Chicago’s popular Champagne bar called “Pops for Champagne.” The trio tackles a myriad of popular songs from many genres on this CD, translating them into jazz arrangements with their own unique approach. For example, they play one of my favorite Stevie Wonder compositions, “Creepin” where Policastro takes a brief solo on his double bass, bowing it in a sweet, symphonic kind of way. I enjoyed the sound of their guitar guest, Andy Pratt on the 4th cut “Wave of Mutilation”. Maybe it was because the guitar sound wasn’t so choppy, but had an electronic, pedaled sustain to the tone. There’s a tribute to Prince when they make a medley of “Condition of the Heart” and “Diamonds and Pearls” where Policastro takes a long and creative solo on the intro of the tune. There’s also a tribute to the late, great R&B vocalist, Billy Paul when they play “Me and Mrs. Jones” in a very bluesy way, featuring Andy Brown on guitar. I love his smooth, blues approach. They also play the Bee Gee’s hit, “More Than A Woman” in their own unique way, featuring Andy Brown once again on guitar. I enjoyed Brown’s sound on his guitar instrument the best. He definitely transformed this Pop hit into a respectable jazz arrangement, with flying fingers and beautifully played improvisation. Drummer Mikel Avery gives an impressive solo during this tune.
Joe Policastro is a Chicago Bassist, composer, arranger and educator. He was raised in Cincinnati, Ohio but relocated to Chicago, Illinois in 2003. He has performed and recorded with many jazz luminaries including Diane Schuur, Jeff Hamilton, Phil Woods, Ira Sullivan, David “Fathead” Newman and Billy Hart to name just a few. When he isn’t working with his trio, you can find him composing and arranging for Mulligan Mulligan Mosaics Nonet and his work can be heard on recordings by numerous artists including Ira Sullivan and the Rob Parton Big Band. Guitar buffs should get a kick out of this Policastro Trio recording.
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JIM SELF AND THE TRICKY LIX LATIN JAZZ BAND – “YO”
Basset Hound Music
Jim Self, tuba/fluba; Francisco Torres, trombone; Ron Blake, trumpet/flugelhorn; Rob Hardt, tenor & soprano saxophones/flute; Andy Langham, piano; Rene Camacho, string bass; Joey De Leon, timbales/bata Shekere; Giancarlo Anderson, congas; George Ortiz, bongos.
Jim Self is a veteran Los Angeles Studio Musician who has added his tuba to over 1500 Movie scores. You might recognize his work as the voice of Mothership in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”. This is his 13th solo CD featuring amazing technique on his tuba and undeniable skills as a Latin jazz composer. It’s rare that I receive a CD to review featuring tuba as the lead voice. Jim Self is a master of his instrument, an ingenious composer/arranger. Perhaps Poncho Sanchez said it best.
“Jim Self has brought a fresh, new approach to Latin Jazz with his tuba. Very seldom do you hear this combination in jazz, much less Latin Jazz. If you love good music, you’ll love this!”
And the artist, Jim Self explains in his linear notes:
“Cuban music was very popular dance music in the U.S. before Castro (especially Rumbas, Mambos and Cha Chas) – as a boy, I heard it everywhere. In the 60s I fell in love with the Bossa Nova, followed by the Samba (on my earlier jazz recordings I played several of them). Now my latest love is Latin Jazz. Always, in the back of my mind, I wanted to play in an Afro-Cuban band; but that world is not a place where you would expect to see or hear a tuba. I am stubborn enough to make it happen.”
I’m glad he did! This has become one of my favorite Latin Jazz releases this year. It’s joyful music, flawlessly performed by master musicians and shows the composition skills of trombonist, Francisco Torres. Torres has co-produced this record with Jim Self. They’ve hired the ‘who’s-who’ of West Coast Latin jazz musicians to interpret these beautiful songs, including original music by Jim Self and Torres along with four popular Latin jazz standards; including “Morning” composed by the late Clare Fischer; the Tito Puente composition “Old Arrival”, Eddie Cano’s “Cal’s Pals” and Nat Simon’s popular “Poinciana”. This is definitely a CD I’m proud to have in my collection.
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Leco Reis, bassist/educator; Cidinho Teixeira, piano; Edson Ferreira, percussionist/producer.
All three of these talented musicians enjoyed musical success in their native country of Brazil before settling in America. Pianist, Teixeira, is renowned in Brazil and although he’s been living in the United States for two decades, many of the top Brazilian players patronize his gigs whenever they’re in town. He’s an in-demand composer, arranger and pianist who has worked with such luminaries as Gilberto Gil, Gal Costa, Harry Belafonte, Mark Murphy and Blossom Dearie. Additionally, Cidino Teixeira released half-dozen albums in his own name. Leco Reis, the bassist of this trio, has been working the New York music scene for more than ten years. He’s a Berklee College of Music graduate with an advanced degree from Queens College and he serves on the music faculty of Sacred Heart University. Although he too is soaked in Brazilian cultural music and jazz, he often gigs in more contemporary improvised settings. Dynamic drummer, Edson Ferreira, is a noted percussionist and music producer who studied at Sao Paulo Conservatory. He’s played concerts, clubs and festivals all over the world as both a leader and a sideman. Together, these three talented gentlemen make a formidable music force that has incorporated Brazilian music standards with some of Teixeira’s original compositions and infused everything with American jazz. The results is “Brazzamerica”. Mile Davis’ popular tune, “So What,” is incorporated nicely into “Samba Do Carioca Wav”. “Lim Sim” (Maracatu-Blues) creates a platform for Ferreira to showcase his drum skills and it’s a plush arrangement with the bass line sewing the fabric of the composition together with strong, unforgettable stitching of tone and bass groove. This is an exultant, heartwarming package of music interpreted by three musicians who have been performing together for over five years. The results is a combination of love and respect for each other, with a fusion of their cultural roots and American jazz.
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