By Jazz Journalist/Dee Dee McNeil

June 14, 2016

Summer is a time for convertibles, bar-b-ques in the park, and jazz spraying out of radios, cell phones, tablets and speakers like water from a fire hydrant in Harlem. You just want to soak the music up and cool off with the smooth sounds as you enjoy your day. BOB MINTZER offers us a smokin’ Los Angeles band with great arrangements to match the technical prowess of the players. JOCELYN MICHELLE surprises the listener with her multi-talents; ED ROTH proclaims to be a “Mad Beatnik”. MICHIKA FUKUMORI and her trio are easy listening jazz, while DAN PRATT isn’t afraid to color outside the lines. Read all about it in my Musical Memoirs.

Fuzzy Music Mobile LLC

Bob Mintzer, saxophone; Russ Ferrante, piano; Edwin Livingston, bass; Peter Erskine, drums; Aaron Serfaty, percussion; Larry Koonse, guitar; Wayne Bergeron, James Blackwell, John Thomas, Chad Willis, and Michael Stever, trumpets; Bob McChesney, Erik Hughes, Julianne Gralle, and Craig Gosnell, trombones; Bob Sheppard and Adam Schroeder, saxophones.

The first cut dances into my listening room with spunk and Latin sparks flying everywhere. I start wiggling in my seat to this high energy band of Los Angeles jazz giants. It’s titled, “El Caborojeno,” an Afro-Cuban composition by Mintzer. He describes it this way.

“When writing this piece, I thought of the wind players as percussion instruments; lots of short accented notes add a percussive quality to the horn passages.”

“Havin’ Some Fun” is a tune written in the style of the great Count Basie Orchestra and that’s right up my alley. It Swings! The harmonics are beautiful and I was super impressed with that baritone sax solo. These charted arrangements are wonderfully creative and the full big band charts are available This gifted saxophonist/composer has joined with master drummer, Peter Erskine, after being band mates and friends for nearly half a century to collaborate on this CD. Now, with gray hair and receding hair lines, they fondly remember spending their high school days in a big band at the renowned Interlochen Arts Academy before graduating and going their separate ways. After traveling around the world separately, but both with various big bands, it’s probably not surprising that since they have now settled into the Los Angeles lifestyle, their big band collaboration would take root here and flower.

This is an amazing piece of creativity from the stand point of composition, arrangements and production. With folks like Edwin Livingston on bass, Bob Sheppard, Mintzer and Adam Schroeder on saxophones, Erskine manning the drums, Larry Koonse on guitar and Russ Ferrante on piano, plus all those technically brilliant horn players, they have created a monster project. Here is an album anyone would be proud to have in their collection.

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Chicken Coup Records (part of Summit Record Group)

Jocelyn Michelle, organ/piano/guitar; John Rack & Bruce Forman, guitars; Sammy K, drums/percussion; Brad Dutz, percussion; Doub Webb, tenor Saxophone; Steve Mann, tenor/alto & soprano saxophone; Stan Martin & Andrea Lindborg, trumpets; Gina Saputo, vocals on cut #5; Regina Leonard Smyth, vocals on cut #10.

Looking gorgeous in a scanty, red, form-fitting dress and fishnet stockings, from the cover artwork I was prepared for Jocelyn Michelle to be a vocalist. She surprised me. She is, instead, a multi-talented artist who plays the Hammond B3 organ, the piano and jazz guitar. Additionally, this talented woman has composed six out of the ten songs on this CD. Right from the very first cut, her self-penned “Inglewood Cliffs,” roars out of the gate with a powerful Swing groove. Sammy K kills it with his outstanding drum solo. Doug Webb opens the 3rd cut, making a sexy tenor saxophone entrance on Marvin Gaye’s composition “Trouble Man” with some kind of street noises in the background. Was that an intentional play on “What’s Going On” or a mistake? I couldn’t figure out why those noises were there. Never mind! Jocelyn Michelle sprinkles blues into the mix, caressing those organ keys and setting up the groove nicely. I sincerely appreciate Jocelyn’s ability to embrace the blues like a lover. Her talent shines.

This artist has surrounded herself with some of the best musicians in town and they do justice to her compositions, as well as supporting her obvious talents. However, I wish she had eliminated the vocals and (in my humble opinion) the “all over the map” that Jocelyn Michelle talks about in her linear notes distracts from the jazz sensibility of this recording. I didn’t mind the smooth jazz transition on cut #7. I thought the modern arrangement worked on “Last Tango in Paris”. “Never Let Me Go” showed Jocelyn’s tender side and was beautifully performed. But the final song, with gospel overtones, seemed strangely out of place and the vocals were distracting.

Jocelyn Michelle comes from a musical family with her mother playing piano and singing opera. Her father played trumpet. This artist began studying piano at age seven when her parent realized their child could hear a song and play it by ear. She and her guitarist husband, John Rack, have released three CDs prior to this one. With Hawaii currently their home, they’ve been playing jazz and blues on the Big Island since 2013.

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Warrior Records

Ed “the Wrench” Roth, piano/Hammond B3/Fender Rhodes/Clavinet/all Synthesizers and electronic percussion; Chad “the Big Galute” Smith, all drums; Rock “Astaire” Deadrick, all percussion; James “Big Game” Manning, Andrew “Country Club” Ford and Ed Roth, bass guitar; Joe “El Kabong” Calderon, guitar; Linda “The Queen of Scots” Taylor, guitar; Mitch “Stroybook” Manker, trumpet, valve Trombone, Flugel Horn; Tony “the Magnet” Grant, vocals; Special Guest: Tom “Bard of Light” Scott, saxophone.

It’s been a while since I read or heard the term ‘beatnik’, so I was interested to see what Mr. Ed Roth’s music reflected. Roth is a keyboardist with a strong penchant for funk and blues. He, along with the great Tom Scott on saxophone, let you know from the very first title tune what this project is all about the funk groove. Roth plays an assortment of keyboard instruments including piano, Hammond B3 organ, synthesizers, Fender Rhodes, a clavinet and electronic percussion. Additionally, he has composed the majority of the music on this CD and secured the who’s-who of top LA-based studio musicians to interpret his tunes. It enhances his project to include Grammy winning saxophonist, Tom Scott and Grammy winning drummer, Chad Smith. Smith is also an inductee into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. In fact, the first thing I noticed on this CD, after the pianist, was that strong drum line building a backline of powerful rhythm to propel this music into the atmosphere. No wonder! Smith’s history is as a member of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. If you love a funk-groove colored with Rhythm, Blues and Smooth jazz overtones, you’ll be quite pleased with this eleven-song production. Roth is a solid composer and his ensemble expertly plays his original music with definitive technique and finesse.

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Summit Records

Michika Fukumori, piano; Aidan O’Donnell, bass; Billy Drummond, drums.

This is an Easy Listening jazz recording. Michika Fukumori is a gifted pianist and she leads her trio with impeccable taste and seasoned technique. I enjoyed Aidan O’Donnell’s bass solo on “The Story I want to tell You;” an original composition by Fukumori. She has written four of the twelve songs recorded. Each is splendidly interpreted, balanced and well represented by these musicians. “Luz” is another original composition, beautifully written and sensually served up as a tender ballad.

Growing up on Japan’s main island, Fukumori was born in the city of Mie and has been playing piano since the impressionable age of three. Almost immediately she began composing her own tunes. She studied classically at the Aichi Prefectual University of Fine Arts and Music; then with renowned Japanese pianist Colgen Suzuki. It wasn’t long before she was performing in Japanese jazz clubs. In the year 2000, Michika Fukumori came to New York from Japan to study jazz piano. She has studied for fifteen years with Steve Kuhn, who is the producer of this recording. He’s also her mentor, her friend and her hero. Additionally, she studied with iconic bassist, Ron Carter, and the brilliant pianist, Geri Allen, at City College of New York, earning a Master’s Degree in 2003.

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Same Island Music Imprint

Dan Pratt, tenor/alto saxophone; Mike Eckroth, piano; Christian McBride, bass; Gregory Hutchinson, drums.

If you are looking for someone who colors a little outside the lines, look no further. Pratt is painting with broad musical strokes way outside the designated palate. On “Gross Blues” his composition reminds me a bit of Eddie Harris, with those short choppy notes that set up the groove. The thing is, we never really reach that down-home blues feel that Harris was so famous for offering. Instead, Pratt’s tune reminds me more of a deconstructed blues, dancing on the edge of Avant Garde. On “New Day,” he settles down a bit, dropping the staccato to smoothly introduce us to a melody that is challenging and leaves lots of space for his trio to stretch out. Pratt has surrounded himself with some of the best players in the business and they interpret his seven original compositions in a stellar way. This is Pratt’s fourth recording as a leader, following two critically-acclaimed organ flavored CDs. He is a founding member of the Brooklyn Jazz Underground collective and a regular participant in the Christian McBride Big Band, the David Smith Quintet and the Tammy Scheffer Sextet. Favorite cuts on this CD are “River” with it’s rich, haunting bass solo by McBride, “Junket” that allows Gregory Hutchinson to flash his drum skills vibrantly and “Hymn for the Happy Man”.

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