NEW CD RELEASES REFLECT SOUNDS OF SUMMER and CELEBRATE MEN OF JAZZ
By Dee Dee McNeil / Jazz Journalist
July 15, 2016
BOB HOLZ – “A VISION FORWARD”
Bob Holz, drums/percussion; Larry Coryell, guitar; Mike Stern, guitar; Bob Wolfman, guitar; Randy Brecker, trumpet; Billy Steinway, keyboards; Steve Weingart, keyboard solos on 8 & 9; John Viavattine, Jr., bass; Jesse Collins, alto saxophone; Ada Rovatti, saxophone; John Viavattine Sr., flute/tenor & soprano saxophone; Ethan Wojcik, trombone; Tori Higley, vocals.
Drummer, Bob Holz, has surrounded himself with the crème de la crème of smooth jazz nobility including appearances by Larry Coryell, Mike Stern, Randy Brecker and Steve Weingart. The first cut on this CD, “Moving Eyes” pulsates with repeatable melodic lines, haunting voices, as well as a formidable guitar solo by Mike Stern. The second cut, “A Vision Forward” and the title of this production, also has an easily remembered melody line and is heavily funk influenced. Here is a contemporary, smooth-jazz CD that incorporates rhythm and blues, rock and pop in a pleasant, easy listening way. Cut #4, “Avalon Canyon” reminds me of a Quincy Jones arrangement; a throw-back to the 70’s. It’s a moderate shuffle that features Viavattine Sr on flute. Holz captures a strong groove with sticks flashing and time locked down, cement hard. His publicist notes that on the upcoming touring group, Detroit-based Ralphe Armstrong will join the band as their bassist. I’m quite familiar with Armstrong’s notable talent from his days as a 16-year-old prodigy with John McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra to his illustrious career playing with the likes of Frank Zappa, Herbie Hancock, Jean-Luc Ponty, Santana, Aretha Franklin and more. I had the pleasure of working with Ralphe extensively when I was singing jazz at home in Detroit. He’s an amazing bass player and will make a premium addition to the Holz group.
Holz began his career in Boston, attending Berklee College of Music. He went on to study with Billy Cobham in New York and would later share the stage with a host of iconic musicians like David “Fat Head” Newman, Cornell Dupree, Maria Muldaur, Dr. John, Les McCann, George Clinton/Parliament Funkadelic and Robben Ford. He has co-composed all of the songs on this album. Holz sums it up by saying his goal is:
“To learn from the past, embrace the present and chart new musical explorations.”
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ANTHONY E. NELSON JR. – “SWIFT TO HEAR, SLOW TO SPEAK”
Music Stand Records
Anthony E. Nelson Jr, soprano & tenor saxophones; Brandon McCune, piano; Kenny Davis, bass; Chris Beck, drums; Bruce Williams, alto saxophone; Josh Evans, trumpet.
If you have ever been in the throes of doing taxes or bookkeeping, you know how miserable and often stressful it can be. At least, it is for me. Numbers just aren’t my best friends and that kind of work drives me up the wall. I decided to put on some music while I was tediously entering numbers into my Excel program. I grabbed a new CD I had just received and WOW! Anthony E. Nelson Jr was just what I needed at that very moment. He made the work I actually hate doing a more pleasant experience. His original jazz music soothed my stress, be-bopping me into a pleasant mood. This is the type of jazz I love. Good music is so healing! Right from the title tune, I was captivated and entertained. The arrangement on “Swift to Hear, Slow to Speak” is clean and well-rehearsed with strong, harmonic horn lines that punch the melody out like a cookie cutter. Chris Beck took a stellar solo on drums and I was properly introduced to the composer by a group of excellent musicians including Nelson Jr on saxophones. He and Josh Evans on trumpet, along with Bruce Williams on alto sax, create a smooth blend of horns. This was my first time hearing the work of Anthony E. Nelson Jr., perhaps because he’s based on the East Coast, some 3000 miles away from Southern California. But I am now a definite fan. “Peter’s First Step” is another winning composition that whips me back to the late sixties when Art Blakey was swinging hard and Miles and Coltrane were breaking new ground. There is something comforting about Nelson’s compositions. Something spiritual and familiar. When I listen to this CD, I feel better. “Softly She Said” is a tale of two women, presented as an emotion ballad, soaked in blues, with Brandon McCune sounding amazing on piano and Kenny Davis rich and unobtrusive on bass, but solidly locking that groove down and making sure you know he’s there. Davis plays some very melodic bass lines, but never lets that blues-groove get away.
From the titles of these songs and the linear notes, I soon learn that Nelson brings strong Christian faith to his music. For example, the tune I mentioned above and one that I like very much, “Peter’s First Step” is a composition based on Matthew 16:13 – 19.
Nelson explains, “It’s really about what God does when we pray and listen first.”
Mr. Nelson has endeavored to inject hope into his music; hope and praise and peace. That’s what I got from it. New Jersey native, Anthony E. Nelson Jr is a musician, composer, arranger and most importantly, a man of significant spirituality and religious substance. I salute his numinous concepts and celebrate his creativity, channeled from the great beyond and offered to us like a gift or a rainbow.
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JOHN BEASLEY presents “MONK’ESTRA”
Mack Ave Records
John Beasley, piano/arranger/conductor/Fender Rhodes/minimoog; Benjamin J. Shepherd, Reggie Hamilton, and Rickey Minor bass; Gary Burton, vibes; Grégoire Maret, harmonica; Terreon Gully, drums; Tom Luer, tenor saxophone; Danny Janklow, alto saxophone; Ryan Dragon, trombone; Tom Peterson, bass clarinet; Gabriel Johnson, trumpet; Francisco Torres, trombone; Brian Swartz, trumpet; Bob Sheppard, alto & soprano saxophones; Bijon Watson, trumpet; Gary Novak, drums. Thelonius Monk voice excerpt from French interview. Jamie Hovorka, Gabriel Johnson, Mike Cottone & James Ford, trumpets; Wendell Kelly, Ryan Dragon, Lemar Guillary, Eric Miller, Paul Young & Steve Hughes, trombones; Justo Almario,saxophone; Tom Peterson, Jeff Driskill & Alex Budman, woodwinds; Adam Schroeder, baritone sax; Joey De Leon, percussion.
A cacophony of sound bursts from my CD player and startles me into alertness. It’s not really dissonant, but more like organized chaos. It’s the second cut on John Beasley’s newest Compact Disc release that has snatched my attention. This entire recording celebrates the great work of composer/pianist Thelonius Monk. The tune is “Skippy,” where the horn section is beautifully arranged and Bob Sheppard shines on alto and soprano saxophones. Bravo to Brian Swartz and Bijon Watson on trumpets with Gary Novak holding everything in place on drums and taking a stellar solo. The musicianship, the arrangements, the compositions; they are all thee wrapped in a bundle of energy that only someone brilliant like Beasley could organize.
Beasley is joined by two other creative and competent producers; Ran Pink and Gavin Lurssen. Beasley, however, has arranged and conducted this entire album. The take on “Round Midnight” is beautiful in an odd way; perhaps I should have referred to it as an ‘odd beauty.’ Of course we all know how beautiful this Thelonius Monk composition is, but Beasley has taken it to new depths with funky, hip hop drum licks and unexpected chord changes that hauntingly thrust the listener into another dimension of understanding. The transmogrification of this standard, Monk jazz tune shows how daring and delicious Thelonius, the composer, really was and how talented and improvisational Beasley is. He, like Monk, is one of those people with his ears and inspiration in the outer limits of music. The orchestration on this project is awesome, as is the musicianship. Bravo to every member of the orchestra that brought Beasley’s arrangements to life. Gary Burton offers a wonderful vibe solo on “Epistrophy”. On “Oska T,” you actually hear Monk speaking about his musicianship and its effect on fellow musicians. Surprisingly (I discovered in the liner notes) both Beasley and Monk were born on the same October 10th day, but several years apart. If you appreciate and admire the music of Monk, this Beasley tribute CD is a must-add to your collection.
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SENRI OE – “ANSWER JULY”
Senri Oe, piano/composer; Jim Robertson, bass; Reggie Quinerly, Andy Watson & E.J. Strickland, drums; Yacine Boulares, saxophone; Olga Trofilmova, trombone; Paul Tafoya, trumpet; SPECIAL GUESTS: Sheila Jordan, Lauren Kinhan, Theo Bleckmann, Becca Stevens and Dylan Pramuk; Also vocals by Junko Arita, Mitch Wilson. The New School Singers and Travon Anderson.
Here is an interesting and artistic project. Pianist, Senri Oe, born September 6th in Osaka, Japan, has chosen a variety of vocalists to sing his original compositions. Back in the day, songwriters searched for voices that could properly sing and sell their songs. Burt Bacharach and Hal David were very lucky when a vocalist named Dionne Warwick arrived at the studio to demo their compositions. The Gold Record results were a blessing to both songwriters and singer. I don’t hear any outstanding Pop stylings on this CD, but I do hear some pretty awesome songwriting and some excellent deliveries by a number of singers whose credits firmly establish them as working professionals. One iconic voice is that of Sheila Jordan, who (at 87) is still interpreting jazz and is on the move, teaching, gigging and traveling worldwide. Senri Oe has often mentioned her as inspirational and she interprets his first song titled “Tiny Snow” quite well. Saxoponist, Yacine Boulares, also adds his talents to the song in an unforgettable way.
Lauren Kinhan might not be a household name, but her singing career is distinguished, with stints as part of the New York Voices and Bobby McFerrin’s Vocabulaires group. She’s also toured with Ornette Coleman. Kinhan sings “Very Secret Spring”. Becca Stevens vocalizes the title tune, “Answer July.” What a beautiful composition! She has also penned the words for “Answer July.” For some reason it reminds me of UK pop singer/songwriter, Corinne Bailey Rae. Another favorite of mine is “Just A Little Wine” with a haunting melody that recalls composer Janis Ian’s song styles from the 1970s. Jon Hendrick’s lyrics are beautifully interpreted by Theo Bleckmann. This is a lovely tribute to the talented pianist/composer and artist, Senri Oe.
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DOUG WEBB – “Bright Side”
Doug Webb, tenor saxophone; Joe Magnarelli, trumpet; Brian Charette, organ; Ed Cherry, guitar; Steve Fidyk, drums.
From the very first, sweet strains of tenor saxophone that leap from my CD player, I know it’s Doug Webb. I’ve been listening to his style and enjoying the excitement he creates on stage for three decades. Webb has been featured on over 150 jazz recordings and has added his blues soaked style to tracks used in hundreds of television programs and movies. He’s an on-demand, Southern California, saxophone session man for television and film. This, his seventh album release, is funk-based with Manarelli on trumpet blending well with Webb’s saxophone licks. Webb has penned seven out of the twelve songs on this CD. His composition skills showcase smooth technique and a love of melody. The addition of Charette on organ spices things up and thickens the stew when Webb puts the pots on to boil. This is particularly obvious on cut #3, “The Drive”, where everyone of the musicians seem powered up and propel their improvisational skills at a fast clip. I found Webb’s composition, “Melody for Margie” to be beautiful, promoting a visceral emotion. Another of his compositions I enjoyed immensely is “One For Hank” where Cherry on guitar gers to stretch out, as well as Charette on organ. All in all, this CD swings and Webb is flying above the solid rhythm section, as daring as a man on a trapeze. His music is exciting.
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