Archive for August, 2016

A MUSIC SOUP: SMOOTH JAZZ, BLUES, LATIN AND AVANT GARDE TAKE CENTER STAGE

August 26, 2016

A MUSIC SOUP: SMOOTH JAZZ, BLUES, LATIN AND AVANT GARDE TAKE CENTER STAGE

By Dee Dee McNeil / Jazz Journalist

August 26, 2016

TOM McCORMICK – “South Beat”
Manatee Records

Tom McCormick, tenor & soprano saxophones/flute; Pete Wallace, piano; Nicky Orta, electric bass; Eric England, acoustic & electric bass; Carlomagno Araya, drums/percussion; David Chiverton, drums; Edwin Bonilla, congas/bongos; Humberto Ibarra, guiro; Doug Michels, trumpet/flugelhorn; John Kricker, trombone. Special Guest Artists: Jonathan Kreisberg, guitar; Leo Quintero, guitar; John Lovell, trumpet/flugelhorn solos.

Energetic funk horns bounce into my listening room with gusto. The tune is “South Beat”, the title of this musical package and an original composition by the artist. McCormick offers pick-you-up music. Jazz that rejuvenates. After putting on three or four CDs that disappointed me, I was really pleased to hear this production. McCormick brings a fresh face to old standards and previews some original compositions that sound like they could easily become jazz standards. For example, two of his compositions, with strong Latin influence like “Iridescence” and “Blue Cha,” sound as though I have heard them before and are well produced and beautifully melodic. Carlomagno Araya on drums and Edwin Bonilla, percussion, dance away with rhythm personified. McCormick solos strongly on tenor and soprano saxophones throughout, while the horn section appropriately embellishes the production on “Iridescence”. McCormick has written all arrangements and co-produced tracks 1,2,4,8 & 10 with Araya. Another favorite original composition is “Mantra” with a stellar solo by guest artist, Jonathan Kreisberg on guitar and this tune delivers a catchy melody. You’re bound to sing along with this one. John Coltrane’s “Naima” is always a treat to hear and this group of musicians does it justice with Pete Wallace basking in the spotlight on his piano solo. Another favorite of mine is Victor Young & Ned Washington’s tune, “My Foolish Heart”. It’s such a beautiful song, featuring a very bluesy, sexy solo by McCormick, with Eric England making a stand-out, solo statement on double bass. This group transitions easily from straight-ahead to funk; from Brazilian and Cuban beats to rich blues and strong swinging arrangements. I played this Compact Disc four times and liked it more with each spin.

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MUSIC SOUP – “CUT TO THE CHASE”
Chicken Coup/Summit Records

Evgenia Karlafti, organ/piano/vocals; Nestor Dimopoulos, guitar; Vagelis Kotzabasis, drums; Anastasis Gouliaris, drums; Dimitris Popadopoulos, trumpet; Dimitri Vassilakis, tenor saxophone; Antonis Andreou, trombone.

No one loves an organ based jazz group more than I do, so when I heard that organ on the first song of “Music Soup’s” recording, I was happily expectant. “Cut to the Chase” is the title of this Cd and the song title of cut number one. It was composed by keyboardist, Evgenia Karlafti and guitarist, Nestor Dimopoulos. In fact, they have individually written or co-written every song on this project. The title tune bounces the time from 5/4 to 6/4 to 5/8 and races at top speed. I recognize immediately that these serious musicians are challenging the listener and themselves to play outside the box. Their next offering, titled “The Theme,” features Karlafti singing as well as playing organ. I prefer them as an instrumental group and I miss the B-3 organ bass pedal licks, but Karlafti is definitely multi-talented.

Music Soup is a good name for this trio of musicians because they embrace a mixed bag of styles and musical concepts that mirror their decade of playing together and their individual personalities. Nestor summed it up by saying, “We don’t limit ourselves stylistically.”

This organ trio, based in Athens, Greece, is an integral part of the Greek jazz scene. According to the liner notes, Athenian music conservatories began offering jazz programs in the late 90s and jam sessions sprung up all around the city. Jazz audiences and interest kept growing and today, their Greek National University has a Department for Jazz Studies that offers in-depth jazz courses. Here is a rich example of how our indigenous, American musical art form has inspired musicians from continent to continent. Because they have been working together for ten years, Music Soup has a tight, cohesive sound. Their music is well written and produced. On “Your Song” horns join the group. Special guests Dimitris Papadopoulos on trumpet, Dimitri Vassilakis on tenor sax and Antonis Andreou on trombone fatten the sound. However these horns, (nicely arranged by Haris Ziouva) are merely icing on the creative cake that Karlafti and Dimopoulos have baked. Nestor’s bluesy guitar and Evgenia Karlafti’s organ mastery are the fireworks of this production.
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DAVE BRADSHAW JR – “SET ME FREE”
Independent label

Dave Bradshaw, piano/synthesizer/organ/string programing/drum programming; Darren Rahn, tenor saxophone/keyboards/synthesized bass/drum programming/horn section/Wurli; Allen Hinds, guitar; Mel Brown & Ken Friend, bass; Tarell Martin, drums; Jason Rahn, trumpet; Christian Teele, percussion; Marqueal Jordan, vocals.

I’ve been looking forward to Dave Bradshaw Jr. being set free to do his solo project and show the world his composition skills and piano/keyboard technique. This is super happy music and well worth the wait. Bradshaw has co-written every song on his newly released CD with producer Darren Rahn. The first cut, “West Coast Jammin’” is playful and funky with Bradshaw playing piano and synthesizer and Rahn adding tenor saxophone, keyboards, synthesized bass and drum programming. Allen Hinds on guitar is musically strong throughout, but he comes to life on the second cut. This song sounds like it was based on the popular “Sunny” composition, but it has a fresh melody and Bradshaw overdubs his outstanding piano parts with organ and synthesizer. Tarell Martin brings fire and funk to the project with real drums replacing the programmed ones. “Guys’ Night Out” quickly becomes one of my favorite cuts on this CD. I especially like the fact that Bradshaw brings passion to the piano and isn’t afraid to stretch out and improvise over the tenacious tracks he’s laid down. Another favorite of mine is “Saboroso: with its Latin flavors and exciting percussive work by Teele and Martin. Mel Brown plays a strong groove throughout on bass. This is Smooth Jazz at its best, with Bradshaw bringing his knowledge of ‘Straight Ahead’, blues and swing, then mixing it up with funk and fusion. The blend is as natural and delicious as ice cream with cake. And Bradshaw’s premiere CD endeavor is as joyful as a birthday party. It will make you want to get up and dance.

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GENERATION BLUES EXPERIENCE – “PRIVATE ANGEL”
R Music, Inc

Ray Goren, Rhythm guitar/lead guitar/vocals; Jamie Powell, rhythm guitar/vocals; Sammy Lee, harmonica/vocals; Lester Lands, bass/rhythm guitar/vocals; Albert Trepagnier, Jr; drums; Tadg Galleran, keyboard; Rhythm guitar, Terry DeRouse; Andrew Bush, keyboards; Bobby ‘Hurricane’ Spencer, musical director/horn arranger/tenor saxophone; Dan Weinstein, Cornet/trombone; Retha Petruzates, Lester Lands, Robert Spender, Background vocals.

I visited the Seabird Lounge in Long Beach on Friday night and I was in for an exceptional treat. The Generation Blues Experience Band was performing and they put on a high energy, exciting show. The audience was literally dancing in the aisles and standing up to testify. Each of the male group not only played instruments but could sing lead and background vocals. Similar to this album, each took a turn to perform a solo song, every musician exhibiting a unique sound and vocal timbre. Sammy Lee is magnificent on harmonica and his voice is rich and gritty all at the same time. When he sings “Little Mama,” the women in the audience scream and shout. Pianist, Tadg Galleran, brought the house down when he sang “Even White Boys Get the Blues”, falling to his knees on the last chorus and, at one point, playing Ray Gorens guitar while Goren went to the keyboard to play an impressive blues solo. Speaking of Goren, his soulful rendition of the Bill Withers composition, “Ain’t No Sunshine” coming from a young man who is only sixteen years old, was surprising. But what really got the applause was his amazing technique on guitar. I could tell immediately that this youthful blues player is going to be a huge star.

Goren sings three songs on this album including “Ain’t No Sunshine”, “Rainin’” (co-written with Goren by drummer, Albert Trepagnier, Jr.) and “Private Angel” that Goren co-wrote with the band’s musical director, Bobby Spencer. I remember Lester Lands on bass from recently seeing him playing with a blues group at La Louisianne in Los Angeles. He stepped up to the microphone, still laying down a solid bass- line while singing “Shake, Rattle and Roll”. The audience chimed in on the ‘hook’ of the song. Every time Lester sang “Shake”, we all gladly came in with the familiar lyrics, “rattle and roll”. And the party was on! Ray Goren gave an exquisite guitar blues solo and once again I could hardly believe that someone so young could play with such finesse and expression. Lady GG came to the stage and entertained us with a couple of songs including an emotional rendition of “The Sky Is Crying”. She is not on the album, but she appeared with the band during their live performance Friday at the Seabird. She exhibited a strong voice and much rolling of the hips. Her songs ooze emotion. Drummer, Albert Trepagnier, has a beautiful voice and closed the second set out playing drums and singing. He’s not featured as a vocalist on this album, but I hope he will be on the next one.

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SONUS INENARRABILIS – “NINE LIVE plays the music of JOHN CLARK”
High Records

John Clark, composer/French horn; Kinan Azmeh, clarinet; Lynn Bechtold, violin; Dan Cooper, 7-string electric bass; Jennifer DeVore, cello; Stephanie Griffin, viola; Cesare Papetti, drums; Michael Rabinowitz, bassoon; Rob Stephens, keyboards; Thomas Carlo Bo, conductor.

This work of art is an EP rather than a CD, featuring only six songs, but still giving us the full breath and width of each composition by playing them each over five minutes. Consequently, you end up with nearly 40 minutes of music. The unusual CD title translates to “underfinable sound”. I note that the credits on the CD jacket list instruments one would consider more like chamber music than jazz instrumentation. Once the first cut, “Sibilia Colubri” begins to play, I find the composition very classically constructed. Rob Stephens’ keyboard work introduces us to a lovely melody and puts the jazz component into this piece. Clark’s French horn is unique unto itself and the strings add a touch of symphonic or string quartet magic to the mix. About mid-way through, Cesare Papetti kicks in on his trap drums, putting a funk face on the piece. I enjoy this unusual and creative arrangement, although I find the tune itself repetitive. The melody keeps repeating over and over, using various instruments to sing the same melodic line. Perhaps a bridge in the song would have helped. “Die Kreuzotter” is dark and ominous in tone and presentation. I can picture a villain creeping into a shadowy room with a hood over his head and a weapon in his hand. Come to think of it, the more I listen to the music of John Clark, I think he could submit this project to some motion picture company or perhaps consider scoring for film. He knows how to build tension in his music and the repetitious lines lend themselves to film scoring. The title “Nine Live” pertains to the nine musicians who have recorded this album. Just like the CD title boasts, Clark’s musical ensemble and his compositions come without boundaries and are difficult to define.

John Clark is no newcomer to the world of jazz. Early on he played with several NEA jazz masters like McCoy Tyner, Miles Davis, George Russell and Gil Evans. He was a familiar participant with the Gil Evans Monday Night Orchestra that reigned supremely popular at New York City’s Sweet Basil jazz venue in the 1980’s. Currently, Clark is on the faculty of Manhattan School of Music and passing the baton to the next generation of musicians.
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QUINSIN NACHOFF – “FLUX”
Independent label

Quinsin Nachoff, tenor saxophone/composer; David Binney, alto saxophone; Matt Mitchell, piano/fender Rhodes/Wurlizer/moog rogue/organ; Kenny Wollesen, drums/timpani/tubular bells/handcrafted percussion.

If you enjoy Avant Garde jazz and exploring unknown musical territory, Quinsin Nachoff’s newly released CD is perfect for you. Here is an artist that stirs up the territory between modern jazz and contemporary classical in a most unique way. Nachoff is unafraid of exploring the depth of untested musical waters. He dives right in with no restrictions, no life preserver and no limits. This bass-less ensemble includes musicians who are all leaders in their own right. Drummer, Kenny Wollesen, is the founding member of ‘the New Klezmer Trio’ and ‘Sex Mob,’ but has also worked with Bill Frisell, Norah Jones, Tom Waits and John Zorn. Matt Mitchell, is the pianist and keyboard expert. He’s worked as part of the faculty of the New York-based Center for Improvisational Music. Reed man, David Binney’s Mythology label is releasing this album and Binney is a prolific player/composer/producer who has collaborated with Donny McCaslin, Uri Caine and Chris Potter.

Tenor saxophonist, Quinsin Nachoff, is a graduate of the University of Toronto and has composed music for a variety of ensembles including the Toronto Jazz Orchestra, the Cecilia String Quartet, his own Horizons Ensemble and more. He also leads the Pyramid Project that brings together a saxophone brass quintet with drums. He has coached at the Banff Centre for the Arts, taught at the University of Toronto, at Humber College and served as artist-in-residence at the Queensland Conservatorium in Brisbane, Australia. He has composed all the music recorded on this compact disc and all four of these talented music men breathe vivid life into his work, at times sounding like way more than just a quartet.

These arrangements are pulled and stretched like a huge rubber band across the universe, using staccato like a sling shot and bouncing the tones around like polished stones against the sky. Here is an unconventional recording, featuring a quartet minus the bass, obviously on a quest for unbridled freedom.
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THE BIG BAND THEORY AND A TRIBUTE TO JOHN COLTRANE

August 12, 2016

THE BIG BAND THEORY AND A TRIBUTE TO JOHN COLTRANE
By: Dee Dee McNeil/Jazz Journalist

AUGUST 15, 2016

I had fun this month, listening to numerous and varied big band arrangements. There was MICHAEL GAMBLE AND THE RHYTHM SERENADERS who took me back to the 1930’s and ‘40’s with his Swing arrangements. HECTOR MARTIGNON’S BANDA GRANDE infused his band with Latin roots. RICARDO BACELAR blends Brazilian music with jazz fusion in a ‘Live’ concert recording. LOU CAPUTO delivers a big sound from his “Not So Big Band, Uh Oh!” and STEVE HECKMAN gives us a heartfelt tribute to John Coltrane. Finally, MICHAEL DAVIS and his HIP-BONE BIG BAND take a more modern approach with funk/fusion and punchy horn lines while celebrating big band excellence.

MICHAEL GAMBLE AND THE RHYTHM SERENADERS “RS”
Organic Records

Michael Gamble, bass; Jonathan Stout, lead guitar; Keenan McKenzie & Paul Cosentino, clarinet/all saxes; Russ Wilson & Laura Windley, vocals; Brooks Prumo, rhythm guitar; Gordon Au, & Noah Hocker, trumpets; Craig Gildner & James Posedel, piano; Josh Collazo, drums; Lucien Cobb & David Wilken, trombones.

If you love the music of the 1930’s and ‘40’s, this is a production that will bring you great happiness and joy. It is reminiscent of the big band era of Harry James, Stan Kenton, and Charlie Barnet. Michael Gamble has carefully chosen musicians who obviously “honor the legacy of this genre with integrity.” You can picture those girls in bobby socks and ballooning, full skirts Jitterbug dancing to this music with hands, feet and skirts flying in all directions. This is a tribute to big bands at a season when they were the popular music of the day; filling dance halls with young, stomping feet and majestically orchestrated big band sounds. From the very first cut, with the vocals of Laura Windley, we are transported to that time and space on “Back In Your Own Back Yard”. Boy, I haven’t heard that song since I was a little girl. Artie Shaw, Tommy Dorsey, Count Basie, Duke Ellington and Woodie Herman set the precedence for dance music and orchestrated jazz in my mother and Father’s Day. Gamble has proudly taken their baton and directed his orchestra in the same, historic manner.


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HECTOR MARTIGNON’S BANDA GRANDE – “THE BIG BAND THEORY”
Zoho Records

Hector Martignon, piano/accordion/conductor/composer/arranger saxophones; John Benitez, bass; Vince Cherico, drums; Samuel Torres, congas/maracas; Chistos Rafalides, vibraphone; Andy Hunter, Rafi Makiel, Luis Bonilla, Alvin Walker, Chris Washburne, Trombones; John Walsh, Seneca Black, Steve Gluzband, Julie Desbordes, Fabio Morgera, trumpets; Enrique Fernandez, Chelsea Baratz, Alejandro Aviles, David De Jesus, Jason Arce & Alex Han, saxophones; String Quartet: Nuine Melikian, Everhard Paredes, Samuel Marchan, & Diego Garcia. SPECIAL GUESTS: Brenda Feliciano, vocals; Joe Burgstaller, solo trumpet; Edmar Castaneda, Colombian Harp; Jorge Glem, cuatro; Roberto Quintero, cajon; Martin Vejarano, gaita (a Columbian flute)/tambura/maracon.

“The Big Band Theory” brings us a completely different look at orchestration and presentation. Hector Martignon is aggressive in arranging and celebrates a Latin perspective, along with showcasing his composer skills on this recording. There is nothing old-school about this production. I love the addition of vibraphone, which I first prominently noticed on “99 MacDougall Street”. This is Martignon’s third CD release, after being GRAMMY nominated twice. Colombian-born and now living in Harlem, New York, pianist Hector Martignon offers us daring, somewhat visionary arrangements, including compositions by Classical composers Bach & Mozart and the great jazz composer/pianist, Bill Evans. He dives into a composition of Brazilian songwriter, Hermeto Pascoal and surprisingly mixes things up by tossing Mozart in the mix. Martignon speaks of the 1990’s and the turbulent 1960’s era in the United States as inspirational, as well as his time in Germany during the Christmas holiday season. His music composition celebrating the “Trombone Chorale” is reflective of the pulsating rivers of people streaming like worker ants in and out of subways and/or trains, with Christmas music playing in the background. I found the arrangement on “Estate” to be awe inspiring. Martignon is an artist whose brush becomes his fingers across the 88 keys of his piano or placed colorfully on his accordion. He merges the music and emotion of his Colombian culture into jazz and classical music with strong strokes of creativity and genius.

Below is his take on the Bill Evans composition “Interplay” featuring the art of Wassily Kandinsky.


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RICARDO BACELAR – “Concerto Para Moviola ao Vivo”
Independent label

Ricardo Bacelar, acoustic piano/keyboards; Ronaldo Pessoa, guitar; Luizinho Duarte, drums; Miquélas dos Santos, bass; Marcus Vinicius Cardoso, violin; Marcio Resende, soprano/tenor/ & flute; Hoto Junior, percussion; Maria Helena Lage Pessoa, keyboards & percussion.

This CD begins as a well-orchestrated tribute to one of America’s premiere producer/arrangers; Mr. Quincy Jones. The Brazilian band plays Joe Zawinul’s “Birdland” composition and “Killer Joe” (by Benny Golson), two songs famously arranged and recorded by ‘Q’. The orchestration is lush and mirrors Quincy’s original arrangements. They were always favorites of mine. Ricardo Bacelar is a Brazilian pianist, as well as a composer and arranger himself. On this project, his focal point is the 1970s and 1980s jazz fusion era, featuring familiar compositions by Weather Report, Pat Metheny, the Yellowjackets, Moacir Santos and Antonio Carlos Jobim. This CD was recorded “Live” during the Guaramiranga Jazz and Blues Festival in Brazil and is his second album release as a leader. Michel Legrand’s tune, “The Windmills of Your Mind” is beautifully executed featuring the violin of Marcus Vinicius Cardoso, as well as a rousing electric guitar solo by Ronaldo Pessoa. The funk undertone keeps the familiar pop tune modern. Ricardo Bacelar has composed four tunes on this jazz fusion adventure and offers us a very enjoyable hour-plus of fine, well-executed music. Because the band is recorded live, you can hear that the audience is enthusiastic and receptive.


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LOU CAPUTO – “NOT SO BIG BAND, UH OH!”
Jazzcat 47 Records

Lou Caputo, baritone/soprano saxophones/flute; Joel Perry, guitar; Bill Crow, bass; Don Stein, piano; Dave Smith & John Eckert, trumpet/flugelhorn; Virginia Mayhew, tenor saxophone; Jason Ingram, trombone; Dale Turk, tuba; Geoffrey Burke, alto saxophone/flute; Warren Smith, vibraphone; Mike Campenni & Rudy Petschauer, drums; Eddie Montalvo, conga; Leopoldo Fleming, percussion.

On cut number one, the very first thing I hear that grabs my attention is the rich, exciting sound of a baritone saxophone soloing on “Black Nile,” a familiar Wayne Shorter composition. I turn to the CD jacket to see who’s playing that baritone sax solo. It’s Lou Caputo. As the disc spins and various musicians are featured on solo bars, I’m impressed with their individual master musicianship. Virginia Mayhew swings hard on tenor saxophone and so does Dave Smith on his trumpet during the delivery of this Wayne Shorter tune. And wow! Who was that rolling across those drums like that? Rudy Petschauer is powerful! Caputo has gathered a sparkling array of New York’s best to play these “not so big band” arrangements and make them shine. On the Don Elliot composition, “Uh Oh!” I enjoy Warren Smith’s vibraphone talents. One of the impressive things about this recording is the excellence of ‘the Mix’. Bravo to the engineers that mixed and mastered this recording. Was that you, Mike Marcianao at Systems Two? You can hear every nuance of instrumentation; every brush across the drums and each percussive expression on the conga. Bill Crow is balanced perfectly on bass to lock in with Don Stein on piano, Joel Perry on guitar and either Petschauer or Mike Campenni on drums. Here is a delightful, jazz adventure with rich, well written arrangements by Caputo and the late Chris White, that explore straight ahead jazz at its best. The “Not So Big Band” (which by the way sounds way big!) has been performing for over a decade in New York City and various concert venues. I’ll be playing this CD over and over again for years to come.


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STEVE HECKMAN – “LEGACY: A COLTRANE TRIBUTE”
Jazzed Media

Steve Heckman, tenor & soprano saxophones; Grant Levin, piano; Eric Markowitz, bass; Smith Dobson V, drums.

This music is rolling right up my lane. Coltrane is one of my favorite jazz artists and Steve Heckman has performed a heartfelt tribute to the master, daring to record it in ‘live performance’ at the Hillside Club in Berkeley, California. When I say ‘dare’ I mean it as a great compliment. So many artists these days go into the studio and lay down tracks, then use technology to fix things. Heckman shows his listening audience that he is up for the task at hand and needs no technology to enhance his recording. He does it ‘old school’. Walks up to the microphone and plays the music from his heart, using his own unique technique and expression. Heckman is well supported by Grant Levin on piano, Smith Dobson V on drums and Eric Markowitz on bass. I appreciated, enjoyed and respected the group’s ability and tenacity to tackle Coltrane’s astonishing legacy. This is an hour-long concert that brought me pure bliss and reminded me of the amazing talent and awesome body of work that John Coltrane left us to enjoy. It’s Heckman’s fifth CD as a leader. He resides in the San Francisco Bay area and All eight songs on this project are Coltrane compositions, with the exception of Rodgers & Hart’s “It’s Easy to Remember” from ‘Tranes’ 1963 ballad album. This gorgeous ballad was one of my favorite cuts on his album. The title tune, “Legacy” was composed by Heckman himself. It’s well-written and well-played, just like all the cuts on this ‘live’ production.

Heckman’s own legacy includes playing with trumpeters Eddie Henderson, Howard McGhee, Chet Baker and Tom Harrell; trombonist Roswell Rudd; pianists Andrew Hill, Benny Green, Jessica Williams, Jim McNeely, George Cables and guitarists John Abercrombie, Mimi Fox and Bruce Foreman. Let’s not forget drummers Jimmy Cobb, Eddie Moore, Donald Bailey and Pete Escovedo or vocalists Jackie Ryan, Madeline Eastman and Kellye Gray. And his legacy continues.
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MICHAEL DAVIS – “HIP-BONE BIG BAND”
Hip-Bone Music

Michael Davis, composer/arranger/producer/trombone; Andy Ezrin, piano; David Finck, bass; Will Kennedy & Jared Schonig, drums; SAXOPHONES: Dick Oatts & David Mann, alto; Bob Malach, Andy Snitzer and Charles Pillow, tenor; Roger Rosenberg, baritone; TRUMPETS/FLUGELHORNS: Nick Marchione, Jim Hynes, Tony Kadleck, Scott Wendholt, Kent Smith, and Zaq Dvis; TROMBONES: Michael Davis, Marshall Gilkes, Nick Finzer, Keith O’Quinn, Conrad Herwig, Bob Chesney, Andy Martin, Birch Johnson, Michael Dease and Amy Salo; Jeff Nelson. George Flynn and Bill Reichenback, Bass trombones.

New York trombonist and educator, Michael Davis, has put together his eleventh CD release to celebrate his composing and arranging skills, with the help of Kickstarter donations. From 1994 to 2007 Davis was the trombonist for the Rolling Stones. He also toured and recorded with Frank Sinatra from 1988 – 1994. He’s used his trombone skills to perform or record with a wealth of diverse talent including Michael Jackson, James Taylor, Bob Dylan, Aerosmith, Tony Bennett, Jay Z, Sarah Vaughan, Sting, Branford Marsalis, Bob Mintzer, Paul Simon, David Sanborn and Terence Blanchard, just to name a handful. He’s composed over one-hundred-fifty songs, ten of them he is featuring on this recent recording of a dozen songs. The first two compositions, “Butter Ball” and “Zag Attack,” feature horn lines that are punchy and repetitious, acting as a harmonic trampoline for the soloists to leap and dance upon. “Butter Ball” has a funky drum line that motivates this arrangement and Will Kennedy definitely is inspired on his drum kit. Davis’ composition, “Zona,” has a ‘Smooth Jazz’ feel with a catchy melody, where Davis takes a solo and so does Dick Oatts on alto saxophone. Davis had made sure that many of his band members get an opportunity to solo and show their masterful skills throughout this project. But for the most part, eighty percent of the Davis music is arranged for ensemble playing by the big band. Because he uses a more modern approach in arranging, with funk drums as a solid base for the players to dance atop of, I would never have guessed that at age 21 he was working as part of the Buddy Rich big band for two years. Later, he landed a position in Sinatra’s touring band that lasted seven illustrious years. Keeping this kind of company so early in his career had to greatly inspire and educate him. However, in this project there is no “Swing”. Instead, he has seamlessly blended today’s hip-hop/fusion sound into his big band production; thanks to the power and smash of drummers Kennedy and Jared Schonig.

One of my favorite tunes on this CD is the old standard “Sentimental” with Bob McChesney offering a triumphant trombone solo. I love Davis’ arrangement on this beautiful ballad. I also enjoyed “Show Up”, composed by Michael Davis & Cole Davis, that had an Avant Garde flair floating above the funky drums and amidst the fusion-like-harmonics of the horn section. Credit would have to be given to Bob Malach on tenor saxophone, Scott Wendholt on trumpet and Andy Ezin on piano who all added improvisational depth and character to the arrangement with their individual solos.
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JAZZ SPANS CONTINENTS & CULTURES

August 2, 2016

JAZZ SPANS CONTINENTS AND CULTURES
By Dee Dee McNeil/Jazz Journalist

August 2, 2016

This month I was inspired by two women who brought culture and unique perspective to jazz with the use of international languages and refreshing productions by amazing, world-class musicians. I’m talking about San Diego’s Allison Adams Tucker and Brazilian diva, Kenia. Speaking of culture, Harold Lopez-Nussa brings us a belly full of Cuban jazz, seasoned with African roots and American jazz and blues. Steve Fidyk, a forceful and creative drummer, charges out of California’s West Coast gates with an all-star group and vocalist, Catherine Russell reminds us of Harlem in the early years of jazz, big bands and chanteuses like Billie Holiday and Ethel Waters. Finally, UK’s own Benn Clatworthy brings his saxophone prowess to the forefront and asks us an appropriate question in today’s United States climate; “What’s Going on?” I tell you all about it in this column of CD Reviews.

ALLISON ADAMS TUCKER – “WANDERLUST”
Origin Records

Allison Adams Tucker, vocals; Josh Nelson, piano/fender Rhodes/pump organ; Scfott Colley, bass; Antonio Sanchez, drums; Chris Potter, bass clarinet/tenor sax/flute; Rogerio Boccato, percussion; Romero Lubambo, guitar; Mike Moreno, guitar; Stephane Wrembel, guitar.

This vocalist is quite extraordinary. She sings well in English, French, Portuguese, Italian, Spanish and Japanese on this groundbreaking recording. Yes, six languages and all sung with emotion, passion and sounding very authentic to this listener’s ear. The singer and her longtime pianist, Josh Nelson, flew to New York and recorded with an International group of musicians. The results is a unique and pleasurable project. Tucker majored in linguistics and minored in music. This album combines both passions. Her sweet soprano voices caresses each song and each language with plenty of expression.

The entire album is a very easy-listening experience and the musicians accentuate each song beautifully. I especially loved the guitar work on “Sous Le Ciel de Paris” by Stephane Wrembel. His guitar licks are rhythmic and enchanting. The arrangement on “Pure Imagination” is stunning and creative. Josh Nelson stands out, like a beaming star in the heavens, with his piano playing and accompaniment. Allison Adams Tucker sparkles with her ability to not only sing in varied languages, but also offers us an exciting menu of music, including Jobim’s popular “Aguas de Marco” sung in Portuguese and Pat Metheny’s “Better Days Ahead” where she shows off mad scat skills. Kudos to Matt Pierson who produced this project and brought the best out of everyone.
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KENIA – “ON WE GO”
Mooka Records

Kenia, vocals; Sandro Albert, acoustic & elec. Guitar; Romero Lubambo, acoustic guitar; Paul Socolow, bass; Adriano Santos, drums; Mark Soskin, keyboards & acoustic piano; Hendrik Meurkens, harmonica; Ago Pisztora, surdo; Lucas Ashby, percussion.

Born Kenia Acioly in Rio de Janeiro, Kenia always brings a rich, mellow sound to her music. In the 90’s and 90’s her singing was a pleasant introduction to contemporary Brazilian jazz, blended with pop. On this CD, the songstress reunites with members of her first band after nearly two decades. Her opening song and the title of this CD, “On We Go” is composed by Eric Susoeff with lyrics by Lorraine Feather; (songwriter and jazz historian, Leonard Feather’s little girl). The composer also arranged this tune, but for the majority of the twelve recorded songs, Kenia herself is the accomplished arranger.

She has also penned lyrics for a couple of the compositions. Ivan Lin’s “Closer to me” features the lovely addition of harmonica by Hendrik Meurkens and the rhythmical accompaniment of guitarist, Sandro Albert. This is one of my favorite tunes on this CD. The simplicity of the production draws the listener closer to the lyrical content, and Kenia loves scatting over the track, exemplifying her theme of freedom. Kenia’s voice is like a summer wind, gently rustling the leaves of a palm tree. Her music is soothing and smooth as a cloudless sky. She sings in her native Portuguese as well as English, and sometimes just scats with joyful sounds; no words necessary! Other favorite songs are: “On We Go”, “Melancia” with her voice soaring like an eagle above this well-produced track/no lyrics; “Zureta” and the happy, up-tempo, “Pra Qué Qué Inventaram A Bahia?”
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HAROLD LOPEZ-NUSSA – “EL VIAJE”
Mack Ave Records

Harold Lopez-Nussa, piano/keyboard/backing vocal; Alune Wade, bass/vocal/backing vocal; Ruy Adrian Lopez-Nussa, drums, percussion/triola/backing vocal; Mayquel Gonzalez, trumpet, flugelhorn; Dreiser Durruthy, tambores bata, vocal; Adel Gonzalez, percussion; Ruy Francisco Lopez-Nussa, drums.

This Cd enchanted me right from the cover, with a keyboard lying singularly inside an abandoned canoe. The artwork was compelling. The canoe is floating on a rippled lake with the artist’s name and CD title hoovering above it. Then the hum of a male voice appears, singing the melody of an unfamiliar song that strangely sounds as though I should know it. This voice, unpretentious and simple, singing in a language I do not speak nor understand, entices me. I feel the vocalist’s passion and his love. In face, I find this project full of love, life and creativity. Harold Lopez-Nussa, the composer/vocalist /pianist touches me deeply. When his piano playing begins, it both stuns and amazes me. Lopez-Nussa is unequivocally an extremely talented pianist/composer.

This artist, with a dual citizenship in both Cuba and France, is the first to release an album internationally since the Obama lifting of restrictions and the long-standing, U.S. trade embargo. Lopez-Nussa was born into a musical family in Havana on July 13, 1983. Both his father and uncle are working musicians. His deceased mother, Mayra Torres, was a highly regarded piano teacher and by the mere age of eight years old, young Lopez-Nussa was enrolled at the Manuel Saumell Elementary School of Music. After years of classical training, at age eighteen, he discovered jazz. Now, listening to this man’s virtuosity, I can only say his piano mastery is startling, beautiful and undeniable.

“Jazz was scary. Improvisation was scary; that idea of not knowing what you are going to play,” he shares in his liner notes.

Not to worry! Lopez-Nussa has mastered improvisation in the same way he has mastered his instrument and his composition skills. Surrounded by outstanding musicians, including his father (Ruy Francisco Lopez-Nussa) on drums and his younger brother Ruy Adrian Lopez-Nussa on drums and percussion, they never stop surprising me with energy, improvisation and technical skills. His bassist, Alune Wade, is from Senegal and you hear his vocals throughout this recording. On cut #6, trumpeter Mayquel Gonzalez executes a compelling solo. Lopez-Nussa incorporates blues, gospel, call and response, as well as Cuban cultural chants into his arrangements. I find myself totally engrossed in his concepts. Lopez-Nussa has a way of transporting the listener to various places with his music. One moment you are attending a party in Cuba and the next you are in Africa, surrounded by chanting voices and percussion. Then, suddenly you are in New York at a jazz club listening to Thelonius Monk’s popular composition, “Evidence”. All of this wrapped up in one composition, titled “Feria”.

“I’ve always liked the idea of projecting myself to the world from here,” Harold lopez-Nussa says in his liner notes, referring to his beloved Cuba.

This artist moves smoothly between classical, Cuban cultural music, popular and jazz music. His musical notes, wound together in this CD like a tightly wrapped ball of twine, compel the listener to become like a cat, who playfully pokes at the yarn watching the production unravel in creative and beautiful ways.
Release date is September 9, 2016.
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STEVE FIDYK – “ALLIED FORCES”
Posi-tone Records

Steve Fidyk, drums; Brian Charette, organ; Joseph Henson, alto sax; Shawn Purcell, guitar; Doug Webb, tenor sax.

This record company, Posi-tone Records, seems to have a group of musicians who are comrades and they make it a point to support each other by recording in concert and exchanging leaders. Just last month, I reviewed Doug Webb’s CD with most of these same players. However, on this recording, it’s the drummer who is featured as ‘leader.’ Monk’s composition, “Evidence” is a good way to begin any project. All those short, snappy, staccato notes that spell out the melody in that uniquely, creative way, are great for a drummer to be-bop along with and Fidyk takes full advantage of this opportunity. On Fidyk’s original tune, “Good Turns” he approaches the percussion support with a flurry of cymbal crashes and high energy that pulsates the song straight-ahead, rolling it forward like a freight train at top speed. Fidyk turns out to be a competent composer. “Caffe” is another one of his originals and is a lesson in straight-ahead drum chops that uses an awesome horn section to set-up the melody. Then, flying like a bat out of cave on fire, Fidyk pushes this wonderful group of musicians to their limits. The unusual breaks and harmonics remind me of Thelonius Monk’s composer skills. Just when I thought I was going to get all straight-ahead jazz and bebop, Fidyk flicked the switch on “Doin’ the Shake” where he shows he’s equipped to play funk with the best of them. This song gives Purcell a chance to showcase excellent guitar skills and by the way, Purcell wrote this piece. On “Moose the Mooche” the excitement peaks and the listener gets to enjoy Charette’s amazing talents on the organ. I had to play this one twice and both times it left me breathless. Fidyk obviously enjoys playing up-tempo, with challenging breaks and a band that brings the best of what they have to the session. Both horn players, Henson & Webb, perform unforgettable solos throughout, strutting their improvisational talents like finely tailored Italian suits. They’re sharp, trendy and play to impress.

Fidyk comes from a musical family. His father, John Fidyk, who played tenor saxophone in several East Pennsylvania groups, proudly took his eight-year old son (Steve) to gigs and had him sit-in as a substitute drummer when only a mere child. Both parents recognized their son’s musical talents early on. Consequently, they encouraged little Steve to hone his percussive skills. He majored in Music Education at Wilkes University and played drums in several big bands. To date he has performed on over 100 recordings and has an extensive discography. This CD will be a shining star to add to his growing constellation.
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CATHERINE RUSSELL – “HARLEM ON MY MIND”
Jazz Village/Harmonia Mundi Records

Catherine Russell, lead vocals/background vocals; Matt Munisteri, guitar/banjo/music director; Mark Shane, piano; Tal Ronen, bass; Mark McLean, drums; Jon-Erik Kellso & Alphonso Horne, trumpet; John Allred, trombone; Mark Lopeman, tenor & baritone saxophone/clarinet; Andy Farber, tenor saxophone; Dan Block, alto saxophone; SPECIAL GUEST: Fred Staton, tenor saxophone.

Catherine Russell has reached back to the potpourri of 1920’s, 1930’s, and 1940’s African-American music with emphasis on the golden age of Harlem. Compositions like “Blue Turning Grey Over You” by Fats Waller & Andy Razaf or “You’ve Got the Right Key but the Wrong Keyhole” bring Bessie Smith’s memory to the project. Other tunes like Ray Noble’s popular standard, “The Very Thought of You” and “Swing! Brother, Swing!” bring Billie Holiday and Ethel Waters to mind. “Let Me Be the First to Know” was composed by Leroy Kirkland, Pearl Woods, and the queen herself, Ms. Dinah Washington. However, Russell doesn’t sound like Dinah or any of these historic singers. She brings her own vocal stylings to the table. There’s no trace of Dinah’s phrasing or Billie’s poignant style. Russell proffers her own vocal persona, although there are times when her timbre and tone do remind me of Abbey Lincoln.

Russell explains, “It’s about not forgetting your roots. This album is comprised of songs from artists who played at the Apollo in Harlem, where all African American artists of note appeared.”

Ms. Russell comes from strong musical stock. Her father, Luis Russell, was a legendary pianist/composer/bandleader and served as Louis Armstrong’s musical director. Her mother, Carline Ray, was one of the pioneering vocalist/guitarists and bassists who performed with the historic International Sweethearts of Rhythm. These songs recall an era when her mother and father were working musicians. No doubt she heard many of these precious compositions as a youngster while growing up.
This is Russell’s sixth CD release and 2016 has proved to be a very busy year for her. She was featured in an hour-long concert on PBS television’s American Songbook as part of the NJPAC series. As a seasoned and touring background singer, Russell joined fellow members of David Bowie’s last touring band in February of this year for an emotional tribute to Bowie at the 2016 Brit Awards. She appeared at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. to sing the grand finale at the 2016 NEA Jazz Masters Award Ceremony, before traveling to L.A. for a live taping at Radio Deluxe with John Pizzarelli. In December, she will be a guest vocalist with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and Wynton Marsalis on their annual Holiday Tour.
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BENN CLATWORTHY – “WHAT’S GOING ON”
Laughing Lettuce Records

Benn Clatworthy, tenor saxophone; John Donaldson, piano; Simon Thorpe, bass; Matt Home, drums.

Marvin Gaye has written or co-written many amazing songs, but none has stood the test of time, politics, and cultures like “What’s Going On?” Decades after he composed it, I find myself asking that question over and over again, daily; especially in today’s highly charged American political climate. “What’s going on?’ Clatworthy has taken a new look at Marvin’s tune, honing it through the eyes of a jazz perspective (which Marvin would have loved since he was a great lover of jazz) and adding a unique arrangement that moves from the pop version to a double time, walking bass with a flurry of improvisational saxophone notes on the ‘hook’ of the song. Donaldson, on piano, gives us a superlative solo and Matt Home drives the familiar composition at a solid pace with drum sticks crashing and cymbals singing. Thorpe pumps that walking bass with splendid accuracy and locks in with the drums to hold both a ¾ time Segway and an exciting double time that captivates. I heard Clatworthy play this piece “live” at Maverick’s Flat in Los Angeles recently, and it was even more exciting in person using the iconic Henry Franklin on bass and Carl Burnett on drums with young, up-and-coming keyboardist, Sam Hirsh. The breathtakingly beautiful composition, “Here, There and Everywhere,” composed by Lennon and McCartney (of the Beatles fame), is performed with deep emotion and heartfelt sincerity. On “Limehouse Blues,” Matt Home gets to show off massive drum skills on his solo. But it is Clatworthy, with his Coltrane-ish approach to the music and his free form, improvisational skills, along with well-honed technique, who is the star of this recording. Surrounded by gifted musicians, they come together in a cohesive knit that makes us want to slip inside the music, smooth, comfortable and full of quality, like curling up in a cashmere sweater or inside your lover’s arms. This is music you play over and over again.
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