Archive for September, 2016

CONCERT AT THE BEACH – Redondo Beach, CA

September 29, 2016

September 27, 2016 – A balmy, Tuesday Evening

CONCERT AT THE BEACH – Redondo Beach, California
By Dee Dee McNeil – Jazz Journalist

There was a great air of expectancy in the “Seascape Ballroom” at the Crowne Plaza Redondo Beach & Marina Hotel. Master guitarist, Doug MacDonald, had put together an unbelievable line-up of thirteen jazz musicians (including himself) who are some of the top names on the Southern California jazz scene. Their goal was to honor a sprinkling of the greatest jazz composers of all time, including Thelonious Monk, Clifford Brown, Horace Silver, and Duke Ellington. At the same time, the concert was being recorded ‘live’ for an upcoming Blue Jazz Record release. I was excited to be present.

The intimate ballroom was located right off the main hotel lobby and was set up with dinner tables that could comfortably accommodate about 60 to 75 people. There was one of those hotel stages that they had constructed for the evening, a couple of feet tall, with a multitude of microphones and a plethora of electric chords stretching like centipede legs all across the cluttered stage. A white grand piano sat in the back of the stage on the right-hand side, dimly illuminated by undistinguished ceiling lights. Waiters and waitresses bustled from one table to another, taking drink orders and passing out dinner menus. It was 6pm and I was ready for a meal, a glass of merlot and some amazing jazz entertainment.

Executive Producer, Don Thomson, took the microphone and introduced the all-star, jazz participants who would be performing. “From the historic Buddy Rich band, two notable trumpet players are with us this evening; Carl Saunders and Bob Summers,” Mr. Thomson informed us. Welcoming applause filled the room.

We learned that on tenor saxophones, two of the very best in the business were on hand; Rickey Woodard and Pete Christleib. Lanny Morgan was on Alto saxophone, and the only female on the bandstand was trombonist, Linda Small. There were two upright bass players, Jim Hughart and John B. Williams, as well as two pianists; Josh Nelson and John Campbell. Finally, we were told, there would also be two drummers featured at various times; Roy McCurdy and Paul Kreibich.

Paul’s wife, Merle Kreibich, was on hand as the ‘hostess with the mostess’ and acting publicity expert. Her dedication to keeping jazz alive in Southern California is undeniable. Half of me was there to enjoy the awesome music and the other half of me was there to support Merle and my long-time friend and musical director, Doug MacDonald. Doug told the expectant audience that the program would begin with Tad Dameron’s composition, “Our Delight,” a swinging little number that featured all the various on-stage icons, along with the first rhythm section consisting of John B. Williams on bass, Roy McCurdy on drums and John Campbell at the grand piano. It was a great way to begin the evening concert.

The next tune was the familiar Thelonius Monk Standard tune, “Round Midnight.” Doug shuffled the musicians like a Las Vegas card dealer. He dismissed some and this time featured Carl Saunders and Rickey Woodard. Saunders is dynamic and his technique on trumpet is flawless and admirable. He’s also fun to watch, standing straddle-legged, knees slightly bent, transforming right before our eyes from man to instrument, pouring his soul out through the bell of his horn. Rickey Woodard sprayed the room with rich, warm saxophone sounds that always remind me of the late, great Gene Ammons, while John Campbell added tasty licks on the eighty-eight keys with his splendid accompaniment and offered a spell-binding solo on this beautiful ballad that was full of depth and emotion. I loved the rhumba feel on the ending. It surprised and pleased an enraptured audience.

On the Horace Silver tune, Strollin’, Musical conductor, MacDonald, featured Pete Chrislieb on tenor sax and Bob Summers on trumpet. On “Con Alma” the personnel changed again. Paul Kreibich manned the drums, Jim Hughart took over the double bass and Josh Nelson slid onto the piano bench. Lanny Morgan brought his alto saxophone and the party was on.

So the evening went, with the performers playing an intriguing game of musical chairs and musical microphones. I really enjoyed “Da’Ood,” the Clifford Brown composition that was counted in at a speedy pace, with the musicians off and running like the Santa Anita races. The wooden ceiling and carpeted floors made for a beautiful, warm sound in the ballroom and the sound engineer had a decent mix on stage. The eight page Ellington medley was challenging for seasoned veterans and senior citizen eyes in the low stage lighting. Doug made jokes about the 8-page music charts, but the arrangement of Duke Ellington’s work including “Just Squeeze Me,“ “ What Am I hear for? “, “Sophisticated Lady” and “Cotton Tail” magnified the talents of those on-stage-players and the medley was worth every page of the arrangement by Randy Aldcroft. Linda Small, though petit and slight of build, showed true excellence on the slide trombone and was tenacious and creative. Jim Hughart sounded amazing on his bass and John Campbell thrilled me on the ‘keys’. This was followed by a beautiful Brazilian Bossa Nova titled, “Bossa Don,“ a Doug MacDonald original composition. MacDonald took center stage on his guitar and made the instrument talk. His rhythm and harmonics on his Buscarino guitar were mesmerizing. At one point, during his improvisational solo, Eleanor Rigby snuck into the song and briefly grabbed my attention.

Continuing, MacDonald told us that his dearly departed friend and pianist, Art Hillary, had introduced him to “Blue Capers” by Blue Mitchell and he has loved that song ever since. It was another swinger and quickly became one of my favorites of the evening. Roy McCurdy was on drums this time and the hard licks he was hitting soon had the horns and the piano jumping in, to accent his rhythm. It was an exciting arrangement. I don’t know if it was written on the page or improvised and spontaneous, but it worked and was certainly wonderful!

All in all, it was an awesome September night of continuous jazz that went straight through, no breaks, from seven pm to Ten pm. It was a thrilling evening of quality musicianship, a celebration of jazz history and the price was right. In a California County that boasts some of the most talented and internationally respected jazz musicians on the planet, the room should have been packed. It wasn’t. If you were there, you got more than your money’s worth. If you weren’t there, you should have been.
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Watch edited Doug MacDonald live here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yd9J48cuDhI

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JAZZ CONTINUES TO EVOLVE AND ENRICH A NATION

September 25, 2016

JAZZ CONTINUES TO EVOLVE AND ENRICH A NATION
By Dee Dee McNeil – jazz journalist

September 25, 2016

Like everything else in nature, art evolves and reflects the past and present, wrapped like a beautiful gift that we cannot wait to open and explore. Below are four very different and talented jazz artists who exemplify the evolving nature of jazz. Each, in their own unique way, enrich our culture and encourage their listeners to open their ears and minds to new ways of appreciating jazz music. There is RICHARD SUSSMAN, who believes that fundamental to “The Evolution Ensemble” is the belief that to meet the changing needs and cultural shifts of the twenty-first century, it’s essential for composers and performers to evolve in their aesthetic perspectives by changing the artistic landscape. DAVID GIBSON uses his trombone to pull at his ‘Inner Agent’ inside himself and finds freedom in jazz music. ALLYSA ALLGOOD looks to the past, learning from the masters and putting her own lyrical spin on compositions and jazz melodies created by iconic Blue Note artists, while LOU CAIMANO and ERIC OLSEN endeavor to transform classical Arias into palatable jazzy, new works of art. Each artist has the goal of evolving the music to one extent or another. Here’s my take on what I heard.

RICHARD SUSSMAN – “THE EVOLUTION SUITE”
Zoho Records

Richard Sussman, piano/electronics; Scott Wendholt, trumpet/flugelhorn; Rich Perry, tenor saxophone; Mike Richmond, acoustic/electric bass; Anthony Pinciotti, drums; The Sirius Quartet includes: Gregor Huebner, violin, Fung Chern Hwei, violin; Ron Lawrence, viola; Jeremy Harman, cello and Special guest Zach Brock, electric violin.

The warm tone of violins opens the first track and the other instruments join in, sporadically building on the strings like busy fingers. Here is an orchestrated suite, composed and arranged by Sussman, that is richly rooted in the classical genre, but incorporates jazz as a means of parading improvised solos atop the base. There are rhythms and percussive textures that sometimes remind me of gun shots. Staccato Horn lines sing, while the piano chords play in a legato fashion beneath, locking horns with the rhythm section to create “Into the Cosmic Kitchen”. Scott Wendholt is splendid on trumpet.

Richard Sussman’s “Evolution Suite” written for Jazz Quintet, String Quartet and Electronics is a labor of love that Sussman admittedly has worked on for almost a decade. The five-movement composition was funded by a Chamber Music America New Jazz Works Grant and premiered in December of 2015 at the Leonard Nimoy Thalia of Symphony Space in NYC. It was recorded live and the results is this unusual and very beautiful production. Somehow, Sussman has brought together electronics, Straight Ahead, contemporary classical and pop music in his unique arrangements. Track two of the 5-part suite delivers a lovely ballad titled “Relaxin’ at Olympus”. There’s a bit of blues in the saxophone that enters after a very classical piano introduction. It’s sultry and sweet, played by Rich Perry, with the string quartet, rich as cream, chiming in to elevate the arrangement in a chamber-music-kind-of-way.
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DAVID GIBSON – “INNER AGENT”
Posi-Tone Records

David Gibson, trombone; Freddie Hendrix, trumpet; Theo Hill, piano; Alexander Claffy, bass; Kush Abadey, drums; Doug Webb, tenor saxophone; Caleb Curtis, alto saxophone.

I have to begin this review by complimenting Positone Records. Every CD this company has sent to me reflects a high quality of jazz artists. It’s been a joy listening to each and every one of them. David Gibson is no exception to this course of excellence. “Inner Agent”, the title tune, is an original composition by Gibson and sets the mood for this entire project. It’s Straight Ahead, no nonsense jazz, just the way this reviewer likes it. Using a quartet of horns to thicken the musical brew, Gibson graciously shares his stage with a group of seasoned musicians. He lets each one solo and sparkle like jazzy jewels. Hendrix is compelling on trumpet, drawing the listener in with big bold tones and dynamic technique. Doug Webb always brings tenor madness to the studio, playing from the heart and Caleb Curtis on alto is a saxophone force to be enjoyed and celebrated. This is my first time hearing Theo Hill on piano and he’s impressive, innovative and skilled, knowing just how to comp and support the artist, then stretching out with solos that make you pay attention. Abadey on drums is powerful and relentless, giving this band the push and rhythmic inspiration they need to spiral up and over his percussive chops. However, it is Gibson’s trombone voice that bathes in the glow of a singular spotlight. They say that trombone is the closest instrument to human vocals and Gibson sings with emotional dexterity and polished technique. He’s an accomplished composer as well as a musician and offers four original tunes on this project. One is “The Scythe”, a high-powered, Be Bop tune that burns with fiery energy with Gibson’s solo floating solidly atop the rhythm section. You can hear Abadey’s drums throughout, egging the band on like a matador’s cape in front of an angry bull. I love the mix on this recording. Bassist, Alexander Claffy, has written “AJ”, a moderate tempo ballad that allows Gibson to set the melodic theme along with his horn section, sometimes harmonically but mostly in unison. If I were to have any criticism, it would be that Gibson’s improvisational solos are way too short. Gibson tackles two compositions by my Detroit home-boy, trombonist Curtis Fuller; “The Court” and “Sweetness”, where he shows admirable technique and self-expression. This is an album of music to be treasured in any collection. Perhaps Curtis Fuller said it best when he gave Gibson this dynamic compliment:

“Out of all the young players I hear in the music today, David is one of very few who speaks the language of jazz.”

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ALYSSA ALLGOOD – OUT OF THE BLUE
Jeru Jazz Records

Alyssa Allgood, voice; Dan Chase, organ; Tim Fitzgerald, guitar; Chris Madsen, saxophone; Matt Plaskota, drums.

Here is a poet/vocalist who has taken on the challenging task of writing lyrics to some well-recognized, popular jazz standards composed by iconic Blue Note record company artists. Starting with “Watch Me Walk Away” originally titled, “Dig Dis” by Hank Mobley, her poetry is a reflection of her last name, ‘All good’. She sings in the mode of Lambert Hendricks & Ross or Eddie Jefferson; scatting with words. Allgood’s accompaniment is outstanding, with Dan Chase playing a mean organ and Tim Fitzgerald laying down an innovative guitar solo on this very first composition. Mobley’s swinging-shuffle-of-a-tune is a good sounding board to introduce the listener to Allgood’s band of musicians, minus saxophone. Madsen’s sax appears on the second cut, John Coltrane’s “Moment’s Notice,” where Allgood sings Kim Nazarian and Peter Eldridge lyrics. “Speak No Evil,” Wayne Shorter’s composition, features Allgood as a lyricist again and I enjoyed her scat-singing on this cut as well as her poetic storyline. She trades fours with Matt Plaskota’s drums, while singing along with Fitzgerald’s guitar licks. Plaskota is given a moment to shine with his percussive solo taking stage center. Alyssa Allgood is to be commended for tackling some difficult intervals and challenging jazz compositions, like Sam Rivers’ “Beatrice”. Again, she has put lyrics to the Rivers song. But (for me) her voice is lacking that special stylization and ‘Swing’ that jazz demands. Jazz divas like Betty Carter, Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday and Nancy Wilson have set the bar high for style and delivery. On the other hand, she’s pitch-perfect, as well as a fine songwriter. She’s young and has time to develop her style.

Meantime, her talented group carries her with fortitude and professional tenacity. All in all, this is a well-produced CD and when she becomes an instrument, scatting instead of singing words, I find myself more comfortably drawn to Allgood’s music. That’s when she really swings. Allgood has won several jazz awards already in her young career including the 2014 DownBeat Magazine Student Music Award for Best Undergraduate Vocal Jazz Soloist and was recently named a 2016 Luminart’s Jazz Fellow through the Lumninarts Cultural Foundation in Chicago.

Allgood is based in Chicago and her organist and co-arranger, Dan Chase, along with her entire ensemble, are lauded as mainstays on the Chicago jazz scene. Chase is endorsed by Hammond Organ. Tim Fitzgerald has a critically acclaimed book titled “625 Alive: The Wes Montgomery BBC Performance Transcribed” said to be among the ’50 greatest guitar books’ of all time. Chris Madsen has performed with and written for Wynton Marsalis, Victor Goines, Wycliffe Gordon, Bobby Short and more. Drummer, Matt Plaskota, is an educator who performs regularly throughout the Midwest area.
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LOU CAIMANO/ERIC OLSEN – “DYAD PLAYS JAZZ ARIAS”
Ringwood Records

Eric Olsen, piano; Lous Caimano, alto saxophone; SPECIAL GUESTS: Randy Brecker, trumpet/flugelhorn; Ted Nash, tenor saxophone.

If you are a lover of classical music, you will find this melding of jazz with master aria composers like Bizet, Verdi and Mozart quite interesting. Using only piano as the rhythm section, Olsen lays down a lush classical track for Caimano’s alto saxophone to improvise on top of, allowing jazz and the classics like “Habanera” to co-mingle. The result is a challenging blend of musical freedom with the more structured classical arias. On the very first cut, “Finch’ han dal Vino” by W.A. Mozart, Randy Brecker breaks the icy and repetitive piano line with his creative approach on trumpet. It was Brecker’s instrumentation that held my attention captive during the duet. Having studied piano, this jazz journalist has a limited background in the classical compositions. However, I believe that when you enter the world of jazz, you have to be able to ‘swing’ and to transform classical ideas from the structured to a dance of freedom. Although competent and obviously, technique-wise, astute on his instrument, I never heard Olsen get totally free on his piano during this premiere aria. I applaud the arrangements and the producing of an album that attempts to marry these two musical styles. I know that Ellington has attempted the same thing in the past, as has George Gershwin when he composed, “Rhapsody in Blue”. However, taking well-known operatic arias and transforming them into jazz arias will take more than a concept to birth a healthy and well-favored baby.

This duo has been performing together for sixteen years under the name of DYAD. The meaning of the word ‘Dyad’ is “two persons in a continuing relationship involving interaction.” Five of these recorded arrangements were written by Olsen with two arias having the arranging credit shared by his musical partner, Caimano; (“Flower Duet” and “Meditation”). I enjoyed the jazz waltz arrangement on the Léo Delibes’ composition, “Flower Duet”, that was written exclusively for two soprano singers in classical ¾ time. Like the operatic singers, Ted Nash and Lou Caimano harmonize beautifully, then break out into individual solos. I was impressed with Olsen’s walking, left-handed bass-line, while his right hand deftly kept the rhythm with opulent, harmonic chords. I also found their final tune, “Dio! mi potevi scagliar” very well adjusted to jazz and converted from classical in a most creative and unique way; almost sounding Avant Garde at times. Again, it features both saxophonists Lou Caimano and Ted Nash, and pulls the best out of each musician in a jazzy way that transcends musical boundaries. I suppose that was the goal of this recording in the first place. On these two songs, mission accomplished.

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VOLUMES OF JAZZ

September 11, 2016

VOLUMES OF JAZZ
By Dee Dee McNeil/Jazz Journalist

September 11, 2016

This month I was sent quite a few CDs that boasted Vol 1 or Vol 2 of several musical projects by a diversity of artists. First was RAY OBIEDO whose Latin jazz album was beautifully produced and offers a volume one full of pleasant listening. AL STRONG boasted about his “Love Strong” music and also labeled his premier recorded release, volume one. His musical venture was more Be-Bop. On the flip side, CRAIG HARTLEY called his “Books on Tape” volume two, featuring a trio presentation. LITTLE JOHNNY RIVERO brought volumes of energy to the table and DAVE STRYKER brought back his ‘Eight Track’ concept for the second time around, with volumes of oldies-but-goodies repurposed and wonderful. MEHMET ALI SANLIKOL blends Turkish roots with American jazz along with a group of master musicians calling themselves, “Whatsnext”. Finally, CAROL BACH-Y-RITA adds her vocal, percussive improvisation to the mix. Thus my title, “Volumes of Jazz” takes on a double entendre, encompassing several hours of music and various CDs that reference volumes of work and also offer volumes of talent.

RAY OBIEDO – “LATIN JAZZ PROJECT VOL. 1”
Rhythmus Records

Ray Obiedo, acoustic & electric guitars/synthesizers; David Belove & Marc van Wageningen, bass; David K. Mathews, piano/organ; Paul van Wageningen, drums; Karl Perazzo, congas/timbales; Roger Glenn, flute/alto flute/piccolo; Elena Pinderhughes flute; Sandy Cressman, vocals; Peter Michael Escovedo, bongo/timbales; Derek Rolando, congas; Norbert Stachel, tenor/soprano saxophones/flute; Phil Hawkins, steel pans; Michael Spiro, percussion; Peter Horvath,piano solo; Bob Mintzer,tenor saxophone; Orestes Vilato, timbales; Mike Olmos, trumpet; Ray Vega, trumpet solo; Jeff Cressman,trombone; Jon Bendich, congas; Sheila E., conga solo/percussion; Mike Rinta,trombone/horn arrangements.

The first thing that grabs me about this project is the percussive excellence. From the very first notes, it’s the drums and percussion that sweep me into a musical moment of danceable, Latin jazz. I am propelled along by the sweet double time excitement of the drums on Tito Puente’s composition, “Picadillo”. When Obiedo enters on his guitar, he picks his solo with precision and improvisation, after the ensemble has properly established the melody in concert and with gusto. But throughout, thanks to a sensitive mix and mastering, Karl Perazzo on congas and timbales, with ginormous support from Paul van Wageningen on trap drums, supports this music like a cinder block basement, along with several other guest percussionists. The addition of Sandy Cressman’s background vocals on cut #2, “Coral Keys” and on “Vera Cruz” takes this production to another level, embracing smooth jazz and easy listening at the same time. “Coral Keys” prominently features the flautist, Elena Pinderhughes. Obiedo bounces around from acoustic to electric guitars, throwing in synthiziser for good measure, and gives ample solo time to his all-star cast of characters. “Caravan” features Norbert Stachel on soprano saxophone. Siblings, Sheila E and Pete Escovedo Jr., are also featured on this project, presenting a forceful final number called, “Cool for Now”. Mathews is tasteful and impressive on piano throughout and another special guest is the talented reedman, Bob Mintzer. I enjoy the rhythm guitar licks on “Vera Cruz” and the groove is infectious. “St Thomas” is one of my favorite Sonny Rollins tunes and Obiedo paints it with fresh, bright, Latin colors, much like the cover of this CD, shiny with blue and bright orange, brilliant yellow and rich green buildings. There is a colorful fusion feel to this production of the Rollins tune. Mintzer brings Straight-Ahead to the Latin party on tenor saxophone during cut #6, “Cubo Azul”. This happens to be one of three original compositions by the artist, Ray Obiedo. Bassist, Marc van Wageningen, (not to be confused with Paul) is a mainstay of lock-down rhythms, blending his bass licks with the drums to offer a strong foundation for the ensemble to build upon. Another of Obiedo’s original compositions that I enjoyed immensely is “Child’s Dance,” where both the artist and his bassist show off their talent and instrument techniques with spontaneous solos. This entire album of Latin jazz resonates splendid joy and happiness.
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CRAIG HARTLEY – “BOOKS ON TAPE VOL. II – STANDARD EDITION”
Independent Label

Craig Harley, piano; Carlo De Rosa, bass; Jeremy ‘Bean’ Clemons, drums.

Sometimes the simplicity of just a trio is all you need to enjoy a collection of jazz standards. It’s like a good book, the “standard Edition”, on a chilly night by the fireplace. You curl up with the musical story and enjoy. Craig Hartley is very creative on piano, with improvisation pouring out of his right hand while his left hand deftly keeps the time with appropriate chords. “Jitterbug Waltz” never sounded so good.

Clemons on drums knows just when to crescendo and when to dance softly beneath the music. De Rosa is cleverly and skillfully present on bass. When they complexly blend Miles Davis with Bach, I am totally impressed. Hartley has arranged the jazz standard “Solar” as part of Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Prelude No. 2 in C minor.” The artist explains in his liner notes:

“Here I am able to show how my eclectic interests and inspirations allowed me to intertwine two major standards from two different genres.”

When they move from a classical presentation to hard-bop swing, I am enchanted. I enjoyed hearing Carlo De Rosa’s double bass solo on this arrangement and was fascinated with how Jeremy ‘Bean’ Clemons complimented that solo on drums in a most unique and artistic way.

The stories this trio tells is represented by the works of Duke Ellington, John Lennon, Miles Davis, Bill Evans, J.S. Bach, Fats Waller and Paul McCartney. Although the songs are familiar, they have been completely re-arranged and consequently reinvented. These compositions sound fresh and revitalized, from the much recorded “Caravan” to the beautiful and somewhat obsolete composition by McCartney titled, “Junk.” The faces of these musical masterpieces are presented in uniquely different lights. Here are three dynamic musicians who smartly bring be-bop, pop and classical music together seamlessly and wrap us warmly in their musical garment. The release date for this awesome recording is October 7, 2016.
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AL STRONG – “LOVE STRONG – VOLUME 1”
Independent Label

Al Strong, trumpet/flugelhorn/steelpan; Jeremy ‘Bean’ Clemons & Lajhi Hampden, drums; Lance Scott, bass; Ameen Saleem, acoustic bass; Ryan Hanseler, piano/Fender Rhodes; Lovell Bradford, piano/organ/Wurly; Joel Holloway & Charles Robinson, Hammond B-3 organ; JC Martin, guitar; Brevan Hampden, percussion; Shaena Ryan Martin, baritone saxophone; Bluford Thompson, tenor saxophone; James ‘Saxmo’ Gates, alto saxophone; Alan Thompson, soprano saxophone; Jordan Baker, Charles Robinson, Jeremy “bean” Clemons & Bluford Thompson, Jr, Party Boys vocals; SPECIAL GUESTS: Ira Wiggins, alto flute; Joey Calderazzo, piano; Devonne Harris, Fender Rhodes; Ameen Saleem, Acoustic bass; Brian Miller, tenor saxophone; Lummie Spann, Jr., alto sax; The KidzNotes Mozart Chorus – Children’s Voices.

Al Strong comes be-boppin’ into the room complimenting his name; strong! The cut is titled “Get Away 9” and these musicians exemplify the concept of taking flight and ‘getting away’ excellently, starting with Jeremy ‘Bean’ Clemons on drums. He rumbles onto the set and spurs the horns into action right from the first four bars of this up-tempo-get-away. Wait! Didn’t I just hear this drummer on another CD I recently reviewed by Craig Hartley? Looks like he gets around in the studio. The featured artist, horn to lips, blows with gusto on this, his original composition and conveys a story of a possible road trip where musical friends indulge in spirited conversation along the way. They each have a lot to say, reflecting the magic of this project from the very first solos by Ameen Saleem, solid on acoustic bass. Other conversationalists are Clemons, dynamic on drums; Lavell Bradford, improvisational on piano and Bluford Thompson on tenor saxophone. Between Thompson’s commanding solo and Al Strong playing with time on his horn and riffin’ trumpet descants against the tenor sax lines, this listener experiences a conversation of sorts between ‘the cats’. Saleem is no slouch on his big, fat bass notes that support the entire ensemble throughout this song. This is a jazzy party, in the basement with the blue light on! I played this interestingly arranged tune four times before I could go on to the rest of the album.
The children’s voices caught me off guard on cut number two; (the kidzNotes Mozart Chorus). Singing a’cappella with innocence and sincerity, they performed the familiar “Itsy Bitsy spider” nursery rhyme. Strong has developed this happy-go-lucky childhood memory into a jazz tune worthy of a listen. He puts the blues into the mix, along with modern jazz, inclusive of free-flowing improvisational solos going on beneath his solo, like the walking bass and Ira Wiggins on a fluid alto flute. This time Lajhi Hampden is on drums.

It appears Al Strong has gathered a number of musicians, hand-picking those he felt would best interpret his arrangements and original compositions. “Lilly’s Lullaby” plays like a dirge and features the sensitive accompaniment of Joey Calderazzo on piano. But it’s always Al Strong, whose trumpet sensitivity and technique bring musical magic to each song. Be it familiar or original, he pours his heart and soul into playing it. I also found the freedom in his arrangements glamorize his accompaniment in extraordinary ways. It’s not often that an artist so lovingly and openly let’s his musicians shine with such strength and clarity. Often, they play simultaneous to solos. I find myself listening to the background musicians and instrumentation as much as the front line players. Strong is to be complimented on his deftness as a producer, arranger and free spirited musician.
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LITTLE JOHNNY RIVERO – “MUSIC IN ME”
Truth Revolution Records

Little Johnny Rivero, congas/bongo/timbales/talking drums/Quinto/barril de bomba/chants & minor percussion; Zaccai Curtis, piano/Fender Rhodes; Luques Curtis, bass; Ludwig Afonso, drums; Brian Lynch, trumpet/Louis Fouche, alto saxophone; SPECIAL GUESTS: Conrad Herwig, trombone; Jonathan Powell, trumpet; Alfredo De La Fe, violin; Natalie Fernandez, vocals; Anthony Carrillo, bongo/bata/barril de bomba/cuas/maracas; Luisito Quintero, timbales; Giovanni Almonte, poem; Manny Mieles, chant vocals; Edwin Ramos, coro.

Now here we have a bright, happy music project that is a true pleasure to attend and enjoy. My feet start patting and I am invigorated by the percussive energy, delightful horn licks and master musicianship. Percussionist/composer, Little Johnny Rivero successfully combines New York City East Coast energy with his Puerto Rican roots and infuses his production with Afro-Cuban rhythms. The very first tune, “Mr. LP” sets the standard for this entire project. Danceable and energetic, Rivero dedicates his composition to L.P. Founder, Martin Cohen, who he refers to as a dear friend and father figure in his liner notes. Special guest, Conrad Herwig, brings substance and creativity on his trombone. However, it’s Luques Curtis on bass and Rivero who steal the spotlight with their exciting rhythms and the locked down tempo and groove dancing beneath the Zaccai Curtis piano solo and Herwig’s trombone talents. Jonathan Powell, on trumpet, is also powerful on this cut. “Music in Me”, the title tune, is a sweet, Latin, jazz Rhumba with the intro melody playing cut-time atop multi percussive double-time rhythms. Brian Lynch’s trumpet solo is formidable, followed by the smooth, sexy sound of Louis Fouché on alto saxophone. Pianist, Z. Curtis, and Rivero have co-written this composition and it’s dynamic in production. I enjoyed the “La, la, la” vocals of Natalie Fernandez on “Palmieri, Much Respect”, cut #5. Fernandez has a unique timbre and tone that immediately catches the attention, even though she sang not one word, except “La-la” to reference the melody. It was an interesting concept that worked. In fact, this entire musical menu is delicious to the creative palate and to the discerning taste of this jazz aficionado.

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DAVE STRYKER – EIGHT TRACK II
Strikezone Records

Dave Stryker, guitar; Steve Nelson, vibraphone; Jared Gold, organ; McClenty Hunter, drums.

Once again, guitarist Dave Stryker has taken a basket full of hit pop and R&B tunes, then transformed them into jazz using organ, vibraphone, guitar and drums. He opens with “Harvest for the World” a popular Isley Brothers hit record. The problem for me, right off the bat, is that I miss the strong bass line that pumps tunes like this up into the Billboard top ten. No matter how hard excellent drummer McClenty Hunter plays, he can’t compensate for the lack of that strong bass line. I enjoy Stryker’s unexpected introduction on “What’s Going On”, made famous by Marvin Gaye and recorded a million times by many other musicians. Once again, the lack of a strong bass line takes away from the strength of this arrangement. Although Nelson’s vibraphone work is admirable and Gold’s organ accompaniment and solo are well played, I am still missing that bass line. I can hear the organ bass line on “When Doves Cry” way in the background. Perhaps it’s the mix on this project that is troubling me. That being said, I commend Stryker for choosing a list of eleven popular songs for us to rediscover in a jazzy way. He offers “Trouble Man”, “Midnight Cowboy”, Stevie Wonder’s, “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” and “Send One Your Love”; the Temptations, “I Can’t Get Next to You” (written by Barrett Strong and Norman Whitfield). These Motown gems for sure deserve to be ‘funk’ infused somewhere. “Send One Your Love” is very sweetly done, almost like a Bossa Nova, but not quite. Hunter tears the drums up on “I Can’t Get Next to You”, putting funk into the production, but without that all important bass line, it’s still lack-luster. To his credit, Stryker always manages to give a new perspective to these old, familiar songs and all the players manage to improvise so well that at times you totally forget what hit-parade composition they are improvising over. This is the case with “I Can’t Get Next to You.” Every solo is spirited and exciting, in spite of the lack of bass groove. Then, on the very end of the song, I hear that organ bass line being pumped out in a ‘walking bass’ that is intriguing. I think on “Time of the Season” they finally got Gold’s bass line delivered, where it sounds mixed into the production properly. The ensemble found a strong ‘Swing’ shuffle groove on this composition. When the musicians Traded Fours it stamped this Zombies tune with jazz approval.

As always, Stryker remains tenacious in delivery and improvisation on his six-string guitar. After 30 plus years in the music business, he continues to showcase his power as an arranger, as well as a player. Jaren Gold is also to be commended on his arrangement input on tracks 1, 2, 5 and 6. One of my favorites was Striker’s arrangement of “One Hundred Ways” and “Sunshine of Your Love”. All in all, just subject to the nostalgia that these wonderful songs conjure up, Stryker should get plenty of airplay on this, his 27th CD release as a leader.
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MEHMET ALI SANLIKOL & WHATSNEXT? – “RESOLUTION”
Dunya Records

Mehmet Ali Sanlikol, conductor/composer/arranger/harpsichord/clavinet/oog prodigy/keyboards/ney/cumbus/ud/talking drum/wter pot/vocals; Utar Artun, piano/Phil Sargent, electric guitar; Fernando Huergo, electric bass; Bertram Lehmann, drums; George Lernis, bongos/darbuka/def/tamvourine/cymbals; Mark Zaleski, alto saxophone/flute/clarinet; Dave Milazzo, alto sax/clarinet; Rick DiMuzio/tenor saxophone/clarinet; Aaron Henry, tenor saxophone; Jared Sims, baritone sax/bass clarinet; Mike Peipman, trumpet; Jeff Claassen, Tom Halter & Jerry Sabatini, trumpet/flugel horn; Chris Gagne, Clayton DeWalt & Tim Lienhard, trombone; Gabe Langfur, bass trombone. GUEST ARTISTS: Anat Cohen, clarinet; Dave Liebman, soprano saxophone; Tiger Okoshi, trumpet; Antonio Sanchez, drums; Nedelka Prescod, vocals.

From Turkish rhythms to full, swinging, big-band-arrangements, here is a project that speaks volumes about how jazz touches cultures and how cultures embrace jazz as the epitome of freedom and self-expression. I own a middle Eastern keyboard that has a multitude of cultural rhythms programmed into it. I was interested in hearing how this creative effort might embrace Malfouf, Fallahi, Maksum, Kazak, Saidi and various other Middle East rhythms. Starting with the very first cut, “The Turkish 2nd Line (New Orleans Ciftetellisi)”, this multi-talented artist opens with Middle East microtones and rhythms that quickly liquesce into something resembling a New Orleans orchestra. The production features lush horn harmonics built upon a rhythm section that sounds very Turkish in origin. This complete project is music Sanlikol (the artist) composed in the summer of 2015 and is meant to reflect the point where two cultures meet; his Turkish roots and American jazz. It was Mehmet Ali Sanlikol’s desire to discover his musical roots that led to a decade or more of unearthing Turkish music and soaking up microtones, Middle Eastern modes and rhythms.

“When I realized that I didn’t know much about my roots, that was a big shock and I think it triggered something in me that’s deep,” he explained in liner notes.
The second composition, full of minor modes and a male voice that sings like a distant chant or prayer over unusual rhythms and sparse orchestration, takes us back to a time and place far from American shores. So does cut #3, “Whirl Around.” This third composition takes us through a series of moods and musical revelations that are both interesting and creatively compelling, this time featuring a male voice and female vocalist, Nedelka Prescod, who moves from Turkish mode with English lyrics to improvisational scat at the snap of a finger. It’s an interesting concept. This music is unlike any jazz album I’ve heard before and that is quite a statement for this jazz journalist to make. I’ve listened intently to jazz music for most of my life and this concept is fresh.

When “Concerto for Soprano Saxophone and Jazz Orchestra in C” begins to play, I am enthralled with the various song cycles. One is titled, “Ballad, Reminiscence.” I am taken aback by the bluesy beauty of this composition. This production lends itself to an Ellingtonian sound with lovely horn arrangements and featuring emotional and moving solos by Dave Liebman with the jazz orchestra.

Mehmet Ali Sanliko was born in Istanbul and studied piano with his mother. He began performing publicly at age five. Winning a scholarship, he arrived in Boston to attend the prestigious Berklee College of Music and earned both Master’s and Doctorate Degrees from the New England Conservatory of Music. Dunya is a Boston-based independent record label that he co-founded and it’s used as a collective vehicle for contemporary music influenced by Turkish traditions.
The titles of these compositions, like the music itself, I found challenging, creatively excellent, intricate, and plush with styles, rhythms and musical persuasions that cross borders and fully entertain the listener.
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CAROL BACH-Y-RITA – “MINHA CASA / MY HOUSE”
Arugula Records

Carol Bach-y-rita, vocals; Bill Cantos, piano; Larry Koonse, guitar; John Leftwich, bass; Mike Shapiro, drums/percussion; Dudu Fuentes, percussion on track 9.

From the first cut, I have the feeling this is going to be a special musical offering. “Morning Coffee” is creative and cohesive, with a wonderful lyric and catchy, memorable melody. It’s composed by pianist Bill Cantos. Bach-y-rita sells the song and adds percussive vocals for good measure. She makes the song come alive and fades with just her voice and percussion. Nice! I love the arrangement on the old standard “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home to” with the guitar trio employing a Latin, 6/8 feel that makes it a unique listening experience. Carol Bach-y-rita has a propensity for using her voice to scat percussion and I appreciate her technique and creativity. It sets her apart from the average singers and enhances her platform as a jazz vocalist. I am impressed with her timing and tackling Eddie Jefferson’s version of “Night in Tunisia” is not for the faint of heart. Obviously, she has picked a group of amazing songs to sing and thanks to unusually fresh arrangements, as well as the sensitive group of musicians she is working with, here is a collection of pure talent. The last time I enjoyed “Tis Autumn” was when I heard Gloria Lynn sing it. Ms. Bach-y-rita has changed all that with her successful vocal on this beautiful jazz standard. Larry Koonse is a sensitive and established guitar accompanist. To top off the ice cream sundae of a musical experience, both sweet and tantalizing, this vocal artist tackles the Joni Mitchell and Charlie Mingus composition, “The Dry Cleaner from Des Moines.” It’s arranged by herself and reedman, Robert Kyle. They call it a Samba Reggae. LOL. Refreshing! I thought I had heard “Nature Boy” in every type of arrangement until Carol Bach-y-rita decided to sing it for us as a duet with drums. Just in case you had any doubts that she is a real jazz singer, this arrangement will put them to rest! Drummer, Mike Shapiro, plays beautifully and totally supports the artist with percussive excellence. The two of them have written and arranged “Trust”, a composition that follows, utilizing a Maracatu rhythm beneath the haunting melody. The artist performs in Portuguese with no problem and great emotion. I learned, from reading the liner notes, that she is conversant in five languages. Impressive!

The suggestions for airplay of this album reads, “File under jazz/vocal/Brazilian/world.” However, I say this is simply great music, featuring a beautifully recorded artist, who is shades of a female Al Jarreau or Bobby McFerrin and who is not afraid to jump off the precipice of music without a parachute.
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