JAZZ AND BEYOND: A LOOK AT NEW MUSIC & UNIQUE ARTISTS

JAZZ AND BEYOND: A LOOK AT NEW MUSIC & UNIQUE ARTISTS
By Dee Dee McNeil/Jazz Journalist

October 10, 2016

This month’s music celebrates unique artists and various musical genres including jazz and beyond. From Brazilian duo, IAN FAQUINI and PAULA SANTORO, who ‘wow’ me with their inspirational simplicity, to the bluesy MATTHEW KAMINSKI QUARTET who uses his organ to slap the blues up-front and in your face. VALERIE GHENT began recording her latest release in France titled “Velour” and crosses musical genre’s and styles with her original compositions and vocal stylings. Guitarist/composer GREG DIAMOND writes songs to celebrate his mixed heritage and his New York community, while WADADA LEO SMITH writes a 28-page suite of music to celebrate America’s National Parks. BRENT FISCHER thrills me once again with his unique arrangements and Latin Jazz Big Band. They focus on playing the music of his famous father, DR. CLARE FISCHER, using some of the biggest names in Latin Jazz, with guest appearances by the amazing, ROBERTA GAMBARINI and SHEILA E. Finally, all the way from Singapore, ALEMAY FERNANDEZ brings a refreshing album of original music that embraces jazz, but also delves into performances that recall the famous Andrew Sisters and duets that are spiced with pop and R&B overtones. If you’ve been seeking unique artistic performances, you may find them in this group of CD releases.

IAN FAQUINI + PAULA SANTORO – “METAL NA MADEIRA” (Metal on Wood)
Ridgeway Records

Paula Santoro, vocals; Ian Faquini, acoustic guitar/vocals/producer; Rafael Barata, drums/percussion; Vitor Goncalves, accordion/Fender Rhodes; Sergio Krakowski, pandeiro; Scott Thompson, bass; Jeff Cressman, trombone; Havery Wainapel, alto saxophone/clarinet/some arrangements; Spok, soprano saxophone/spoken word/arrangements;Vivien Monica Golcwajg & Sandy Cressman, background vocals.

As soon as the first strains of the premiere tune played, I knew I would love this recording. It’s rich, warm and beautifully simplistic. Just voice and guitar pop out, blending like sugar and soft butter, to offer us something sweet for our ears. This is a luscious desert after sitting in my office and listening to a plethora of music mediocrity. Here is something fresh and lovely. Never mind that I can’t understand the lyrics. I can feel them. On cut #1, Paula’s whispery Brazilian vocals float above Scott Thompson’s solid bass line and Rafael Barata’s percussive drums. The beat swirls and dances beneath Paula Santoro’s vocals like a musical whirlpool. They pull us into the ‘mix’. Ian Faquini joins in with his acoustic guitar rhythms and we begin our world music journey.

The linear notes explain the concept and the CD title (“Metal on Wood”). The artists have extracted inspiration from Xylography, a traditional art form popular in Northeastern Brazil in which the artist develops an image by engraving wood with a metal object. Similarly, Faquini and Santoro endeavor to create their own art with metallic harmonics and warm, wooden tones from Faquini’s guitar and from Santoro’s compelling and effortless vocals. Sometimes Faquini sings with her, as if inspired to improvise and harmonize. It’s easy and spiritual, like morning prayer.

On “Dorival Pescador” It’s just the two artists, voice & guitar, entertaining us very intimately. On the very romantic and emotional, “Maeda Lua,” Viter Goncalves is exquisite on accordion. When the two main artists return to their exciting duo production on “Aos Olhosda Tarde” you get to enjoy Santoro’s honey-thick-alto voice. Her range is impressive.

Guitarist, Faquini, has co-written every song on this production. He’s born in Brasilia, but has lived in Berkeley, California since age eight. As a graduate of the California Jazz Conservatory, he was immediately invited to join their faculty and teaches guitar and Brazilian music at his alma mater.

Santoro was born in Minas Gerais where her career began. She toured Brazil as lead singer and established her style as a mix of jazz and Brazilian Popular Music. This vocalist is well-known worldwide for her various recordings and frequent television appearances. She won the Troféu Faisca Award, the Visa Award and has earned wide critical acclaim in both Brazil and Europe. Together, they make magic happen in the studio and on the stage. Judge for yourself.

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THE MATTHEW KAMINSKI QUARTET w/Special Guest KIMBERLY GORDON
LIVE AT CHURCHILL GROUNDS

Chicken Coup Record Label

Matthew Kaminski, Hammond SK2 Organ; Chris Burroughs, drums; Rod Harris, Jr., guitar; Will Scruggs, tenor saxophone; Kimberley Gordon, vocals.

Opening with a slow blues, Kaminski (on organ) leads his group onto center stage with a spirited tune called “Sail On Sailor”, followed by Lou Donaldson’s tune, “Hot Dog”. Both are full of spunk and funk with drummer, Chris Burroughs, spitting fire all over his trap drum set. Kaminski has put together a royal, blues sound with this group of expert musicians. Rod Harris, Jr., plays his guitar, both complimenting Kaminski’s organ and celebrating his own style and technique with outstanding and gut-wrenching solos. Will Scruggs elevates the energy on tenor saxophone and recalls ‘Sam-the-man-Taylor’ from back in the fifties when Rock & Roll groups were ruling the concert stages, but a bit more jazzy. This CD is nothing but jazz and blues. Kaminski celebrates the late, great Jimmy Smith, playing the masters composition, “Midnight Special” and doing it justice! I’m a sucker for an organ ensemble, so this recording is one that I found very appealing. On “If I Had You” the group’s guest vocalist steps forward and swings hard. Kimberley Gordon has a memorable voice and brings a strong jazz style to the forefront. You can tell that Ms. Gordon admires both Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan, although still maintaining her own vocal personality and integrity. Like a succulent Thanksgiving turkey, every song on this recording is stuffed with blues. Even when they play Jobim’s popular “So Danco Samba” and the rhythm has your feet tapping and your hips longing to dance, the blues is predominant in Will Scruggs’ horn. “It Shouldn’t Happen to a Dream” is one of my favorite jazz standards and Gordon performs it beautifully. There’s not one bad tune on this album. It’s totally entertaining, well produced and well-played. This is particularly impressive because it was recorded “live” at Churchill Grounds in Atlanta, Georgia. No studio tricks here. This is pure talent from all participants and you can tell the audience loved it as much as I did by their approval applause.

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VALERIE GHENT – “VELOURS”
Independent Label

Valerie Ghent, lead vocals/background vocals/piano/ Hammond B3 organ/Clavinet/Fender Rhodes; Jerome Buigues, guitar/backing vocals/bass; Robin Macatangay, guitars; Pierre Siibille, synthesizer/Hammond B3/harmonica; Philippe Jardin, Kevin Johnson & Franck Taieb, drums; Bashiri Johnson, percussion; Eluriel “Tinker” Barfield, bass; Paul Shapiro, tenor saxophone; Nicolas Baudino, alto and tenor saxophones; Briggan Krauss, baritone sax; Steven Bernstein, trumpet; Rob Mounsey, strings; Dave Eggar, cello; Katie Kresek, violin/viola; Alfa Anderson, Dennis Collins, Keith fluitt; Dan Levine, trombone; John James, Keith Fluitt, Dennis Collins, Alfa Anderson & Ada Dyer, backing vocals; Special Guest: Mano “Korani” Camara, lead vocal on cut #1.

Clearly Valerie Ghent is not someone I would classify as a jazz artist. However, after listening to her music I had to give her a thumbs up for songwriting, producing and arranging. She has composed or co-written every song on this recording. “Velours” is her fourth solo album and showcases her prolific songwriting ability, one that embraces Soul music, R&B, Reggae and funk. I guarantee songs like the infectious, “Love Divine” will be played on Smooth Jazz radio stations time and time again. This production definitely lends itself to World Music. On “Love Divine,” the complimentary lead vocals of Mano “Korani” Camara are striking and stylized. I would love to hear more from this artist. Ghent’s syncopation on “It’s Got To Be You” is captivating. This is a project that features strong compositions, good productions and excellent musicianship.
Ghent has worked with music icons, touring with the likes of Ashford & Simpson and Debbie Harry. She’s shared the stage with Nina Simone, Maya Angelou, Roberta Flack, Peabo Bryson and Billy Preston, but she is tenaciously her own artistic person. During childhood, as a native New Yorker who grew up in Greenwich Village and was raised by a musical family, she fell asleep listening to her mom’s string quartet rehearsals or Ornette Coleman practicing upstairs in their apartment building. Consequently, Ghent developed a rich and diverse love of music.
Ghent is the founder of Songwriter’s Beat, a monthly night for performing songwriters. She’s also well noted in New York for creating an arts education nonprofit called “Feel the Music”, a program that uses music and art to heal. This album was recorded in New York and France, because she entertains overseas often. As you can see by the attached video, she’s also a proficient pianist.

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GREG DIAMOND – “AVENIDA GRAHAM”
Zoho Records

Greg Diamond, guitar; Stacy Dillard, tenor/soprano saxophones; Seamus Blake, tenor saxophone; Mike Eckroth, piano; Peter Slavov, bass; Henry Cole, drums; Mauricio Herrera, congas/percussion.

In his biography, Guitarist/composer, Greg Diamond tells us he is half Eastern European Jewish and half Columbian. His father, a former opera singer and classical pianist, is New York born and his mother is Colombian. Diamond spent two years in Colombia right after graduating high school. That gave him an even deeper knowledge of his Latin roots. According to his liner notes, this recording is a reflection of both cultural roots and his New York City experience. The opening composition “Synesthesia” is a bit too repetitive for my taste. The melody is drilled into my head like a dentist needle for seven minutes and fifty-eight seconds. The second cut, “Rastros” gives drummer, Henry Cole, a blank canvas to splash his sticks and brushes against. His percussive excellence is palatable. On “Hint of Jasmin” I can finally listen to Diamond. He opens the tune very acoustically. It’s a tender ballad and he plays his guitar with great emotion and technique. This particular original composition is one of my favorites. “Gentrix” is written in five/four time and Diamond incorporates Mauricio Herrera on percussion to fatten the sound. Sometimes it was rhythmically confusing, veering off into an Afro Cuban mood, somewhat scattered like puzzle pieces on a cardboard table that suddenly settled back into the ‘five’ structure as a sort of hook to pull the composed picture back together. On”Laia” Peter Slavov sets the tune up with only his bass as an introduction, while Diamond sits, strumming his guitar using arpeggio chords in the background. Stacy Dillard sings the melody on saxophone, when suddenly the Latin rhythm enters. It lifts this song and refreshes the arrangement. Mike Eckroth is the one who sets up the Latin feel on piano. To this point, I never heard Eckroth solo on the 88 keys and I thought that was odd. When at last Eckroth is allowed to solo on piano, I found it lack-luster. “Ultima Palabra” is another favorite of mine, melancholy and gives us a pure taste of Diamond’s talent. Pulling at, what sounds like nylon strings, he offers his emotional delivery with sincerity.

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WADADA LEO SMITH – “AMERICA’S NATIONAL PARKS”
Cuneiform Records

Wadada Leo Smith, trumpet/director of the ensemble; Anthony Davis, piano; Ashley Walters, cello; John Lindberg, bass; Pheeroan Aklaff, drums; Jesse Gilbert, video artist.

This is a double-set CD set that uses modern jazz to describe America’s National parks with music. It’s an intriguing concept and features Wadada Leo Smith on trumpet and director of the ensemble. Together, these musicians present a tightly woven, six-movement suite of inspired jazz to celebrate the history and importance of the spiritual nature that is captured in the United States national park system. Smith’s music is appropriately released amidst celebration of the centennial of National Park Services. The Park Services were acknowledged by an act of Congress way back in August of 1916. This album was inspired (in part) by the outstanding Ken Burns twelve-hour documentary series about the National Parks system, but Smith has a slightly different outlook than nature being ike a cathedral.

“The idea that Ken Burns explored in his documentary was that the grandeur of nature was like a religion or a cathedral,” Smith stated. “I reject that image, because the natural phenomenon in creation, just like man and stars and light and water is all one thing, just a diffusion of energy. My focus is on the spiritual and psychological dimensions of the idea of setting aside reserves for common property of the American citizens.”

Smith’s concept is a recording of improvisation and imagination. The suites are long, (by radio-play standards), and heavily soaked in classical music. There are traces of blues and each musician adds dynamic and technically beautiful talent to the exploration of 28 pages of Smith’s music score. He has worked with this line-up of musical excellence for the past 16 years and you can detect a sensitivity and familiarity in their playing. You probably won’t be humming any of these modern jazz, free-form melodies, but the music they make offers a lovely background or inspiration for a modern dance group, or for a journalist, like me, sitting at the computer, writing something creative or reviewing compact discs.

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CLARE FISCHER LATIN JAZZ BIG BAND DIRECTED BY BRENT FISCHER – “INTENSO!”
Clavo Records

Dr. Clare Fischer, composer/arranger/keyboards (except where noted),vocals; Brent Fischer, producer/arranger/conductor/mallet instruments/electric bass (except where noted), guitar, auxillary keyboards; Guest Artists: Sheila E., timbales on Solar Patrol; Roberta Gambarini, vocals on Gaviota & The Butterfly Samba; Scott Whitfield, vocals/trombone on the Butterfly Samba; Luis Conte & Kevin Ricard, all percussion; Walfredo Reyes, Ron Manaog & Tris Imboden, drums; Quinn Johnson, keyboards; Ken Wild, elec. Bass; Woodwinds: Alex Budman, soprano & alto saxophone/flute/piccolo/clarinet; Kirsten Edkins, soprano & alto saxes/flute/clarinet/ Don Shelton, soprano sax/flute; Brian Clancy, tenor sax/flute/alto flute/clarinet/Recorder; Sean Franz, tenor sax/flute/clarinet/bass clarinet/recorder; Ron Hardt, tenor sax/flute/alto flute/clarinet; Lee Callet, baritone sax/flute/alto flute/clarinet/recorder; Bob Carr, bass sax/flute/piccolo/E flat contrabass clarinet. Trumpets: Carl Saunders, Ron Stout, Rob Schaer, James Blackwell, Brian Mantz, Michael Stever, Anthony Bonsera. Trombones: Scott Whitfield, Francisco Torres, Phillip Menchaca, Jacques Voyemant, Steve Hughes, bass trombone.

Here is a stellar piece of work that is well-produced and brilliantly arranged. Brent Fischer continues to keep his father’s legacy alive and in the forefront of the music industry for on-air and public consumption. This is another example of his father’s incredible talent as a prolific composer/pianist/arranger and the younger Fischer’s brilliance as a producer, arranger and musician. From the very first piece, “Algo Bueno” (something good) to the second cut, “Gaviota” (seagull) featuring the silky smooth vocals of Roberta Gambarini and an all-star group of big band connoisseurs, it was evident this was going to be a piece of music to be revered and enjoyed. Brent explained the first couple of pieces in his liner notes.

“My father, having written all the arrangements for Dizzy Gillespie’s Portrait of Duke Ellinton, was a longtime friend and admirer of Diz. His arrangement of Diz’s Manteca on his own album of the same name is legendary. This piece, also known as Woody ‘n’ You, was turned by Clare Fischer into a Salsa master piece… alternating between afro-Cuban 6/8 and Mambo. In the manner he added fifteen horns to many of his small group arrangements, I have done the same here, creating a new big band arrangement based on his original version. On Gaviota, featuring the incomparable Roberta Gambarini on vocals … my horn arrangement is specifically tailored to the way he (dad) played it in the twilight of his life after so much creative evolution.”

This reviewer was so taken with the arrangement on “Gaviota” that I had to play it three times in a row to soak in all the tasty nuances and the beauty of Ms. Gambarini’s voice. She is amazing! On “The Butterfly Samba”, singing at the speed of sound, she is joined by Scott Whitfield, who shines on vocals and trombone.
The “O Canto” arrangement was plush with harmonics embracing five and six part harmonies. Brent Fischer embellished the composition by playing both six string bass and his guitar, plus vibraphone. Carl Saunders sounds magnificent on trumpet and Clare Fischer himself is soloing at the keyboard while singing along. His son used electronics to include his father’s recorded performances. Brent Fischer says this is the only recorded example he knows of his father soloing on “O Canto” and singing along. Dr. Clare Fischer’s legendary playing is heard on seven out of ten new tracks of mostly his original music with a few standards that are completely reinvented. Not only is this a historic recording of Dr. Fischer’s work, interpreted by his son, along with iconic jazz musicians, but it’s a true work of art that is pleasing to the ear and the spirit.
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ALEMAY FERNANDEZ – “HARD TO IMAGINE”
Interrobang Records

Alemay Fernandez, vocals/producer/arranger; Shawn Letts, Music Director/producer/tenor saxophonist/pianist; Kerong Chok & Oliver von Essen, piano/organ; Christy Smith & Ben Poh, double bass; William Gathright & Casey Subramaniam, electric bass; Pablo Calzado, Rizal Sanip, Wenming Soh, Eddie Layman & Erik Hargrove, drums. Navin Kumar Nagpal, percussion; Munir Alsagoff, guitar; Steve Cannon, Mark Kelly & Dave Newdick, trumpet; Marques “Q sound” Young, trombone; Guest Performers: Vanessa Fernandez, Sabina Fernandez & Michaela Therese, vocals; Richard Jackson, duet vocalist.

Alemay Fernandez is based in Singapore and is revered in that community as “Singapore’s Most Well-Loved Jazz Singer”. Her album’s title tune is performed with only the double bass as an accompanist on video at her website. She and Internationally acclaimed bassist, Christy Smith, perform her song as a jazz duo. This vocalist’s voice is smoky rich and powerful. You can tell she is self-assured and pitch perfect. Watch her with the Count Basie Orchestra below.

The simplicity of this recorded production features her timbre and tone riding boldly atop her band. On “Being You”, penned by Alemay Fernandez and William Gathright (her electric bass player), you hear her approach to a more commercially fluid song that could be categorized as Pop or Smooth Jazz. “Spare me the Details” has a delightfully honest lyric that Fernandez delivers with jazzy conviction. It was composed by Will Kern and Shawn Letts who is her musical director and tenor sax man. This cut is bluesy and believable. “I Believe”, a popular pop song from the 1950s, is revamped into a harmonic treasure featuring Fernandez with Featured guests, Vanessa Fernandez, Sabina Fernandez and Michaela Therese (who did the vocal arrangements). They sound like a jazzy Andrew Sisters kind of girl group. It’s a pleasant vocal surprise and showcases Kerong Chok on organ. Some of the tunes are a little too pop-ish to call jazz, but all are performed with strength and clarity by Fernandez. Richard Jackson’s beautiful R&B tinged vocals add a Luther-Vandross-like feel to “Heaven Wrote A Song”, when he duets with Fernandez. She closes with a Latin tinged tune called, “I Got the Feelin’”, another original composition Fernandez co-wrote with Shawn Letts. This composition is full of percussive spark and energy, featuring Navin Kumar Nagpal’s percussive accents. This Fernandez CD, her second solo recording, re-introduces this talented, singer/songwriter to the world and makes for a pleasant listening experience.
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