Archive for November, 2016

HOLIDAY MUSIC & NEW CD RELEASES FOR 2017

November 22, 2016

HOLIDAY MUSIC AND NEW CD RELEASES FOR 2017
By Jazz Journalist Dee Dee McNeil

November 21, 2016

JEFF COLLINS – THE KEYS TO CHRISTMAS
Crossroads Records

Jeff Collins, piano/keyboards; Tony Creasman, drums/percussion; David Johnson, elec. & acoustic guitars; Jeremy Medkiff, elec. & acoustic guitars; Jason Web, Hammond B3 organ; Roger Fortner & Tim Surrett, Upright bass; Sam Levine, saxophone; David Davidson, violin’; Steve Patrick, flugelhorn & trumpet; Cody McVey, orchestra arrangements. ORCHESTRA: David Davidson, concertmaster; Conni Ellisor, David Angell, Karen Winkelmann, Alicia Enstrom, Janet Darnall, Katelyn Westergard/violins; Jim Grisjean, Elizabeth Lamb/violas; Julie Tanner, Nick Gold, Sari Reist/celli; Craig E. Nelson, double bass; Sam Levine, flute/piccolo/clarinet; Somerlie Depasquale, oboe/English horn; Phyliss Sparks, harp; Steve Patrick, flugelhorn/trumpet/concertmaster; Mike Haynes & Jeff Bailey, trumpets/flugelhorns; Ernie Collins, Chris McDonald, Prentiss Hobbs, trombones; Gilbert Long, tuba; Jennifer Kummer, Beth Beeson, Leslie Norton, French Horns; Mark Douthit, Sam Levine, Jimmy Bowland, saxophones; Sam Bacco, percussion; Cody McVey & Kris Crunk, Programming.

Jeff Collins, pianist/keyboardist/producer and co-owner of Crossroads Marketing and Entertainment has put together a well-produced Christmas album including several favorite holiday songs and adding an orchestral arrangement. This is his second release of Christmas music; not because he’s a touring musician, but simply out of love for the holiday season. The core group of this recording include Collins on piano and keyboards; Tony Creasman on drums and percussion; David Johnson and Jeremy Medkiff on both electric and acoustic guitars; Jason Webb on Hammond B3 organ, with Tim Surrett and Roger Fortner on basses. Then, along comes Cody McVey to add orchestra arrangements. Here is the perfect holiday recording to pour a cup of eggnog or hot cider and snuggle up in front of a brightly lit Christmas tree or a roaring fireplace. The carefully picked tunes will set the mood and the talented musicians will offer you an in-house concert you will thoroughly enjoy.

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THE SWISS YOUTH JAZZ ORCHESTRA – LIVE AT JAZZAAR FESTIVAL 2016 – “HEAVEN HELP US ALL”
Shanti Records

Directed by Fritz K. Renold with SPECIAL GUESTS: Billy Cobham, drums; Oli Rockberger, vocals/keyboard; Neil Jason, bass ; Frank Greene, trumpet ;Tony Lakatos, tenor saxophone; Marques Young, trombone; THE YOUTH ORCHESTRA is comprised of: Mary Rassohovatskaya, keyboards; Claude Stucki, guitar; Roberto Carella, drums; Rit Xu, flute; Sara El Hachimi, alto saxophone; Felix Peringer, tenor saxophone/ewi; Mia Stauffacher, baritone saxophone; Gergo Szax, trumpet; Dmitry Zinakov, trumpet; Florian Weiss, trombone; Sebastian Wey, trombone; Sharon Renold, vocal/bass.

It’s wonderful to see how jazz has touched the lives of people all around the world. Here is a perfect example of how this amazing music continues to inspire people of all ages and nations. Track one is an overture written by George Duke and performed flawlessly by the Swiss Youth Jazz Orchestra, comprised of young players between the ages of sixteen and twenty-six years old. The orchestra consists of not only Switzerland youth but four Russians, a Hungarian and a Singaporean. Also in the mix are seasoned jazz veterans like Billy Cobham who makes a guest appearance along with UK born singer/songwriter/ keyboardist, Oli Rockberger.

This delightful recording introduces us to a fresh voice by the name of Sharon Renold, who happens to be the daughter of the producer and musical director of this orchestra. She caught my attention immediately when she covered Randy Crawford’s hit record, “Street Life” singing it impressively well. She has a unique vocal style that is completely recognizable once heard. This can make a strong impression on the public and immediately categorizes her as a jazz/blues stylist. I have to add blues as a description, because this young woman exhibits rich, blues overtones and both a soulful and emotional approach to her singing. At the time of this recording she was only eighteen years old. I expect the world will be hearing great things from this young talent. Her mother, Helen Savari-Renold is the CEO of Jazzaar Festival where this was recorded “Live” in Switzerland. Mom graduated from Berklee College of Music in Boston in 1988, with a degree in Jazz Composition and Arrangement. She ventured into music education in Switzerland. A surprising choice of relocations, since she’s originally from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Married to the producer and Musical Director of the Jazzaar Festival, they instituted the “Bandstand Learning with Role Models” program, now twenty-two years in operation in the city of Aarau.

The orchestra’s delivery on the Billy Cobham composition, “Red Baron” was exceptionally good with a strong funk drum pushing the soloists to spit out their best improvisations featuring Dmitry Zinakov on trumpet, Marques Young on trombone and Oli Rockberger on keyboard. I love the arrangement by Tim Akers. This tune really ‘swings’! The guest artists, all professional musicians, tutored twelve young talents and the results is this incredibly well-done recording. It was recorded “Live” at the annual Jazzaar Festival before an expressive and appreciative audience. You can hear it in their applause. “Crosswind” is another Cobham composition, this time arranged by Fritz K. Renold and well-played with energy and excitement. Mr. Renold has composed a couple of tunes on this project, including “Blues for George” that gives student pianist, Mary Rassohovatskaya an opportunity to shine with splendid technique and verve. I also enjoyed the flute spontaneity by Rit Xu and the spirited trumpet solo by Dmitry Zinakov.
There is not one bad tune on this entire artistic production. The title of their CD is taken from a song that my friend, Ron Miller, wrote during his tenure at Motown Records titled, “Heaven Help Us All.” Ron was a super talented composer (R.I.P) and I’m sure he would be very pleased with The Swiss Youth Jazz Orchestra’s arrangement and interpretation of his composition. I know I was!

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MISHA – “DREAMING WITH EYES WIDE AWAKE
Independent label

Misha, vocals/arranger/composer; Hendrik Meurkens, harmonica/vibraphone; Glauco Lima, piano; Michat Jaros, bass; Samuel Maretinelle, drums.

Misha Steinhauer’s melodies are lovely and Hendrik Meurkens supports those melodies on harmonica, enhancing this recording tremendously. Misha is a singer/songwriter with a knack for singing non-rhyming prose in a very melodic way. Her accompanying musicians have tastefully put together just enough of a track to let her voice float atop their backdrop. When the vocals stop, and the band is allowed to stretch out and improvise, I am intrigued and entertained by their talented playing. Meurkens moves from harmonica to vibraphone with ease and proficiency. Glauco Lima is innovative and creative on piano. Bassist, Michaet Jaros, locks the time and groove down with the astute help of time-keeper Samuel Martinelle on drums. It is this quartet that makes Misha’s recording interesting and turns her folksy songs into jazz compositions. On “Family Games,” after singing her no-rhyme story, Misha creatively scats her way through a couple of choruses. I recognize, with appreciation, that she is a fine composer musically. Her lyrics however, although rich with stories, do not necessarily lend themselves to be remembered right away. On most, there’s no hook or prominent, catchy, repeatable line. But the chord changes become a lush trampoline for the musicians to jump and play upon. Sometimes I feel Misha is influenced by the great Joni Mitchell, with her unusual melody lines and soaring intervals. Finally, when the title tune begins to play, I hear a “hook” clearly for the first time. It’s a ¾ waltz tempo’d-tune that’s ear-catching and the title is artsy; “Dreaming with Eyes Wide Awake.”
German-born Steinhauer has been based in NYC since 2014. She has studied and gigged throughout Europe, based in Moscow for a decade. I applaud Misha’s freedom and ambition. Here is a recording of all original songs by the artist, who proffers strong melodies and interesting chord changes. While listening, because of her range and pitch, I found her voice to be more like an instrument than a storyteller. But I kept thinking, I would have better enjoyed her work played instrumentally.
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THE SUGAR HILL TRIO – THE DRIVE
Goschart Music

Helge Christian Torkewitz, tenor sax & flute; Austin Walker, drums; Leon Boykins, double Bass on 1,2,3,4,5,6 & 11; Dylan Shamat, double bass on cuts 7,8,9 & 10.
A roll of Austin Walker’s Drums open the first cut on this CD in a spectacular way and then Helge Christian Torkewitz comes marching in on tenor saxophone, to leave his imprint on our ears. Leon Boykins pulls the strings of his double bass at a maddening pace and keeps the tension beneath the saxophone during Torkewitz’s several-bar solo. When it’s Boykin’s turn to become the soloist, the bass man doesn’t disappoint. Titled “The Drive”, this CD keeps the energy bursting from the premiere composition by Gigi Gryce, (“Minority”) to the last cut, “Theme for Basie.” There’s no guitar or piano to root the music, so the concept is very open and innovative. This trio obviously embraces modern jazz and avant garde concepts, while picking classic jazz tunes to rediscover and explore. Songs like Coltranes’ “Spiral” takes flight in creative ways, embracing the Afro-Cuban rhythm culture, mixed with a straight-ahead feel on saxophone and with Boykins always holding things firmly in place on double bass.

Torkewitz has thrown in a couple of original compositions. One is “Sunbeams,” where he pulls out his flute to offer a delightful change of musical pace and a more melodic approach, rather than the expected avant garde. Other favorite cuts are “The Night Has a Thousand Eyes”, Oliver Nelson’s, “The Drive” (which is the title tune) and “Theme for Basie” composed by Phineas Newborn Jr. These musicians fit well together, like a familiar key sliding into a front door lock. Their music feels comfortable, like home. Release date is January 6, 2017.
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YELENA ECKEMOFF QUINTET – BLOOMING TALL PHLOX
L & M Productoins

Yelena Eckemoff, piano/composer; Verneri Pohjola, trumpet/flugelhorn; Panu Savolainen, vibraphone; Antti Lotjonen, double bass; Olavi Louhivuori, drums/percussion.

As the very first tune plays on this exotic production, the music recalls ice chips and cracking icicles. At least, that’s what the music conjures up in my imagination. There is something cold, crisp and white as winter about this composition called, “Blooming Tall Phlox.”. But as the piano solo deepens, so does the season. Suddenly I see butterflies in the music, pollinating new growth and suckling budding flowers. It is Spring and the sun streams in rays of vibraphone music. On cut #2, “Apples laid out on the floor”, bassist Antti Lotojonen takes a solo that has me picturing green plants pushing their heads through brown earth, soaking up yellow sunshine and growing tiny leaves right before my eyes. This is the kind of album that taps into creative imagery with its free form movement and modern jazz approach to Eckemoff’s memories of her childhood in Russia. Over the course of six years, producing ten albums along the way, Eckemoff seems to be expanding her visions and artistry on this recording. It’s CD number eleven and features her concept of composing music that celebrates summer smells and winter smells. Intriguing! “Old Fashioned Bread Store” has blues under-tones and Olavi Louhivuori’s drums add a delicious, unpredictable flavor beneath the various tempos. He enhances the surprises that Eckemoff has in store for her listeners. She manages to blend classical technique and the sweet sounds of jazz like an expert baker. Eckemoff explains it best in her liner notes:

“I had the idea of writing music about smell for some time before I met with drummer Otavi Louhivuon in Finland. The idea came into focus when I saw how much Finland reminded me of Russia. It became obvious to me that it would be the best place to record an album about various aromas. I brought fifteen songs to the session, already named and designed to express certain smells. Writing the poetry came later, even though I nurtured my ideas along with the music. Then I had to select a title for the album. … It became clear that there is one smell that triggers my childhood memories; the smell of the phlox. So I decided to paint a picture of myself in my grandparent’s garden, sniffing the phlox, based on a black and white photograph from that time.”

The resulting, beautiful hand-painted CD cover is a testament to Eckemoff’s vast creativity and exceptional artistic talents. It’s a 2-CD set and I found the “Winter Smells” side to be my favorite, with a beautiful combination of seven classical and jazz soaked songs reminiscent of Miles Davis’ “Sketches In Spain” era. Verneri Pohjola adds lovely dynamics and mood to this audio treasure on trumpet and flugelhorn. Panu Savolainen’s stunning addition of xylophone throughout creates a textured or layered effects in the music, much like the painting on the cover; colorful and artistic. Ekemoff’s CD will be available January 20, 2017.
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MADS TOLLING & THE MAD MEN – “PLAYING THE 60s”
Madman Records

Mads Tolling, violin/viola/baritone violin; Colin Hogan, piano/Hammond B-3 organ/Fender Rhodes & accordion; Sam Bevan & Dan Feiszli, bass; Eric Garland, drums; Ricardo Peixoto, guitar; Joe Hebert & Susanna Porte, cello; SPECIAL GUESTS: Stanley Clarke, bass on track 15; Kenny Washington, Spencer Day & Kalil Wilson, vocals.

Here is a brand new and beautiful piece of audio art that entertained me from the first cut to the last. There are too few violinist who play jazz and play it well. Mads Tolling is one person who has mastered his instrument and can ‘swing’ with the best of them, starting with the first cut, “A Taste of Honey”. A strong, jazzy piano bass line establishes the groove and sets the tempo. Then the violin struts in like a self-assured rooster. Tolling takes control and leads the band with spirited technique and confidence. Colin Hogan offers an attention-getting solo on piano, utilizing the full dimension of the grand piano with fingers racing up and down the 88 keys. Sam Bevon, solid throughout on bass, becomes the sole buffer for Eric Garland on drums to express himself. This tune establishes the excellence of musicianship that Tolling’s album reflects continuously. “Meet the Flintstones” is played at an incredible speed, with Tolling racing like a shooting star across the strings of his instrument, in perfect control. Hogan once again shines brightly during his piano solo.

“Georgia” is performed with poignant emotion and very sweetly. Tolling has enormous talent and I was eager to hear their arrangement on “My Girl”, a popular Motown tune that originally featured the Temptations. On this cut, the strong vocals of Kalil Wilson add interest and contemporary flavor to a song that is creatively arranged in a very jazzy way. You wouldn’t be able to tell it’s the R&B hit record from the interesting introduction that is also repetitiously played throughout the first part of each verse. It’s very catchy, with classical undertones provided by Tollings string arrangement. “The Pink Panther” featured a spirited solo by bassist, Sam Bevan, who sang along with his improvisational solo. “Look of Love” is sexy and features Spencer Day on vocals. All fifteen songs on this album are well-produced, delightfully performed and completely entertaining. Every musician on this project is excellent and Tolling must be congratulated on his playing and production skills.

No wonder I listened to this CD seven times in a row. I just couldn’t get enough. Once I opened the accompanying press package I read that Mads Tolling is a two-time Grammy Award-winning violinist from Denmark and it all made sense. The concept of his project is based on Tolling’s love of the early 1960s and the AMC award-winning television series, “Mad Men.” You will find these compositions reflect television themes like “Meet the Flintstones”, “Hawaii 5-0”, “Mission Impossible” and films like “The Pink Panther” or “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly”. His CD title reflects this concept. Tolling brings new life to old songs, but (in my book) he could make nursery rhymes sound like exquisite jazz pieces on his violin and with this group of talented musicians. Release date is January 20, 2017. A must listen!

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WHEN JAZZ HAD THE BLUES

November 21, 2016

http://www.plays411.com
WHEN JAZZ HAD THE BLUES
A “Live Production” Review by jazz journalist Dee Dee McNeil – Nov. 19, 2016

A musical play has opened in West Hollywood depicting the very private and personal life of Billy Strayhorn, directed by John Henry Davis. Billed as a “New Musical World Premiere” and written by Carole Eglash-Kosoff, I attended their opening weekend on Saturday, November 19, 2016. The producer, Leigh Fortier, has already garnered over 20 LA Weekly Awards for prior productions, so I anticipated an entertaining evening. “When Jazz Had the Blues” stars Frank Lawson as Billy Strayhorn, Michole Briana White as Lena Horne, Gilbert Glenn Brown as Strayhorn’s lover, (Aaron Bridgers), Boise Holmes as Duke Ellington and Katherine Washington as Trixie, the married Ellington’s mistress. Pianist, Rahn Coleman is the Musical Director and has put together a tight six-piece jazz ensemble featuring himself, Quentin Dennard on drums, Michael Saucier on bass, Stephan Terry on Keyboard II, Rickey Woodard on alto saxophone and Eric Butler on trumpet. They are somehow squeezed onto a tiny raised stage to the left of the 99-seat Matrix Theater on Melrose Avenue. Happily, the small quarters do not obstruct their big, beautiful, jazzy sound. The night I attended Ricky Woodard was missing and a sub was present.

The first scene features actor Boise Holmes playing a dual role as Strayhorn’s father, camouflaged in a long trench coat and floppy hat, trying to beat the ‘sweetness’ out of his son. Later, Mr. Holmes transforms himself into the very believable character of Duke Ellington. For those who are not familiar with Billy Strayhorn’s biography and legacy, many of his legendary compositions were stolen by Ellington, who often took credit or shared credit for tunes he did not pen, including “Take the A-Train.” The play shows how this transpired and how Strayhorn was bilked out of thousands of dollars; royalty money he rightfully should have received. Michole Briana White, plays a convincing part of a love-smitten Lena Horne who has fallen deeply for Billy Strayhorn. Strayhorn unfortunately thinks of Lena more as a sister and has no interest in the opposite sex. Ms. White has a forceful and dynamic singing style and brought the house down with her renditions of “When the Sun Comes Out” and “Lady Is a Tramp.” Below is an original composition by this singer/thespian to give you a taste of her voice.

Frank Lawson is believable as the character of Strayhorn with his horn-rimmed glasses and meek personality. However, there is nothing meek or frail about his voice. He sang a beautiful rendition of “Sentimental Mood” where his voice soared and was plush with emotion. He also was quite convincing as a pianist, although it was Musical Director Rahn Coleman that was actually playing the 88 keys behind the scenes.

https://www.youtube.com/user/lovelawsonsoul

Gilbert Glenn Brown, who plays Strayhorn’s love interest, also offered a powerful voice and performance. I enjoyed his rich, baritone rendition of “Do Nothing ‘Til You Hear From Me.” I would be remiss if I did not mention Michael Covert, who did an outstanding job of singing “My Romance”, although hidden behind a screen where only his profile along with a shadow dancer were shown. They were a back drop during an intimate conversation with Lena and Billy Strayhorn, but his vocals propelled that scene; smooth and memorable. I would like to have seen the songs listed in the program and the names of those actors performing these memorable jazz compositions.

This play deals with three complex relationships that Billy Strayhorn had with Duke Ellington, Lena Horne and Aaron Bridgers. Strayhorn is plagued with unrequited love, alcoholism and frustrated by the business of music. This production shows a side of America’s great, jazz genius that many may find sadly surprising.

Unfortunately, I thought the second scene of the play dragged a bit and I found some of the ensemble scenes unnecessary. On the other hand, the casting was superb and so was the music. I also would have enjoyed less unison and more harmony in the choral scenes. Historically, this play is informative. It reminds us of years ago, when Billy Strayhorn was standing proudly for who he was in a society that was quite unaccepting of gay rights. It also reminds us that Lena Horne was standing tall for civil rights when discrimination of African Americans was acceptable behavior in America. This artistic production is a reminder, and may we never forget, our important fight for equal rights and human dignity. http://www.plays411.com

WALTZING TOWARDS THE END OF 2016

November 2, 2016

WALTZING TOWARDS THE END OF 2016, I CELEBRATE JAZZ TALENT FROM SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA TO THE MIDWEST & NEW YORK / NEW RELEASES, SOME SCHEDULED FOR THE NEW YEAR OF 2017.
By Jazz Journalist/ Dee Dee McNeil

As we approach the end of this year, (2016), and head towards a new year with our new president and the hope of a better future, it is music that continues to bring healing and entertainment to a troubled planet. Below find my “live” review of a man who will soon turn 100-years-young and is still expressing his joy for life in song, (BENSFORD ‘SHEP’ SHEPHERD); a single-song-release by ANGIE WELLS, a terrific West coast jazz vocalist; a father who tributes his recording to the memory and memorial fund for his departed daughter (MR. MARCELLO PELLITTERI); a harpist, CAROL ROBBINS, who recalls for me, the era of Dorothy Ashby; a duo, CAROL LIEBOWITZ AND NICK LYONS, who express their modern, Avant Garde jazz in a flurry of freedom and creativity, as well as BRENT GALLAHER, who is deeply rooted in the classic tenor sax style of Wayne Shorter, John Coltrane or Joe Henderson. Read all about it!

ANGIE WELLS – “PEEL ME A GRAPE” SINGLE RELEASE
Independent label

Raphael Lemonnier, piano/arranger; James Leary, bass; Kenny Elliot, drums; Harry Kim, trumpet.

Opening with an African 6/8 rhythm, this is a really original arrangement of the Blossom Dearie standard, “Peel Me A Grape.” Angie Wells woos us with her amazing tone and style. She’s all jazz. Her group moves swiftly and smoothly from 6/8 to a solid 4/4 swing. Ms. Wells is a Southern California vocalist, who I feel has never gotten the crowning accolades she so deserves. If this is a sample of her upcoming album release, it’s bound to be a big hit.


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SADDLEBACK COLLEGE BIG BAND – Featuring BERISFORD “SHEP” SHEPHERD – “SWINGIN’ WITH SHEP!”

I first heard Shep Shepherd when I was a thirteen-year-old teenager working in my dad & Aunt Maude’s Triple M Shrimp Hut back in Detroit, Michigan. I played “Honky Tonk” on their store juke box just about every day! The family-owned, shrimp shack was located not too far from the Flame Show Bar and the popular Hastings Street music scene. Shep Shepherd was the drummer on my favorite Bill Doggett hit record.
When you see Shep Shepherd step up to the bandstand with confidence and ‘swag’, you might assume that he is somewhere between 55 and 60-years-old. I was very surprised to learn that he was born January 19, 1917. That would make him a sweet 100-years-old when the new year of 2017 unfolds. After hearing him sit-in at Baci’s Italian Restaurant in Huntington Beach, California a few nights ago, I was intrigued to hear his recording with Joey Sellers’ popular 2016 Saddleback College Big Band.

Let me give you a little background on Shep. Shepherd’s parents were West Indian. His dad worked on the Panama Canal and decided to send his pregnant wife to Philadelphia in the United States. She didn’t make it. Shep was born in route, popping out into the world in Honduras. When his mom finally did arrive in Philadelphia, he was raised in a mostly Jewish neighborhood of Philly. Early on, the family noticed Shepherd had an overwhelming interest in music, particularly drumming. By age fourteen he was being paid to play drums on gigs and he was proficient in reading sheet music for percussion instruments. In the 1930s, Shepherd worked in Philadelphia for band leader, Jimmy Gorham. By 1941, Benny Carter had contacted Shepherd, shortly after hearing him play, and encouraged him to move to New York City. Soon thereafter, Shep arrived in the big apple and among others, was working for Artie Shaw. On the side, he hustled work as a music copyist and also worked as a session musician for various recordings. He soon expanded his musicianship, playing both vibraphone and xylophone. During a four-year stint in the United States Army, Shepherd wound up conducting, arranging and composing for the Army band, as well as playing trombone. For a while, he played with Cab Calloway’s Band and later became Calloway’s go-to-arranger. Then, in 1952, he was part of Bill Doggett’s swinging group and is the drummer on Doggett’s signature song, “Honky Tonk,” one of my favorite 45rpm records.

On this current big band CD, Shepherd is the vocalist and he manages this with eloquent timing and singing lyrics that he makes you believe. For what he lacks in technique, he compensates for with emotion and heartfelt rendering of great standard songs from the past. This CD is a joy to listen to and the Saddleback College Band ‘swings’ hard. So does “Shep” Shepherd! He’s an incredible, living piece of jazz history and I salute his magnificent talent and tenacious drive to keep the music playing. Also, credit must be given to Joey Sellers who runs the jazz program at Saddleback College and put this whole thing together.
Recorded ‘live’ March 22, 2016, in concert and on campus, my favorite tunes are: “’S Wonderful”, “Make Someone Happy” and “When You’re Smiling”. Great arrangements, especially nice on “Shiny Stockings” where drummer, Bret Kramer, got to show-off his skills. Also “You Make Me Feel So Young,” where Shep makes you believe every word he’s singing with astonishing energy and commitment to the lyric. Finally, one of my all-time favorite tunes, “Blame it on my Youth,” has a stellar arrangement and Kudos to guitarist, Rymmy Andre, for his touching accompaniment of Shep’s sincere rendition of this song.

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MARCELLO PELLITTERI – “AQUARIUS WOMAN”
Marpel Music

Marcello Pellitteri, drums; Orazio Maugeri, alto saxophone; Salvatore Bonafede, acoustic piano/elec. Piano; Gabrio Bevilacqua, acoustic bass. Special Guests: George Garzone, tenor saxophone; Veronica Pelliteri, spoken word; Nedelka Prescod, vocals; Rino Cirinna, tenor saxophone; Lauren Kinhan, vocals; Yvonnick Prene, harmonica; Marcello Todaro, electric guitar/spoken words.

After hearing the very first tune on this CD, I said to myself, here is a musical treasure for the serious jazz lover to embrace and enjoy. Pellitteri composed this first cut titled, “Chasin’ the Zone” and it’s an exciting, high energy piece that lets special guest, George Garzone stretch out on tenor saxophone and Orazio Maugeri fly like a bird on alto saxophone. The horn harmonies splendidly sing the song’s melody and Pellitteri rolls across the drum kit like an Amtrak engine at full throttle. Marcello Pellitteri has also composed cut #2, titled “Longing”. It’s a moderately tempo’d tune with a strong walking bass line provided by Gabrio Bevilacqua and a simplistic, but tasty, solo by pianist, Salvatore Bonafede.
This album has been recorded as a sensitive tribute to Pellitteri’s daughter, Veronica, who left this earth way too early at the young age of twenty-three, only two years ago. She was born under the astrological sign of Aquarius, thus the title, “Aquarius Woman”. Pellitteri is an Italian drummer, composer and arranger based in New York City and is the drummer of choice for the iconic vocal group New York Voices. On the title tune, Pellitteri uses the voice of his daughter, recorded before her departure. Veronica is reciting one of her favorite works by Indonesian poet, Murtiningrum; a woman arrested and abused by the Indonesian military in the 1960s. it’s a poem about hope that Marcello had saved on his computer. He composed the lovely melody as a ballad accompaniment to his daughter’s recitation.

The Alicia Keys song was a surprise. The vocalist, Nedelka Prescod, adds a unique delivery and arrangement, adjusting the melody to her style and emotional performance. She reminds me of the great gospel vocalist, Kim Burrell. Pellitteri chose to include this song and a Stevie Wonder composition, “Ribbon in the Sky,” because they were two of his daughter’s favorite songs. One thing I didn’t understand was why the saxophonist felt he had to play the melody when the vocalist was perfectly singing it. “If I Ain’t Got You” lost some of its unique charm because that arrangement was confusing. Why didn’t the sax just play fills? The vocalist wound up being the instrument that sang the fills and I thought that was creatively clever at the end of the song. However, the saxophonist singing her melody throughout was definitely a distraction and I found it troubling. To the singer’s credit, Prescod stood strong throughout and held her own. Cut #11 was another one of my favorites, when the music returned to the ‘straight ahead’ mode on “Saxando”.

Because Pellitteri’s daughter Veronica was beloved by so many and in her honor, this talented artist is donating all the profits from this CD to the Veronica Pellitteri Memorial Fund, administered by Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts. Release date is November 30, 2016.

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CAROL ROBBINS – “TAYLOR STREET”
Jazzcats Record Label

Carol Robbins, harp/composer; Billy Childs, piano/Fender Rhodes; Bob Sheppard, saxophone/clarinet; Larry Koonse, guitar; Curtis Taylor, trumpet; Darek Oles, bass; Gary Novak, drums; Ben Shepherd, electric bass.

The harp is such a lovely, ethereal instrument. I was eager to hear what Ms. Robbins would bring to this jazz recording featuring her harp. The lineup of iconic West Coast musicians is impressive and I suspected I was in for a treat. I was correct. From the very first arpeggio of harp strings and brush of Gary Novaks drum sticks, “The Flight” took off like an American jet plane down the LAX runway. Billy Childs jumped in with a speedy and beautiful solo. Curtis Taylor gave an eyebrow-raising performance, boldly showing his technique and improvisational skills on trumpet. Carol Robbins is a wonderful composer and her melodic songs appear to inspire creativity, prodding these musicians to bring their best to the studio.

There’s been an empty space available ever since Dorothy Jeanne Thompson, (popularily known as Dorothy Ashby), died on April 13 of 1986. Ashby set the standard for jazz harp and Robbins seems to be carrying the torch like an Olympic runner. She’s not as modernistic or Avant Garde as Alice Coltrane, but she’s melodic like Ashby and all nine songs on this CD are well-composed by Ms. Robbins. Below is a sample of her work from a 2012 performance with many of the same players on this upcoming CD release. Listen while you read.

Some songs paint a colorful portrait of Robbins’ life story, like “Taylor Street” (one of my favorite cuts) and it is the title track of this CD as well. The composition is describing, with musical notes, the street in Chicago’s ‘Little Italy’ neighborhood where Robbins’ Italian grandparents and mother lived. It features Childs on electric Fender Rhodes piano, with a pumping electric bass solo by Ben Shepherd. “Deep Canyon” was inspired by the tucked away and winding Benedict Canyon Road in Southern California. Many homes of stars and music icons are hidden in those canyon hills. The jazz waltz she’s composed, “Full Circle”, is beautifully written and performed, but I find myself wondering, when is her time to solo and shine? The all-star musicians seem to take over this song and run with it. After all, it is Ms. Robbin’s artistic CD and I would like to have heard more of her on the harp and less jam session. That being said, she is prominent and upfront on her composition” Trekker” where Gary Novak sparkles on drums and propels the band. On “Smooth Ride,” Robbins explores a more contemporary sound and I enjoyed the interplay between the harp and Darek Oles on bass towards the end of this arrangement. “The Chill” reminds me, in an odd sort of way, of Burt Bacharach, whose composing skills I love and admire. I’d have to say it’s rather Pop-ish, until Bob Sheppard enters on saxophone and makes it very clear that this is jazz and only jazz. Here Robbins blends nicely with guitarist Larry Koonse in a jazz-waltz that makes me feel like singing, “Hey little girl, comb your hair, fix your make up…”. All in all, this is a well-produced, well-composed and very swinging production that properly introduces us to Carol Robbins and her jazz harp in a most prolific way. The music world has been awaiting someone just like Robbins to bring the jazz harp happily back into musical focus. Release date is scheduled for January 6, 2017.

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CAROL LIEBOWITZ/NICK LYONS – “FIRST SET”
Linearts Record.com

Carol Liebowitz, piano; Nick Lyons, alto saxophone

On a rainy night in the desert, this CD was the perfect musical glow to beam beneath this odd-man, thunder storm that is lighting up our sky. We sometimes get lightning storms 4300 feet above sea level, but not that much in the way of rain and thunder in the San Bernardino mountains. It’s a nice, Avant Garde change of nature. So is this recording; a nice, Avant Garde production of piano and alto saxophone. It’s a duet of freedom. Recorded ‘live’ in Brooklyn, New York at Connie Crother’s loft, Liebowitz and Lyons bring their original compositions and improvisational concept to much appreciative applause. If you are looking for distinctive melodies and meters that make sense, you won’t find them here. This music, like the artists, are free to interpret their feelings and creativity in a rich and unencumbered way. It’s perfect listening for a late-night rain storm, or introducing you to two very talented musicians. Release date is January 6, 2017.
The attached video includes an extra player, but will give you a glimpse of Liebowitz & Lyons’ Avante Garde style. It also features Ryan Messina on trumpet (who is not on this CD).

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BRENT GALLAHER – “MOVING FORWARD”
V&B Records

Brent Gallaher, tenor saxophone; Alex Pope Norris, trumpet/flugelhorn; Dan Karlsberg, piano; Aaron Jacobs, bass; Anthony Lee, drums.

Gallaher’s original composition, “Serendipity” opens this project with ‘Straight Ahead’ energy perpetuated by the healthy trap drum excellence of Anthony Lee. Gallaher, with Norris on trumpet, begin the tune with horn harmonics and to establish the melody. Cut #3, “Gratitude” is exquisitely beautiful with an outstanding piano solo by Dan Karlsberg. It’s a ballad where Gallaher gets to stretch out his emotions for the listener’s examination. His style is deeply influenced by John Coltrane, Joe Henderson and Wayne Shorter. Brent Gallaher is a jazz reedman favored and solid on the Cincinnati jazz scene. This project should help him become more well-known country-wide. Other favorite tunes are “Cesar”, written by pianist Karlsberg and “Moving Forward”, the title tune composed by Gallaher. “Cesar” caught my attention because of its odd intervals and melodic structure. It gives a sparkling platform for Aaron Jacobs to step center stage and bask in the light with his double bass. This album is scheduled for a January 6, 2017 release date.


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