HOLIDAY MUSIC & NEW CD RELEASES FOR 2017

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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