By Jazz Journalist/Dee Dee McNeil
February 2, 2017
VOCALISTS, TUBA PLAYERS & ABSTRACT PRODUCTIONS SURPRISE ME
On a winter night, warming up with some hot jazz is a lovely way to spend time. I recently enjoyed listening to a number of new CD releases including extraordinary drummer BOB HOLZ, and a new, male, jazz vocalist and composer, SIDNEY JACOBS. HOWARD JOHNSON and his GRAVITY group absolutely floored me by presenting the tuba as a unique and forceful jazz instrument. Guitarist, BARON TYMAS, celebrates Montreal, Quebec on his latest release and a few CDs that came across my desk truly surprised me, like BEATA PATER, who exercises a completely new methodology to vocalizing and expressing herself on her new CD, “Fire Dance.” JOSH GREEN, a Herb Alpert ‘Young Jazz Composer recipient,’ presents an album that is quite abstract and truly unusual.
BOB HOLZ – “VISIONS & FRIENDS”
Bob Holz, drums/percussion; Larry Coryell, guitar; Ralphe Armstrong, bass; Randy Brecker, trumpet; Billy Steinway, keyboards; Alex Machacek, guitar; Mike Schoetter, bass; David Goldberg, saxophone; Rob Stathis, accompanying piano; Scott Gerling, percussion; Zoe Stathis-Sandor & Tori Higley, vocals;
Here is a production that comes on strong from the first high energy composition titled, “Flat Out”. The dynamic percussion is infectious. The Holz trap drums push the entire ensemble to their maximum potential. An attention demanding trumpet sings the melody and dances along with the undisputable groove that Holz perpetrates. Mike Schoettler lays down a tenacious bass solo and holds the rhythm section in place like super-glue. Holz has composed this song and the next one, “Take if From Maurice” with co-writer, Billy Steinway. Steinway also mans the keyboards on this project. This original composition is an ode to Maurice White of ‘Earth, Wind & Fire’ fame. Larry Coryell is featured guitarist on this second track and Detroit’s iconic bass man, Ralphe Armstrong, struts his stuff in his own inimitable way. “Take It From Maurice” has a very catchy melodic line and once again, although more moderate in tempo, Holz makes it memorable with his steady sticks and solid rhythm chops. “Five Times the Winner” is a Coryell composition and it challenges time and space, with Armstrong walking his bass underneath Coryell’s creative improvisation. This recording is a joyful piece of creativity that celebrates wonderful compositions, contemporary jazz, funk-fusion and excellent musicianship.
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SIDNEY JACOBS – “FIRST MAN”
Baby Chubs Records
Sidney Jacobs, vocals/composer; Josh Nelson, piano; Michael Jarvey, piano/elec. Piano/viola; Zephyr Avalon, acoustic bass/electric bass; Efa Etoroma Jr., drums/percussion; Wendell Kelly, trombone; Greg Poree, guitar; Nolan Shaheed, trumpet; Justin Thomas, vibraphone/marimba; Francesco Canas, violin; Cathy Segal-Garcia, background vocals.
Sidney Jacobs has a powerful voice that he has directed towards jazz, but often veers into the vernacular of Pop and/or Rhythm and Blues music. As a composer, he opens with “First” and then “First Man,” showcasing very smooth and fluid scatting. On “First” he features Greg Poree on guitar and no words are mouthed. Jacobs sets the jazz bar high with his scatting abilities. “First Man” (another original composition), could be compared a wee bit to Al Jarreau’s substantial sound and influence. On “My Favorite Things”, Efa Etoroma Jr opens the tune with an exciting drum solo. Jacob’s rich, baritone vocals float on top like silky water lilies. He continues spicing up the interludes between verses with his scatting abilities. I enjoyed Justin Thomas’ vibraphone sound on this tune, that lightened and brightened the arrangement. As a composer, Jacobs has a pronounced style that is uniquely his own. I can hear the Hip-Hop influence in his writing, especially lyrically. However, as an old-school composer myself, I miss hearing a distinctive ‘hook’ and its importance to the story being told. At times, there is a trace of Gil Scott Heron’s tonal quality in Jacobs style and even reflected in some of the Smooth Jazz productions like cut #6, “Sabine’s Grind,” that is another Jacobs original bending Hip-Hop, funk and R&B into his jazz production. On “Fly” he sings prose, with little to no rhyme on this tune. It’s an original and surprisingly, his voice distinctly reminds me of the great Dwight Trible’s style and vocal technique. Consequently, I believe this young talent is still in search of his own unique sound. He seems on the path to developing a style, and in time he will establish his own distinct sound.
I found myself more interested in Jacobs approach to standard or familiar songs and composers like, “Lonely Town Lonely Street” by Bill Withers, where I could listen for emotional connection in his vocals and the way he interprets a song. I was disappointed, because the ‘groove,’ which is always paramount in every Wither’s compositions, was distinctly missing. Next, I was excited to hear how he would interpret youthful R&B/Hip-Hop composer/Rapper, Kendrick Lamar’s song, “You Ain’t Gotta Lie.” Once again, he loses the ‘groove’ by slowing it down, without the funk drums and the double time lyrics dancing on top. This causes the lyrics and melody to lose power. Perhaps Jacobs needs a producer to bring out the best of his talents. He certainly has the vocal chops. Sacha Distel’s “The Good Life” is one of my favorite songs and Jacobs begins with just bass and voice. Josh Nelson brings a sensitivity and excellence to this arrangement on piano. No drums on this one. I finally get a clear glimpse of Sidney Jacobs, where his style and delivery is upfront and the production uncluttered. There is just bass, piano and voice to sell the song. Sometimes that’s all you need.
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BARON TYMAS – “MONTREAL”
Baron Tymas, guitar; Joshua Rager, piano; Sage Reynolds, acoustic & elec. Basses; Jim Doxas, drums; SPECIAL GUESTS: Jeri Brown, vocals; Charles Ellison, trumpet.
The very first original composition on this album captivated me. The melody is catchy and I was soon singing along with it, as though it was a jazz standard. “The Laval Syndicate” is a very well written song by artist/guitarist, Baron Tymas. It features special guest, Charles Ellison, on trumpet and Ellison’s sensitive horn is the perfect interpreter of this Straight-Ahead melody. Tymas is a fine composer and a seasoned guitarist with strong improvisational skills. On “Orange et Veret,” Jim Doxas offers a stellar drum solo. Each one of the Tymas ensemble brings excellence to the forefront. On “Do Right,” bassist Sage Reynolds is allowed to explore his creative side on a long and very interesting double bass solo. Tymas doesn’t mind sharing his stage and it expands and drives his music, letting us get acquainted with his musicians and his compositions. The addition of the award-winning voice of Jeri Brown, a legendary Canadian jazz singer, adds interest on “And Oui,” (Oui meaning ‘yes’ in English). Her rich, classically trained voice curls and scats around the melody. There are no lyrics; only scatting. Joshua Rager, on piano, is always supportive in the rhythm section and during his frequent solos, one can appreciate his even and perfectly timed innovative qualities. “Wishbone” gives Tymas an opportunity to dig into the realms of Smooth jazz and funk, as does “Chicken on the Beach”. However, I am more enamored with the Tymas Straight-Ahead compositions. In the video included, Tymas is the guitarist to the far left in the suit.
This recording, and its gifted band, represent the city of Montreal, Quebec in Canada. Tymas wrote most of these original compositions, during his tenure of being a Fulbright Fellow at Concordia University in late 2015. The music here is based on the sights, sounds and people of this amazing Canadian city and performed by some of Canada’s premiere jazz musicians.
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HOWARD JOHNSON AND GRAVITY – “TESTIMONY”
Howard Johnson, BB flat Tuba/F Tuba/baritone saxophone/penny whistle; Velvet Brown, ENS/Lead F Tuba; Dave Bargeron, E flat tuba; Earl McIntyre, E flat tuba; Joseph Daley, BB flat tuba; Bob Stewart, CC tuba; Carlton Holmes, piano; Melissa Slocum, bass; Buddy Williams, drums; SPECIAL GUESTS: Nedra Johnson, vocals; Joe Exley, CC Tuba; CJ Wright, Butch Watson & Mem Nahadr,background vocals.
This is an infectious album of great music, including a few original compositions by co-writers, Howard Johnson and Nedra Johnson. It’s unexpectedly pleasurable listening to Tubas play Straight-Ahead jazz with such energy and precision. I was very impressed with Johnson’s horn solo on the McCoy Tyler tune, “Fly with the Wind” and fly he does! This tune also features Dave Bargeron on E flat tuba. Carlton Holmes on piano is dynamic throughout, but I was enthralled with his solo on McCoy’s tune.
The next cut, Carole King’s famed “Natural Woman” composition, features Johnson pushing the blues through his tuba like no other I’ve ever heard. Velvet Brown adds a tenacious solo along with Johnson. Yes, Howard Johnson is full of surprises. After digging deeply into the soulful, rich, deep sound of both B flat and F Tubas, and sometimes playing baritone saxophone, he picks up a ‘penny whistle’ and serenades us on his self-penned, “Little Black Lucille.” I enjoyed Howard Johnson’s blues composition, “Working Hard for the Joneses” where he shows off his vocal skills and his ensemble adds tasty background vocals, reminding me of Jeanie and Jimmy Cheatham’s famed blues band, back in the 1980’s.
Howard Johnson is no new comer to the jazz scene. Critic Nate Chinen crowned Johnson, “…the figure most responsible for the tuba’s current status as a full-fledged jazz voice.” There wasn’t an existing repertoire for tuba in jazz in the early 1960s. Johnson caught the interest of the iconic, jazz bassist Charles Mingus and Mingus wrote adventurous parts for him to play. It’s said that even seasoned trombonists didn’t want to play those challenging notes written on the musical page. Johnson was also admired by Gil Evans and Carla Bley. When you listen to this album of creative and inspirational music, you too will become a fan.
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BEATA PATER – “FIRE DANCE”
B & B Records
Beata Pater, vocals; Sam Newsome, soprano saxophone; Anton Schwartz, tenor saxophone; Aaron Lington, baritone saxophone; Scott collard, keyboard; Aaron Germain, bass; Alan Hall, drums; Brian Rice, percussion.
This project is unusual in that the artist’s vocals are used entirely like an instrument; no words spoken nor stories unfolding. This is comfortable background music that explores the art of scatting with the concentration on melody rather than storytelling. Beata Pater uses vocal layering as a technique to interpret eleven compositions. She invited Alex Danson to the project as her unique and gifted composer. Pater’s concept is to utilize her extraordinary vocal range and sing multi-parts, from deep alto to high soprano, sometimes using as many as sixteen studio tracks to accomplish her determined goal. At times, her sound reminds me of someone using a vocoder or vocal harmonizing device. According to the liner notes, Ms. Pater would rather be considered a lead instrumentalist than a vocalist, flipping the idea upside down that a jazz group has to simply support the singer. Instead, she melts her unique vocals into the world-music stew pot, becoming the meat of the matter. Yes, I said ‘World Music’ because this is not Be-bop, like Manhattan Transfer, or ‘Swing ‘ Jazz. The Danson compositions lend themselves to various cultures and musical credos. There’s nothing “Straight Ahead” here, but rather a comfortable blend of easy listening, instrumental productions. You might easily hear this recording on a World Music program, NPR, or alternative and smooth jazz stations. From an artistic perspective, I appreciate Beata Pater’s desire to color her music outside the designated lines and vocally step outside the box. However, as a lover of jazz and improvisation, and because improvisation is one of the most important facets of jazz music, the structured way this project is recorded appears more classical than spontaneous; especially when it comes to the vocals. Additionally, I miss hearing a story or lyrics delivered emotionally by the vocalist. Without the use of a vocoder, I wonder how this concept could be reproduced on concert stages as a ‘live’ performance. However, as a recorded project, her concept is fresh and Pater’s vocal intonation is stellar.
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JOSH GREEN & THE CYBORG ORCHESTRA – “GREEN TELEPATHY AND BOP”
Josh Green, composer/band leader ; Charles Pillow, oboe/alto and tenor saxophones; Todd Groves, EWI/flute/alto and tenor saxophones/E flat clarinet/contrabass clarinet; Jay Hassler, B flat clarinet/bass clarinet; Nathan Schram, viola; Nick Revel, viola; Clarice Jenson, cello; PUBLIQuartet: Curtis Stewart, violin; Jannina Norpoth, violin; Nick Revel, viola; Amanda Gookin, cello; John Lake, trumpet; Chris Mich-Bloxdorf, trombone; Nathan Kochi, accordion; Sungwon Kim, guitar; Michael Verselli, piano; Brian Courage, bass; Josh Bailey, drum.
If you are looking for the officially abstract approach to jazz and orchestral arrangements, Josh Green and his sixteen-piece Cyborg Orchestra will fulfill those desires. Beginning with “Boy & Dog in a Johnnypump,” Green’s strange string arrangements and punchy horn lines unfold in a cacophony of sounds and energy. As a composer, Joshua Green could easily be labeled quirky. He seems to concentrate on melting modernistic jazz on top of classical roots, like A candy-cane scented wax candle melted a top a giant ice cream sundae of multi-colored flavors. It’s an odd combination. From the very first ‘cut,’ you find yourself transported to the outer-limits of musical boundaries and floating in an open space where anything can happen. On “Lauer Faceplant – Based on a True Story”, the music begins as odd as the title and very classical in nature. The contrary motion of a monk-like melody line played against a smooth and charming counter melody sets the stage for an inspired saxophone improvisation. According to the liner notes, this tune was composed in tribute to a strange meeting the composer had with TV celebrity anchor, Matt Lauer.
I was touched by “La Victoire,” arranged like a sensitive ballad and featuring Todd Groves on saxophone. Finally the composer’s beautiful side settles down into something I can consciously enjoy in its lovely simplicity. “La Victoire” is an artistic ballad. I discover (in the liner notes) that this composition is based on an image by artist Magritte and is one that is also played in a condominium commercial scored by Green. Another favorite is “Improvisation & Nebula,” featuring some Avant-Garde piano playing by Michael Verselli.
Joshua Green was recently awarded a Herb Alpert Young Jazz Composer Award from ASCAP and he is a Music Supervisor for ITV America, producing soundtracks for multiple film and television projects. He also contributes his composing and arranging talents to Broadway musicals. His Cyborg Orchestra includes some un-traditional instrumentation like accordion, the Electronic Wind Instrument (EWI) and unexpected voices.
If you are looking for a fresh approach to jazz and the classics, you will find this project both defineably different and strangely beautiful.
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