Archive for March, 2017

LIVE REVIEW OF TOM RANIER TRIO TRIBUTE TO ARTIE SHAW

March 29, 2017

LIVE REVIEW OF TOM RANIER TRIO TRIBUTE TO ARTIE SHAW – March 26, 2017
By jazz journalist/Dee Dee McNeil

When I have a scheduled gig, I usually don’t plan to do anything else on that date except sing. I’m not sure people realize how much energy it takes to entertain. We musicians give so much of ourselves to others, and we are so appreciative when we receive the love back at our concerts. So usually, I conserve my energy on a day I have to perform in order to bring my best. However, on this particular Sunday afternoon, I broke my rule, because I was eager to hear the music of Tom Ranier, Ron Escheté and Luther Hughes at a private jazz salon in Huntington Beach. Their concert was held earlier than my gig. It started at 2pm and ended at 4:30pm and I would be just minutes away from Baci’s Italian Restaurant, located in the same beach city where I would be working.

I drove 2 hours to get to the California Jazz Arts Society (Cal JAS) event. If you live in Los Angeles, you judge car travel by time rather than mileage distance. Most of the travel time is due to terrible and congested traffic on multiple freeways. I thought I had left early enough to arrive promptly; but I was late, and walked into the Hughes home a few minutes after two. The concert was already in progress. The place was packed and the trio was playing “Lady Be Good” as I tip-toed into their living room. Tom Ranier was sitting behind an electric piano, holding a clarinet to his lips and sounding amazing. The concept of the concert was to celebrate the talents and legacy of Artie Shaw, while raising money for the California Jazz Arts Society. I slid onto one of only three chairs available in the packed room. Sitting against the wall, by the front door, a strong spring wind tousled my hair and cooled the attentive audience. Luther Hughes welcomed me with a wink, as he dug into his solo on double bass.

In between songs, Tom Ranier shared interesting antidotes about Artie Shaw, colored by his obvious admiration for his departed friend and mentor. He told us that he actually bought Shaw’s mouthpiece on EBay. Shaw was working professionally at sixteen-years-old, inspired by Louie Armstrong. Ranier explained that Artie seemed to be a troubled soul early on, who had eight wives during his lifetime, including famed actress Lana Turner, and was in and out of the music business; quitting then coming back again.

Next, the Ranier trio tackled “Rose Room,” a composition that reflects the same chord changes as Duke Ellington’s tune, “In A Mellow Tone”. It was eerie listening to the similarity of the two songs. The trio incorporated both songs into their arrangement, with Ron Escheté sounding creative and spontaneous on guitar and Luther Hughes echoing the melody line of “In A Mellow Tone” on his upright bass. “Rose Room” was written by Art Hickman, with lyrics by Harry Williams, to celebrate the famed room of the White House in the United States. It’s a 1917 jazz standard and enjoyed huge popularity during the Swing Era. Duke Ellington is credited with reviving the popular composition in 1932. Seven years later, Ellington adopted the chord changes and wrote “In A Mellow Tone”. So, the story goes, Charlie Christian made an indelible mark on jazz history when he impressed Benny Goodman, jamming his ‘Rose Room’ solo for nearly forty-five minutes. But it was Artie Shaw who first made the song popular.

Luther introduced his wife and vocalist, Becky Hughes, to sing the next song that recalled another popular recording of Artie Shaw. She performed “Deep Purple,” beautifully reiterating an original arrangement by Peggy Lee. This was followed by the band playing, “Dancing on the Ceiling” at a moderate tempo, and Ranier’s trio really made it ‘Swing.’

President of the Cal JAS organization, Dale Boatman, took to the microphone next to interpret “Day In Day Out” with his smooth baritone vocals.
Tom Ranier moved effortlessly from joining Escheté and Hughes on piano or picking up the clarinet and celebrating Artie Shaw. He gave us brief and not-so-brief anecdotes about the iconic musician’s life. It was a delightful way to share music history and I sat there thinking what a wonderful program this would be for junior high and high school students, to introduce them to jazz and the artists who made jazz unforgettably important to the world.

Set two began with “Begin the Beguine,” a huge big band success for Artie Shaw and his orchestra. Back-tracking a bit, a conversation had developed when the band played “Dancing on the Ceiling.” It was about Fred Astaire and his unforgettable dance number in the MGM film, “Royal Wedding,” where he dances on the walls and ceiling of a room. Astaire also danced to “Begin the Beguine” with Eleanor Powell. Tom Ranier told us that Fred Astaire was of Austrian and Russian decent and his actual name was Frederick Austerlitz. I didn’t know that. Speaking of given names, Artie Shaw’s actual birth name was Arthur Jacob Arshawsky.

Luther reminded the attentive audience that his friend and fellow musician, Tom Ranier, is not only a great pianist and clarinetist, but he is also a gifted arranger who has worked on the popular television show, “Dancing with the Stars” and has also arranged music for the Academy Awards, the Emmy and Golden Globe Award shows. Not to mention he has arranged sound tracks for Barbra Streisand, Shirley Bassey, Christina Aguilera, Joe Pass, Barry Manilow and Natalie Cole to name just a sprinkling of the artists he has worked with. Then, we went back to the music at hand.

On Begin the Beguine”, his arrangement set the tempo as a Bolero. Then smooth as Bengali silk, his clarinet melody captivated us. This song was Shaw’s great hit and every audience where he performed it, demanded he play it over and over again. It’s remains as compelling as ever.

Afterwards, Ranier suggested we find the documentary on Artie Shaw called “Time Is All You’ve Got”. He said Artie sued the producer of that film. There is also a Youtube.com viewing available of a documentary called “The Quest for Perfection” with actual interviews given by Artie Shaw. I went right home and enjoyed reviewing the documentaries. One thing I had always heard about Artie Shaw was that he hired Billie Holiday and other black musicians like Roy Eldridge, before it was acceptable behavior to include African Americans in white bands. I admired him for that integration before I knew the rest of his legacy.

Sunday afternoon was a wonderful, educational and musical experience. It tickled my interest into the legacy of Artie Shaw and satisfied my appreciation of great music played by accomplished Los Angeles based musicians. Jazz Salons are becoming more and more popular in various Southern California communities. For a reasonable donation, you get an afternoon of excellent music, all the wine and beer you can drink, snacks and in this case, historic stories from folks who were there and lived it. For more information about the California Jazz Arts Society, see http://www.caljas.org.

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MARCH GOES OUT LIKE A LION & MUSIC MARCHES STRONGLY INTO SPRING

March 21, 2017

By jazz journalist/Dee Dee McNeil

March 21, 2017

I’m excited about the worldwide, new music I’ve been listening to and the youthful jazz talent I see developing in and around the Los Angeles community. With pride, I recently was one of several judges for the 34-year-old Dolo Coker Scholarship Foundation that funds young people pursuing musical careers in jazz. It’s good to know that there are youth who are interested in playing America’s indigenous treasure of jazz. It’s also enlightening that people like Sybil Coker are carrying on the legacy of her jazz musician husband, Dolo Coker, to fund young talent. Especially when we have a current political administration that is deleting art in the schools and destroying positive programs like the NEA (National Endowment for the Arts) and suggesting the deletion of government funding for PBS (Public Broadcasting System). So it was good to see students, some as young as fifteen-years-old, auditioning for Scholarships and playing jazz standards as their songs of choice. Very impressive! See http://dolocokerjazz.org

As this month goes out like a lion, Spring arrives, bringing a rebirth of talent and good music. The newly released music is colorful and peeks like flowers through the snow. I’d like to suggest some of the compact discs I found particularly entertaining. MICHAEL RABINOWITZ brings the bassoon front and center as a significant instrument for interpreting jazz. ALMA MATTERS is a group made up of musicians who are two generations of San Francisco area jazz masters, related by friendship and family. Reed man, JIMMY GREENE releases a second tribute album to his departed six-year-old daughter, who was murdered during the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, along with nineteen other students and six educators. Brazilian pianist, ANTONIO ADOLFO, celebrates the music of Wayne Shorter, blending cultures and LUKE SELLICK, a gifted composer and bassist, attempts to transform his compositions from mundane to magic and paper sheet music to gold. Below is my opinion.

MICHAEL RABINOWITZ – “UNCHARTED WATERS”
Catz Paw Records

Michael Rabinowitz, bassoon; Rusian Khain, bass; Nat Harris, guitar; Vince Ector, drums.

Listening to a bassoon sing jazz is a distinctive pleasure. After hearing Bennie Maupin and Yusef Lateef tackle this instrument, I have a certain appreciation and expectation of the bassoon’s power and persuasion. Michael Rabinowitz appreciates and exploits the acoustic characteristics of the bassoon and this makes his “Uncharted Waters” CD a joy to my ears. He does use pick-ups and electronic effects at times, but for the most part, Rabinowitz seems to be enthralled with featuring and preserving the raw beauty of the bassoon. He has composed four out of nine songs on this CD and I thoroughly appreciate his composer skills. Starting with the first cut and title tune, Rabinowitz brings the bassoon front and center to a stage of improvisational excellence. He is supported by three conscientious musicians on bass, drums and guitar. They give cement support to this artist, as he drives across their solid rhythm section. “Harold’s Blues” is the next original tune. The melody is infectious, with an arrangement steeped in staccato rhythms and a mind-blowing, improvisational solo by Rabinowitz twice; once at the introduction, featuring just the bassoon, with Vince Ector on drums. Ector has been an occasional drummer for the Charles Mingus Orchestra, where Rabinowitz first met him. This percussion master plays hard beneath the improvisation, making his trap drums dance and sing, while all the time supporting Rabinowitz’s artistic expression. Nat Harris, on guitar, offers an impressive 44-bar solo and takes the song to another level along with Rusian Khain, who walks his double bass emphatically beneath like a series of exclamation marks on the page. Speaking of Khain, he too gets his share of attention during this arrangement, both as a soloist and as the thick, bluesy, musical foundation always present just below the surface. He holds the rhythm section firmly together like Elmer’s glue. I played cut #2 over three times in a row. Perhaps because I enjoy the blues, but mainly because the musicianship is so well-executed and blended. “Caravan” is played at the speed of light. Fasten your seat belts. Rabinowitz has written a Bossa Nova song for his mom and dad titled, “Kiki’s Theme” that is quite lovely with lots of minor changes. Michael Rabinowitz’s mother played violin with the New Haven Symphony and was accepted to Julliard. His father was an abstract, expressionist painter and art teacher. They obviously bequeathed their love of art and music to their son. Wes Montgomery’s composition, “So Do It” is celebrated royally as a straight-ahead jazz arrangement. Rabinowitz is king on the bassoon, crowning the tune with improvisational creativity. This delightful CD is scheduled for an April 2017 release.

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ALMA MATTERS
Independent Label

Peter Apfelbaum, keys/tenor sax/flute/drums/percussion/string/woodwinds arrangement; Samora Pinderhughes & Ben Heveroh, keys; Jonathan Stein & David Belove, bass; Mark Whitfield, Jr., Mathias Kunzli & Charlie Ferguson, drums; Josh Jones, drums/percussion; Ivan Jackson, trumpet; Natalie Cressman, vocals/trombone/brass arrangements; Elena Pinderhughes, flute/vocals; Jeff Cressman, trombone/cornet/bass/Engelhart castanets; John Schott, guitar; Jill Ryan, vocals/alto saxophone; Will Bernard, guitar; Sandy Cressman, vocals; Paul Hanson, bassoon/clarinet; Erik Jekabson, flugelhorn/ trumpet; Steven Bernstein, trumpet; Marcus Rojas, tube; Robin Bonnel, cello; Rachel Durling, violin; Tony Lindsay, Julianna Cressman, Destani Wolf, & Terrance Kelly, vocals; SPECIAL GUEST: Jeff Weinmann, vocals/flute.

Lovely horn harmonics open this recording like a red velvet curtain parting to introduce a lush theatrical performance. Natalie Cressman’s lead vocals appear like the central character. Her voice is light and lilting, soaking up the warm, yellow spotlight. She has also composed this tune titled, “The Unknown” and she’s featured playing trombone. Talented lady. Jeff Weinmann is the creative force behind Alma Matter’s musical production, gathering two generations of San Francisco area jazz masters for his Tone Traveler Production company. It took four years to record this project, because one of the main creative forces, (co-producer Jeff Cressman, who’s also a sound engineer) was consistently on the road with the Grammy Award winning group, Santana. Weinmann explained:

“We’d record over holidays when everybody’s around. …I’m the facilitator … the project is really about celebrating these long and sustaining relationships.”

Peter Apfelbaum (another co-producer) has composed the next two songs. They are as different as sunrise and sunset. He brings his multi-talented skills playing keys, tenor saxophone, flute, drums and percussion. On the first composition, “Shadow Woman,” Jeff Cressman joins him playing trombone and bass. John Schott adds rhythm guitar on this high-spirited, Latin fusion production. The next composition, “Use It All,” is folksy, with Apfelbaum adding gospel overtones on the keys. Voices carry the melody, but it’s the horns that bring the element of jazz front and center.

This is a fresh and innovative group of seasoned musicians, talented instrumentalists, composers and vocalists. More and more, especially from the youthful Millennial musicians, I’m hearing the combining of cultures and musical styles on a single project. Perhaps, since art reflects society, this is an example of the world coming closer together. I certainly hope so. On the other hand, it challenges the labeling of styles for air play, while embracing artistic differences. As an example, this production suddenly becomes a hodge-podge of art forms. Cuts #5 and #6 issue in “Hold On” as a pop tune and “Get Involved” is a composition by George Jackson that sounds like a song Soul Man, James Brown would record. The jazz horns turn into back-up band “licks” from the Soulful Seventies, similar to Brown’s famed orchestra, Tower of Power or The Ohio Players. Cut #7, “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” is a traditional gospel hymn with added lyrics by Jeff Weinmann. The track itself could have been a Gil Scott Heron track or the background music from a scene in “Shaft”. There is obviously a great influence of the 1970s soul-music era reiterated by this group. Jonathan Stein’s bass groove on “You’ll Never Follow” sounds like a song Erykah Badu might record. So now we have moved into Hip Hop/Soul fusion, featuring the stunning vocals of Elena Pinderhughes. This is one of the cuts that sounds quite commercial. Is it jazz? Not really! But it’s still one of my favorite songs on this recording.

Percussionist, Josh Jones, makes a memorable performance solo on “Gospel Sermon” that sounds more jazzy than gospel. With strong horn arrangements throughout and the addition of voices, Negro Spirituals and even a South African flavored production of “Wade In the Water,” I am reminded of a Broadway Production. These musical choices leave me a bit confused, but definitely entertained.
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JIMMY GREENE – FLOWERS – BEAUTIFUL LIFE, VOLUME 2
Mack Ave Records

Jimmy Greene, soprano, alto, tenor & baritone saxophones; Jean Baylor, vocals; Rogerio Boccato, percussion; Otis Brown III, drums/percussion; Kevin Hays, piano/Rhodes elec piano; Mike Moreno, guitar; John Patitucci, acoustic and elec. Bass; Sheena Rattai, vocals; Renee Rosnes, piano/Rhodes elec. piano; Jeff “Tain” Watts, drums; Ben Williams, bass.

Green is Assistant Professor of Music and Coordinator of Jazz Studies at Western Connecticut State University in Danbury, Connecticut. Previously, he served as Assistant Professor of Jazz Saxophone at the University of Manitoba. Jimmy Greene is not only a prolific reed player and educator, he’s also a consummate composer and has composed every song except for one on this CD.

Three years ago, Greene suffered the unexpected murder of his six-year-old daughter, Ana Marquez-Greene, as one of nineteen other children and six educators who were killed during the despicable Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre. His first CD released on Mack Ave Records was “Beautiful Life” and celebrated his young daughter’s life.

With this new recording, Greene uses his talents to honor and memorialize the child’s life once again, with a superb collection of original compositions that strive to capture his daughter’s love of dance and singing.
Green recalls a comment Horace Silver made to him after listening to the reed player’s first commercial release. He told Greene he wanted to hear more songs that folks could tap their feet to and a more danceable groove. Jimmy Greene paid attention to the jazz giant. who was a frequent employer of his talents during the late 1990’s.

Jimmy Greene’s departed daughter once had a special greeting for her six-and-a-half-foot-tall dad. She used to say “Hey, big guy” and that becomes the title of Green’s first tune on this CD. The artist explains in liner notes that he used a 20-year-old piece of sheet music by Jackie McLean as his inspiration for this song’s chord changes, but came up with his own unique melody. Kevin Hays is both prominent and complimentary on both grand piano and Fender Rhodes, sometimes sounding like a tinkling descant to Greene’s flowery tenor saxophone horn lines. Ben Williams races his walking bass, keeping up with the swiftly played drums of Otis Brown the third, turning this tune into a hard, Swinging bebop.

“Stanky Leg” is Latin inspired. Greene picks up his soprano sax for this tune and is joined by the distinctive bass playing of John Patitucci. Patitucci plays both acoustic and electric basses on this composition. Renee Rosnes adds grand piano and electric piano to the track. It’s an interesting concept to use both acoustic and electric on the same session, fattening the track and preparing a solid platform for Jeff “Tain” Watts to explore his drums. The production is expanded by Rogerio Boccato’s tasty percussion work. The title tune, “Flowers” has lyrics that tear at my heartstrings, performed by vocalist Sheena Rattai. Her soprano voice floats above this solid production like petals blowing in the breeze. Rattai sweetly delivers the song, with a perfumed voice that lingers in your mind; especially the way she hits that high “F” so pure and beautifully. Greene employs all four horns on this tune, over-dubbing harmonics to express himself and letting his soprano saxophone fly like a bird atop the lush production.

When Greene returned home, after a long vigil on the same day his beloved, little girl was killed, he remembers finding a book of hand-drawn, hand-colored flowers inscribed ‘from Ana to Dad,’ in his daughter’s playroom. Consequently, the CD title was inspired.

“It was Christmas time, but it wasn’t supposed to be a Christmas gift. She just wanted to do something nice for Dad. She’d normally do things like that for no other reason than to brighten someone’s day. That is indicative of who my little girl was.”

Here Is a recording of memories and spiritual emotions that endeavor to conjure up the spirit of his daughter and the tenderness, joy and sweetness she freely shared during her short time on Earth. Like a bouquet of gorgeous flowers, these colorful tunes are offered lovingly to the public.
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ANTONIO ADOLFO – “HYBRIDO”- From Rio to Wayne Shorter
AAM Records

Antonio Adolfo, piano/elec. Piano/arrangements; Lula Galvao, elec. Guitar; Claudio Spiewak, acoustic guitar; Jorge Helder, double bass; Rafael Barata, drums/percussion; Andre Siqueira, percussion; Jessé Sadoc, trumpet; Marcelo Martins, tenor & soprano saxophones/flute; Serginho Trombone, trombone; Ze Renato, vocals.

With this recording, Antonio Adolfo celebrates the amazing music of Wayne Shorter. On the hand-painted cover, it states, “From Rio to Wayne Shorter,” and it was recorded in December of 2016 in Brazil. Adolfo explains:

“The music of the great Wayne Shorter … has especially inspired me through his melodies and harmonies. … This repertoire presented here is mostly from the ‘60’s and, as incredible as it may seem, is of an unusual relevance, giving us the chance to travel musically; infinitely. … Finally, the musicians and I gave the musical mixture our viralata (mongrel) and mestizo touch, to translate it into what is presented on this new CD.”

Adolfo opens with “Deluge” where you immediately hear him combining cultures and musical genres. Rafael Barata and Andre Siqueira fire it up percussively. Adolfo’s arrangements cushion the horn players with a rhythm section that works like a springboard. Jesse Sadoc stretches out on trumpet, with a colorful solo, as does Marcelo Martins on saxophone. Adolfo has taken familiar pieces like “Footprints,” “Black Nile,” and “Speak No Evil,” infusing these treasured jazz compositions with Latin rhythms and his own unique arranging skills. Every song on this artistic work is composed by Shorter with the exception of Antonio Adolfo’s original titled, “Afosamba.” On Footprints, he features vocals by Zé Renato and Claudio Spiewak adds a pleasing acoustic guitar solo. Antonio Adolfo’s piano prowess is notable throughout, leading this group of highly qualified musicians fearlessly and with intent and purpose. Martins’ flute solo on “Beauty and the Beast” is stellar. On “Prince of Darkness” Adolfo paints a canvas of colors with his piano melodies and rhythms. Unlike the tune’s title, his arrangement is light and bright. Jorge Helder’s double bass is always busy building a strong foundation for the others to rest upon. Here is a work of art I will play over and over again that brings continuous audio joy, peace and happiness.

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LUKE SELLICK – “ALCHEMIST”
Cellar Live Recods

Luke Sellick, double bass/composer; Adam Birnbaum, piano; Andrew Renfroe, guitar; Kush Abadey & Jimmy Macbride, drums; Jimmy Greene, tenor saxophone; Jordan Pettay, alto saxophone; Andrew Gutauskas, bass clarinet; Benny Benack III & Mat Jodrell, trumpet.

Luke Sellick is a gifted composer and demonstrates this by presenting nine original songs on his album entitled, “Alchemist”. According to Webster’s Dictionary, one of the definitions of an alchemist is one who transforms creation in a magical process or scientifically can convert base metals into gold or find a universal elixir. Sellick’s attempt to create magic with his music is successful.

He employs his talents on double bass to solidify this group of expert musical technicians. They transform his ideas from paper sheet music into a beautiful recording. “Q-Tippin” is Latin jazz with a no-apologies, straight ahead feel and features Jimmy Greene on saxophone and trumpeter, Mat Jodrell. The horn refrain is catchy and melodic; their solos soar like wild birds in flight. His composition, “Brothers” is more laid back, medium tempo, but energetic. It allows Sellick to step into the spotlight and take a big, double bass bow, introducing his solo early in the tune and locking down the rhythm section along with the steady drum sticks of Jimmy Macbride. Macbride’s drumming on this tune recalls the beat of Ahmad Jamal’s ever popular “Poinciana,” using mallets and performing with rhythmic fluidity. On the Sellick composition titled, “Hymn”, Adam Birnbaum makes the piano dance and sing, joined by the sensuous tenor saxophone of Greene. Underneath their innovative creativity, another stellar drummer, Kush Abadey, adds color and crescendo wherever necessary. “Dog Days” brings the blues front and center. Sellick’s compositions are strong and memorable. This ensemble of musicians certainly embellish his music with beauty, power and technique, while telling his story of the alchemist in subtle, yet provocative ways.
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OUTSTANDING PIANISTS, A GUTSY GUITARIST, BASS BAND LEADERS & EPIC ENSEMBLES

March 4, 2017

JAZZ INSTRUMENTALISTS: OUTSTANDING PIANISTS, A GUTSY GUITARIST, BASS BANDLEADERS AND EPIC ENSEMBLES
CD Reviews by jazz journalist, Dee Dee McNeil

March 3, 2017

This month, I celebrate some gifted jazz musicians who have recorded an array of excellent music for our listening pleasure. BILLY CHILDS is an internationally respected pianist (based in Los Angeles) whose “REBIRTH” CD celebrates his composing, arranging and producing skills. BILL O’CONNELL offers a solo piano recording, ‘Live’ at the Carnegie Farian Room in Rockland County, New York. The MICHAEL LE VAN TRIO beautifully interprets Le Van’s original compositions. Double bass player, STEVE MESSICK, leads his Endemic Ensemble onto the scene featuring all original material. Vibraphonist, ARTHUR LIPNER, brings us the best of himself in “Two Hands, One Heart” and guitarist, STEVE KHAN, chooses several standard jazz and pop songs, then transforms them into Latin soaked, musical gems.

BILLY CHILDS – “REBIRTH”
Mack Avenue Records

Billy Childs, piano/producer; Steve Wilson, alto & soprano saxophone; Hans Glawischnig, bass; Eric Harland, drums; Claudia Acuna & Alicia Loatuja, vocals; Ido Meshulam, trombone; Rogerio Boccato, percussion.

I remember many years ago, watching Billy Childs walk up to the grand piano where Detroit jazz icon, Tommy Flanagan, was playing. Childs took a seat on the floor at the foot of the master, folded his long, slender legs under himself, and watched with focused eyes every move, every nuance that the gifted pianist made. What a tribute to the master jazz icon and to Billy Child’s own unique journey towards perfection and honing his own extraordinary talent. Today, Billy Childs is a master himself.

From the first few bars of “Backwards Bop” Childs’ establishes his amazing style and precision with crisp, clean accuracy. No wonder he has been nominated for thirteen Grammys and won four Grammy awards. It is his arrangement capabilities and accompaniment that led vocalist Dianne Reeves to jazz popularity. He has also added his playing and arranging skills to the music of Sting and Yo-Yo Ma; Kenny Burrell, Freddie Hubbard, Wynton Marsalis and J.J. Johnson, to name just a sprinkling of the great talents he has worked with. Childs produced Claudia Acuna’s 2002 “Rhythm of Life” album as well as arranging and orchestrating it. Acuna co-wrote the title tune on this project, “Rebirth,” with Childs. It celebrates a re-emergence and warm reminder of Billy Childs’ genius. Who can play this swiftly with such accuracy on both note and rhythm? Who flushes out such gritty, tender, exciting emotions from the 88 keys like Billy Childs? No One! He builds his own hurdles of excellence and then works on leaping each one, raising the bar higher every time.

Surrounded by a group of other amazing artists, this ensemble holds his compositions up like a banner for the world to see and hear. Childs’ technique is impeccable. He thrills me and challenges listener-ears and human feelings to embrace his arrangements, both rhythmically unusual and aggressive. Childs’ offers melodies that haunt. For example, “Stay”, featuring vocalist Alicia Olatuja. The harmonics move in one direction beneath her powerfully beautiful voice, while the melody Childs composed challenges her pitch and perfection as it floats on top. The melody reminds me of a leaf, adrift in the swirling sea of music beneath it, while Olatuja’s voice pulls at our senses in an unforgettable way. “Tightrope” is another memorable and rich composition, offering Hans Glawischnig an opportunity to sing his expressive bass solo in the spotlight. He captivates. But it is always Childs who magnifies the production and arrangements with his inspired piano playing. He is the catalyst that creates the fire that Steve Wilson brings front and center on “The Starry Night”. Child’s opens this song, tinkling the keys like an antique music box. He is the shimmering star here, shooting across the galaxy, offering us a great crescendo of remarkable music.
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BILL O’CONNELL – “MONK’S CHA CHA LIVE AT THE CARNEGIE-FARIAN ROOM”
Savant Records

Bill O’Connell, pianist/arranger/composer/producer.

I was somewhat misled by the title of this CD, incorrectly assuming that O’Connell would be celebrating the music of Thelonius Monk, perhaps with Latin overtones. Instead I find that composer/pianist, Bill O’connell, has included the works of Kern and Hammerstein, Jobim, Burke/Van Heusen and Mongo Santamaria, along with his own compositions. Never the less, here is an engaging production, that celebrates solo piano. From the very first strains of “The Song Is You”, (played at a maddening pace and executed with technical perfection), I find myself captivated.

O’Connell’s lush work of musical art is captured ‘Live’ at a concert venue in Rockland County, New York. This gifted pianist sits at the grand piano, absolutely vulnerable and accessible to audience and critics alike. I am impressed with the way he builds each song, establishing the melody and then taking creative liberty to grow his self-expression with fluid improvisation. He plays proficiently, with no other accompaniment to enhance or color this production and O’Connell exhibits unwavering time. You immediately recognize him as imaginative and technically astute. He showcases his gift of improvisation on this recording, as well as reinventing standard songs like “Dindi, “Afro Blue” and “It Could Happen to You,” sharing his own talent and unique, solo arrangements. Here is a magnificent representation of singular piano excellence.
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MICHAEL LE VAN TRIO – “A DIFFERENT SHADE OF BLUE”
Independent label

Michael Le Van, Piano; David Enos, bass; John Ferraro, drums

I became acquainted with Michael Le Van last month when he sat-in with my trio in Huntington Beach, California. The first thing I noticed was his rich harmonic creativity. That evening, he inputted chords and inversions into the standard composition,m “Lover Man,” that I was not used to hearing. Consequently, I was curious to listen to his new CD, featuring all of his own creative compositions. His recording did not disappoint me. Beginning with “Do You Know What I mean,” once again I was captivated by his sense of harmony. This composition crossed genre’s, touching on Smooth Jazz one moment and Straight Ahead the next, with overtones of Latin jazz. David Enos is featured on a bass solo that is inspired. The title tune, “A Different Shade of Blue” is a lovely ballad with a poignant melody. Perhaps Michael explained this song best in his liner notes.

“The creative process is difficult to describe; inspiration comes to me in various ways. sometimes I associate colors with a particular harmony or musical idea. “A Different Shade of Blue” is an example of this, where the harmonic contour brought to mind a distinct shade of luminous blue. But for the most part, the act of composing is a fascinating struggle. I battle over which chord is most perfect and beautiful at the right place. … I can spend sleepless nights before I’m satisfied.”

Speaking of satisfied, I especially enjoyed hearing John Ferraro cut loose on drums during their presentation of “Fantasia In G Minor”, a spirited, Straight Ahead composition that captured my complete attention. Le Van answered my unspoken question, “but can you play the blues?” with his composition, “Remember That”. It Swings hard and gives all three players a chance to rubber-band-stretch their talents during improvisational escapades. I think that listeners will find this piece of CD art totally satisfying. Le Van and his competent trio present a flowing ribbon of original music that is both expressive and classically based jazz. Add to that, the expert musicianship of Ferraro, Enos and the artist himself. You will enjoy a colorful array of hand-painted, musical notes that reflect the canvas of Le Van’s innovative and artistic mind.

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ENDEMIC ENSEMBLE – “TANGLED”
Opus Funkus Music

Steve Messick, double bass/band leader; Travis Ranney, tenor & soprano saxophones; Matso Limtiaco, baritone saxophone/bass clarinet; David Franklin, piano; Christian Krehbiel, drums.

Endemic Ensemble’s first tune dances into the room waltz-time, with the horn section harmonically delivering the melody. Travis Ranney leaps to the forefront with a smooth, yet aggressive sax solo, followed by Matso Limtiaco. Then the two horns play tag across the silver disc, trading fours and challenging each other creatively. Enter Steve Messick on his double bass, calming the moment with tonal security and his big bass sound. Messick is not only the bandleader and bassist, but he has composed this first tune titled, “Sugar Art” and sweet it is! The second cut was composed by pianist, David Franklin, and is the title tune, “Tangled.” We get an opportunity to hear the trio up close and personal. They are a tightly woven garment that supports the horns like Spanks.

“The Snort” makes good use of the baritone saxophone and staccato notes. Although it sounds nothing like “The Pink Panther” song, it reminds me of it because of the production. Once again, Messick is the songwriter.

Based in Washington State, this ensemble has a signature sound by prominently adding a baritone saxophone and with three of the six players contributing original compositions. They have a group cohesiveness and their original music is well-written and well-produced. The horn arrangements are excellent, although no credit for same is given in the liner notes. I do wish I had heard a few tunes that were more fiery and explosive. The moderate tempo throughout leaves this listener with a desire for something more. “The Tolovana Stomp” almost satisfies my yearning when Limtiaco steps it up, playing double time on his saxophone solo, along with Ranney on tenor sax. Perhaps, if the drums had been mixed to the surface a bit more, this would have fused the group’s music with more energy. Trap drummer, Christian Krehbiel, cuts loose and plays an ear catching solo on “The Tolovana Stomp” and I would have enjoyed hearing more of his drums in the mix throughout.

All in all, here is a wonderful recording full of creative compositions and musicians who work together like a well-oiled machine.
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ARTHUR LIPNER, BEST OF – “TWO HANDS, ONE HEART”
Malletworks Media

ACOUSTIC MUSICIANS: Arthur Lipner, vibraphone, marimba; Jack DeSalvo, classical guitar; Bob Rodriguez & Fred Hirsh, piano; Todd Urban & Harvis S., double bass; Jon Berger, percussion; Vic Juris, acoustic guitar; Nelson Faria & Manny Moreira, acoustic guitar; Nanny Assis, Ney Rosauro & Glen Velez, percussion; David Darling, cello; Joe Meo, flute; Mike LaValle, bass; Bruce Williamson, clarinet.

ELECTRIC MUSICIANS: Arthur Lipner, vibes/marimba/steel drums; Bruce Williamson, soprano sax/keys; Adriano Souza, piano; Glenn Alexander, Vic Juris, Bill Bickford & Jerome Harris, elec. Guitar; Paul Adamy, Tom Barney, David Fink, Mike LaValle, David Dunaway & Randy Landau, elec. Bass; Nick Bariluk, keys; Ze Luis Oliverira & Vanderlei Pereira, percussion; Tommy Igoe, Mauricio Zotarelli, Jim Mola, Warren Odze & Joel Rosenblatt, drums; Bob Mintzer, tenor sax; Gary Schreiner, harmonica; Nanny Assis, lead vocal/percussion; Wycliffe Gordon, trombone/vocals; Chip Gawle, trumpet; Vanessa Falabella & Kathy Caprino, background vocals; Joyce Stovall, vocals.

Adjectives this CD brings to mind are beautiful, stunning, easy-listening, innovatively excellent, and ear-candy. From the first tinkling notes of his vibraphone on “Crystal Mallet,” the listener is whisked into a space of imagination and jazzy comfort. “Rio”, the second cut, takes us on a Latin ride with guitarist Jack DeSalvo setting the mood. Lipner’s music makes me happy. This is a two CD set. The first CD is all acoustic jazz and the second focuses on his electronic side. Wycliff Gordon is featured on trombone & scat vocals, setting fire to a Jimmy Guiffre composition called, “Four Brothers.” The tracks Lipner show-cases are pulled from recordings that date back to 1990 through 2015. For the most part, they are original compositions. He explained in his liner notes:
“Every moment is of the present, uniquely singular. For me it’s always the same, whether my album, or a United Airlines commercial; put on the headphones, shutout all else. Hear magic. Paint with sound.”

And paint with sound he does, surrounded by a diverse group of contributing musicians, Lipner brings us a surprise package wrapped in artistic expression and tied with bow-ribbons of classical-rooted technique and anatomical musicianship. This generous and well-produced CD offers twenty-four songs and a few precious hours of non-stop, easy-listening entertainment.

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STEVE KHAN – “BACKLOG”
ToneCenter Records

Steve Khan, guitar; Ruben Rodriguez, baby bass & elec. Bass; Mark Walker, drums; Marc Quinones, timbal/bongo/percussion; Bobby Allende, conga/bongo; SPECIAL GUEST ARTISTS: Randy Brecker, trumpet; Bob Mintzer, tenor saxophone; Mike Mainieri, vibes; Rob Mounsey, keyboards; Tatiana Parra, voice.

The Khan arrangement of Thelonius Monk’s tune, “Criss Cross,” is surprisingly infused with Latin rhythms and quite creative. You’ll want to slip on your Bossa Nova shoes for this one and prepare to swivel those hips. Productions like cut #4, “Our Town” (a Sammy Cahn/Jimmy Van Heusen composition) lilts along at a moderate pace, pushed by sensitive percussions and enhanced by Rob Mounsey’s keyboard strings. It’s easy to visualize horseback riding along a peaceful lake, with this song as the back drop. I love a bolero!

Khan’s guitar is always in command and at the forefront of his ensemble. On the Bobby Hutcherson tune, “Head Start”, Khan adds vibraphone to the mix, featuring Mike Mainieri in their spirited production. Once again, it’s Walker on drums and Quinones and Allende on percussion who drive this music hard, like cattle ranchers.
According to the liner notes, this is Khan’s fifth studio album since returning to solo recordings after nearly a decade. “Backlog” is perhaps his most innovative reimagining of musical material, generously splashing this repertoire with Latin and Afro/Cuban overtones. Compositions by Ornette Coleman, Greg Osby and even an infectious song written by Stevie Wonder called “Go Home” are all steeped in Latino rhythms. On Stevie’s composition, right from the first couple of bars, Ruben Rodriguez drops the bass groove down like a whip; crisp and commanding. Then Khan’s guitar brings the blues front and center on this Motown icon’s work.

This body of work celebrates Khan’s extraordinary creativity and technical abilities on his axe. The artist introduces special guests on this creative project, like Bob Mintzer, who lavishly sprays tenor saxophone colors on Ornette Coleman’s tune, “Invisible”. Randy Brecker also makes a guest appearance on Ornette’s “Latin Genetics” composition. As I listen to the final piece, Andrew Hill’s “Catta,” this innovative guitarist adds harmonic voices, singing like horns to enhance his production. For a brief moment, Khan’s guitar style reminds me poignantly of Wes Montgomery on this particular production. All in all, here is a recording that brings pleasure, energy, Latin rhythms and the innovative spirit that jazz inspires. Perhaps Khan explains it best.

“Because my general sound is intended to be big and warm, an impression of a jazz guitar sound, people don’t realize how loud and tough we’re all playing. The music …is very physical and intense. We were hittin’ hard!”

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