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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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
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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