POLITICS AND POINTS OF VIEW REFLECTED IN TODAY’S MUSIC

POLITICS & POINTS OF VIEW REFLECTED IN TODAY’S MUSIC
New CD reviews by Dee Dee McNeil – Jazz Journalist – May 1, 2017

TINA RAYMOND – “LEFT RIGHT LEFT”
Orenda Records

Tina Raymond, drums; Art Lande, piano; Putter Smith, bass.

The thing that strikes me right away about this recording is that the drums are mixed crisply and upfront. Steadfast and timely, Tina Raymond steps forward, obviously, the leader on her trap drum instrument. She is exceptionally creative and her drum talents stand out in situations of musical production that usually call for the percussion to be in the background. Raymond can roll those drum sticks, smooth and rhythmically, like an expert baker. The resulting pie, of both sweet and peppery sounds, invites us to taste her percussion mastery.

Glancing down at the titles of the songs she picked for this premiere recording, it is obvious Tina Raymond is intent on making a statement with her music. Musically, Raymond is calling our attention to a sadness and frustration that she claims to have felt in the days following our most recent presidential election. Starting with “Pastures of Plenty” by Woody Guthrie and followed by, “Battle Hymn of the Republic”, “America”, “Union Maid”, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” and “Saigon Bride” (by Joan Baez), and inclusive of the CD title, “Left Right Left,” she depicts two extreme political factors in the United States. Raymond explains in her liner notes:

“As a drummer and percussion teacher, I say the words ‘left’ and ‘right’ often. I spend a lot of time thinking and talking about what combinations of left and right are the most efficient way to execute rhythms. … In politics, the terms ‘left wing’ and ‘right wing’ date back to the French Revolution … two opposing parties in relation to the king. I was very disillusioned when a man with no qualifications defeated a woman, who is probably one of the most qualified people ever to run for president. I think America still doesn’t respect women. … The name of my CD refers to the political landscape of the U.S.”

Art Lande on piano and bassist, Putter Smith each rise to the task at hand, delivering artistically the very best of themselves. Both are lauded and seasoned players. Lande is Grammy-nominated and extremely improvisational on piano. You can hear his Avant Garde harmonics brightly supporting the diametrically opposed left and right on “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Putter Smith is as solid as a judge’s gavel, pounding out the rhythm on his double bass with power and authority. Smith has worked with Art Blakey, Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, Ray Charles, Burt Bacharach, Percy Faith, Art Pepper and a host of others. Lande has seventeen albums released as a leader and his piano skills are clearly a catalyst in the arrangements on this recording. I was taken by the sweetness and sincerity he infused during the composition, “Union Maid.” Although the lyrics, by Woody Guthrie, strongly support American work unions from a fearless woman’s point of view, Lande’s piano execution is sensitive and lovely. The song lyrics read, “There was a union maid, she never was afraid of goons and ginks and company finks and the deputy sheriffs who made the raid.”

Similar to the lyrics of that song, Tina Raymond is another strong female, a forward thinker and a change-maker. She isn’t afraid to express her revolutionary spirit on this compact disc of music. Her arrangements are powerful and expressive. Her artistry; undeniable. Endorsed by Sabian, Regal Tip and Remo drum manufacturers, and currently a professor of music at Los Angeles City College, she is one of a few women throughout the country in a full-time faculty position in jazz. Even more importantly, she is an exceptional drummer. Every cut on this CD is an exclamation mark on the word excellent.
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ROCCO JOHN IACOVONE – “PEACE AND LOVE”
Unseen Rain Records

Rocco John Iacovone, alto & soprano saxophone/piano; Ras Moshe Burnett, bells/tenor saxophone/flute; Sana Nagano, violin; Michael Lytle, bass clarinet; Rich Rosenthal, guitar; Phil Sirois, bass; John Pietaro, percussion; Dalius Naujo, drums.

I was eager to review this piece of art, mainly because of the CD title. I, myself, always answer my phone, “Peace and love” and it’s really my life mantra. Like Rocco John Iacovone, I recognize we need people to reflect and embrace more peace and love on earth. Consequently, I was eager to experience music that boasted an inspiration for the goodness of love and peace in three musical Suites. The first reflects the “Aurora Borealis”; the second is composed in consideration of “Evolution” and the last Suite is titled, “What If the Moon Were Made Out of Jazz?”

Rocco John Iacovone has long been a major influence in New York’s improvisatory musician’s community. As a student of Sam Rivers and Lee Konitz, his alto and soprano saxophone talents reflect Avant Garde inspiration. He founded the Improvisational Composers Ensemble (ICE) as an outlet for music specific to featuring improv as a major compositional element. “Peace and Love” is his fourth album as a leader and composer. His ensemble generously reflects the premise of freedom and creativity. They band together to compliment his original music, with ample time given each musician to express themselves within each suite. This recording was made “Live” inside “the Stone” (John Zorn’s place) to a standing-room-only audience. It is dedicated to the memory of Will Connell, who had encouraged Rocco’s residency and ultimate recording venture, but passed away November 19, 2014, before he could witness the dream come to fruition. Connell received a CAPS grant for orchestral composition and as a copyist/arranger/sideman, Will Connell worked for musicians ranging from Stevie Wonder and Roberta Flack to Horace Tapscott, Sam Rivers, Elton John, Rahsaan Roland Kirk and King of Pop, Michael Jackson.

Rocco said, “Will used to sign his emails, “Peas and Lub”. So this CD, ‘Peace and Love,’ is dedicated with much love to the spirit of Will Connell.”
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GREGORY LEWIS – “ORGAN MONK, THE BREATHE SUITE”
Independent Label

Gregory Lewis, Hammond B3 Organ; Nasheet Waits & Jeremy “Bean” Clemons, drums; Marc Ribot, guitar; Reggie Woods, tenor saxophone; Riley Mullins, trumpet.

Gregory Lewis brings together a federation of musicians who have joined in musical protest to remember the names of African Americans who have become symbols of the racial divide in America. The first name, “Michael Brown” opens ethereally, with a musical freedom and Avant Garde attitude that leaves plenty of room for solo expression. “Chronicles of Michael Brown” allows each musician in the Gregory Lewis ensemble to step forward and make an improvisational statement. We experience the musical mood-changes dramatically. Reggie Woods brings a moody blues with his tenor saxophone. Riley Mullins doubles the tempo and melodically screeches his trumpet protest to the wind. Nasheet Waits is a monster on drums, sometimes frenzied and powerful, other times beating a slow funk rhythm into the pulse of the music. As an example, he holds the groove in place beneath Marc Ribot’s soulful, electric guitar solo. This solo quickly accelerates in pace, pushing crescendos of energy into a mild explosion of sound and cymbals. Lewis uses the organ’s upper register to calm the group, with a staccato approach, playing repetitious notes that dance on rolling trap drums like water drops in hot grease. This first movement sets the tone of his album and takes the listener to some unexpected places. For those who don’t remember, eighteen-year-old Michael Brown was shot and killed by a white, Ferguson police officer and that sparked civil unrest in the streets of this Missouri city.

The second movement, dedicated to the memory of Trayvon Martin, a young African American teenager whose life was taken by an impetuous police-wanna-be, (citizen patrol person) as Trayvon was walking back to his father’s house on private property. Lewis’ organ style on this composition reminds me of the late, great Jimmy Smith with a bebop feel and melodic organ improv. The arrangement is quick and assertive, like the unpredictable fight between the killer and the boy, ending in the unarmed man-child’s life being taken. I’m impressed by the way the organ melody and the drums of Jeremy ‘Bean’ Clemons play in unison at the top of this tune. Clemons displays the same kind of high energy and precision drumming as Waits and plays on four out of these six tunes.

The third Movement is in memory of Little seven-year-old, Aiyana Jones, and titled “Aiyana’s Jones Song,” beginning with Lewis on organ and Ribot on guitar setting an Eerie, dirge like mood. It reminds us of how police officers raided a house in Detroit, Michigan, May 16, 2010, and shot and killed the child lying innocent on her couch. Officer Joseph Weekley was charged, with reckless endangerment with a gun and involuntary manslaughter, in the child’s death. Two different trials ended in mistrials. The dirge-like music soon lightens, with melodies that are playful and happy, perhaps representing the spirit of the little girl before this horrendous incident.

The Fourth Movement is in tribute to Eric Garner, a man accused of selling single cigarettes, in July of 2014, and ultimately NYPD officers put the large man in a choke hold that led to him mumbling “I can’t breathe” and soon after he died from that police altercation. On this musical reflection, the arrangement is other-worldly and ominous.

Gregory Lewis is providing a musical platform for the stories of African American casualties from horrific episodes brought to public light by cell phone recordings and multi-cultural defiance against unnecessary violence, by police, against people of color. Thus, the rise of movements like ‘Black Lives Matter’ and protests nationwide. Lewis feels these are incidents and names we must never forget. He explained himself by saying:

“I can’t protest, because if I protest I go to jail. And if I go to jail, I can’t feed my five kids. So, what I can do is what I do. I write music. I want to get this record to each of the people, even if it brings joy for just a minute to these families.”

Lewis closed with the Fifth Movement titled “Osiris Ausar and the Race4 Soldiers.” It’s a speedy, Straight Ahead number that bebops its way across space and reflects the story of Ausar that begins in the ancient kingdom of Kush or what is presently known as Sudan. Ausar was a genius leader and scholar, who taught agriculture, theology and is said to have known the language of the Gods. He married Auset or Isis, and was later murdered in his sleep by his jealous brother. His body was dismembered into fourteen parts and the various body parts were left in diverse territories of Kemet. Ausar’s wife, Isis, searched until she found thirteen of his fourteen missing body parts, washed each one, anointed each with oil and wrapped each in linen for a proper burial. Later, she bore a son, who grew up and killed the evil uncle and retook their land. His son, Heru, is commemorated over several temples in Egypt as a carved, winged sun, known as the Heru Bedet. It is meant to serve as a reminder of virtue and order and a warning against jealousy and hedonism. Osiris is known, to this day, as an Egyptian God, usually identified as presiding over the afterlife.

This “Osiris Ausar and the Race4 Soldiers” composition seems to be a final blessing on those souls departed and the legacy they left behind. There is a sixth cut on this CD that is a reprise of the fifth. My only criticism of this piece of musical art is that at times, the organ is not pulled up enough in the ‘mix’.

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HIROE SEKINE – “ONE WORLD ONE SUN”
Sony Music

Hiroe Sekine, piano/composer; Yukihiro Isso, Nokan/Dengakubue; Kazuhiko Kondo, soprano saxophone/bass clarinet; Michael Valerio, acoustic bass/fretless bass/elec. bass; Peter Erskine, drums; Alex Acuña, cajon/bombo/drums; Antonio de Jerez, palmas & voz; Kaori Aoi, Sanshin; Paul Livingstone, sitar; Brad Dutz, tabla; Charlie Bisharet, violin; Eric Rigler, Uilleann pips; Geoff Dent, Gendér/Reyong; Dimitris Mahlis, oud; Larry Koones, tenor ukulele; Edgar Huaman Vera, zampoña; SPECIAL GUEST: Hiromitsu Agatsuma, Tsugaru-Shamisen player.

In a world perforated by bullets of war and muddied by cultural misunderstandings, Hiroe Sekine endeavors to bring people together with new music that celebrates a variety of countries, pulled lovingly under the umbrella of jazz. She has composed every track on this compact disc with the obvious intention of showing us how much alike we are and unified, instead of divided. Music can do that.

Pianist Sekine has incorporated instrumentation from various parts of the world to color her melodies and expand her arrangements, starting with “Nippon Barre, (a Japanese Sunny Day),” that reflects her own culture and the country of Japan. Incorporating the native instruments of Nokan an Dengakubue and using minor mode harmonies and scales, this artist brings her country to our ears. The Nokan is a flute from the Japanese Yokobue Edo period that dates back to the 1800s. The famed player, Hiromitsu Agatsuma (Courtesy of NIPPON Columbia Records) brings ancient authenticity with the Tsugaru-Shamisen instrument that resembles a banjo in appearance, but is very, very different in sound and frets. Upon listening to this song, I am transported to Nagoya, with it’s beautiful and ornate, outdoor, winter ice sculptors or Kyoto, full of temples, castles and supreme noodle shops. There is a very warm spot In my heart for Japanese culture and jazz. My first solo gig as a jazz singer was in Nagoya, Japan with a very excellent Japanese jazz band.

Hiroe Sekine whisks us off to Spain on cut #2 titled, “Brillo del Sol” translating to Sunshine. Kazuhiko Kondo is stellar on his soprano saxophone solo and Michael Valerio tells an engaging double bass story. Sekine’s melody runs like a thread throughout this song and connects everyone with needle-like precision, the same way her theme of sunshine touches the title of every tune. It’s a very charming composition and concept.

Tune number three has a reggae feel, so I immediately know we are somewhere in the Caribbean. “Sunshine (Caribbean)” unfolds, and I wish I had felt more ‘joi de vivre’ in this song. I’ve spent time in those islands, where energy and music is married and infectious. Sekine’s arrangement is a bit too laid-back for my taste, featuring Russell Ferrante’s melodica, and sounding rather like easy-listening instead of jazz. I did enjoy the addition of steel drums, but they still couldn’t lift the music by themselves.

Representing the people, culture and music of India, the fourth composition is titled, “Soorya Kaa Prakaasha” or Sunlight. The sitar of Paul Livingstone sings the melody along with Sekine and Brad Dutz adds the Tabla, a south Asian percussive instrument similar to bongos. Livingstone brings out the beauty on this song with his sitar solo, playing tag with Hiroe Sekine’s piano runs. ON “Tidanu Hikari (Rays of the Sun – Okinawa), Sekine steps forward to lay a lovely ballad at our feet like a gift, wrapped in the warm cloak of Kaori Aoi’s Sanshin instrument. I found this composition very beautiful. The Sanshin is a traditional Japanese instrument that has a very banjo-like quality of sound.

Sekine is quite generous with her musical space, giving several guests free-wheel to roll around this disc, exploring her memorable melodies with solos and improvisation. She completes this album by reflecting the music of Ireland, (incorporating violin and Uillean pipes). She celebrates Indonesia, with the distinctive sounds of Gendér and Reyong instruments, followed by tributes to Morocco, Hawaii and Peru. Each original composition mirrors the brazen and necessary beauty and warmth of our sun, as well as the title of this album, “One World One Sun.” Without the sun and each other, we will surely perish.

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