Tribute to Jazz Masters and Other Sheroes & Heroes

TRIBUTE TO JAZZ MASTERS AND OTHER SHEROES & HEROES
CD reviews by Jazz/Journalist, Dee Dee McNeil

October 6, 2017

NESTOR TORRES – “JAZZ FLUTE TRADITIONS”
ALFI RECORDS

Nestor Torres, flute; Silvano Monasterios, piano; Jamie Ousley, bass; Michael Piolet, drums; Jose Gregorio Hernandez, percussion. SPECIAL GUESTS: WDNA SCHOLARSHIP Recipients: Miguel Russell, percussion; Ian Munoz, alto saxophone; Marcus Grant, drums (on ‘Cute’).

Silvano Monasterios opens this CD with some ‘down-home-blues’ piano playing. When Nestor Torres enters on his flute, he reminds me of a Herbie Mann album I used to listen to as a teenager. “Swingin’ Shepherds Blues” brought back wonderful memories of learning about jazz and listening to a jazzy flute during my high school years. “Memphis Underground” is the second cut on this recording, and it spews happiness. This song features scholarship recipient, Miguel Russell on percussion and it swings hard in a very Latin inspired way. Also, the young alto sax player is Ian Munoz, who offers an appealing solo performance. On the fade of this tune, Torres inspires the younger players to get ‘free’ and to express themselves during an improvisational spotlight. They shine! Every tune on this up-beat production is draped in energy and flavored with Caribbean rhythmic excitement, creating musical wonder. Torres reached into the lovely “Spain” composition to slow the production down briefly, before flying full force and energetically into the popular Chick Corea composition. The arrangement is well played technically and challenging. Once again, pianist Monasterios is dynamic and impressive on the keys. Every carefully picked jazz song is played with the utmost care and consideration. You will hear the work of Yusef Lateef, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Eric Dolphy, Neal Hefti’s “Cute”, (that features young Marcus Grant on drums), and even some Cole Porter tunes. I enjoyed every single cut on this compact disc. Nestor Torres brings out the best of his ensemble and is thoroughly inspirational on flute, propelling the music forward like a wizard with a silvery, magic wand. The music is captivating. This eleven-song recording is meant to be a homage to early flute masters like Frank Wess and Moe Koffman, as well as legendary modern flautists like Hubert Laws, Herbie Mann and Yusef Lateef. Well done!

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JOHN BEASLEY – “MONK’ESTRA – VOLUME 2
Mack Ave Records

John Beasley,piano/synthesizer/conductor/arranger; Ben Shepherd, acoustic/ electric bass; terreon Gully & Gene Coye, drums; TRUMPETS: Bijon Watson, Jamie Hovorka, Jmaes Ford, Brian Swartz, Brandyn Philips. TROMBONES: Francisco Torres, Wendell Kelly, Ryan Dragon, Steve Hughes, Ido Meshulam. WOODWINDS: Bob Sheppard, Danny Janklow, Tom Luer, Thomas Peterson, Adam Schroeder, Alex Budman. SPECIAL GUESTS: Conrad Herwig (trombone); Kamasi Washington, tenor saxophone; Pedrito Martinez, (percussion); Dianne Reeves, (vocals); Regina Carter, (violin); and Dontae Winslow, (trumpet/spoken word).

September of 2017 issued in a slew of new music to treasure and enjoy. Among them was John Beasley’s recent release. He is a master musician, pianist/arranger/conductor and this is his second escapade with big band arrangements that celebrate Thelonious Monk. The first tune, “Brake’s Sake,” is full of powerful funk and hip hop. It features the rhymes of Dontae Winslow and the trumpet mastery of the same young man. I am reminded of Quincy Jones on this arrangement. Some years back, Quincy like Beasley, incorporated modern music with old-school jazz sensibilities. This song bring back memories of the seventies and eighties, when I remember how Quincy used the poetry of the Watts Prophets, featuring Otis Smith-O’Solomon’s poem, “Beautiful Black Girl” on his album titled, “Mellow Madness.”

Speaking of “Q”, he has written in Beasley’s CD liner notes, “Thelonius Monk was one of a kind, and so is John Beasley. He hears things in Monk’s music that no one imagined. And he can make an orchestra sing like an uncaged bird.”

That pretty much sums up this entire album.

Beasley has a way of reinventing Monk’s music, while staying true to the composer’s original concepts and melodies. He incorporates a host of impressive guest artists on this Volume Two “Monk’estra” project. You will hear the jazz violin of Detroiter, Regina Carter; the Avant Garde, fluidity of tenor saxophonist, Kamasi Washington; the vocal prowess of Diane Reeves, along with the percussive brilliance of Pedrito Martinez. Another featured, young, up-and-coming reedman is Danny Janklow, solid on alto saxophone. Conrad Herwig is a special guest on trombone.

The Thelonious Monk compositions are well chosen and for the most part, familiar. I enjoyed being re-introduced to “Brake’s Sake”, “Played Twice,” “Light Blue” and “Work.” All you Monk lovers will be thoroughly entertained.

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JANE IRA BLOOM – “WILD LINES: IMPROVISING EMILY DICKINSON”
Outline Records

Jane Ira Bloom, soprano saxophone; Dawn Clement, piano; Mark Helias, bass; Bobby Previte, drums; Deborah Rush, voice.

It seems more and more that artists are melding their instruments with other art forms in order to express a multi-artistic platform for their music. Jane Ira Bloom has embraced the writing talents of visionary poet, Emily Dickinson and created a 2-pack CD of innovative soprano saxophone compositions for her jazz quartet to interpret.

Winner of the 2017 Downbeat Critics Poll for Soprano Sax, Bloom is always challenging herself to re-imagine her musical goals. I learned, from Bloom’s liner notes, that Emily Dickinson was a pianist and improviser herself. Using fragments from Dickinson’s poetic works, Bloom has composed pieces that celebrate words like: “I felt a cleaving in my mind – as if my brain had split – I tried to match it – seam by seam, but could not make them fit.”

Jane Ira Bloom makes the music fit the prose. She has been sharing her soprano saxophone talents with the world for four decades and has won several awards for her always unique body of music, including being a ten-time winner of the Jazz Journalists Association Award for soprano sax and the Charlie Parker Award for Jazz Innovation. She’s won too many awards to list them all here, but a few others are the Guggenheim Fellowship in Music Composition and the Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Award for Lifetime Service to Jazz. Jane Ira Bloom was the first musician commissioned by the NASA Art Program and was honored to have an asteroid named in her honor by the International Astronomical Union. This CD is another example of her musical innovation and brilliance.

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THE CHEAP 3NSEMBLE – PATRICK ARTHUR, DANA FITZSIMONS, CHRIS OTTS
Independent Label

Dana Fitzsimons, drums; Chris Otts, tenor saxophone; Patrick Arthur, guitar.

Here is a Jazz ensemble, featuring Atlanta-based drummer, Dana Fitzsimons. He’s in musical partnership with two other Atlanta jazz musicians; Chris Otts on tenor saxophone and Patrick Arthur on guitar. Otts recently received his Master’s degree in Jazz Studies and has his own debut album titled, “Layers”. Arthur just finished his degree in Jazz Performance and has his own performance group called, “Grut”. Fitzsimons reflects the least amount of performance skills, because he has been busy being a successful attorney dealing with trusts and estates, with a Juris Doctor degree from William and Mary Law School. However, he has a degree from Ithaca College in music, and has always longed to record an album. Surrounded by excellence, this is his premier attempt.

It’s an unusual blend of instrumentation, eliminating the expected piano, bass and drums trio and using instead, drums, guitar and saxophone. The challenge with this combination of musical instruments, is that you have to pursue prominent solos, unusual arrangements and exceptional musicianship to pull it off. This project disappoints with lack luster energy. Although Chris Otts is an award-winning performer/composer and arranger, He cannot save this easy-listening and somewhat Avant Garde concept.

According to the liner notes, Fitzsimons wanted to move away from the ‘Swing’ tradition and eliminate the need to lock in the time with a bass player. Instead, he has chosen sustained sounds and less rhythm to interpret familiar songs like “Poor Butterfly” and “Pure Imagination”. They tackle Chick Corea’s “Matrix” composition and Bruce Hornsby’s “Fortunate Son”. The Hornsby composition was included to celebrate, Williamsburg, Virginia where Fitzsimons lived, studied drums, law and raised two children. This is meditative music, but nothing to pop your fingers to or make you want to dance or paint or write. I found it repetitive and very low energy.

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JACKIE ALLEN – “ROSE FINGERED DAWN”
Avant Bass

Jackie Allen, vocals; Hans Sturm, composer/bass/producer; John Moulder, guitars; Tom Larson, keyboards; Dane Richeson, drums/percussion; Geoff Bradfield, soprano & tenor saxophone/bass clarinet; Victor Garcia, trumpet; Andy Baker, trombone.

This album opens with what sounds like poetry and prayer . Here is a project with an unusual blend of song choices and spoken word. The liner notes describe this first cut as a Ghanian Islamic chant of welcome. It features drummer, Dane Richeson. The music floats from a Flamingo sounding guitar to a big band sounding blues. After the spoken words, (that hints at spells and Voodoo secrets) arrives this old-school arrangement, heralding rhythm and blues with a jazzy New Orleans horn section punching lines in the background. There is a soulful organ solo by Tom Larson on keyboard. Obviously, these artists and this collection of songs, shun categorization.

This is a conglomerate of original compositions, composed by bassist/producer, Hans Sturm. Allen and Sturm are musical partners, as well as husband and wife. They’ve been performing together since the early 1980s. Back then, they were a voice and bass duo act. Sometimes the music is pop/folksy. On tunes like “The Laugh That is You” the group swings in a jazzy way. “Moon’s On the Rise” exhibits more of a Latin production theme, in a smooth jazz sort-of-way. John Moulder is nicely spotlighted on guitar.

Jackie Allen puts her heart and soul into this music, be it blues, swing or ballad. Here is an art adventure, not necessarily restricted to jazz. Instead, it seems musically open-ended. However, meter-wise and as a published songwriter myself, I sometimes had difficulty making the lyrics fit the rhythm of the melodic line. I realize that it’s a matter of artistic taste. Despite this critique, the compositions shine with beautiful and quite poetic lyrics by Sturm. Those lyrics are printed on the CD insert, so you can read the prose along with Jackie Allen’s sincere interpretations.

This CD has been five years in the making and I would have to say, it’s uncategorical art.

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ROB SCHNEIDERMAN – “TONE TWISTER”
Hollistic MusicWorks

Rob Schneiderman, piano; Brian Lynch, trumpet; Ralph Moore, tenor Saxophone; Gerald Cannon, bass; Pete Van Nostrand, drums.

Here is a CD full of compositional diversity. Schneiderman is a prolific songwriter and presents a variety of arrangements that range from Smooth Jazz Funk on “Left Coast Lullaby” to the Latin fused “Footloose Freestyle”. He offers mellow ballads like the standard, “Unforgettable,” to “Distant Memory,” a Straight Ahead composition where Schneiderman stretches his fingers across the keys like a restless butterfly. His arpeggio runs and bright solo work stimulate this project.
I believe I may have witnessed Schneiderman working with Charles McPherson in the early 1980’s when I was often in San Diego enjoying the jazz scene. “Slap Dance-Tap Stick” is very Thelonious- Monk-sounding. The liner notes describe this work’s harmonic structure as based loosely on “I Got Rhythm.” Another composition, “Windblown,” is a melodic waltz. The amazing talents of Brian Lynch on trumpet and Ralph Moore on saxophone certainly add spark and creativity with their horn lines and individual solos on this tune and throughout the album. Schneiderman’s choice of band members is superb and each brings their genius into play on this project. All eight of Schneiderman’s original compositions are works of art that are brought alive by these competent players. I was particularly taken by “The Lion’s Tale” that ends this album.

As someone who has worked with some of the most iconic jazz players of our time, including Eddie Harris, James Moody, J.J. Johnson, Clifford Jordan, Art Farmer and the TanaReid quintet co-led by drummer Akira Tana and bassist Rufus Reid, you will hear this seasoned veteran reflect his many influences in both his compositions and piano style. Every cut on this production is wonderfully arranged and celebrated by Schneiderman and his star-studded band. This is the kind of jazz album that never grows old.

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