DAZZLING NEW TALENT PAINTS JAZZ WITH FRESH FACES

DAZZLING NEW TALENT PAINTS JAZZ WITH FRESH FACES
By Dee Dee McNeil – jazz journalist

October 25, 2017

The amount of new and creative music I receive is to be celebrated. Starting with THE MYRON MCKINNEY TRIO, freshly formed in 2014, led by the musical conductor of Earth Wind & Fire, bursting with composer creativity and great musicianship. Haunting. Beautiful. Melodic. Soothing. Melancholy. These are the adjectives that come to mind when the very first cut of GUILLERMO NOJECHOWICZ’s CD spins off my Compact disc player. Vocalist, GABRIELE TRANCHINA has recorded an album featuring several of her talented husband’s compositions. STEVE HECKMAN & MATT CLARK share their saxophone/piano duo sessions and WADADA LEO SMITH christens an entire album of Thelonious Monk music with his solo trumpet. Conductor/composer, CHUCK OWEN and THE JAZZ SURGE offer orchestrated compositions that celebrate Owen’s great love for the outdoors. LUPA SANTIAGO & ANDERS VESTERGARD QUARTET make a memorable statement combining Latin, Brazilian, Contemporary and Straight-ahead jazz with hybrid rhythms. Finally, bassist JEFF DINGLER composes all the songs on an album produced to encompass American Jazz and Ethiopian influences. Here are a group of dazzling new and also seasoned talents, who paint jazz with fresh faces.

MYRON McKINLEY TRIO – “TIME” EP
Yah Entertainment / S.M. Entertainment

Myron McKinley, piano; Ian Martin, bass; Stacey Lamont Sydnor, drums.

A rich, dynamic roll of drums open this EP. They are recorded with precision and sound ‘live’ and inspired. The tune is called “Baidoa” and when Myron McKinley’s piano enters, it sprints across the space like a track runner gliding easily around the track. This trio moves in synchromesh. They’re tightly bound and their sound is lovely. The treble improvisation McKinley plays on the grand piano brings light and luster to his bass player’s solo, softly and effectively played beneath Ian Martin’s improv. This song is nine minutes long and never boring. I enjoyed every nuance; every note; every solo. The next song, “Labyrinth” has a smooth jazz sound. McKinley is now on electric keyboard and the group sounds more contemporary. Perhaps he was always on electric piano. Today, synthesized keyboards are made to sound just like a grand piano. I have no liner notes to check the instrumentation. Just my ears and they are pleased with what they hear.

I find this second composition not as memorable as the first one, but it is still well-played. “E-12” is the next piece and it’s more energetic with a smart melody. Suddenly it moves from energy to ballad. There are several time changes that keep this piece interesting and feature McKinley’s two- handed arpeggios and melodies played in unison, using two-fisted octaves. The bassist is busy and solidifies the free-form improvisation of drums and piano with his solid strokes. The ballad explodes into a flight of flying fingers and percussive brilliance.

All three of these musicians exhibit amazing talents. The commercial recording of Eleanor Rigby is electronic and funky. This trio can play it all. Stacey Lamont Sydnor on drums is powerful and steady, putting the ‘funk’ in the arrangement and pushing the trio to their highest limits. All the while, they keep the jazz reined in and obvious, never losing their ability to improvise, while the music dances and pulsates. Finally, “Man in the Mirror” made so famous by Michael Jackson, is interpreted like another Smooth Jazz arrangement with a little Country/ Western twist. It’s flavored liberally with strings.

The video below includes Verdine White and Stanley Clarke making guest appearances.

The Myron McKinley Trio officially formed in 2014 and recently appeared at the Belasco Theater in Los Angeles. It all began when they were performing at NAMM and a fan posted a video on Facebook. That clip went viral. Each member has an impressive list of credits. McKinley, who is the music director and keyboardist for Earth, Wind & Fire, has also worked with Chaka Khan, Mary J. Blige, Harry Connick Jr., Stevie Wonder, Whitney Houston and Tupac. Bassist, Ian Martin, has teamed with David Foster, Barry Manilow and Barbra Streisand. Percussionist Stacey Lamont Sydnor has collaborated with The Jacksons, P. Diddy and Alicia Keys, among others. Together, they make a formidable group, blending their unique approach to jazz with R&B/funk overtones, composing fresh and interesting songs, and painting familiar tunes with spontaneity and dazzling talent.

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GUILLERMO NOJECHOWICZ – “Puerto de Buenos Aires 1933”
Zoho Records

Guillermo Nojechowicz, drums/percussion/vocals; Helio Alves, piano; Fernando Huergo, bass; Kim Nazarian, vocals/percussion; Marco Pignataro, tenor & soprano saxophone; Brian Lynch, trumpet. SPECIAL GUESTS: Franco Pinna, bombo leguero/percussion; Roberto Cassan, accordion; Megumi Lewis, violin; Ethan Wood, violin; Sarah Darling, viola; Leo Eguchi, cello; Nando Michelin,string arrangements.

Haunting. Beautiful. Melodic. Soothing. Melancholy. These are the adjectives that come to mind when the very first cut of Guillermo Nojechowicz’s CD spins off my Compact disc player. This tune is based on a Uruguayan rhythm and Italian accordion player, Roberto Cassan, (R.I.P) adds a Piazzolla-esque quality to the arrangement. I learned that this musician died in Italy from a heart attack shortly after completing this recording. As I listened, I looked at the album title and wondered, what does the year 1933 mean to this artist? I found out in the liner notes, where Mr. Nojechowicz wrote:

“This project has been developed through many years. It began on one of my trips to Buenos Aires when I found a passport issued in the early 1930s with images of my grandmother and my dad. … I knew they came to Argentina to escape the economic hardships at the time. … Those who stayed behind, died in the concentration camps.”

The title, “Puerto de Buenos Aires” translates to “Port of Buenos Aires.” I’ve been to that thriving metropolis and you find many Germans who settled there and have lived there since the Second World War. Many Nazi’s also escaped to Buenos Aires after the war. It’s a lovely city with wide avenues, sometimes 8 lanes across.

“The music is very image-driven. … I tried to picture my grandmother in the 1930s, …winter, taking the train with a little kid, my dad, who at the time was three-years-old. What emerged for me was the pain, the difficulty of moving to a new country; not knowing the language or the culture. So yeah – it’s very personal, from a very dark time,” Guillermo Nojechowicz continued explaining his project concept.

The second track, “Trains” continues to perpetuate historic images. Nazarian’s beautiful voice sings “Oh my son, we must go very far, time has come for us to leave our home” and the music moves at a lumbering pace, in 7/4 time, with Njechowicz’s drums conjuring up the Euro-rail system that helped his grandmother escape her homeland. Kim Nazarian’s voice stretches across octaves and soars with emotion and spontaneity. Helio Alves on piano is an intricate part of this perfect rhythm section and Fernando Huergo tells heartfelt stories with his bass solo on Track three, “Europe 1933.” Guillermo Nojecowicz is quite a composer and has written eight of the ten songs on this project. His melodies are stunning and his band knows just how to best interpret his work. Brian Lynch on trumpet and Marco Pignataro punch the horn lines with gusto and sometimes include Nazarian as a third vocal horn. The blend is lovely.

Here is a musical photo album of another time and place, propelled by Nojechowicz’s sense of time and space on drums and the magic accompaniment of his musician friends. He incorporates many world rhythms, including the Argentinean chacarera that pumps life in the “Puerto de Buenios Aires” composition, implementing the Brazilian single-string percussion instrument and he also incorporates the ‘talking drum’ in his work. This is an exciting album of new jazz music, flavored delicately with World Music and telling emotional stories of his life and family history.

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GABRIELE TRANCHINA – “OF SAILING SHIPS AND THE STARS IN YOUR EYES”
Rainchant Electric Records

Gabriele Tranchina, vocals; background vocals; Joe Vincent Tranchina, keyboards/melodica/programming/claves/background voices/composer; Carlo de Rose, upright & electric bass; Vince Cherico, drums/percussion; Renato Thomas, percussion.

Gabriele Tranchina’s light, second soprano voice bounces across these tunes with a happy tone. Several of the songs are composed and arranged by her husband, Joe Vincent Tranchina, who also co-produced along with producer, Rick Savage. Mr. Tranchina is a fine composer and his wife takes care to color his compositions with emotional character. On “Bossa Ballad and Blue” Carlo de Rose lays down a lovely bass solo. I wish the composer had believed in his vocalist enough to let her sell his challenging melody without him playing it on the piano along with her vocals. That was annoying. Still, Mrs. Tranchina pulls it off.

She also sings in both Portuguese and French on this project, using Jobim’s “O Morro Nao Tem Vez” to showcase a Brazilian flair and “Je Crois Entendre Encore” to feature her French language skills. Later in the CD she features more linguist skills, singing fluently in Spanish. With all the advantage of language use and unique compositions, this vocalist reflects a cross between Easy Listening and World Music. However, I found her voice so similar to so many others I’ve heard, that it made her somewhat banal as a singer.

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STEVE HECKMAN & MATT CLARK – “SOME OTHER TIME/SLOW CAFÉ”
World City Music

Steve Heckman, tenor & soprano saxophone; Matt Clark, piano.

Starting with a tune Steve Heckman has penned titled, “Admiring-Lee,” he and pianist Matt Clark are off and running ‘straight-ahead’ down a jazzy path. This duo’s first tune is followed by Thelonious Monk’s popular composition, “Ugly Beauty”. Here is an acoustic jazz performance in it’s pure form; just two talented musicians, both august and sincere in their approach.

This duo has chosen to perform songs we know and love. They weave their talents around the music like homespun sweaters. Their music is warm and comfortable; unobtrusive, yet culturally opulent. For example, after Monk, they delve into a familiar tune from the 1944 musical, ‘On the Town,’ titled, “Some Other Time.” It’s a beautiful and poignant ballad that let’s each artist experiment and improvise.

Pianist, Matt Clark adds one self-penned composition on this project titled, “Foregone Conclusions”. He’s composed a jazz waltz whose melody Heckman sings, using his soprano saxophone. Clark gets to stretch the 88-key limits during his solo. His talents were honed at Oberlin College and he is a proud protégé of Detroit’s Iconic pianist, Barry Harris. Clark has played with my dear friend and reed man, Teddy Edwards, with Frank Morgan, and vibraphonist, Bobby Hutcherson among other luminaires like Vincent Herring, Eric Alexander, Madeline Eastman and Kellye Gray. Matt Clark is also the founding member of the Marcus Shelby Trio, a mainstay on the San Francisco, California jazz scene.

His duo partner, Steve Heckman, is a renowned reed man who’s worked with Chet Baker, Howard McGhee, Andrew Hill, Benny Green, Eddie Henderson, guitarist John Abercrombie, drummers Billy Higgins and Donald Bailey. He’s also accompanied vocalists like Jackie Ryan, Julie Kelly, Judy Wexler and more. Heckman’s been featured on several albums with other great jazz players and his fifth solo album, “Legacy: A Coltrane Tribute” received rave reviews and was played nationwide. I suspect this album will receive the same kind of appreciation and exposure.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YdTr7_4fLgM (a group video at Yoshi’s in San Francisco)

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WADADA LEO SMITH – “REFLECTIONS AND MEDITATIONS ON MONK”
Tum Records

Wadada Leo Smith, trumpet.

Here is a bold and beautiful solo statement to celebrate both the birth and life of Thelonious Monk. 100 years ago, this historic and profoundly impactful pianist/composer came into being and still influences our universe with music that lives boldly, like the air we breathe.How tenacious for Wadada Leo Smith to step out on a stage, naked and alone, in order to play music that respects and revels this iconic jazz master.

Unafraid and totally prepared, Wadada Leo Smith was part of the first generation of musicians to come out of Chicago’s Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM). Over years, he has established himself as a leading composer and performer of creative, contemporary music. Smith has received awards for Jazz Artist of the Year, Jazz Album of the Year (for America’s National Parks) and Trumpeter of the Year in DownBeat’s 65th Annual Critics Poll. He was named Musician of the Year by the Jazz Journalist Association.

Wadada Leo Smith opens with “Ruby, My Dear.” He wanders around the melody line, like an inquisitive sleuth. For nine plus moments, he probes the entire meaning of this Monk composition. His trumpet sings with stamina and determination. On “Reflections” he mutes his trusty trumpet and tenderly caresses this composition with tonal abilities that come from years of study and practice.

In his liner notes, Mr. Smith shares: “Most people would never realize that I am closer to Thelonious Monk than to any other artist. What connects us is a vision of composition and its forms, music psychology, and our articulation of the ensemble as a trashing field for new information.”

Speaking of composing, Wadada Leo Smith has composed three works of art for this project. One is called, “Monk and the Five Point Ring at the Fire Spot Café.” The second is titled, “Adagio: Monkishness – A Cinematic Vision of Monk Playing Solo Piano.” The final piece is called, “Monk and Bud Powell at Shea Stadium – A Mystery.”

When speaking about his composing skills, Smith wrote:

“In the 1950s, I began to think of myself as a composer after getting my first trumpet and writing my first piece at the age of twelve. I started buying records by Bird, Dizzy, Monk and others. …Out of everything I heard, it was Monk, his ideas of a band and composition, that were the closest to what I dreamed of being as an artist. … I would go back and forth between him and Duke Ellington, …but Monk had the upper hand in the end. … The essence of Monk is, I believe, in his solo performances. Even in live performances, with his band, he always played unaccompanied solos. So, what does that mean? To me, that means that Monk now has a chance to be as fluent as he can be in his own musical language without any other distractions. He does not have to play with anybody. He plays with himself.”

That’s what you will hear on this recording, a trumpet artist playing by himself, without a rhythm section or harmony. A soloist, interpreting his innermost feelings through the bell of his horn and singing his song, like a giant, metallic bird, throwing his emotions boldly into the wind.

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CHUCK OWEN AND THE JAZZ SURGE – “WHISPERS ON THE WIND”
Mama Records

Chuck Owen, accordian/Hammond dulcimer/conductor;Per Danielsson, piano; Corey Christiansen, dobro/nylonstrin,steel string, 12-string guitars; LaRue Nickelson, guitar; Mark Neuenschwander, bass; Danny Gottlieb, drums;WOODWINDS: Tamara Danielsson, Valerie Gillespie, Jack Wilkins, Rex Wertz, & Matt Vance; TRUMPETS: Frank Greene, Jay Coble, Mike Iapichino & Clay Jenkins; TROMBONES: Keith Oshiro, Tom Brantley, Jerald Shynett & Jim Hall (bass trombone). FEATURED GUEST SOLOISTS: Randy Brecker, trumpet; Gregoire Maret, harmonica; Sara Caswell, violin.

Chuck Owen is the producer of this orchestrated recording project that has brought the wild, wild west into a jazz album with vivid arrangements and super talented players. Growing up in Omaha, Nebraska, Owen had a great love for the outdoors and the gifts that nature bestows on a small boy’s imagination. This project endeavors to reach back to nostalgic memories of wind, weather, tradition, simple values and lifestyles and to create an ode to cowboys, colorful heroes and folklore. I might as well be listening to the musical backdrop of a Western motion picture, when I listen to “Warped Cowboy”. The poignant violin solo of Sara Caswell sets the scene and the other instrumentation colors the piece with wind and spacious skies, painted by tones that celebrate the great American outdoors. The drums thunder like Indian pony hooves against the dusty plains. Owen has intentionally used a number of traditional instruments from that era of American development and culture inclusive of harmonica, dobro, accordion, violin, steel guitar and hammered dulcimer.

This is the sixth release for Chuck Owen and the Jazz Surge. All have been critically acclaimed. As a recipient of the 2009 Guggenheim Fellowship, Owen has had his compositions performed by the Netherlands’ Metropole Orchestra, the Aarhus Jazz Orchestra I Denmark, the Brussels Jazz Orchestra and Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra. As a distinguished professor at the University of South Florida, he has spent thirty-five years as a celebrated jazz educator, a guest conductor, clinician and lecturer. Chuck Owen currently serves as President / founder of ISJAC, (International Society of Jazz Arrangers & Composers). Previously he served as President of IAJE (International Association for Jazz Education). He continues to give opportunity and inspiration to young jazz musicians by composing works that challenge their talents and creativity. This project is a strong example of the results of such challenges.

On track #2, “All Hat, No Saddle”, Corey Christiansen’s guitar solo made me sit up and take note. Then came “A Phares of the Heart” where the harmonica of Gregoire Maret sweetly spiced this lovely ballad, along with Per Danielsson’s tinkling piano keys. Both Clay Jenkins on solo trumpet and Rex Wertz on tenor saxophone made pertinent and memorable musical statements. One moment the arrangements are folk-like and background music and then someone like Randy Brecker on trumpet swings into the picture and elevates a song like “Into the Blue” to pure blissful jazz. LaRue Nickerson’s electric guitar adds a swift pulse to the arrangement and Chuck Owen has composed something that crosses jazz genres from straight-ahead to contemporary; from folk to funk.

This is an artistic and creative project exploiting the wonderful talents of Southern Florida’s skillful jazz musicians, along with the composition skills, arrangements and conductorship of Chuck Owen. Owen’s influences seem grounded in eclectic jazz tradition, yet he blends classical, folk and rock music with funk and contemporary colors. He is a painter with sound. My ears were on the edge of their seat the whole time this album played.

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LUPA SANTIAGO & ANDERS VESTERGARD QUARTET – “INSIDE TURNABOUT”
Drum Voice Records

Lupa Santiago, guitar; Anders Vestergard, drums; Rodrigo Ursaia, saxophone; Mattias Hjorth, bass.

This project is explosive. From the very first strains of guitar and drums, the title tune sets the bar high by a musical ensemble that is bursting with energy and excitement. “Inside Turnabout” was recorded outside Malmo, Sweden. It was the result of touring, collaborating and ultimately composing with Brazilian saxophonist, Rodrigo Ursaia. Ursaia and Santiago are longtime musical friends, so the collaboration was comfortable. It just so happened they wound up touring Europe at the same time and seized that opportunity to experiment with a new group and a new repertoire. This album is the result of that experiment. Santiago, Vestergard and Ursaia do all the composing. Mattias Hjorth holds everything solidly in place with his bass, bringing a contemporary flair to the project. Vestergard locks the rhythm down, hard as a mallot. Ursaia’s saxophone is pure jazz, always satin smooth and improvisational atop a mixture of Latin, Brazilian and hybrid rhythms, woven into Straight-ahead feels and contemporary jazz stylings.

The title tune gives Vestergard a chance to cut loose on his drum set and his improvisational solo is stunning and powerful. He has composed this first tune and it allows all the musicians to freely improvise and exhibit their strongest talents. “Caixa Cubo” is played at a more moderate pace. Ursaia takes the lead on saxophone, with Vestergard invigorated and ever-present, showering percussive excellence in support of the production. Enter Santiago on guitar, moving smoothly from a stellar solo back to the rhythm section and often doubling the melody with Ursaia, very effectively. The “New Houser” composition gives us an insight into the composer talents of guitarist, Lupa Santiago.

All three composers on this recording present polished pieces of music for the band to interpret. The grooves are tightly woven, like an acrobat’s net, where the others can bounce and explore. This is an imaginative and high-energy project that celebrates the diverse and excellent talents of four astronomical musicians. They are musically and spiritually locked, like four hands pressed tightly together in prayer.

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JEFF DINGLER – “IN TRANSIT”
Independent Label

Jeff Dingler,bassist/composer; Brad Shepik, guitar; Lou Rainone, piano; Gusten Rudolph, drums; Josh Bailey, percussion.

Jeff Dingler has composed every song on this project. He has expanding his jazz experience from being a member of Nelson Riddle’s Orchestra to stints with several trios and quintets over the years. With an ear for eclectic music and an interest in travel and cultures, Dingler has blended various genres into these compositions. This project is highly influenced by his current experience in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where he is teaching Bass Music Theory and Composition at Mekene Yesus University. The transition of his musical experiences and years of playing bass, from blues and swing to bebop, are now combined with Ethiopian culture and African styles of music.

Brad Shepik shines on guitar, dancing across the strong drums of Gusten Rudolph and the percussion of Josh Bailey. Together, they set up a groove where pianist Lou Rainone can play fluidly. Shepik plays rhythm guitar and also offers a strong solo on “Bati Celebration.” Dingler’s melody is catchy and memorable on this first album tune. On “Orange Clouds” you hear more of Dingler’s strong bass line that grounds this ballad in blues and contemporary smooth jazz changes. His tender solo is the star of this composition. I found myself fascinated by the “Addis Blues”composition. I could hear all the African influences in the minor blues changes of this song. Rainone’s piano improvisation tinkles like bells in a distant marketplace and once again, Dingler takes time to share a lyrical solo on bass. “Tiptoe” might be my favorite tune, getting back to a straight-ahead, melodically lyrical feel. This is an interesting jazz album that dabbles in World Music and blends cultures. It tickles the imagination and reminds us that music is limitless.

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