Archive for November, 2017


November 19, 2017

By Dee Dee McNeil/ jazz journalist

November 19, 2017

STACEY KENT – “I KNOW I DREAM” – The Orchestral Session
Sony Records

Stacey Kent, vocals; Jim Tomilinson, saxophones/alto flute/percussion; Graham Harvey, piano/Fender Rhodes; John Paricelli, guitars; Jeremy Brown, double bass; Joshua Morrison, drums; Curtis Schwartz, Fender/electric bass; Erika Matsuo, station announcer background voice.

ORCHESTRA MEMBERS: 1st violins: Martin Burgess (leader); Amanda Smith, George Salter, Katie Stillman, Lorraine McAsian, John Mills, Andrew Storey, Richard Milone, Paul Willey, Rob Bishop. 2nd Violins: Jenny Godson (principal second); Catherine Morgan, Matthew Ward, Jeremy Morris, Clare Hayes. Richard Blayden, Richard George, Alison Dods, Susan Briscoe, Takane Funatsu. Violas: Fiona Bonds, James Boyd, Ian Rathbone, Nick Barr, Chian Lim, Reiad Chibah. Celli: Martin Loveday, Nick Cooper, Will Schofield, Judith Herbert, Juliet Welchman, Julia Graham, Vicky Matthews. Basses: Chris Laurence, Richard Pryce, Lucy Shaw; Flutes: Eliza Marshall, Sarah Newbold, Patricia Moynihan, Siobhan Grealy, Holly Cook. Clarinet/Alto flute, Jamie Talbot; Clarinets: Tim Lines, Tom Lessels (bass clarinet), Steve Morris, (contra bass clarinet); French Horns: John Thurgood, Corinne Bailey, Joanna Hensel, Andy Sutton; Harp, Sue Blair; Vibraphone & percussion, Adrian Bending; Keyboard, Graham Harvey.

The orchestra on this CD is so beautiful, I could not stop listening. From the very first “Double Rainbow” tune, puffed up by all the lush strings and harmonic horn arrangements, I was hooked. The orchestra supports Stacey Kent’s velvet soft tones with precision. On “Photograph,” Sue Blair’s tender harp,at the top of the tune, is dreamy and lovely. I find this is a perfect project of music to play when you want to just cool down, meditate or be romantic. It’s a very soothing production and Kent has an easy listening voice that enunciates every word clearly and puts great emotion into each song interpretation. She’s also competent in French, fluently singing a sexy arrangement of “Les Amours Perdues.”

Kudos to Tommy Laurence, who arranged this masterpiece and to Jim Tomlinson, the orchestra conductor. The song choices are superb, inclusive of several original compositions co-penned by Jim Tomlinson. I was particularly drawn to “Make It Up” that features original lyrics to match a happy-go-lucky arrangement and the title tune is also magnificent. Kent’s interpretation of Lani Hall & Torquato Neto’s song, “To Say Goodbye” will be etched in my memory forever. Stacey Kent’s honey-smooth, sweet tones bring each composition alive in a delightful way. This is an elegant, classy piece of art that you will enjoy listening to time after time.
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Yarlung Records

Yuko Mabuchi, piano; Del Atkins, bass; Bobby Breton, drums

This ‘live’ recording is an awe-inspiring work of art. Pianist Yuko Mabuchi is as exciting on recording as she is in person. Here is a production that sparkles with improvisational creativity, energy, and the piano talents of a young and developing super star. Yarlung, founder of Yarlung Records, first heard the Yuko Mabuchi Trio at Catalina Bar and Grill in Hollywood. The very next day he offered to record their album. This concert was recorded at the USC campus Cammilleri Hall. This space is used for master-classes and recitals. It’s the same concert venue designed by Yasuhisa Toyota, where Yarlung previously recorded Sophisticated Lady Jazz Quartet in 2014. Jazz pianist and educator, Billy Mitchell, served as associate producer on this project.

Opening with Cole Porter’s “What Is This Thing Called Love,” Mabuchi introduces a unique arrangement that showcases her bassist and drummer, as well as accentuating her classical training. She moves from Swing to a Latin a tinged arrangement that acts as the perfect platform for Bobby Breton to present his energetic drum solo. I am intrigued with Mabuchi’s piano style. She often sounds like two people are playing piano instead of one, using cross-hand techniques and showing that she is as fluid with her left hand as she is with her right hand. Del Atkins shows himself to be a very melodic bassist, creative and improvisational on his solo. The Mabuchi Trio’s transitions from Swing to Latin are as smooth as velvet. They work in concert and as close as perfectly fitted puzzle pieces. You can tell this trio has been playing together for some time. Their familiarity offers their listening audience a certain level of comfort. On songs like “Valse Noire” composed by Mark Louis Lehman, Mabuchi plays with so much emotion and sincerity, I had to stop everything I was doing just so I could give her my entire attention. She plays two-handed ‘call and response,’ toying with the melody. Here is a ballad, once again showing how her technique sounds as though there are four hands at two pianos, instead of one petite and gifted woman poised above the 88-keys. At first, she begins solo. When her band joins in, she digs deep and pulls the blues out of this song, interspersing the arrangement with classical overtones. When the drums and bass drop out once again, the arrangement allows her to successfully solo and familiarize us with the beauty of the melody. This is followed by “Green Dolphin Street,” played nice and easy, with Del Atkins’ bass arrangement holding the trio solidly in place and locking the slow swing tempo solidly with Breton’s tasty drums. Mabuchi rolls atop their rock-solid rhythm section, like sweet butter across a hot pan.

Yuko Mabuchi interprets pop singer/songwriter Sara Bareilles’ composition, “Seriously,” in a fresh, jazzy way. Then she follows up by creating a medley of Ellington, Jerome Kern and Billy Strayhorn. In celebration of her heritage, she includes a Japanese Medley of “Hazy Moon,” “Cherry Blossom”, and “Look At the Sky” combining composers Teiichi Okano, Anon, and Hachidai Nakamura. Speaking of composers, she offers us one of her original tunes titled, “Sona’s Song” and closes with “St. Thomas” by Sonny Rollins.

This is a soulful CD, combining cultures, like serving grits and gravy with delicious miso soup. This talented lady and her trio are a force of nature that bring musical excellence and energetic excitement to an unforgettable jazz production.

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Artist Share Label

Cheryl Bentyne, vocals; John Beasley & Tom Zink, piano; Bevan Manson, piano/electric piano; Rafi Rishik, violin; Jennie Hansen, viola; Tom McCauley, percussion/guitar; Armen Ksajikian, cello; Brad Dutz, percussion; John Arrucci, marimba; Kevin Axt, bass; Dave Tul, drums; SPECIAL GUESTS: Janis Siegel & Tierney Sutton, vocals; Mark Kibble & Armand Hutton,vocals.

The tinkle of the piano’s upper register opens this CD, like raindrops against windowpanes. When Cheryl Bentyne sings, “I remember sky, it was blue as ink … Rain, like things and changing things like me,” you are totally attentive to her voice and her stories. I find myself sitting motionless at that window, looking into her life. That’s the telltale mark of a good storyteller. One who can whisk you away from your everyday melodrama into the pictures they paint with the words of a song. Bentyne is excellent at doing just that. Her voice is the brush against the canvas of our imaginations.

The piano is also the star of this first song. I look to see who it is and not surprisingly, it’s Grammy-nominated John Beasley. No wonder it’s so creative and outstanding.

Bentyne celebrates ten tunes composed by the Broadway icon, Stephen Sondheim. His “Send in the Clowns” is scratched into the memory-bank of the universe. Bentyne helps us reacquaint ourselves with some of his other amazingly well-written songs. At thirteen she was already singing with her father’s Dixieland band and she studied acting and performed in plays when she was a student at Skagit Valley College. So naturally, she would be attracted to Sondheim’s music. On this CD, she’s invited Janis Siegel and Tierney Sutton to join her on a Swing version of “The Ladies Who Lunch” from the play, “Company.” I am a big fan of Seigel & Bentyne, two Grammy Award-winning singers. I remember them from their days as members of the popular vocal quartet, The Manhattan Transfer. They were the 20th century replication of the Lambert, Hendrix and Ross style, and that quartet brought jazz vocal harmonies back to the forefront of popular music. I also admire jazz vocalist,Tierney Sutton.

You get a taste of the Manhattan Transfer style during her arrangement of “Send in the Clowns”. This is my favorite song on her whole album and I’m sure it will get lots of air play.

I’m happy to hear the Manhattan Transfer group is still performing, but currently, Bentyne has travelled her own musical path with emphasis on her stellar soprano vocal gift and her desire to interpret Broadway music. This is a continuation of that journey. If you love Sondheim compositions, you’ll find Bentyne’s rendition of his music well-produced and sincere.

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Telarc Label/Concord Music Group

Hiromi,piano;Edmar Castaneda,harp.

Live in Montreal at the 2017 Montreal International Jazz Festival, pianist/composer ‘Hiromi’ and Colombian composer/harpist, Edmar Castaneda take us on an excursion into the outer limits of jazz with a special, duet and musical bonding. I could not imagine how two people could present such a rich and exciting partnership, using only harp and piano. They prove their strength of style, technique and purpose by playing Avant Garde jazz on their very first cut titled, “A Harp in New York.” I find myself captivated. Castaneda has composed this tune and it’s full of spunk and energy.

Edmar Castaneda described his talent in this way. “I was born to play the harp. It is a gift from God and like every gift from God, it has a purpose. The purpose of my music is to worship Him and bring his presence and unconditional love to people.”

Castaneda brings a totally original voice to jazz on his harp. He studied the instrument during his teens, starting by playing Colombian folkloric music. He was introduced to the jazz community by Paquito D’Rivera, who recognized the young man’s talent and helped direct him to musicians and situations that could utilize his unique approach to the harp. Castaneda has worked with bassists Marcus Miller and John Patitucci. One of the first things I noticed about Castaneda’s unusual approach to harp was how he could make it sound like a bass. This was particularly obvious on their second cut when he sets the stage with funk and fusion. It was very Jaco Pastoria sounding. When I looked for the title on the album credits, imagine my surprise when the tune was called, “For Jaco.” Well Hiromi and Castaneda definitely capture the iconic bass players spirit on this original composition.

Hiromi is also an amazing musician. Her first Telarc CD release was in 2003 titled, “Another Mind,” but this duo project has her veering off into a whole new direction. Born in Hamamasu, Shizuoka, Japan on March 26, 1979, she started piano lessons as a six-year-old girl. Her piano teacher, Hikida-san, introduced her to jazz and the music of Erroll Garner and Oscar Peterson. In 1999, she matriculated to Berklee College of Music in Boston. Her professor, bassist/arranger Richard Evans, took special care to introduce Hiromi in-person, to the legendary pianist/bandleader, Ahmad Jamal. Both men were very encouraging to the fledgling pianist. Evans actually co-produced her debut CD titled, “Another Mind.” These two musicians (Evans & Jamal) had a lot to do with helping Hiromi find her own artistic path and helping her develop her unique style. That debut CD had critical success in both America and Japan. The album shipped gold (which means 100,000 plus units sold) and received the Recording Industry Association of Japan’s (RIAJ) award for “Jazz Album of the Year”. Her awards have piled up over the years. Another highlight of her musical life was recording with pianist Chick Corea, who she met in Japan, when she was only seventeen. The release was simply called, “Duet.” She later appeared on bassist, Stanley Clarke’s “Heads Up” international release; (“Jazz in the Garden”). In 2011, The Stanley Clarke Band CD, featuring Hiromi, won the GRAMMY Award for Best Contemporary Jazz Album.

This latest album is a new chapter in Hiromi’s musical life. It’s amazing how much music this duo can get out of only two instruments. I never knew the harp was so versatile and could emulate the sound of so many instruments. One minute it sounded like a guitar, the next a sitar, and then an electric bass, always coming back to it’s unique, angelic, harp roots. Hiromi’s talent and energy seems to propel Castaneda to his highest heights and he reciprocates, inspiring her on piano. You will embrace and enjoy her extraordinary manipulation of the piano keys, drawing beauty out of the instrument from treble to the bass clef. Additionally, she shuts the piano and the wooden key-cover becomes a percussive instrument where she becomes a drummer on the tune, “Fire.” I found her composition, “Moonlight Sunshine” to be a very beautiful exploration of a melodic ballad. She was inspired to write this after the devastating tsunami and earthquake that hit Japan in 2011. It’s a perfect vehicle for these two instruments to explore their passion and virtuosity.

Perhaps Hiromi explained it best by saying:

“When I heard Edmar play I couldn’t believe what I was witnessing. It was a jaw-dropping experience. I didn’t realize the harp could create such rhythm and groove. I only knew about classical harp. … His way of playing was pure energy, full of passion. I was just blown away.”

They are currently touring and will be appearing in San Francisco November 16 through November 19. If you’re in that part of the world, don’t miss their extraordinary performance, or just check them out below.

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Independent Label

Kelly Green, piano/vocals; Christian McBride, Tamir Shmerling & Matt Dwonszyk, bass; Steve Nelson, vibraphone; Noam Israeli & Kush Abadey, drums; Josh Evans, trumpet; Mike Troy, alto saxophone; Jovan Alexandre, tenor saxophone.

Kelly Green is a composer, pianist and vocalist. This is her debut recording effort and she has chosen some lovely Frank Loesser tunes and other ‘Standards’ that celebrate composers like Cole Porter and Sammy Cahn. I hadn’t heard someone sing “Never Will I Marry” since Nancy Wilson sang it with the Cannonball Adderley group years ago. Green does a superb job of interpreting this song, with its challenging melody and range. She tackles it in her own inimitable way. Her piano playing is impressive and sensitive. I enjoyed the standards, but I was more interested in her original compositions. She has composed seven of the thirteen recorded tunes. “My Little Daffodil” is melodically well written, with an arrangement that goes from Pink Panther stealth and slow swing into double time. I enjoyed the addition of Steve Nelson’s vibraphone. “If You Thought to Ask Me,” is a slow, sexy ballad with compelling and harmonic horns introducing the melody and no lyrics. Green’s solo is tentative and purposeful without a lot of fluff and flare.

“Culture Shock” is Straight Ahead jazz; no vocals. A soaring saxophone takes flight (unlisted as to who is soloing in the CD credits), consequently I’m not sure if it’s Jovan Alexandre or Mike Troy. The tune also features Josh Evans on trumpet. Her original compositions all display strong melodies and that makes up for the composer’s sometimes lack-luster lyrics. One exception is “I Sing” that unfolds a lyrical story of interest and gives bassist Christian McBride a chance to shine, echoing her haunting melody on his instrument. Noam Israell, on drums, takes a percussive bow during his solo and throughout. McBride also is featured on an inspired solo during the old standard, “I Should Care” and holds the rhythm section together throughout like musical paste. The title tune, “Life Rearranged” is lyrically reflective and the changes are stunning. Her melody unfolds beautifully, with unexpected notes that are haunting. I don’t understand the subway sounds I keep hearing throughout, during songs and in between songs. I wonder, what was the purpose for the sound effects? I keep awaiting the composition called B Train or Subway Song, but no such gift arrives to make sense of the odd sound effects. Otherwise, here is a talented singer/composer/pianist who shares her “Life Rearranged” moments with us unpretentiously.

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Suite 28 Records

Reta Watkins, vocals; Jason Webb, piano; Danny O’Lannerghty, upright bass/electric bass; Scott Williamson, drums/percussion; Trumpets: Steve Patrick, Mike Haynes, Mike Barry, Keith Smith. Trombones: Barry Green, Jeremy Wilson, Chris McDonald, Prentis Hobbs, Roy Agee. French Horns: Jennifer Kummer, Anna Spina. Woodwinds: Mark Douthit, Sam Levine, Jeff Coffin, Doug Moffet, Jimmy Bowland. Violins: David Davidson (concert master); David Angell, Conni Ellisor, Karen Winkelmann, Mary Kathryn Vanosdale, Janet Darnall, Jenny Bifano, Carolym Bailey, Alicia Enstrom. Violas: Maniso Angell, Elizabeth Lamb, Chris Ferrell. Cello: Anthony Lamarchina, Sari Reist, Emily Nelson, Carole Rabinowitz. Arco Bass: Craig Nelson, Jack Jezioro. Harp: Kristin Copely.

Reta Watkins has a full orchestra accompaniment for this musical holiday greeting. It’s the perfect music for the season. Her second-soprano voice is bright and clear, with the orchestra arrangements by Jason Webb beautifully written and performed. Webb’s blues tinged arrangement of “Mary Did You Know” is a pleasant surprise. Reta Watkins sells the song with sincerity and good timing.

The string arrangements on “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” are awesome. It was lovely to hear Watkins sing the verse, often unsung, and certainly worthy of being heard. She sings all the American favorites and adds a couple of new songs composed by Jeremy Johnson and Paul Marino. One is a heartfelt tribute to a soul departed titled, “Christmas in Heaven.” The melody is absolutely beautiful and the lyrics are startlingly poetic and tender.

“Is the snow falling down on the streets of gold?
Are the mansions all covered in white?
Are you singing with angels ‘Silent Night’?
I wonder what Christmas in Heaven is like?”

Another song I can’t remember hearing is “Wonderful Christmastime” and “Behold Emmanuel” is a second song composed by Johnson and Marino. Other songs included in this heavily orchestrated gem of a Christmas album are, “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm,” “The Christmas Song” and “White Christmas.” Here is the perfect, uplifting music to play during this season of peace and love.

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Ruby Slippers Production

Lisa Hilton, piano; Gregg August, bass; Rudy Royston, drums; JD Allen, sax; Terrell Stafford, trumpet.

This is the 20th album release for pianist, Lisa Hilton. Spectacularly, she has recorded an album a year since 1997. This project is different from the others, because she wanted to provide a feeling of uplift and rejuvenation with this new body of musical work. She has composed nine of the ten songs on this project and hopes that they bring peace and positive energy to a world basking in disruption and climate catastrophe. I do not feel this is all jazz music. Some of the arrangements, like “Meltdown” are more like easy listening. Others are modernistic. However, then comes “Too Hot” that is very jazzy and steps outside the realms of Straight Ahead to become more Avant Garde and free flowing. JD Allen brings a feeling of peace and meditation with his sexy saxophone. Terell Stafford stabs at the senses with his trumpet, while Hilton’s floating rhythmic piano line beneath the horn improvisation comes in waves of sultry sound. Her unique arrangement of the only standard jazz song on this project, “On A Clear Day,” is fresh and uninhibited, taking musical paths less trodden and using expressive and unique chords to sing this old familiar song. Unfortunately, I could find no video for her recent recording to share with you. The one attached is older music, recorded at L.A.’s prestigious Vibrato Club.

Perhaps Lisa Hilton described this album best when she wrote in her liner notes:

“Artists have an important role in our culture and community. It is through art and music that our souls and spirits can be energized, balanced and entertained … We all need to “escape” from our challenges. I want our music to be a positive force, whether you’re listening on the subway, while at work or lounging on a tropical island. Our music embraces the good experiences in our world.”

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November 8, 2017

by Jazz Journalist, Dee Dee McNeil

November 8, 2017


To open this review of horn players, I had to begin with a young man who is leading a group of youthful jazz giants. His name is Christian Scott a Tunde Adjuah and I enjoyed his ‘live’ performance on NPR’s Small Desk Concert. He is joined by Elena Pinderhughes on flute (20-years-old), Braxton Cook on Alto saxophone (24-years-old), Lawrence Fields on piano, (with the longest fingers I’ve seen in quite some time), Dominic Minix on guitar (21-years-old), Kris Funn on bass (with an effervescent smile as contagious as the bass grooves he was laying down) and Corey Fonville on percussion. The first song they played was obviously a blend of African and American jazz styles. After their performance was completed, the trumpet leader explained that he was the grandson of Donald Harrison Senior, a respected Chief of four Black Indian tribes in New Orleans. As a young musician, he was tutored by his uncle, saxophonist Donald Harrison Jr., before leaving to study at Berklee College of Music. Christian Scott a Tunde Adjuah decided to open his set in tribute to those tribes his grandfather represents and his family’s African roots. He does this by incorporating rhythms from Mali, Gambia, Senegal, the Ivory Coast, Cuba, the Caribbean and finally, New Orleans, Louisiana. I could hear all of those cultures in his music and enjoyed the tune titled, “Twin.” He describes it as a reflection of his own life as a twin. His twin brother is a film director and protégé of Spike Lee. It would appear that creativity and art run in his family. In search of his African American roots, the youthful trumpeter composed this original song.

The second song was “West of the West” and featured Braxton Cook on alto saxophone. This song was introduced with a strong funk guitar played by Dominic Minix. The final taste of this jazz ensemble’s latest CD release was a song inspired by a treacherous encounter with the New Orleans police department that Christian Scott a Tunde Adjuah explains in detail on film. This composition is titled, Klu Klux Police.

Here is a young group of jazz musicians who bring their art and their activism as a complete musical package to be examined and ingested.

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Independent Label

Samuel Pompeo, baritone & soprano saxophones/clarinet; Dino Barioni, guitar; Fabio Leandro, piano; Gibson, Freitas, contra bass; Paulinho Vicente, drums.

Samuel Pompeo’s baritone saxophone is startling! To hear a baritone being played at this double-time pace is quite exciting. That’s the way this CD begins, at a maddening pace and exploiting the spot-on technique and strength of this Brazilian reedman. The song itself is an odd blend of 1920, Ragtime jazz piano and a more modern, straight-ahead horn, with an undertow of Latin rhythms that corral the musicians like a bunch of wild horses, squeezing them tightly together in a blend of cultures and artforms. The tempos change and fluctuate intentionally. It’s a fascinating arrangement of “De Cachimbo”. The next song was composed by Pompeo’s guitarist, Dino Barioni. It’s titled, “Agua Na Chaleira,” and once again it combines musical cultures in a most unique way. The liner notes explain it in uncomplicated terms. In the 20th century, one new genre of music formed in Rio de Janeiro Brazil and another in New Orleans, Louisiana. Both uniquely blended (from 19th century influences) European polkas, Classical music, Scottish and Mazurca, mixing all genres together with African music and rhythms. Up popped ‘Choro’ in Brazil and ‘jazz’ in America. The only addition I might have is that African Americans created jazz. So, we cannot forget, it also came from the bowels of slavery and the slave ‘work songs’ created in America.

In track #3, an original composition by Pompeo, (“Cave Du 38”), you hear a clarinet or soprano saxophone soloing. It reminds me of the Benny Goodman days of big bands and Swing dancing. This is followed by the very beautiful “Janeiro 15,” another composition by Pompeo. I love the tone and fluidity that Pompeo produces on his baritone saxophone. Another favorite tune of mine is “Choro Vermelho” by Daniel Grajew. It’s a happy-go-lucky arrangement, giving Fabio Leandro time to solo on piano and Barioni to excel on guitar. Pompeo moves from one saxophone to another, showing that his dexterity and technique is unlimited.

The concept of this recording seems to be relating the two musical forms, (Choro and jazz) to create a conceptual album that embraces both African American jazz roots and Brazilian roots. The flowering offspring is both artistic and innovative.
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BFM Productions

Bob Ferrel, trombone; Dwight West, vocals; Vinnie Cutro, trumpet; Rob Henke, trumpet; Joe Ford, Alto saxophone; Frank Elmo, alto saxophone; Frank Elmo, alto/tenor saxophones; Roy Nicolosi, alto/tenor/baritone saxophone/trumpet; Sharp Radway & Hector Davila, piano; Daryl Johns, acoustic bass; Ruben Rodriguez, Zorko baby bass; Steve Johns, drums; Frank Valdes, Latin percussion.

Bob Ferrell has been touring with the Duke Ellington Orchestra, under the direction of Mercer Ellington, for many years. He’s backed up the likes of Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, Nancy Wilson and even Johnny Hartman. He’s also backed pop stars like Bruce Springsteen, Bon Jovi and blues man Stevie Ray Vaughan. But with this CD, he’s venturing into a space all his own. Singing “My Secret Love” on his trusty trombone, Ferrel plays at an incredible speed with all the dexterity and technique that his bio acclaims. Bob Ferrel is no joke. He’s impressive from the very first tune. His musical ensemble is as sweet as a fresh baked cake. He is the delicious icing, dripping his trombone tones over the hot mix of arrangements. Dwight West, on vocals, adds ice cream to the cake. He’s cool and creamy smooth on “Yardbird Suite”, singing the lyrics down once before he breaks into the Eddie Jefferson-like improvised lyrics. West can swing with the best of them.

McCoy Tyner’s “Inner Glimpse” composition allows Sharp Radway to stretch his fingers across the piano keys and give us a glimmer of his talents. He plays with power and energy, letting his left hand hold the rhythm strongly in place, while his right hands races across the keys in the treble clef. Radway’s solo is short, but memorable, as is Vinnie Cutro’s trumpet improvisation on this cut. Other favorites are “Don’t Go To Strangers,” sung and played as an up-tempo swing tune, unlike Etta Jones’ sultry rendition. Another tune, “We Began With A Kiss,” is a happy Latin arrangement with nice horn harmonics and appropriately punched by Frank Valdes’ Latin percussion and Hector Davila’s pumping piano parts.

But always, Bob Ferrel is the clasp on this string of musical pearls, holding the ensemble firmly in place and glittering like solid gold.
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JL Music

Roy McGrath, tenor saxophone; Bill Cessna, piano; Joseph Kitt Lyles, bass; Jonathon Wenzel, drums; Ivelisse Diaz, Barril de Bomba-Buleador; Victor “Junito” Gonzalez, congas.

This is a very creative piece of music. In 2015, the Segundo Ruiz Belvis Cultural Center in Chicago commissioned composer/tenor saxophonist, Roy McGrath, to compose an Afro-Caribbean jazz suite in honor of Puerto Rican poet, Julia de Burgos. Thus, began a studio journey with the destination becoming this CD project. Roy McGrath is a Puerto Rican musician who happily embraced the Julia de Burgos concept and four tunes were born. The other compositions on this project are the result of McGrath’s memories of his homeland, his family and the new roots he’s planted in the United States. This music is grown from those seeds.

The first song, “Cancion De La Verdad Sencilla,” features poetry by Julia de Burgos. Her poetry is spoken in Spanish over the jazz by Puerto Rican born actress, Rosanna Sanchez. In English, a poet of Puerto Rican descent, Claritza Maldonado, reads her own poem in concert with Sanchez. Maldonado’s poem compliments Julia de Burgos by celebrating her own mother and grandmother. These two female, poet voices span three-quarters of a century and 3000 miles of ocean with their words. See below:

“When My mother’s mother became an ocean, I wonder who waved at her?
Upon her transformation, she became an ocean but still had to tread water, still had to swim.
I never knew her, but I knew she must have been a good swimmer
Because my mother also became an ocean
Became the waves between Puerto Rico and America.
She began holding her breath in 1898
sank to the bottom; always manages to rise back up to shore.
My mother is an ocean, because when you attempt to hyphenate her
she waves back, and smiles.”
A poem written by Claritza Maldonado

The song is played, employing a Bomba Sica rhythm performed by Ivelisse Diaz and Joseph Kitt Lyles steps out front with his bass, taking a short, but inspirational solo. Roy McGrath solidifies the arrangement with his emotional saxophone. This piece takes my breath away. I re-play it three times.

During a time when Puerto Rico has undergone such calamity because of Hurricane Maria’s recent devastation, this message is strong and appropriate. It inspires and uplifts. I hang my head in shame that our government has not been more forthcoming with aid and solid support for our American families in Puerto Rico. Roy McGrath’s music, and the added poetry, certainly magnify and flag determination, beauty and the power of the Puerto Rican people. Although Roy McGrath composed this piece two years prior to this horrendous natural disaster, his music lives in the here and now. It not only entertains us, but make us think about the value of human life and family. After all, we are all connected. That’s what I got out of this tenor saxophonist’s artistic endeavor; a divine connection.

“Por Ti Estoy” translates to ‘because of you I am.’ It was composed by McGrath in celebration of his mother and her support of his musical career. It’s a slow swing, with blues over-tones, where McGrath plays with another emotional tenor saxophone attack.

His themes, throughout this project, relate to the universal human experience. In celebration of the CD title, “Remembranzas,” that is a Spanish word meaning a memory flashback or a point from the past that is influencing the present. That title tune is another blues rooted composition that features pianist, Bill Cessna, giving him time and freedom to express himself. However, it’s always Roy McGrath who pushes boundaries and inspires his ensemble to reach for internal places; pushing their feelings into the universe like endless rainbows of sound and beauty.

PostScript: Someone needs to tell the artistic album cover designer this reviewer could hardly read the words on your cover because of the pink and white against the gray. Not only was the print extremely small, it was almost illegible because of the coloring. Remind your next graphic artist that the information on your album cover is as important as your music.

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Hollistic Music Works

Jared Hall, trumpet/composer/arranger; Troy Roberts, tenor saxophone; Tal Cohen & Martin Bejerano, piano; Josh Allen, bass; Kyle Swan, drums.

Trumpeter Jared Hall has written and arranged every song on this spectacular new release as part of the Mentor Series. On “Wanderer”, the very first composition on this production, each participating musician makes a dynamic statement. There is a space where Kyle Swan lets loose on drums and Troy Roberts sparkles on tenor saxophone, both provocative and enthusiastic. However, Hall is the nut and bolt of this music, twisting everything tightly into place with melodic horn lines and staccato harmonic arrangements. His trumpet solo is delivered tenaciously and with obvious technique and control. Martin Bejerano, on piano, displays a call and response kind of musicality, letting the horns be the answering choir to his two-fisted piano grit. You hear more of this pianist on “Hallways”. It’s a mysterious tune, with a horn unison approach to the melody presentation at the top of the tune. I’m impressed and pleased by Jared Hall’s compositional skills. His music moves me. Josh Allen takes a solo on this ‘cut’, letting his bass explore the outer perimeter of the chord structure atop the lush chords that Bejerano supplies on piano.

I find myself eager to hear the next song and enthralled by this composer and his tightknit band. “Love, Laugh and Cry,” is a slow swing with Allen walking his bass and setting the groove in perfect sync with Swan on drums. Roberts adds a swig of blues from the depths of his tenor saxophone, as does Hall, pouring it generously out of the bell of his instrument. I am intoxicated by their presentation.

As a debut project for this well-mentored trumpeter, this is an extraordinary recording. I was particularly impressed by Swan, who improvises on his drums beneath the surface of the song, without ever loosing or compromising the tempo or texture of the music. “Allure” (the fourth ‘cut’) was co-written by Sherrine Mostin and is a very pretty composition with Swan adding a Latin feel with his percussive art and Bejerano stepping center stage for a sweet solo. I enjoyed the interplay between saxophone and trumpet, as if they were trading fours or challenging each other with improvisational swords.

Tal Cohen takes a seat on the piano bench for “Visions and Dreams” and three other tunes on this CD. He brings a music-box quality to the piano to interpret this composition. I can see the little ballerina twirling in front of the box mirror as I listen to his tinkling, soprano notes and chords that support the bass solo. Jared Hall grounds the tune with his trumpet solo and the image is momentarily wiped away. On “Meditations” I enjoyed the drum mallets and their warm, comforting, rhythmic sound. “Tones for Jones” is right up my groove alley, with blues leaping out to startle my attention. Finally, I get to hear Cohen stretch out on piano with perfectly timed improvised runs and an obvious love of the upper register. I enjoyed his sense of harmony.

This is a recording to be enjoyed over and over again. The ensemble is as comfortable and close-fitting as hand to glove. Jared Hall’s compositions are well-written, well-played and his talent and tone on trumpet, undeniably pleasant.
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Mack Ave Records

Dave Bennett, clarinet; Dave Restivo, piano; Reg Schwager, guitar; Jim Vivian, bass; Pete Siers, drums; Davide Direnzo, percussion.

I am not familiar with clarinetist, Dave Bennett, but Pete Siers is one of my favorite drummers. I enjoyed working with him when I lived in Detroit. This project is a lovely combination of Smooth Jazz and Easy Listening, starting with the very first title tune. Bennett has joined talents with Toronto-based composer, arranger and bassist, Shelly Berger. Together they have composed five of the eleven tunes on this CD, including “Blood Moon.” Bennett has a warm, silky smooth tone on clarinet. From a spiritual perspective, Bennett shares in the liner notes that he had named a few of his original composition from scripture. The title tune evolved that way and so did “Falling Sky.” This is the third cut on his album and it’s a brooding ballad, with a melody line that reminds me a tiny bit of Fats Waller’s “Jitterbug Waltz.” Jim Vivian plays a beautiful bass solo during this arrangement.

Dave Bennett is not only a clarinet virtuoso, but he’s a multi-talented musician who also plays electric guitar, drums and sings. Inspired by Benny Goodman records when he was only ten years old, by the age of twelve he played well-enough to join trumpeter Doc Cheatham on the bandstand of New York City’s Sweet Basil jazz stage. It’s been an upward climb ever since. Bennett’s been a featured soloist at Carnegie Hall with the New York Pops and has played his tribute to Benny Goodman with fifty other orchestras. If you like the tone and legacy of Benny Goodman, you will enjoy Dave Bennett’s contemporary merging of that historic sound with present-day, twenty-first century jazz.

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Zoho Records

Gil Spitzer, alto saxophone; Chico Pinheiro, guitar; Harry Allen, tenor saxophone; Julian Shore, piano; Nilson Matta, producer/acoustic bass; Mauricio Zottarelli & Steve Johns, drums; Fernando Saci, percussion; Monica Davis & Amanda Lo, violin; Angela Pickett, viola; Jessie Reagen Man, Cello.

Speaking of those days of Stan Getz and Benny Goodman’s Orchestra, I was immediately reminded of that era of big band swing while listening to Gil Spitzer’s album. Gil Spitzer has a sound that is as fluid and adhesive as oil on your hands. He reminds me a lot of Getz. My mother played Stan Getz albums often in our house, and I’m very familiar with that sound and style. On the first cut, Spitzer’s band takes time to step forward and musically introduce themselves. The tune is “Angel Eyes”. Each musician is technically astute and competent. Together, they form a solid skillet for this butter smooth saxophonist to heat up and pop the music.

Spitzer’s debut album project for Zoho records is a lovely listening experience. Chico Pinheiro lays down a consistent and supportive rhythm guitar line beneath both “Angel Eyes” and the Bossa Nova arrangement of “Embraceable You.” Fernando Saci adds percussion magic to the wooden wands of both Mauricio Zottarelli and Steve Johns on drums. Producer and bass connoisseur, Nilson Matta, plays a mean acoustic bass throughout.

Gil Spitzer is no newcomer to the world of jazz. Not surprisingly, he grew up admiring Stan Getz, Paul Desmond, Johnny Hodges and that era of jazz. Brazilian bassist and the producer of this session, Nilson Matta, explained it best when he said:

“He’s got that lyrical thing, which is very charming and also nice tone; great taste. He embraces all of those things and he plays with a lot of spirit.”

The CD title, Falando Docemente, translates to ‘Speak Sweet.’ Matta assembled a band of Brazilian compatriots to support Spitzer’s candy-sweet sound and to enhance the authenticity of several Bossa Nova arrangements on this CD. Spitzer’s choice of tunes is as honey-coated as his alto saxophone sound.

In the liner notes, Gil Spitzer confessed another strong musical influence. It was jazz singer and pianist, Nat King Cole.

“My inspiration on both “The Very Thought of You” and “Nature Boy” was Nat Cole,” he said. “While it’s hard to convey his voice through an alto saxophone, that sound was in my head and what I was feeling when we recorded those two songs.”

Producer Matta hired a rising star pianist/composer named Julian Shore to write string quartet arrangements on both of the songs mentioned above and on the Sonny Rollins’ composition, “Valse Hot”. He also plays piano on most of the studio tracks.

Every song on this recording is as rewarding as a piece of peppermint candy or as slice of hot pumpkin pie. Gil Spitzer’s nostalgic music matches the decadent sweetness of your favorite dessert.

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Krug Park Music

Ken Wiley, French horn; Wally Minko, piano/electric piano; Trey Henry, acoustic bass/electric bass; Kendall Kay, drums; Luis Conte, percussion; Mike Miller, acoustic Guitar; Dan Higgins, flute/alto flute/alto, tenor & soprano saxophones; Chuck Findley, trumpet; Gary Grant, trumpet/Harmon trumpet/flugelhorn; Bob Sheppard, tenor & soprano saxophones; Brass background: Ken Wiley & Gary Grant.

It’s not often I get to enjoy a French Horn player indulging in straight-ahead jazz as an upfront soloist. This is Ken Wiley’s fourth recording as a leader, but it’s his first project that focuses on straight-ahead jazz and he covers some of jazz music’s greatest musician/composers. When I review the list of songs on this CD, I see work by Freddie Hubbard, Milt Jackson, Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, Sonny Rollins, Eddie Harris, John Coltrane, Antonio Jobim and Clare Fischer. That’s a stellar list of iconic talent. Next, I saw the list of popular California session musicians who joined Ken Wiley on this production and I was even more impressed.

The first song is Freddie Hubbard’s popular, “Little Sunflower.” Ken Wiley steps out and tattoos this standard with his smooth, elegant French horn sound. He allows plenty of room for his band members to solo and you can’t help but hum along with their production. Gary Grant adds a spicy flugelhorn solo to one of my favorite Milt Jackson tunes, “Bag’s Groove.” Grant and Wiley have co-produced this project and created all the brass backgrounds. Wiley has rounded up the crème de la crème of Southern California jazz names like drummer Kendal Kay and percussionist, Luis Conte; saxophonist, Bob Sheppard and trumpeter Chuck Findley, to name just a few. They do a superb job of supporting Wiley’s arrangements and his unique talent.

Ken Wiley is no newcomer to the music business. His career has spanned many types and styles of music, building his brilliant reputation as a ‘top-drawer’ studio musician and sideman. He’s played with the likes of tenor titan, Charlie Rouse; bass icon, John Patitucci and worked with Charlie Haden and the Liberation Music Orchestra. He’s composed for and played on a number of film scores and sound tracks including the “American Dad,” an animated TV series and the TV show, “Family Guy.” Additionally, he’s performed with rock star, Lenny Kravitz. You could have seen him at the Playboy Jazz Festival or participating in a UCLA Jazz Concert, at the Julliard New Music Festival, The Coleman Hawkins Jazz Festival or perhaps attended one of his many clinics on playing jazz on the French horn. On this latest album, Ken Wiley places the French Horn front and center, establishing it as a viable and sensitive instrument to interpret jazz.

He started out as a rock and roll player, concentrating on playing piano. For some reason, his mother had a French Horn laying around the house. So, when he was in the seventh grade in St. Joseph, Missouri, Ken Wiley started playing the horn. He joined a six or seven-piece band as a young musician, playing French Horn and congas. After banging around the Kansas City rock scene for a while, he decided to move to Los Angeles in hopes of pursuing a career in jazz. He had no mentors for playing jazz on the French Horn. In fact, most of his instructors didn’t encourage the idea. But Ken Wiley was determined. That determination paid off. It was the late seventies/early eighties when he began composing his own music. Once he was accepted into the Motion Picture Sound Union, the fledgling jazz player started making enough money to do his own thing and truly pursue honing his jazz style on French Horn. He landed a gig with Charlie Rouse and my good friend, bassist Larry Gales, at a small local L.A. jazz club. Wiley was thrilled to be working with guys who had played as part of the Thelonious Monk band. Charlie Rouse had used the French Horn in his groups before, so Ken Wiley fit right in. These kinds of experiences encouraged Wiley to continue honing his talent and polishing his passion on the French Horn. This album is a culmination of a musical life well-lived and dreams fulfilled.

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