Archive for December, 2017


December 4, 2017

By Dee Dee McNeil

Planet Arts

Chris Pasin, trumpet/flugelhorn/vocal; Arman Donelian, piano; Ira Coleman & Rich Syracuse, bass; Jeff Siegel, drums; Peter Einhorn, guitar; Patricia Dalton Fennell, vocals.

I really enjoyed the jazzy rendition of “Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas” incorporating a few unusual harmonic chord changes and a warm, appealing vocal by Patricia Dalton Fennell. Chris Pasin is sturdy and improvisational on his trumpet and flugelhorn, breathing brassy life into these familiar holiday favorites. On the trio rendition of “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” Ira Coleman is stunning on his bass solo and Armen Donelian makes bold statements on piano. Throughout the entire production, Jeff Siegel keeps the time controlled and inspired on his trap drums. This is a delightful and well produced Christmas album that takes inspirational journeys outside the predictable path and heightens our listening enjoyment. Pasin decorates the production with his shiny, hard bop horn and folks like Peter Einhorn on guitar and Pasin’s trusty trio adds the sparkling tinsel, tying everything together like a jazzy holiday ornament for our ears.

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Ultra Sound Records

Billy Lester, piano; Marcello Testa, bass; Nicola Stranieri, drums.

Sometimes, when you place a CD into your CD player, with no compunction and no preconceived ideas about what it will sound like, you are blown away by the uniqueness of genius. That’s what happened today when I put on Billy Lester’s trio project recorded in Italy a year ago. Marcello Testa and Nicola Stranieri are iconic European jazz players and these two lauded musicians are featured along with Billy Lester.

The first thing that strikes me about this recording is the unique call and response that Billy Lester ‘s hands create. First, the right hand tinkles a melody and it’s quickly answered by Lester’s left hand.
Sometimes it’s almost an echo technique with creative musical repetition between the ten phalanges. His original composition, “An Evening with Friends” is the perfect vehicle for this technique to fester and grow. The way Lester plays, it’s as though he has four hands and 20 sets of busy fingers. I don’t mean busy as in speed. I mean a contemplative, timely, technical exploration of the 88-keys with precision and thoughtfulness. Lester has composed all six of the compositions you will enjoy on this project and each one is well-written and well-played. He grew up listening to master musicians like Bud Powell and Art Tatum; Charlie Parker, Louis Armstrong and Roy Eldridge. You can also hear the influence of Thelonius Monk in his playing and his love of Lester Young comes through in his creative solos and improvisational freshness. He knows how to take a melody and redevelop it.

I fell in love with the rich, melodic sound of Marcello Testa’s bass and the crisp percussive sticks of Nicola Stranieri on drums. Stranieri seems to tap dance, in perfect time, across the cymbals and high hat, while amply supporting this rhythm section. Here is a trio rich in jazz culture and innovation. Any lover of jazz would be thrilled to find this brilliant piece of Bebop/Straight-Ahead stuffed into their stocking this 2017 holiday season.
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Prescott Records

David Ian, piano; Jon Estes, upright bass; Josh Hunt, drums/percussion.

Here’s the perfect trio to transform our favorite Christmas compositions into jazz songs for the season. The simplicity of the production is compelling and each musician is technically astute. Together they know how to put the ‘Swing’ into the music. These are Ian’s arrangements and feature instrumental jazz interpretations or all our favorite Christmas songs, starting with “Deck the Halls” and including “It Came Upon A Midnight Clear,” “Joy to the World,” “White Christmas,” “Good King Wenceslas,” “I heard the Bells on Christmas Day,” “We Three Kings,” “Up on the Housetop,” “Silver Bells,” and “O Come, All Ye Faithful.” Jon Estes on upright bass is the garland that wraps the rhythm section in sparkling synchronization. Josh Hunt brings creative percussion-work to the production, adding spice and brightness. The leader, David Ian, is the melody keeper and knows how to veer his fingers over the keys, like a sleigh ride to the warmth of a fireplace and a house full of love. Here is a great stocking stuffer !


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Albany Records

Takaaki Otomo, piano; Noriko Ueda, bass; Jared Schonig, drums.

In 2007, Takaaki Otomo won first prize in a Japanese jazz competition. He relocated to New York City in 2014 and has steadily climbed the ladder of success. This recording opens with one of Takaaki’s original compositions entitled, “Evening Glow.” On a crisp, cold winter evening, this song oozes warmth with its beauty and melodic charm. Beneath the melody, bassist Noriko Ueda and drummer, Jared Shonig dance together in a synchronized effort to create groove and ambience. They are busy, while Takaaki takes his time developing the song atop their spirited rhythm. I like the arrangement that moves from solo piano (with classical overtones) to a more Straight-Ahead rendition of the song and then, in comes the bass, walking with the blues tinging her style, becoming a powerful introduction into Noriko Ueda’s memorable solo. Afterwards, the group resorts back to a slow but enthusiastic ‘Swing’. Always, Takaaki is the master and captain of this musical ship, steering it with his impactful piano performance.

Born and raised in Kobe, Japan, Takaaki studied classical piano from age five for a decade. At age fifteen, he fell in love with jazz and changed directions. Listening to the music of Oscar Peterson, he was inspired. Under the direction of Tadao Kitano, a famous piano teacher in the city of Kobe, Takaaki grew and flowered into a sensitive and innovative pianist. When producer, Bernard Hoffer first heard him at a local NYC restaurant, he was impressed enough to offer him an opportunity to record.

Takaaki’s bassist is female. Noriko Ueda is originally born and raised in Hyogo, Japan and she too studied classical piano at the early age of four. At sweet sixteen, she began to play the electric bass and at eighteen, switched to the double bass. As a B.E.S.T. scholarship recipient, Noriko Ueda majored in jazz composition at the Berklee College of Music in Boston and relocated to New York City. She’s no new comer to the jazz scene. Ueda has performed at Lincoln Center, the Blue Note Jazz Club and even Carnegie Hall. Her credits include working with the legendary Frank Wess Quintet, The Ted Rosenthal Trio, Grady Tate’s band and Sherrie Maricle with the DIVA Jazz Orchestra, among others. She was featured on a Japanese documentary TV show called Gutto Chikyu-bin, and was the winner of the 3rd Annual BMI Foundation Charlie Parker Jazz Composition Prize for her original big band arrangement, “Castle in the North” in 2002.

Drummer Jared Schonig was born and raised in Los Angeles and has been honing his skills on drums since age fourteen. He’s won seven Downbeat Student Music Awards before graduating from the Eastman School of Music in 2005. Schonig’s either toured or recorded with the likes of Dr. Lonnie Smith, Nicholas Payton, Fred Hersch, Wycliffe Gordon and Ernie Watts. Recently, he held the drum chair for the critically acclaimed Tony, Grammy and Emmy-award winning Broadway Revival of. “The Color Purple.”

So Takaaki Otomo has surrounded himself with the crème-de-la-crème of jazz proficiency and the proof is in their stellar performance, produced by Bernard Hoffer. Take an opportunity to enjoy the “New Kid in Town.”
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Independent Label

SWINGLAB: Jason Paul Curtis, vocals/songwriter; Ray Mabaiot, piano; Ephriam Woffolk, bass; Woody Hume, drums; Dave Schiff, woodwinds; John Albertson, guitar; Ray Caddell, flugelhorn; Isabella Curtis, vocals. SWING SHIFT BIG BAND: Saxophones: Tom Anderson, David Link, Jonathan Bell, Greg Plush, Bob Houts. Trombones: Geoff Cos, Paul Hamilton, Chris Callier, Jeff Bonk. Trumpets: Mike Barber, David Jenkins, Billy Brooks, Jack Seaver. Rhythm: Ray Mabalot, Dave Marsh, Matt Trimboli, Jeff Johnson.

If big band jazz is your preference, here is a holiday recording bound to please. Jason Paul Curtis has a smooth Tony Bennett/Eddie Fischer style of voice. He offers several new Christmas songs to please your holiday palate, sweet as a plate of reindeer sugar cookies. Starting with “Everybody’s Waitin’ for the Man With the Bag” a song that Swings hard and was composed by Irving Taylor and Dorothy Brooks. This is followed by, “I’ll Feel Christmas” with a more polka-like arrangement. Jason Paul Curtis lets his voice soar smoothly as he delivers the lyrics with excitement and punch, stating: “I’ll feel Christmas as long as you’re with me….”. Obviously, Curtis is a prolific songwriter as well as an excellent singer. He has written every song on this collection of fine music with the exception of “Man With the Bag” and the Jerome Kern/Dorothy Fields familiar standard, “The Way You Look Tonight,” that’s arranged as a lovely Bossa Nova. “Christmas Breakfast” mashes a sleigh full of words together, with a flair for rhyme and his smooth enunciation unfolding a unique and heartfelt story. I enjoy this gentleman’s creative and poetic way with words. They match his melodies and his style perfectly. “December Again” celebrates his daughter and their special bond at Christmas time. She even proffers a small singing part on the tune and shows us that the caramel-coated apple on a stick doesn’t fall far from the tree. You will enjoy his wonderful orchestration and big band arrangements, as well as listening to some fresh holiday songs, offered with joy and love at Christmas time. Jason Paul Curtis may have a Christmas standard tucked into this preview of nine original holiday compositions. I’ll let you be the judge.

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Susan Records

Emma Frank, voice/composer/arranger; Aaron Parks, piano/synthesizer/Rhodes; Franky Rousseau, guitar; Jim Black, drums/percussion; Rick Rosato, bass; Simon Millerd, trumpet; Pedro Barquinha, OP-1.

If you are listening for a unique and whispery voice, with a resoundingly original style and the gift of composer skills, may I suggest you take a listen to Emma Frank. She has composed, co-arranged and sung all of the compositions on this production. Beginning with “Magnolia” a song that combines new age, folk and jazz music in a very compatible way. The closest singer I can think of that has similar phrasing and comparable style is Gretchen Parlato. But Emma Frank is very much her own artist. I wish her enunciation of lyrics had been clearer, especially on cut #2. Perhaps this could have been enhanced in the mix. Ms. Frank is very much like an instrument and sometimes gets lost in the production. She often layers her voice in harmonic background, dripping over the arrangements like honey from a cone. Her prose are thought provoking when she sings lines like “… wade through my shadows, weather my storms … making way for new life.” The whispering background voices that Emma Frank overdubs add depth and they help you to remember melodic themes that she produces so richly. Aaron Parks adds much with the tinkling synthesizer bits he feeds into her songs. Also, the dominant guitar of Franky Rousseau brings richness to this project.

I put my headphones on in order not to miss a single word from this poet/wordsmith. I wish she had put the lyrics into the compact disc package so I could read them. “Gradually” is very classically influenced, wrapping around her prose like sparkling Christmas paper. With this song, there is a little bit of a throw-back to the days of Joni Mitchell. Joni’s style is peeking out at me through the unique melody and the dancing range that dips and dives all over the place. Yes – this woman, Emma Frank, is an artist, following her own beaten path and listening to her own drum.

If you are looking for something uniquely different, you will find it in the music of Emma Frank. I cannot categorize it. One minute it’s folk and new age. The next it’s pop and jazz all mish-mashed up together in a hodge-podge of goodness, like grandma’s beef stew crockpot. Take a taste.

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JeruJazz Records

Andrew Distel, vocals/trumpet; Peter Martin, piano; Carlos Enriquez, bass; George Fludas, drums; Jim Gailloretto, woodwinds; Howard Levy, harmonica; Dave Onderdonk, guitar; Geraldo De Oliveira, percussion; Brian Schwab, trumpet; Raphael Crawford, trombone. VIOLINS: Mark Agnor, Inger Carle, Kathryn Hughes, Carol Kalvonjian, Andrea Tolzmann, Jeff Yang, Thomas Yang. VIOLAS: Charles Bontrager, Benton Wedge. CELLO: Jill Kaeding.

Like Chet Baker, Andrew Distel not only sings, he plays trumpet and dabbles in arranging and composing. On this recording project he has chosen a number of recognizable standard tunes and employed a number of Chicago’s finest jazz cats to lay down the tracks. In 2007, Distel released his premiere CD (Stepping Out of a Dream) with the musical and contracting support of first-call drummer, George Fludas. Once again, he calls on his friend’s support and input. Together, they added pianist Peter Martin who performed on and arranged Diane Reeve’s Grammy Award winning CD, Good Night and Good Luck. Next, a call went out to bassist Carlos Enriquez, who performs with the Wynton Marsalis Septet and with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. That makes for a powerful rhythm section.

As Distel carefully chose players and layered their talents, he just as carefully chose tunes to perform. Andrew Distel has a creamy smooth vocal style that embellishes these songs with suave emotion. He slowly Swings “Speak Low”, then sincerely delivers Bacharach/David’s poignant lyric, “Alfie”. This is followed by “One Morningstar Away,” a song I’d never heard before his tender presentation. For a sweet change of pace, Distel sings “Amor” in Portuguese and features the lovely talents of Dave Onderdonk on a nylon string guitar. I was interested in listening to the original compositions that Distel co-wrote. One is titled, “Wait For Me” and features a spirited production by the band, moving at a swift tempo, with much percussive power and Fludas properly pushing the players with his fluid and demanding drums. An unfamiliar Gershwin song, “Who Cares,” is produced as a moderate Swing tune and Distel scat sings a bit on this tune. Peter Martin flies through an impressive solo on piano. This song showcases great melody and lyrics. Andrew Distel sings the ballad, “Too Soon to Tell,” with all the honesty and tenderness of a real storyteller, reminding me a bit of Kenny Rankin’s style during this presentation. Here is another song he offers to the listener that is well-written and one that I’ve never heard before this album. My mom used to listen to the Ink Spots sing “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” and I enjoyed hearing Distel’s arrangement and interpretation of this oldie but goodie. He modernized it with a funk drum and some nice woodwind harmonics to complement his silky-smooth vocals. “Your Last Song” was composed by Kenny Dorham/J. Adams Oaks and Andrew Distel. I am assuming Andrew Distel wrote the lyrics. It’s a Straight Ahead/Bebop tune. One of my favorite songs on this album is the final track that features just Peter Martin on piano and Andrew Distel singing a tune written by Johnny Mandel and Dave Frishberg titled, “You Are There.” This dynamic duo garners all my attention, with each musician as bright and special as that shiny star atop the holiday tree. They interpret this beautifully written song with amazing dexterity and sincerity. I replayed it three times.

But, you’ll have to wait until after Christmas, for this CD to be released on January 20, 2018. You may want to put it on your Wish List. It will brighten your New Year!

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