By Jazz Journalist, Dee Dee McNeil

January 4, 2018

At the end of last year, 2017, I received two gigantic boxes of music from the University of North Texas. Not only did the two packages contain an assortment of excellent musicianship, some focusing on the complete recordings of all compositions and arrangements by GRAMMY nominated composer, Neil Slater, but the CD box Sets also included a 168-page book featuring hundreds of photos and notes by band members, colleagues and friends that are meant to honor the legacy of Neil Slater. Additionally, it showcased the expert musicianship of young university players who make up the Two O’Clock, Three O’Clock and One O’ Clock Lab Bands. Here is my review of the Two O’Clock Lab Band under the direction of JAY SAUNDERS. I also reviewed vibraphonist, STEVE HOBBS, who has recorded thirteen tunes in tribute to BOBBY HUTCHERSON. ANGELO DIVINO has the crooning style of cabaret singers who love Sinatra, while international artists, MADELEINE AND SALOMON, surprise me with their duo interpretation of culturally rich songs. On their new album, they sing the praise of women and celebrate cultural diversity, choosing to interpret American music from their French perspective. Finally, ALAN and STACEY SCHULMAN (who call themselves, “AS IS”) have recorded an album that is sparsely produced, but showcases the beauty and clarity of great musicianship and vocals.

Division of Jazz Studies – College of Music – University of North Texas

TWO O’CLOCK LAB BAND MEMBERS LISTED BELOW, IN ALPHABETICAL ORDER, Some appear on various sessions, included in this compilation, and extracted from the band’s previous recorded releases.

Rhythm Sections: Lupe Barrera (perc. & drums), Horace Bray (guitar), Nolan Byrd (drums), Anthony Corsaro (perc.), Emily Davis (vocals), Addison Frei (piano), Davian Garcia (piano), Sean Giddings (piano & organ), Jake Greenburg (bass), Young Heo (bass), Matt Hornbeck (guitar), Matt Hurley (perc), Brad Young Chan Kang (guitar), Scott Kruser (guitar), Sean Jacobi (bass), Sean Jones (drums), Melissa McMillan and Tatiana Mayfield (vocals), Evan Oxenhandler (guitar), Sergio Pamies (piano), Danmiel Parr (bass), Marion Powers (vocals), Duran Ritz (drums), Nick Rothouse (perc.),Greg Sadler (drums), Kaela Sinclair & Ashleigh Smith (vocals), Jacob Smith (bass), Roberto Verastegui (piano), Seth Weaver (vocals), Jacob Wise (guitar), Jessica Young (h), Matt Young (drums).
Saxophones: Ben Bohorquez, Ramsey Castaneda,Ted Davis, Devin Eddieman, Seth Ely, Alex Fraile, Steve Friel, Brian Girley, Alex Hahn, Ian Henderson, Adam Hutcheson, Spenser Liszt, Brett McDonald, Dustin Mollick, Matt Morey, Justin Pierce, Kelsey Pickford, Chris Reardon, Chris Reza, Sarah Roberts, Adam Robertson, J.R. Rocha, Niels Rosendahl, Julian Sutherland, Nick Salvucci, Drew Zaremba.
Trumpets: Micah Bell, Jake Boldman, Andy Cresop, Dan Cron, Thomas Davis, Dan Foster, Andrew Golden, Preston Haining, John Hallman, Ally Hany, Ransom Miller, Tyler Mire, Jonathan Mones, Harrell Petersen, Dave Richards, Mike Shields, Tim Schieinat, Kevin Swaim, Chad Willis, Justin Woodward, Li Xiaochuan, Drew Zaremba.
Trombones: Eric Andress, Sean Casey, Matt Corrigan, Kenny Davis, Alex Dubrov, Jon Gauer, Julie Gray, Craig Flentge, Nathan Harvey, Kevin Hicks, Adam Jensen, Carl Lundgren, Jake Macary, Dan Marion, Phillip Menchaca, Sean Nelson, Freddy Ouellette, Kennedy Powers, Chris Sharpe, Austin Short, Zach Steele, Hirochi Wada, Seth Weaver, Nick Wiodarczyk.

The first CD I popped into my player this year was “Nice! – Jay Saunders’ Best of the Two. It features eighteen tracks recorded by the Two O’Clock Lab Band under the direction of trumpeter, Jay Saunders. Saunders is a veteran of the Stan Kenton Orchestra. He’s a well-respected musician on the Dallas, TX Scene for decades and has been teaching lead trumpet and jazz history at the University from 2000 to 2016, as well as directing the One, Two and Three O’Clock Lab Bands. For this recording, Saunders has pulled the best of the best of his students, compiling several works from various earlier released CDs to configure this release. His students play like a well-oiled Mercedes motor, smooth and perfectly coordinated, they run in uninterrupted synchronization. I was especially struck by John Clayton’s arrangement of “I Won’t Dance.” It features the very talented Sean Jacobi on bass. The back-up, session players of this Two O’Clock Lab Band are amazingly artful and professional. I am blown away by their big-band sound that supports various soloists on different tunes. These youthful players give hope that jazz will continue to influence and elevate Earth’s population with its joy and improvisational flavors for years to come.

Although there is not one bad performance on this 2-CD Set, my other favorite tunes plucked from excellence are “Sax Alley”, played at a break-neck speed and featuring the stellar horns of Dustin Mollick and J.R. Rocha on tenor saxophones and “Top Fuel – Pete vs. the Trav-ski,” written by ex-Dallas composer and arranger Phil Kelly. I also enjoyed the Duran Ritz drum solo on “Worth the Wait” (a Peter Erskine composition), along with Sean Giddings on piano, Li Xiaochuan on trumpet and Phillip Menchaca on Trombone. This is the opening tune on Side One and sets the tone for what is to follow. Lastly, “Portuguese Soul,” written by organist Jimmy Smith and arranged by Thad Jones shows Sean Giddings’ smooth and soulful transition from piano to organ, along with Greg Sadler’s mesmerizing drum talents. This song closes out Side One of the two discs. On Disc Two, I loved the Drew Zaremba arrangement of “Sink, Sank, Swunk” which shows the electric/Herbie Hancock-like production by the band members featuring Zoremba on a smokin’ soprano saxophone, and soloists, Seth Weaver on trombone, John Hallman on trumpet and Jake Greenburg on bass. “Detour Ahead” features a sweet vocal by Emily Davis and the Booker T. Jones composition, “Green Onions,” closes out the double set CD with a spirited arrangement by Drew Zaremba. Zaremba is also featured on Alto Sax with Ally Hany on trumpet solo and Chris Reardon on Tenor solo. The background is full of party noises and the music just makes you want to get up and dance. Sounds like a jazzy New Year’s Eve celebration to me. Makes me want to shout out, “HAPPY NEW YEAR!”

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Challenge Recording Int

Steve Hobbs, marimba/vibes/composer; Adam Kolker, tenor/soprano saxophones; Bill O’Connell, piano; Peter Washington, bass; John Riley, drums; Carol Ingretsen, Maurice Myers & Marvin Thorne, vocals.

Adam Kolker struts his saxophone skills on the first tune titled, “The Craving Phenomenon,” (a Steve Hobbs composition). Beneath him, Washington’s bass and Riley’s drums egg him on energetically. This is one of ten original compositions Hobbs has written for this CD. With a total of thirteen songs, Hobbs offers us a tribute to the late/great Bobby Hutcherson. After Kolker and bandmates set up the premiere song grove and melody, Hobbs slides in to serenade us with his percussive vibraphone mastery. He explained the song in his liner notes:

“…Since it swings so hard … I decided to open with ‘The Craving Phenomenon.’ I love Adam Kolker’s tenor solo on this … He uses lots of bop ideas countered with more modern pentatonic ideas. More important, he is locking in with John (Riley) like crazy! …My solo on marimba has lots of sequential, pentatonic, chromatic stuff and blues runs. John and Peter are locking so hard that I felt safe in playing both in the middle and also in front of the beat at times for that good ‘diesel’ feeling. I felt my solo was also of an original nature sounding more like Chick or Woody Shaw, than my fellow mallet comrades. I really don’t strive to sound like anyone but me and hope you agree that I have my own sound. …I love the dynamic shifts we pulled off here. … really challenging metric modulations and rhythms featuring John Riley on drums. These rhythmic hits played during the drum solo are very hard to play and the way John Plays over them is amazing.”

This is the group’s third recording since 2007. Their sound is tight and these master musicians interact with each other sweet and tasty, like jam and butter. Pianist Bill O’Connell soars on the composition titled, “Into the Storm” and throughout this recording. Hobbs has no compunction about giving free rein to his musicians, unselfishly sharing his spotlight platform. Peter Washington was once a bassist with Bobby Hutcherson’s ensemble and brings a note of nostalgic authenticity to this project. The arrangement on “Besame Mucho” is held tightly in place by Washington’s walking bass line and John Riley’s flashy, but pendulum steady drumming. Steve Hobbs soars on top of the swinging band, taking charge with his mallets and creativity. The ‘fade’ on this tune is very exciting, as they play with time differential and improvisational techniques. “New Creation” is another one of my favorite tunes on this recording. The musicians grab a rich, straight-ahead groove by the body and each member of the ensemble brings their best to match the talent and excitement of their bandleader. This is jazz; free, spontaneous and well played. I was not as impressed with the vocals used on a couple of the tunes. Those songs just didn’t seem to fit the landscape of this ‘Straight Ahead’ album concept. However, as you can see below, when Steve Hobbs swings, he’s right on point.

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Independent Label

Angelo Divino, vocals; Rich Eames, piano/synthesizer/keyboard; Adrian Rose, bass; Michael Rosen, drums/harmonica; Doug Webb, saxophone; Jonathan Dane, trumpet/cornet/flugelhorn.

Angelo Divino is a cabaret singer with a smooth style and persuasive tone of delivery. He offers ten original songs on this album that were composed by Z. Overall and does an excellent job of delivering the lyrics, as though he’s sharing stories of his life with us.

In New York, Divino performed as lead vocalist with the Rainbow Room Orchestra at Rockefeller Center and with the Duke Ellington Legacy Band at Birdland. He also sang bari-tenor parts with the vocal quartet, “Afterglow.” This artist starred in a musical play about the life of Duke Ellington called “Lucky So and So” and Divino also wrote and performed “Let Me Be Frank”. On this recording, he sings the many facets of love, covering emotions from A to Z. Favorite cuts are, “Strangers Again,” “If I Love You, Goodbye” where Divino stretches his range into the high tenor register, and “I Remember” that tells a story of recalling one’s hometown and is spiced up by Michael Rosen’s harmonica.

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Clotilde, vocals/flute; Alexandre Saada, piano/Rhodes/Clavinette/background vocals.

As soon as I heard the first familiar strains of Nina Simone’s song, “Image,” I was captivated by this artist’s voice, singing a’cappella and sounding emotionally connected to those striking lyrics and that haunting melody. This song celebrates the beauty of womanhood and that is the crux of this musical production. Clotilde, singing along with her musical partner, Alexandre Saada on piano, bring fresh perspective to some popular American music. On cut #2, “Swallow Song,” backup vocals are added by Saada. These two artists have assumed the group name of ‘Madeleine & Salomon’ and they perform, as a duo, tackling seventeen songs that celebrate ‘A Woman’s Journey’. The lyrics are packaged in the CD and each song is lyrically prolific and explores the female journey. This duo has chosen songs written by American composers that touch on the spirit of womanhood, it’s trials and tributes; it’s joys and endless challenges interpreting songs like Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” and the Marvin Gaye,/Al Cleveland/ Renaldo Benson’s composition, “Save the Children”. I was moved and impassioned with their arrangement of Janis Ian’s “At Seventeen.”

Clotide is a French performer who sings and plays flute. She is also a composer and journalist. Alexandre Saada began playing piano at age four and studied classical piano for ten years. At fifteen, he was beginning to explore jazz, pop and French popular and folk songs. He’s already recorded fifteen albums including seven as a leader, from solo albums to big band recordings. Saada has toured worldwide with artists such as Malia, Martha and the Vandellas, Les Albert and more. He is also a composer and arranger. Together, these two super talented individuals have created a most unusual and entertaining album of musical tribute to women. Clotide explores a rainbow of colors and vocal textures that can both surprise the listener and enhance the songs she sings. She paints the words with alto richness one moment and then, with childlike innocence, in a second soprano voice, she tackles the Minnie Ripperton classic song by Charles Stepney and Richard Rudolph entitled, “Les Fleurs.” I am so impressed! Everything is arranged and sung in a jazzy way, even when she chooses songs like “Mercedes Benz” by Janis Joplin or interprets the Black Panther member/songwriter/poet, Elaine Brown’s “The End of Silence”. Listen below.

Like jazz itself, ‘Madeleine & Salomon’ know no boundaries and explore the outer limits of imagination, improvisation and cultural revolution. This is a musical experience that embraces change and pushes the cage walls further apart, exploring freedom with grandiose conviction.

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Independent label

Stacey Schulman, vocals; Alan Schulman, guitar; Macus Baylor, drums; Rashaan Carter, Matt Geraghty & Kevin Powe, Jr., bass; Gregoire Maret, harmonica; David Binney, saxophone; Alejandro Lucini, percussion; Christie Dashiell, James McKinney & Carl ‘Kokayi’ Walker; Dr. Chelsea Green, Kendall Isidore & Dianna Said, violins; Dawn Johnson, viola’ Elise Cuffy, cello.

Stacey Schulman has a unique tone to her voice and her husband is the perfect accompanist on guitar, supporting her with familiarity and technical talent. They have chosen a dozen songs that explore their combined creativity. This production incorporates various players at different times, beginning with a Kenny Rankin/Estelle Levitt composition titled, “In The Name of Love” where they simply use a guitar trio. Stacey Schulman opens the tune with scat, before interpret-ing the lyrics. Marcus Baylor keeps the bright, uptempo arrangement under his control with brushes that briskly whip-up the tempo and inspire the trio with a tight groove. It’s the perfect touch beneath Stacey’s soprano vocals and a nice way to begin this album. The classic Dizzy Gillespie tune, “A Night in Tunisia” blends background voices into the production as a welcome addition. Their rich harmonics beautifully cushion Stacey Schulman’s performance. Her enunciation is superb and you won’t miss a single word in her songs. Cut number three (“La Belle Dame Sans Regrets”) is sung in French and composed by Sting and Dominic Miller and produced with a Latin flair. The percussive coloring of Alejandro Lucini and Alan Schulman on guitar add frosting to this sweet musical cake. Nothing more is needed. On the fade they add background vocals beneath Stacey’s scat singing.

The sparseness of this production is effective and makes Schulman’s voice twinkle and shine like a Northern star. On the popular Gershwin composition, “It Ain’t Necessarily So,” they feature Gregoire Maret on harmonica, playing a’ cappella before he’s joined by Alan’s tasty guitar licks and Stacey singing. This tune develops into a medley that incopororates Burt Bacharach’s “Look of Love” and Carol King’s “It’s Too Late”. As you can see, by this example, they have picked a wide assortment of tunes that range from jazz to pop. Stacey Schulman’s voice adapts perfectly, always putting emotion and sincerity into each well-produced number. Alan Schulman’s dexterity and rhythm guitar become the trampoline where his wife’s vocals can dance and play. Barry Manilow and Johnny Mercer wrote “When October Goes” and it is an emotional ballad. Stacey Schulmnan’s vocals are enhanced with a small string ensemble arranged by James McKinney. Once again, the production is sparse, but lovely.

Stacey Schulman is a native New Yorker, a studio session singer for decades and has been singing professionally since the age of nine. Alan is a Midwesterner, born in Cincinnati, Ohio. He sharpened his bebop chops in Chicago and has appeared with such artists as Anita Baker, Wynton Marsalis, Herbie Hancock and Michael Feinstein. Alan Schulman holds an M.A. in Jazz Arranging & Composition from Howard University, where he studied with both the late, great drummer Grady Tate and legendary pianist, Geri Allen.

Here is a musical experience that’s enjoyable and beautiful in a simplistic way. It allows all the musicians involved to be heard and yet they never interfere with the vocalist’s presentation. The engineer, Scott Jacoby, is to be congratulated for his delightful mixology and producer, James McKinney brings the best out of all participating musicians. This recording will be available February 16, 2018.

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One Response to “NEW YEAR, NEW MUSIC”

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