By Dee Dee McNeil/Jazz Journalist

March 12, 2018

I find both pleasure and gratitude each time I slip a new jazz compact disc into my CD player. Pleasure because I love the music so much and gratitude that the artform of jazz continues to grow and evolve. This Spring, I discovered how two men could fill up a musical canvas with so much painted sound, I needed nothing more than Mike Jones and Penn Jillette. Fernando Garcia introduced this listener to bomba music during his musical tribute to Puerto Rico. Dave Tull blew my mind with his inimitable lyrics and exceptional melodies, not to mention he sings and plays drums at the same time. The Kevin Sun Trio offers contemporary music, somewhat out-the-box, the result of an all-day recording session and featuring Walter Stinson and Matt Honor. Vocalist Diane Marino tributes the late, great Gloria Lynne and George Kahn transforms pop music into jazz arrangements. Finally, Tom Bruner pays tribute to guitarist, Wes Montgomery.

Capri Records, Ltd.

Mike Jones, piano; Penn Jillette, bass.

The musical sounds that this duo expresses are full, rich and full of technical wizardry. I don’t even miss the drums on their up-tempo version of “Broadway.” Both instruments blend with each other, familiar as bread and butter. Jones is creative and innovative on the eighty-eight keys and Penn Jillette holds the pianist’s spontanaety in place with his upright bass. This first song is over seven minutes long and it’s never boring. Both of these gentlemen are masters on their instruments. I was surprised to discover that Jillette is the internationally acclaimed magician who, for over four decades, acted as the verbal half of the magic duo, Penn & Teller. In this setting, he makes magic on a double bass. Jones was formerly the musical director for Penn & Teller’s Las Vegas show, starting in 2002. So, there is a familiar and comfortable camaraderie between the two musicians. Mike Jones is exceptionally astute with supplying rhythm on his Kawai piano. His two-fisted solos and arpeggio runs, along with strong , left-handed rhythm chords, puts amazing energy into each song. Penn Jillete is unerringly supportive. Together, they have recorded nine recognizable standard jazz songs and one original song by Mike Jones titled, “Box Viewing Blues.” Every song on this project is excellently performed and showcases the astounding talents of both musicians. From Stride piano to ‘Swing’, Jones plays it all. You won’t hear any ballads. This duo includes blues, Bossa Nova’s, along with good old straight-ahead jazz and shuffle rhythms. Jones and Jillette are so proficient, they recorded this entire production “Live” at the Penn & Teller Theater. Here is a big musical treasure in a small, compact package.

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Zoho Records

Fernando Garcia, drums/vocals; Dan Martinez, upright bass/elec. Bass; Gabriel Chakarji, piano; Gabriel Vicens, guitar; Jan Kus, tenor sax; Victor Pablo, percussion/barril/congas; SPECIAL GUEST: Miguel Zenon, alto saxophone.

Fernando Garcia is a master of rhythmicity. Both his style and presentation are deeply soaked in Puerto Rican history. When he met master percussionist and folklore expert, Rafael Maya, Garcia was introduced to bomba, the folkloric music of Puerto Rico. That inspired an important part of his musicality and creativity.

Garcia explained. “Rafael Maya studied a lot of the cultural history of Puerto Rico in the early 1900s. I met him in 2011, when I lived with my parents in Guaynabo and had a recording studio in their garage. Rafael contacted me about recording a bomba CD with his group, Desde Cero, and before I knew it, he started bringing all these really famous bomba musicians into my parents’ garage. So ,I was hanging with these great people who have played those rhythms for their entire life. And it was then that I got hooked on bomba.”

The first original composition on this CD sets the entire tone of Garcia’s uncommon project. Fernando Garcia wrote this composition in 2014, when his address was on Audubon Ave in the Washington Heights section of Northern Manhattan in New York City. He explained it this way.

“I was trying to superimpose the four-feel on top of a big 3-feel. It flows perfectly with this pattern based in three, played by Victor Pablo mimicking bata chachalokafun rhythm on three conga drums. Then there’s this section of the guitar solo, where it goes into this Afro-Cuban bembe feel in three, which actually comes from the 12/8 abakua rhythm. Finally, it goes into the percussion tradings near the end of the tune. So, it’s playing games with the time … without actually shifting the beat.”

Here is a perfect combination of Puerto Rican percussive culture and modern music, fused with Afro-Cuban rhythms and the strong bomba influence throughout. Fernando Garcia takes the listener on a drum excursion, a path beaten through his creative process by Garcia’s trap drum mastery, while adding the fusion excitement of youthful players interpreting Latin jazz and contemporary cross-over. It’s an exciting musical excursion.

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Toy Car Label

Dave Tull, drums/vocals; Randy Porter & Randy Waldman, piano; Larry Koonse, guitar; Kevin Axt, basses; Wayne Bergeron, trumper; Doug Webb, Saxophones/clarinet; Cheryl Bentyne, vocal; George Stone, piano/flugethorn/trumper; Les Benedict, trombone; Inga Swearingen, vocals’ Peter Olstad & Mike Guitierrez, trumpet.

With historic respect for artists like Eddie Jefferson, James Moody, Lambert, (Jon) Hendricks & Ross, this artist keeps the Bebop tradition going strong. Dave Tull, with his tongue in cheek humor, begins this album singing and playing, “The Texting Song,” a featured big band arrangement and original composition by Tull. I recognize immediately that not only is he a master lyricist, he’s also a masterful scat singer. His lyrics, like his scat singing, fly across the chord structure swiftly and artfully. Their comical message tickles my ears and my sense of humor. I play the cut again, just to make sure I heard every word.

Surrounded by a group of swinging musicians, Dave Tull starts out so strong, I wonder how in the world will he keep that kind of energy going throughout this production. After all, it’s no easy task playing drums and singing simultaneously. Tull manages to keep the excellence consistent. He’s showcased as both composer and lyricist on this project, as well as drummer and vocalist. Impressive, is the adjective that comes to mind. Is he a Frank Sinatra smooth vocalist? No. But he is an amazing songwriter, and he can Swing vocally the same way he swings on his drums. His melodies are challenging and beautiful, while his lyrics are compelling and creative. His scat singing is one of my favorite things on this CD. Plus, while he makes you laugh with some song messages, others inspire introspection and soul-searching. Some inspire romantic feelings and vulnerability. “Please Tell Me Your Name” made me fall out laughing, because I’ve been-there-done-that and wanted to melt into the floor when I ran into someone I knew, but suddenly couldn’t remember their name. I haven’t laughed that hard at a song lyric since I first heard Howlett Smith’s composition, “There’ll be Chitlin’s in the White House One Day.” This album made me want to meet and get to know Mr. Tull better. I loved his 2009 release “I Just Want to Get Paid,” which often is the case after the gig. It’s a familiar story to most musicians. This is the same songwriter/musician, who has been busy playing drums for a decade with Chuck Mangione’s band and accompanied Barbra Streisand on three of her most recent tours. It’s his proficiency and love of his drums that developed his unique scatting ability. He started by scatting with his drum licks and learned to improvise vocally in that manner. That was before melody became important. This ability sets Dave Tull clearly apart from other jazz singers.

Dave Tull started singing in the 1990s during his performances as part of Page Cavanaugh’s trio. He also became a lead vocalist with Chuck Mangione’s band. He’s played on eight of Cheryl Bentyne’s solo projects and accompanied her on six Japanese tours.

The arrangement by George Stone on “The Moment” is absolutely beautiful and features the lovely vocals of Inga Swearingen, singing harmony, like horn parts, with Dave Tull and increasing the beauty of this composition. Tull has amassed a stellar group of Southern California musicians and their talents add zest and passion to this project. For example, reedman Doug Webb makes a memorable saxophone solo on “Clapping On One and Three” and he plays a clarinet arrangement written by Dave Tull on Tull’s composition, “Tell Me That I’m Wrong”. Between laughing hilariously at his composition, “Watch Your Kid,” Randy Porter is featured on a brisk and happy-go-lucky piano solo played against the waltz back-drop of the band. To give an example of his sarcastic humor, Dave Tull sings:

“I’m thinking, who did I invite? Who would put jello on the chair? Then your three-year-old runs by with mashed potatoes in his hair. You’re so deep in conversation, you’re completely unaware. Won’t you please, please watch your kid. All the items that were on my desk, he’s strewn about the den. On my wall I find his artwork made with Sharpie and a pen. Like a bomb, my speaker blows, he cranked the volume up to ten. Won’t you please, please watch your kid. He’s found the thermostat and now the house is 95 degrees. The phone is hanging off the hook and someone’s speaking Japanese. This isn’t working cuz you’re shirking your responsibilities! ,… he just flushed the potpourri and you’re a total absentee, I can’t believe you didn’t see what he just did. Won’t you please, please watch your kid.”

Besides his astute sense of humor, Dave Tull is an extraordinary songwriter, an exceptional drummer and a stylized singer. I continue to ask myself, how can he play drums with such excellence and sing Bebop at the same time? This CD previews all of his talents in the most profound and engaging way. Enjoy.

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Endectomorph Music (EMM) Label

Kevin Sun, tenor saxophone/C-melody saxophone/
clarinet/composer; Walter Stinson, bass; Matt Honor, drums.

These three contemporary musicians have combined complex compositions and talent on their premiere album release. Reedman, Kevin Sun, has composed the majority of this original music.

“Composing for three voices, I feel like I can really challenge myself,” Sun says. “There’s plenty of room to make something happen when you have three musicians interacting with each other. I picture it as a triangle versus a square: it’s still very sturdy, but you have to give it a point.”

This music was created during an all-day recording session. Thinking of himself as a modern jazz, contemporary composer and innovator, Kevin Sun assembled Walter Stinson on bass and Matt Honor on drums to workshop the music and see what it would evolve into. They soon became a tight-knit group.

Sun is well-known for his ability to be proficient at solo transcriptions. In fact, he’s published more than 120 on his blog, including solos by John Coltrane, Steve Coleman, Joe Henderson, Clifford Brown and Vijay Iyer. Currently living in Brooklyn, New York, Sun is also contributor to Jazz Speaks, the official blog of the Jazz Gallery, where he has conducted interviews with notable musicians like Herbie Hancock and Joshua Redman.

The fear of transcribing the masters is that someone may become caught up in the style and repetition of repeating the works of jazz icons. Kevin Sun and his trio have made it apparent they are establishing their own style, executing their own presentation and freely improvising. However, according to the liner notes, they have been inspired by jazz legends like Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie on the “Misanthrope” tune, inspired by “Anthropology.” Another tune, Bittergreen” is loosely based on “Sweet Georgia Brown.”

The first song on this CD, “Transaccidentation” is written in 15/8, challenging in itself. Now add the freedom of wide-ranged intervals that make up an open-ended melody and you begin to embrace the freedom of sound and space that this trio represents. Kevin Sun’s tone on the tenor saxophone is light and flighty. It’s fluid and may sometimes recall the timbre and style of Stan Getz. Admittedly, Sun listened intently to the Stan Getz recordings when he was just a teenager. Others have compared him to Paul Desmond and/or Art Pepper, perhaps even Lester Young. There is a cohesiveness and comfort level between these three musicians. They elevate the Avant Garde and contemporary music concept in their own sweet way.

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M&M Records

Diane Marino, vocals; Brad Cole, piano/keyboards/B-3 organ; arrangements/orchestrations; Chris Brown, drums; Frank Marino, bass; Mark Christian & Doug Munro, guitar; Dann Sherrill, percussion; Don Aliquo, alto, tenor, baritone & soprano saxophones; Harry Kim & Scott Ducaj, trumpet; Roy Agee, trombone; David Davidson & David Angell, violin; Monisa Angell, viola; Carole Rabinowitz, cello; Tom Moore, bassoon; Deanna Loveland, harp.

Gloria Lynne is one of my all-time great vocal She-roes. I was so excited to see that someone was going to tribute this fabulous jazz icon. Bravo Diane Marino. Good idea! That being said, as the music unfolds, although the premise is perfect and the arrangements are tight, the vocalist leaves me wanting more. The one thing that the dynamic Miss Lynne could do was to sell a song. She would sing it and swing it! Diane Marino has a good voice and the Brad Cole arrangements are extraordinary. However, on tunes like “Soul Serenade” and “Sweet Pumpkin,” both made popular for the ‘Swing’ that Gloria Lynne interjected, Ms. Marino just isn’t convincing. She did bring the vocal magic on ballads like “Blue Gardenia” and “Out of This World.” I enjoyed Frank Marino ‘s solo on double bass during this lovely arrangement. Brad Cole skips over the keys on piano and knows just when to build this song to crescendos that amply support the vocalist. “The Jazz in You” is produced as a sultry blues number and Marino steps up to the plate and hits a home run with this tune. She has a cute, bluesy tone to her vocal presentation that explores a different side of this singer. I enjoyed the addition of Brad Cole’s organ on this song arrangement. I believe Diane Marino really enjoyed singing this composition and put her heart and soul into performing it. On “Happy Shoes” I hear the same dedication to storytelling when Marino sings these lyrics. She seems more comfortable interpreting blues-tinged songs than on ‘Swing’ productions. Because I have seen her play piano and sing with an all-star band, I know Diane Marino can swing with the best of them. Her live performances are full of joy and excitement. The tune, “Speaking of Happiness,” is produced very much like the old standard pop song, “Fever,” once again richly engrained with blues and befitting Marino’s voice and style.

This band is outstanding. During the song “For You,” Doug Munro lays down a solid guitar solo and the whole ensemble puts fire and spunk into this arrangement. Chris Brown trades formidable fours on his trap drums sharing the spotlight with other members of this hot, swinging ensemble. Frank Marino is solid as cement on bass. He’s featured during the vocalist’s arrangement of “Sweet Pumpkin,” opening as a duet, with her vocals on the top of his walking bass line. Marino holds the rhythm section tightly in place with drummer Chris Brown. I found all these Brad Cole arrangements to be compelling and lush, with strings and horns complimenting the various compositions to the benefit of this vocalist. The tracks are an amazing platform for her to stand tall on and be heard.

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Playing Records

George Kahn, piano; Alex Acuña, drums; Lyman Medeiros, bass.

I have only heard George Kahn in a large ensemble setting with three vocalists and horns, so I was looking forward to his new trio project. This pianist has joined forces with Alex Acuña and Lyman Medeiros . Alex Acuña is legendary and young Lyman Medeiros is bound to be one of our blooming jazz giants.

Alex Acuña is a treasured Peruvian drummer and percussionist who has worked with a list of the whos-who in the music world over his long career. Acuña is brilliant on this recording, holding the entire production in place with his undeniable percussive talent. In 1974, he relocated from Puerto Rico to Las Vegas and started working with Elvis Presley and Diana Ross. Soon after, he joined the jazz-fusion group, Weather Report. You can hear him on their “Black Market” and “Heavy Weather” recordings. He left that group in 1978 to become a very busy session musician in California. His ability to play all kinds of music kept him busy and among the long list of those he worked with or recorded with are Paul McCartney, Ella Fitzgerald, Joni Mitchell, Whitney Houston, Placido Domingo, Wayne Shorter, Joe Zawinul, Herbie Hancock, Carlos Santana, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Roberta Flack, Al Jarreau and Bette Midler. Now that diversity! Acuña has also worked as a popular educator at both Berklee College of Music in Boston and the University of Califonria, Los Angeles.

Lyman Medeiros, is an educator and bassist. When he’s not recording or performing, he teaches R&B performance and offers private lessons at the MI College of Contemporary Music. Medeiros holds a Master of Music Degree from Western Michigan University and also attended the Henry Mancini Institute in Los Angeles. Raised in Honoulu, Hawaii, he was born to Portuguese/Polynesian/Irish parents. It was Ray Brown that inspired him as a teenager to pick up the bass and begin to study it. He immediately developed a passion for jazz and earned his Bachelor of Music degree from Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana where his family had moved. Medeiros has a rich, thick sound on his bass and has recorded with Steve Tyrell and shared stages with Randy Brecker, Jane Monheit, the Boston Pops , Plas Johnson, Shelly Berg, N’dugu Chancellor, Kenny Rankin, Greg Field, Bill Cunliffe, Patti Austin and many more. In the summer of 2003, he toured the world with vocal sensation, Michael Buble. Lyman Medeiros is part of the Buble 2004 CD/DVD release, “Come Fly With Me.” He also appears on Steve Tyrell’s 2008 recording, “Back to Bacharach.”

As you can see, George Kahn is in excellent company with these two musicians. Kahn has composed seven original songs for this album and in his liner notes he explains:

“The seven original compositions all borrow from and are inspired by the jazz piano giants upon whose shoulders I stand.”

For example, “Wonton Kelly” is a tribute to Wynton Kelly and allows Alex Acuña to offer us a powerful drum solo and his percussive presence is strongly apparent. “Roger Killowatt” is Kahn’s tribute to Roger Kellaway. “Get Naked” is in recognition of Joe Sample and “Secrets” tributes Dave Brubeck. On the tune, “Red’s Riff” he is praising Red Garland and Count Basie. “Follow Your Heart” tributes Bill Evans and “Dreamin’” is dedicated to his wife, Diana, and features a melodic solo by Medeiros. George Kahn also includes interpretations of pop songs like Adele’s “Rumour Has It.” In the original Adele production of this song, it was driven by a powerful drum line with a strong R&B feel. On Khan’s arrangement, he has changed it drastically into a smooth jazz, easy listening piece where he focuses more on the melody and less on the percussion. Still, Alex Acuña very forcefully adds a Latin feel to this arrangement and flavors the piece with much needed energy. It’s quite an interesting and creative change from Adele’s version. Another hit record Kahn tackles is The Weekend’s “I Can’t Feel My Face.” Once again, He’s created an easy-listening, smooth jazz-feel to interpret this best-selling piece of pop/R&B history. Lyman Medeiros’ strong bass lines add vibrancy and color to an otherwise pale palate. As a song so popular for its urgent exciting hook line and for the funk, it was difficult for me to embrace this particular arrangement. It’s Medeiros who shines on his bass solo and perks up the presentation. “Thieves in the Temple” is a very beautiful Prince composition. Kahn has put a little bit of blues into his arrangement and it works.

On the whole, I found myself more impressed with George Kahn’s original compositions. His tribute to Roger Kellaway is a swinging little number, where Kahn gets to stretch out on piano, while Medeiros walks his powerful bass beneath. He and Acuña hold the groove tightly in place. This song sounds very much like “I’m Beginning to see the Light.” Medeiros co-wrote “Get Naked” with Kahn. It’s very popish. For an album labeled, “Straight Ahead” I have to say you won’t hear any of that on this production. For the most part, this is smooth jazz/easy listening music, even when he plays tunes like “Red’s Riff” that is very bluesy. Kahn’s music doesn’t ever get into the hardcore or ‘Straight Ahead’ side of jazz. But, if you’re looking for adult contemporary, give a listen to George Kahn’s Trio album. In keeping with his promise to help the homeless population of Los Angeles, one dollar from all album sales will be donated to PATH, People Assisting the Homeless. I commend him for addressing this important social issue.

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Independent label

Tom Bruner, guitar/arranger. No other musician credits were listed on this album.

Mr. Bruner has prepared a two-disk set to celebrate the unforgettable genius of Wes Montgomery. Using a Heritage Super Eagle F-hole guitar with 13s strings, played through a Polytone amplifier , He explores a number of memorable ballads that Montgomery recorded. Tom Bruner adds orchestra accompaniment, that he has beautifully arranged, exploring nineteen songs and creating a couple of hours of easy-listening jazz reflections. I do miss the ‘Swing’ that Wes Montgomery brought to everything he played and I thought the over-all mix could have been better mastered to celebrate the tone and style of Tom Bruner on his instrument. But that being said, this is a lovely commemoration of an icon that memorializes Wes Montgomery’s contribution to jazz guitar.

“I recorded all the guitar tracks using a Shure SM57 mic. I did record my guitar-playing in a small home studio to alleviate the ‘stress’ of having to always look at the clock in an expensive studio. I also mixed and mastered the album in this home studio,” Tom told me.

“I was able to record the various orchestra tracks in a way that did not bankrupt me financially, using overdubbing, multi-track recording and layering, especially in the strings. I also had the keyboardist sweeten some of the string tracks, lower strings especially, with some ‘synth’ strings as a technique to fatten the sound and make the string section sound a little larger than the one I could afford – a practice all music producers use for recordings of all kinds.”

Tom Bruner has spent over half a century in the music industry, originally inspired and influenced by jazz guitarist Barney Kessel. He studied music at the University of North Texas College of Music and played guitar and arranged music for the United States Air Force Academy Band. Upon release from the armed forces, Hollywood beckoned. He quickly secured work as a studio musician and worked on countless film soundtracks, television shows, jingles and various recording sessions. For twenty years he has worked as an arranger, conductor and musical director. Currently he resides in Las Vegas, NV where he teaches Film Scoring classes at UNLV, along with Music Theory, Film Music and Music Appreciation classes at the College of So. Nevada.

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