GUITARS GALORE, THE BRUBECK BROTHERS & MORE

GUITARS GALORE, THE BRUBECK BROTHERS & MORE

By Dee Dee McNeil/Jazz Journalist

March 31, 2018

CHARLIE BALLANTINE – “LIFE IS BRIEF”
GMR Records

Charlie Ballantine,guitar;Jesse Wittman,upright bass; Chris Parker,drums;Amanda Gardier,alto saxophone;Rob Dixon,tenor saxophone; Shawn McGowan,organ; Brandon Whyde, acoustic guitar/vocals; Mia Keohane,vocals/Wurlitzer.

This is a tribute album to the music and legacy of Bob Dylan by guitarist, Charlie Ballantine. The difficulty here is that Bob Dylan’s lyrics are as important as his melodies. Being a Folk Singer/ songwriter, Dylan’s messages are fifty percent of the importance of every one of his songs and his melodies are not as intricate or unique as his prose. Folk song melodies generally lend themselves towards simplicity and dance atop rhythmical chords. So, this project is challenged right off the bat, because it is all instrumental; no vocals. “Times They Are-a-Changin’” opens Ballantine’s CD and this melody is more involved than, for instance, “The Death of Emmett Till” that follows as cut #2. Once Dylan sets his melody up, it repeats for every verse of prose. There is rarely a bridge. Now Ballantine is left with an eight or sixteen bar verse of music that repeats over and over again. The way he handles this is to use a lot of echo and overlap techniques on his guitar to compensate. His style is simplistic and the CD mix does not allow for the creativity of drummer, Chris Parker, to be clearly heard, nor Jesse Whitman on double bass to lend rhythm solidity and contrast. On the Emmett Till selection, you get an opportunity to enjoy Whitman’s mastery of the bass during his solo. I enjoyed the Brandon Whyde gravelly vocals on the “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright” selection. I enjoyed Whyde’s style and vocal timbre.

In terms of jazz, without improvisation, you cannot truly call yourself a jazz artist. This is a fitting instrumental tribute to the melodies of Bob Dylan, and represent adult listening, easy listening and pop music. However, there is nothing that determines this artists’ individuality or style that represents jazz. He and his group are simply playing iconic music without putting a stamp of their own creatively on the music they play. They never stretch out.

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ROCH LOCKYER – “WHEN FRANK MET DJANGO”
Rochlockmusic Label

Roch Lockyer, guitar/vocals; Ben Powell, violin; Rob Hardt, clarinet; Ed Bennett, bass.

The technique and precision that Roch Lockyer employs to play his guitar is extraordinary. Especially since he was involved in a terrible accident and after two reconstructive surgeries on his arm, for a couple of years he was uncertain about his musical career. His musicianship proves that he has healed and it immediately captures my attention. His singing, I found secondary to his instrument mastery and although he appears to be a young musician on his press photos, his voice sounds much older and wiser than his years. His vocal style reminds me of the strolling cowboys in the movies of yester-year or the voices of popular singers in the 1920s. There’s something historically warm and honest about this artist’s vocals that recalls images of an old grandpa sitting on his front porch and playing guitar, singing alone to himself. On the other hand, Lockyer’s inspired guitar playing definitely conjures up the spirit of Django. This album is a departure from Lockyer’s former recordings that are geared more towards modern jazz and bebop roots. This project is geared to celebrate the music of Frank Sinatra and the style and genius of Django Reinhardt. There is no doubt that Lockyer absolutely represents the style and grandeur guitar technique referred to as “Le Pompe” during this production. Ben Powell’s violin is exquisitely played on “Embraceable You.” Lockyer’s band is supportive and tasty. However, the delicious cake is Roch Lockyer’s sweet guitar mastery that he serves up with no apologies.

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VINNY RANIOLO – “AIR GUITAR – SONGS OF FLIGHT”
Independent Label

Vinny Raniolo, guitar; Elias Bailey, bass.

Vinny Raniolo opens with a swinging rendition of “Come Fly With Me.” This guitarist is very rhythmical in his approach, using tight technique to set the tempo and the groove. He and Elias Bailey are off and flying high. This “Air Guitar” album celebrates flying and the open space. Every tune Raniolo & Bailey have chosen has a reference to flight; the sky, the sun, moon and the freedom that comes with flying.

“Blue Skies” settles down to a back-porch blues with a slow walking bass by Elias Bailey at first, but without a warning, Vinny Raniolo swings this tune into an up-tempo production. These two musicians oscillate with their string instruments and need no drums. They merge into a succinct blend, displaying impeccable timing and each astute and passionate on their instrument. John Denver’s composition, “Leaving on a Jet Plane,” is tackled like the other songs, always establishing the melody first and then exploring the chord changes with improvisational creativity, sometimes simple, but always with stalwart musicianship. Bailey is given several bars of solo time on this familiar Denver tune and plucks his way across the big bass strings, bridging the guitar chords like a tightrope walker. Their interpretation of Charmichael’s “Stardust” tune is absolutely lovely as it strolls, moderate tempo, across my listening space. As a touring musician, performer and educator, guitarist Vinny Raniolo takes flight with this premier CD release that celebrates his love of music and flying.

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NOSHIR MODY – “A BURGEONING CONSCIOUSNESS”
Independent Label

Noshir Mody, guitar/composer/arranger; Mike Mullan, alto/tenor saxophone; Benjamin Hankle, trumpet/flugelhorn; Campbell Charshee, piano; John Lenis, bass; Yutaka Uchida, drums.

Noshir Mody’s music has a feeling of New Age wrapped like a blanket around his productions. The first tune on this CD is titled “Secrets In the Wood and Stone.” It opens mysteriously, with bassist John Lenis leading the way. Delicately, the guitar begins to play arpeggio chords across the bass lines. This tune strokes my attention and Mike Mullan adds a very complimentary jazz solo on saxophone. As a fifteen- minute-long composition, it still manages to capture my imagination, without becoming boring or redundant. It allows each musician in Mody’s ensemble to introduce themselves via lengthy solos. The second tune, with rhythm guitar strumming brightly, sets the tempo that quickly branches off into an electronic guitar solo. At first, the guitar seems more improvisational than as an establishing factor that marries itself to a composed melody. However, the melody does arrive, after an extended introduction, and Benjamin Hanide adds beauty to the tune on his trumpet. Noshir Mody has composed and arranged all the tunes on this album. It’s odd, but at times, his style of guitar playing reminds me of a harpist. “Precipice of Courage” explores a more Avant Garde approach to the arrangement, especially from pianist, Campbell Charshee. Perhaps Mody explains his compositions and inspiration for this production best in liner notes that read:

“Regardless of how generations have carved out boundaries, delineating our physical, social and spiritual belief systems, the human experience continues to be a universal one. The development of the human spirit is not in the comforts, conquests, luxuries and acquisitions of our external surroundings, but rather in the conflict of our aspirational selves with our base instincts. These deeply individual and personal conquests then in turn facilitate the collective consciousness moving towards a higher purpose.”

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BRUBECK BROTHERS QUARTET – “1958 TIMELINE”
Blue Forest Records

Chris Brubeck, electric bass/bass trombone; Dan Brubeck, drums/hand drums/percussion; Mike DeMicco, guitar; Chuck Lamb, piano.

Percussive creativity opens the familiar “Blue Rondo A La Turk” tune of Dave Brubeck, father of Chris and Dan Brubeck. These bothers are carrying forward the legacy of their iconic forefather with the assistance of Mike DeMicco on guitar and Chuck Lamb on piano. This is a spirited and more contemporary arrangement of Dave Brubeck’s tune and it’s full of spunk and spirit. Dan Brubeck is the force behind the drums, playing the doumbek, a Middle East type of drum popular in North Africa and East Asia. Chris Brubeck is competent on electric bass and bass trombone. DeMicco’s solo on this first tune establishes his musicality and technical abilities on guitar. Brothers, Chris and Dan worked in Dave’s band for many years, polishing their chops and expanding their musical horizons. Dan’s drumming, while power-punched, is still very melodic. I hear him sing along with melodic lines and it’s extremely impressive. Chris is a fine musician on both bass and trombone, and also leans more towards production and composition. He is exploratory when it comes to writing music, with his interest jumping from symphonic scores to jazz, or from blues, funk and soul to rock and roll. Thus, their unique and often innovative arrangements of their dad’s compositions obviously have repainted the treasured songs with fiery, fresh faces. For example, “Far More Blue” is steeped in funk and drives at a rapid tempo, sparking Dan to excel on his drum solo. He drives the band full-force, like a freight train. “Easy As You Go” features Chris Brubeck on bass trombone. It’s a beautiful ballad and the voice of Chris’s trombone sounds almost human. The Brubeck sibling plays with a great deal of passion and sincerity. I also enjoyed chuck Lamb’s sensitive piano solo on this tune.

This “1958 Timeline” CD celebrates the 60th anniversary of Dave Brubeck’s Historic State Department Tour. In 1958 the United States was deep in the trenches of a cold war with the Soviet Union. The State Department chose jazz music as a secret weapon, sending goodwill and positivity in the form of Brubeck’s 80-concert tour across fourteen countries. The tour was meant to promote and popularize democracy, using Brubeck’s band as an artistic vehicle to build bridges between our country and Russia, among others. Chris Brubeck remembers that tour this way.

“As Dave and Iola Brubeck headed to the airport for a marathon 3-month tour through fourteen countries, Dan, our sister Cathy and I were small children (ages 2,4 and 5). Too young to make the trip. We said our sad goodbyes to our parents. Joining them were our honorary ‘Uncles’, Paul Desmond, Joe Morello, and the newest member of the Dave Brubeck Quartet, Eugene Wright,”said Chris Brubeck.

(NOTE: Eugene Wright is a man this writer fondly knows as ‘The Senator.’)

In this time of stress and political incorrectness between the United States and Russia, the Brubeck brother’s musical celebration seems particularly relevant and inspirational. This is no pastiche. Every tune on this project is exquisitely recorded and musically wonderful with a freshness and energy that compliments their father’s legacy yet expands it. I enjoyed the arrangements and excitement that these four musicians brought to the recording studio. On “Since Love Had its Way,” guitarist Mike DeMicco offers a sparkling solo tribute and Chris Brubeck is fluid, playing his 1969 Rickenbacker fretless bass, while humming along during his inspired solo. Lovely! Chuck Lamb has contributed a few original compositions, as has Chris Brubeck and guitar master, Mike DeMicco. I enjoyed his “North Coast” composition with its Straight-ahead feel and catchy melody.

On this celebratory CD you will discover challenging time signatures, tastes of the blues and touches of world music, refreshing arrangements of familiar Brubeck tunes and the spontaneity that comes when the band is well-rehearsed and unafraid to jump off the roof without a parachute. Bravo to the Brubeck brothers, their amazing team of musicians, and the admirable resurgence of their father’s legacy.

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LELLO MOLINARI – “LELLO’S ITALIAN JOB – VOLUME 2”
Fata Morgana Music

Lello Molinari, electric bass/double bass; Sal Difusco, elec. & acoustic Guitars; Marcello Pelliteri,drums; Dino Govoni,flute, tenor & soprano saxophone/EWI/clarinet; Meena Murthy,violin/cello.

Celebrated bassist, Lello Molinari, has once again returned to his Italian roots on his new CD titled “Lello’s Italian Job – Volume 2”. Molinari left his native Naples, Italy in 1986 to study jazz at Boston’s famed Berklee College of Music. This resulted in him becoming an educator at that same institution of learning. He’s also spent three decades touring as a bandleader with his quintet, in both the United States and Europe. Molinari is a master of both electric and upright, acoustic bass. In the year 2000, he recorded an album titled “Multiple Personalities” that blended three Italian tunes into an album that also included Thelonious Monk Classic compositions and other jazz tunes. He featured renowned Italian vocalist Chiara Civello on this production and saxophone icon, George Garzone. In 2016, he released “Lello’s Italian Job, Vol 1 and included traditional Italian folk songs, classical arias, and pop songs, all arranged in a very jazzy way. This year, his 2018 release continues that trend, offering a second collection of Italian music, transposed into jazz by an ensemble of master musicians who share his Italian heritage. The songs vary from a Respighi tone poem to popular Neapolitan songs, sung for generations. He also has included some original music for this C D.

Guitarist, Sal DiFusco, has composed “Sulla Strada Per Damasco,” a song rich with melody, that moves from what sounds like a Flamingo guitar introduction into a very Straight-ahead groove, allowing Dino Govoni to improvise and soar on his tenor saxophone. Quite unexpectedly, Lello Molinari pumps a double-time feel beneath what, at first, appears to be a ballad. Molinari and Pelliteri, on drums, lock and race the tempo to elevate this composition with a flurry of energy. A familiar song that has been performed in various languages all over the planet, from Perry Como to Andrea Boccelli, is “Anema e Core.” Molinari has chosen to arrange this Italian standard as a duet for bass and guitar. It’s quite moving and gives Molinari a platform to unleash his technique and artistry on his bass instrument.

“I had a desire to reconnect with my roots,” Molinari says. “I also wanted to incorporate these new things that I’ve learned over the years here in the States; take old material and give it a fresh face. … I play with a number of orchestras, so, I’ve reconnected with classical music and opera. Others are Italian Folk songs I grew up hearing, that I’ve known since I was a kid.”

Lello Molinari studied contrabass at the Scuola Civica in Sesto San Giovanni. In Italy. The talented bassist joined the Italian Vocal Ensemble, performing on radio and television and appearing with the group on jazz festivals before relocating to America.

“I guess, as I get more mature, I don’t need to play ‘punk jazz’ any more. … I can enjoy a simple structure, a simple melody. On Lello’s Italian Job Vol. 2, I am reinterpreting old material from a new, contemporary jazz point of view.”

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