By Dee Dee McNeil/Jazz Journalist

This month of May, I’m JAZZIN’ IT UP with Ukrainian influences, featuring BOB ARTHURS and STEVE LAMATTINA who transform Ukraine folk songs to jazz. San Diego pianist, DANNY GREEN, who adds strings to his trio. Canadian trumpeter, GABRIEL MARK HASSELBACH releases Mid-Century Modern music. NICK FINZER offers his rich, sincere trombone beauty, while JAMIE SHEW celebrates the love she found and lost with ‘Eyes Wide Open.’ Finally, the FRED HERSCH TRIO records ‘Live’ in Europe. Here’s my take on these newly released Compact Discs.

Windtunnel Records

Gabriel Mark Hasselbach, trumpet/flute/flugelhorn/valve ‘bone/vocals; Miles Black, piano; Laurence Mollerup, bass; Joel Fountain, drums; Ernie Watts & Cory Weeds, tenor saxophone; Mike Taylor, vocals; Olaf deShield, guitar.

Once again, Gabriel Mark Hasselbach has produced an album of fine jazz, combining the Straight-ahead style with modern jazz and what he refers to as Mid-Century music, all woven together like the lovely, colorful threads of a Canadian poncho. You can wrap yourself up in his music and feel warm and satisfied.

There is a beautiful vocal on “Nature Boy” sung by Mike Taylor. His voice is smooth and sweet as warmed caramel candy. It was a nice surprise to hear a vocal on Hasselbach’s normally all instrumental project.

The third tune, “Blues on My Mind,” features Cory Weeds on tenor saxophone. He swings hard, along with pianist Miles Black. This tune moves from a moderate blues into a straight-ahead double-time tempo. There’s a horn refrain that harmonically pulls the piece together, as a comfortable reference point throughout. “Terra Firma Irma” is another one of my favorite compositions on this album and it features the great Ernie Watts on tenor saxophone. However, it’s the fiery Gabriel Mark Hasselbach, on trumpet, (sometimes flute), that brings this project to a boil. He keeps the music alive and swinging throughout. Hasselbach always manages to insert bold funk and lovely melodies into productions that make you want to dance, sing and swing.

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OA2 Records

Danny Green, piano/composer; Justin Grinnell, bass; Julien Cantelm, drums; Kate Hatmaker & Igor Pandurski, violin; Travis Maril, viola; Erica Erenyl, cello.

San Diego pianist and composer, Danny Green, has arranged a unique group of original songs, expanding his composition and arranging skills by adding a string quartet to his most recent production. The first tune, “Time Lapse to Fall,” is rich with classical overtones. The next cut, “As the Parrot Flies” is lush with strings and uses a pizzicato technique on strings at the top of the song that plucks at the listener’s attention. The piano sounds like a restless bird throughout and Julien Cantelm on drums makes his sticks move across his instrument like wings.

If you are a lover of Chamber Music, this album will satisfy that appetite, along with the creativity that jazz always brings to the table. The improvisational piano playing of Green steadily unfolds as he improvises. The string arrangements add depth to this recording. The string quartet features San Diego Symphony violinists Kate Hatmaker, Igor Pandurski and Travis Maril on viola, along with cellist Erica Erenyl.

Green is a native of San Diego from an academic family with both parents becoming educators. He earned his B.A. in Piano Performance from UC San Diego, where he studied jazz piano with Grammy-winning producer, Kamau Kenyatta and classical piano with John Mark Harris and Luciane Cardassi. His taste for music has evolved from grunge rock, to Ska music and Latin music influenced by The Buena Vista Social Club documentary that tickled his interest in Cuban music. Later he embraced the Brazilian music style and was finally drawn to jazz pianists like Herbie Hancock and Bill Evans. He attained his Master’s Degree in Jazz Studies at San Diego State University, studying under the tutelage of Rick Helzer. Now Green is a bandleader with his own ideas about arranging, composing and recording. I found this musical project to be easy listening and quietly beautiful. But I never heard the fire and excitement that Evans, Hancock, Monk, Gene Harris, Billy Childs or Tommy Flanagan would bring to the bandstand. For my taste, I wish he had added one fast-moving, spontaneous, hard-swinging composition to this mix. He explained his project this way.

“As a composer, I always strive to tell stories through music,” says Green. “Adding strings to my music provides new and exciting ways for me to expand on those stories and heighten the emotional impact.”

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Independent Label

Jamie Shew, vocals/all arrangements; Larry Koonse, guitar; Joe Bagg, piano/Hammond B3; Darek Oles, bass; Jason Harnell, drums.

One thing that is immediately obvious is that Jamie Shew can ‘Swing’ the music. Her first tune is an original composition, complete with syncopated rhythms and a strong Swing-feel. It’s titled, “Get Out Of My Head” and features Joe Bagg laying down a memorable organ solo and it’s propelled by the strong, distinctive drums of Jason Harnell.

The arrangement on the intro to “Easy To Love” is unusual and really doesn’t add to the vocalist’s rendition of this familiar Cole Porter song. However, when the band brings the repetitious groove back at the end of this song to feature the drum solos, I admit that tied the whole thing together. I can hear a lot of Ella Fitzgerald’s influence in this vocalist’s style and presentation. I learned, from the enclosed press, she’s a proficient pianist. However, she doesn’t play on this recording, although she studied jazz piano at Washington State University and earned her Master’s degree in Vocal Performance/Jazz Studies at Western Michigan University. For the past fifteen years, Jamie Shew has been working the Los Angeles jazz circuit with her husband of twenty years, Roger Shew, a proficient bassist. Sadly, Jamie lost her beloved soulmate to Cancer. This album is a musical tribute to him and their relationship over their two decades of love. “The Answers Are You,” written by Pat Metheny and Roger Shew, seems to summarize a patch of her life with loving lyrics that celebrate being a lost soul and discovering completion when merging your life with another. Larry Koonse sounds inspired on his guitar. The melody tests Shew’s soprano range with a melody that dips and dives. “Detour Ahead” is full of emotional nuances and showcases Jamie Shew’s warm tones. On “Thou Swell,” Jamie Shew takes the liberty to scat the Rodgers and Hart tune and impresses me with her adlib and improvisational ability.

Musically, Shew has contracted a group of L.A.’s prized jazz cats, so the tracks are sensitive and well-played. This vocalist is generous to her musicians, giving them time to shine in the spotlight of their own solos and individual talents. Over the years, these musicians have been friends and bandmates with Jamie and Roger Shew. Consequently, there is a musical camaraderie on this recording that is palpable.

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Positone Records

Nick Finzer, trombone; Lucas Pino, tenor saxophone/bass clarinet; Victor Gould, piano; Alex Wintz, guitar; Dave Baron, bass; Jimmy Macbride, drums.

The Trombone is an instrument I’ve always thought of as very close to the human voice. Nick Finzer uses his own unique voice on this beautiful instrument; both rich and sincere. I wondered at the meaning of the album title, “No Arrival.” In the liner notes, Finzer explains.

“No Arrival means we’re always searching, always striving, never arriving. This piece is the journey and a musical representation of the cyclical nature of our life’s path.”

On the very first tune, “Rinse and Repeat,” Finzer lets his technique fly with the up-tempo rhythm and Swing in a straight-ahead-kind-of-way. This is one of five original compositions included in this production. Nick Finzer is a formidable composer. His melodies and chord changes lend themselves to inspirational improvisation by his band members. On “Never Enough,” pianist Victor Gould stretches-out and solidly entertains, both as a sensitive accompanist and soloist. Lucas Pino plays beautifully during his bass clarinet improvisation. However, it is the staunch, ever-driving trombone solo, tinged with blues, that puts the pizazz into this original composition. The melody sticks in your mind hypnotically. Nick Finzer explained his inspiration to create the composition entitled, “Tomorrow, Last Year”.

“Written just after the November 2016 election, this piece was a visceral reaction to the realization that the tomorrow of the past was not going to be the tomorrow of the future. Nonetheless, it wasn’t going to stop time, nor prevent me from continuing the journey that is important to me in this life. This piece is one of hopefulness in the face of seemingly darker times.”

This album is a bright light, a spotlight, leveled at a new and distinctive talent who has appeared on the jazz stage and is garnering well-deserved attention. Like Finzer told us, his music exudes hopefulness, happiness and the strength of freedom that only good jazz embodies.

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Palmetto Records

Fred Hersch, piano/composer; John Hébert, bass; Eric McPherson, drums.

I enjoy listening to music in Ms. Ruby Kia, my Sportage SUV. I name all my cars. The last one was “Matilda” from the Harry Belafonte hit record “Matilda, she takes me money and run away yeah. Everybody, Matilda …” etc. Anyway, while I make those long California drives. I listen intently. I can’t read the credits, the liner notes or the publicity sheet. I am just listening and expectant about what I might hear artistically.

Fred Hersch is a name I know and recognize as an amazing pianist/arranger. The first cut sounds a lot like Thelonious Monk. The Hersch style reminds me a bit of Count Basie and a bit of Monk. But instead of the ‘Swing’ those two masters were known for, Hersch reverts to a more classical style. His music reminds me of classical meets Avant Garde.

This is a ‘Live” album, well produced and recorded cleanly. You can hear every nuance and patter of the drums and every clap of the audience hands. You enjoy the solid bass lines and the flutter of Hersch’s technically astute fingers punching the black and white keys alive with sound and rhythm. Once I arrive at my destination, I look at the Fred Hersch song list and marvel that the first tune was indeed a Thelonious Monk composition titled, “We See.” The second cut, “Snape Maltings” is a Hersch original composition. It features John Hébert bowing his big bass at times, with McPherson on drums, fluctuating between filling in and at other times, appropriately singing along with the very classical melody on his trap drums. The song, “Skipping,” does just that. Both Hersch and his trio skip along, like carefree children, playing outside on a summer day.

This project is sometimes an excursion into unknown territories, led by Hersch and his creative compositions and talented sidekicks. “Bristol Fog” is an absolutely beautiful ballad and I believe my favorite cut on this entire album of excellence. In the liner notes, they write that this is a musical dedication to the late British pianist, John Taylor. Hébert has the opportunity to stretch out on this song and his bass tone and emotional delivery are stunning. Lucky for this trio, they were recorded while performing in Brussels at the former National Institute for Radio Broadcasting. The acoustics are perfect and the spontaneity of their improvisational journey is emotionally tangible.

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Blue Griffin Recording

Bob Arthurs, trumpet/vocals; Steve Lamattina, guitar.

The concept of this production is simple. Two musicians, Bob Arthurs and Steve Lamattina, were approached by a Ukrainian record producer, Irena Portenko, and asked if they would consider using their duo instrumentation to record popular Ukrainian songs with jazzy arrangements. The producer named the project for her father, her uncle and her daughter’s dad. Thus, the title, “Jazz It Up – Ukrainian Songs for Three Dads.” The result is a fresh perspective on traditional folk songs from the Ukraine.

Bob Arthur is a jazz trumpeter, a vocalist, band leader and recording artist. As an educator, he has served on the faculty of the Music Conservatory of Westchester in White Plains, New York for over three decades. This CD is his fourth release as a leader. Previously he released an album where he sang in Ukrainian. He sings on this CD also, featured on “Moon in the sky,” and “Walking Around the Garden,” once again singing in the language of the Ukraine. Steve LaMattina served on the faculty of the Music Conservatory of Westchester until 2006. So, I assume that he and Bob Arthurs are old friends and teaching mates. His proficiency on guitar is obvious, as he strums the rhythm and keeps the time steady. LaMattina is the only instrument supporting Arthurs’ horn and vocalization. The duo production is simplistic, but effective. This is a fine introduction to Ukrainian folk music, all jazzed up with a newly painted face.

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