Archive for July, 2018

JAZZ MUSIC BLOSSOMS FROM THE HEART

July 26, 2018

By Dee Dee McNeil
July 26, 2018

ROGER DAVIDSON QUARTET – “MUSIC FROM THE HEART” Soundbrush Records

Featuring: Hendrick Meurkens, vibraphone/harmonica; Roger Davidson, piano/composer; Eduardo Belo, bass; Adriano Santos, drums.

This musical production, produced by Pablo Aslan, is a happy celebration. Pianist, Roger Davidson, has composed all the Brazilian compositions recorded. The harmonica of Hendrik Meurkens dances in complete abandon from the very first cut of this album titled, “My Love is Only You”. Tastefully enters the piano and the drums. It sounds like a party. Meurkens has his own signature sound on the harmonica and there is a warm familiarity between him and the piano. On cut #2, “Celia,“ the piano plays tag with the harmonica, colorfully tickling melodies that mirror or harmonically enhance the pianist as they interpret Roger Davidson’s lovely composition.

On Cut #3, “Comment Je t’Aime,” sparkles and blinks like candles on a cake. The fourth cut, “The Way You Move My Heart,” is melancholy, but beautiful. I’m impressed with the way Roger Davidson, on piano, always seems to finish Meurkens’ musical sentences and vice versa. They work well together. Davidson is a wonderful composer and offers us fifteen delightful compositions to enjoy. One very melodic original is “Fico Feliz,” where it was nice to hear Eduardo Belo briefly solo on bass. Also, I especially enjoyed Belo when he bowed his double bass on the very romantic tune, “Um Amor, Um Abraco.” Adriano Santos brings rhythm and gusto to the project on drums, showcased grandly on the final Samba. The ensemble enters and ends with a celebratory feeling, sharing “Music from the Heart.”
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KATE REID – “THE HEART ALREADY KNOWS” Independent Label

Kate Reid, vocals; Paul Meyers, Larry Koonse & Romero Lubambo, guitars; Fred Hersch & Taylor Eigsti, piano.

Kate Reid has a voice that reminds me of Julie London, Joni Mitchell and Diana Krall all rolled into one, sultry ball of talent. She has chosen eleven songs to entertain us, each one produced as a unique duo featuring herself and one other musician of excellence. Opening with the Strayhorn/Ellington composition, “Something to Live For” she captures my heart with her tone and emotional connection to both the lyrics and melody. As a pianist herself, although she doesn’t play on this recording, Reid has arranged most of the songs. For this song, Paul Meyers amply accompanies her on his guitar.

Critically acclaimed vocalist, pianist, composer and founder of the vocal group, ‘New York Voices,” Peter Eldridge, produced this album and it’s Kate Reid’s third CD release. He helped her choose this rich repertoire. She has embraced the superb talents of a handful of amazing musicians. For example, Fred Hersch, a ten-time Grammy Award nominee and winner of the 2018 Jazz Pianist of the Year from the Jazz Journalist’s Association. He composed two of the songs she sings, “Stars” and “Lazin’ Around with You.” Hersch takes to the piano and accompanies her on the moody ballad, “No More,” and the familiar standard “If I Should Lose You.”.

On the sassy song, “Confessin’” Kate Reid is joined by a very busy Los Angeles guitarist by the name of Larry Koonse. He also plays on her rendition of Joni Mitchell’s composition, “Two Grey Rooms” that was arranged by Peter Eldridge. I was intrigued with the lyrics of this song and impressed with Reid’s emotional delivery. Romero Lubambo is a Brazilian guitarist. He plays on the Fred Hersch “Stars” composition with touching lyrics written by Norma Winstone. This tune is lilting and infectious, reflecting its South American roots because of Lubambo’s rhythmic guitar excellence. The Hersch melody is challenging and beautiful. Lubambo also accompanies Reid on “Minds of Their Own” composed by famed Brazilian composer, Ivan Lins with lyrics by producer, Peter Eldridge. I really enjoyed Kate Reid’s rendition of James Taylor’s “Secret of Life” composition with Taylor Eigsti taking to the 88-keys, where she sings, “The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time.” Well said!

Kate Reid is a Mid-Western talent, born and raised in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. She received her Bachelor of Music degree in Jazz Studies from Western Michigan University. She also has a Master of Music degree in Jazz Performance and a Doctor of Music Arts degree from the University of Miami. For a while, she moved to Los Angeles to work at Cypress College as Professor of Music and Director of Vocal Jazz. Currently, Dr. Kate Reid is Director of the Jazz Vocal Performance Program and Associate Professor of Jazz Voice at the University of Miami. This project is exquisite, and in its duo simplicity, amazingly complicated. Singing a duo gig or recording with just two musicians is no easy task. Kate Reid makes it sound easy and seamless, flowing like a lovely river, from one tune to the next and intriguing us with her sensuous delivery and undeniable vocal gift.
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JOHN BAILEY – “IN REAL TIME” Summit Records

John Bailey, trumpet/flugelhorn/composer; Stacy Dillard, tenor/soprano saxophone; John Hart, guitar; Cameron Brown, bass; Victor Lewis, drums/cymbals; Janet Axelrod, flute; Leo Grinhauz, cello.

A trumpet always makes people come to attention. John Bailey’s clear tones, dramatically expelled from the bell of his horn, immediately command my consideration. Next arrives the percussive drums of Victor Lewis and then the horn harmonics of sax and trumpet that mirror New York City’s busy traffic. This tune, “Rhapsody,” is established by the rhythm section’s groove. For a moment, it sounds like smooth jazz; but quickly these musicians are traveling down several straight-ahead lanes. Stacy Dillard joins the production with his saxophone, solo cruising across the busy musical highway. The saxophone spits fire. Then John Hart climbs into the front seat, cool as ice on guitar. Thus, begins my trip with this newly released John Bailey debut album. I’m prone to categorize this production as all fire and ice, heightened by the flaming trumpet virtuosity of Bailey.

John Bailey fell in love with the trumpet at age eleven. It’s been a long and lovely love affair ever since. Seven of the nine compositions contained on this album were composed by Bailey. The second cut is dedicated to his teenaged son, Louis, and titled “My Man Louis”. It has a Pink Panther feel at first, thanks to the creeping bass line of Cameron Brown, who sets the mood and groove. Almost immediately, this tune stretches into the solar system, like a rocket ship taking off, and it’s propelled by the energetic drums of Victor Lewis and the innovative solos by each member of this talented ensemble.

This production gives me an intimate look at a trumpet prodigy who was first celebrated for his amazing talent during high school in 1984, when DownBeat Magazine cited him during their annual Student Music Awards for his outstanding performances in both classical and jazz trumpet categories. Today, after garnering several other awards, he is well known in the New York area as a sideman, studio session musician and educator. Bailey honed his gifts in college, playing with the Buddy Rich Band and he has worked with Ray Charles, Ray Baretto, The Woody Herman Orchestra, James Moody, Kenny Burrell, Dr. Lonnie Smith and a host of other icons. With the release of this production, Bailey lets us know It’s time for him to share his composer skills, musical production talents and sensuous horn playing with the world “In Real Time.”
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BOBBY SANABRIA MULTIVERSE B IG BAND – “WEST SIDE STORY REIMAGINED” Jazzheads

Bobby Sanabria, musical director/drums/cowbells/police-whistle/samba-whistle/lead vocals/producer; Darwin Noguera, piano; Leo Traversa, electric bass; Oreste Abrantes, congas/itotele batá drum; second voice on Maria; Matthew González, bongó/cencerro/primo bomba drum/lya batá; requinto pandereta/ganza/Dominican gűira; Takao Heisho, claves/Cuban gűiro macho/cencerro/Puerto Rican guicharo/okonkolo batá drum/maracas (Cuban & Venbezuelan)/shekere/tambourine/cuica/pandeiro/triangle/gong/ police-siren; TRUMPETS: Kevin Bryan, Shareef Clayton, Max Darché, & Andrew Neesley. REEDS: David Djesus, lead alto/soprano saxophones/flute; Andrew Gould, alto saxophone/flute; Peter Brainin, tenor saxophone/flute; Yaacov Mayman, tenor saxophone/flute/clarinet; Danny Rivera, baritone saxophone; Gabrielle Garo, flute/piccolo; TROMBONES: David Miller, Tim Sessions, Armando Vergara, & Chris Washburne, bass trombone; Ben Sutin, electric violin.

Afro-Cuban percussive excitement opens this CD with exuberance and joy. The famed tune, “Maria” never sounded so good or so uniquely arranged. Here is a production of timeless compositions that celebrate the music of Leonard Bernstein (with the unsung lyrics of Steven Sondheim) from the groundbreaking musical, “West Side Story.” Bobby Sanabria has reinvented the music in celebration of the 1957 stage play’s recent 60th birthday in 2017 and also to salute composer Leonard Bernstein’s 100th birthday this year. Using the stellar talents of his passionate Multiverse Big Band, Bobby Sanabria brings fresh life and exultation to this music. Sanabria explained in his liner notes:

“West Side Story holds a special place I my heart. I first saw the (1961) movie as a young boy when my parents, Jose and Juanita, took me and my sister Joanne to the luxurious Loews Paradise on the Grand Concourse in my hometown., da Bronx. At that time, there wasn’t anything that acknowledged the contributions we had made, let alone the existence of NYC’s Puerto Rican community, other than articles about gangs and crime in relation to us. … Yes – gang life in NYC back in the 50s forms the framework of West Side Story, and of course it’s based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet … but that’s looking at things superficially. It’s a complex story of romance set in the energy of the inner city amidst racism, bigotry, and what causes it; fear, that’s offset by cultural pride, humor and the spirit of fighting for what one believes in, good or bad.”

Using his musical director talent, his musicality on drums and percussion, and his deep love of Bernstein’s composition skills, Bobby Sanbria has produced and packaged his dream on disc. Utilizing the amazing talents of some of the best East Coast musicians alive, this is a recording I have listened to over and over for several days; never tiring of the CDs explosive energy and the beauty it reflects. Bobby Sanabria’s music obviously comes from the heart.
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MAGGIE HERRON – “A TON OF TROUBLE” Independent Label

Maggie Herron, piano/vocals/composer; Bill Cunliffe, piano/arranger; Grant Geissman & Larry Koonse, guitar; Dean Taba, bass; Jake Reed, drums; Bob Sheppard, flute/bass/clarinet; (HORN SECTION): Brandon Fields, Bob McChesney, Ryan Pewees. Geoffrey Keezer, piano; Gillan Margot & Jason Morales, vocal harmonies.

Maggie Herron is a prolific composer, a competent pianist and talented vocalist. Her alto vocals recall the rich, round tones of Cleo Laine mixed with the sultry, expressive voice of Shirley Horn. The catchy lyrics of her songwriting (often written by her daughter, Dawn Herron) grab the attention right away. On both the title tune, “A Ton of Trouble” and the second song, “Perfect Specimen,” Bill Cunliffe’s tight horn arrangements add brightness and accentuate Herron’s unique lyrics. “Salty Wine” is a title full of poetry and so Is the song itself. Maggie Herron composes using a lot of minor chords and melodies that etch themselves into your consciousness like love letters carved into a tree trunk. On this song, we hear Herron on piano and the sensitive guitar work of Larry Koonse. When she sings, “Dance Me to the End of Love,” (a Leonard Cohen composition) the music is arranged more folksy than jazzy. At other times, the arrangements embrace ragtime, slap-stick and on the lovely ballad titled, “There is love” she adds a soft, harmonious background chorus that enhances her production and delivery. All in all, Maggie Herron, the artist, is poetry in flesh and blood.

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WAYNE POWERS – “IF LOVE WERE ALL” Kabochie Records

Wayne Powers, vocals; Ziad Ravie, tenor saxophone; Keith Davis, piano; Ron Brendle, double bass; Al Sergel, drums.

When I listen to Wayne Powers sing, I am reminded of some of our great male vocalists of yesteryear like Arthur Prysock, Johnny Hartman and Billy Eckstine. Wayne has that air of history wrapped into his style and presentation but sung with his own unique style and verve. His album is chuck full of fourteen jazz standards that make me feel as though I’m sitting in a cozy, intimate jazz club in ‘Anywhere, USA’. Wayne Powers knows how to put emotion and sincerity into his songs. It’s easy to overlook the occasional flat notes or his penchant for sliding up to the tonal pitch. That being said, one can tell that this vocalist has lived life and he has picked songs he can relate to; songs where he can dig his heels deeply into the sturdy roots of life. I enjoy each of his presentations, some with the often unheard of or unsung verses, like on his arrangement of “Body and Soul”.

Other songs recall the magical improvisational lyrics of a King Pleasure or Eddie Jefferson. For example, Powers’ arrangement of “All of Me” that begins as a ballad, that then breaks into a lyrical, improvisational scat at a double time tempo. He makes an old song fresh and innovative, borrowing from the style of King Pleasure. Wayne Power’s shows he is unafraid to tackle the brilliance of Strayhorn, on “Lush Life” or the passionate beauty in the famed Ann Ronell composition, “Willow Weep for Me.” His musicians are competent and supportive, with Keith Davis, on piano, lending sensitive accompaniment; Al Sergel locking the time strongly in place on drums, Ron Brendle beautifully complementing the rhythm section on his upright bass and Ziad Rabie strong and creative on tenor saxophone. If you love the standard jazz love songs, here is a rich, emotional, baritone vocalist who amply interprets them for your listening pleasure..

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ERNIE KRIVDA AND SWING CITY – “A BRIGHT AND SHINING MOMENT” Capri Records Ltd.

Ernie Krivda, tenor saxophone/arranger/composer; Joe Hunter, piano; Marion Hayden & Brian Thomas, bass; Lee Bush, guitar; John Bacon & Rick Porrello, drums; Steve Enos, trumpet; Chris Anderson & Gary Carney, trombone.

This is a party album, created by a small band with a very big sound. Tenor saxophonist, Ernie Krivda has written all the arrangements for his ‘Swing City Band’ and ‘swing’ they do! “Lime House Blues” opens his CD with John Bacon peddling the music, introducing a mid-tempo swing on his drums and propelling the band ahead, like a wind-driven cyclist. “Roses” is a sultry Krivda composition. His bluesy ballad is sexy and seems plucked from another era. Krivda’s tenor saxophone style winds back the clock to the 1930’s and 40’s, when Billie Holiday and Prez were popular jazz icons. Next, Marshall Baxter Beckley sings a memorable rendition of “Summertime” that is heated up by the hot tempo and the exciting arrangement that features a strong bass line by female, Detroit, bassist, Marion Hayden. Both Ms. Beckley and trombonist Gary Carney are listed on the CD jacket “In Memoriam”.

“On the Road” is another one of Ernie Krivda’s original compositions. It’s a slow swing that allows Joe Hunter to tinkle the piano keys in a very low-down, bluesy-kind-of-way, utilizing the 88-keys upper register. Even as the horns soar and harmonize, Hunter manages to attract the listener’s attention with his tasty piano chops. Whoever mixed this CD did a superb job. Ernie Krivda writes music that sticks like glue to your melodic memory. His melodies beg to be sung and his arrangements engage both the musicians and the listener. For example, on “Easter Blue,” I am once again captivated by the rich, warm melody that Krivda establishes on his tenor saxophone. Steve Enos mirrors Krivda’s passion on trumpet during a sweetly played solo.

In Cleveland, Ohio, Ernie Krivda is a local hero and national treasure. Krivda explains, in his liner notes , that the original mission of his septet was meant to reflect a broad arena of jazz styles, exploring various eras of jazz music. His band’s name, “Swing City”, immediately identifies their rhythmic groove. This recording of their music captures the prime period shortly before they disbanded in 2002. They took pride in blending bebop with the swing era, interpreting the genius of both Ellington and Strayhorn, (i.e. Mood Indigo, Caravan and The Mooche); embracing standards like “The Man I Love” and “Summertime” in a most Swinging way, while also leaving their mark on Ernie Krivda’s original compositions, including the happy, joyful, title tune, “A Bright and Shining Moment.”

Ernie Krivda is a 2009 recipient of the Cleveland Arts Prize award for lifetime achievement in music and he’s been a driving, Mid-Western force in jazz since the 1960’s. He’s won the Jazz Legends Award from the Tri-C Jazz Festival and a Community Partnership of Arts and Culture Fellowship. You will find him bandleading his own quartet in and around Cleveland, Ohio, as well as directing the Fat Tuesday Big Band.
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GEOF BRADFIELD – “YES, AND … MUSIC FOR NINE IMPROVISERS”
Delmark Label

Geof Bradfield, tenor & soprano saxophones/bass clarinet/composer/producer; Anna Webber, flute/bass flute, tenor saxophone; Greg Ward, alto saxophone; Russ Johnson & Marquis Hill, trumpet/flugelhorn; Joel Adams, trombone; Scott Hesse, electric guitar/classical guitar; Clark Sommers, acoustic bass; Dana Hall, drums/percussion.

For this final review, I chose Geof Bradfield’s seventh album, as a leader, because his music obviously blossoms straight from the heart, like the title of this reviewer’s column. Using the supreme talents of several noteworthy midwestern musicians to explore and deliver eight of Bradfield’s original compositions, you will find this music inspirational and artistic. Each song and every instrument competently splashes color against a canvas of space, painting the music brightly and freely for our ears to digest. Jazz, being the music of freedom, is well represented on this album. Bradfield explains the title of his recording in the liner notes.

“Yes, and … takes its name from an improvisational theater game often implemented by the iconic Compass Players. … It requires you to believe that what you improvise is building on whatever everyone else is doing – even if the response is ‘Yes, and’ … it says here’s my contrasting response to that. I want to see people making some decisions. That’s what jazz is; that’s how my favorite players approach music.”
I should explain, that in 1955, a few blocks from the University of Chicago’s campus, two theater aficionados (David Shepherd & Paul Sills) launched a storefront theater ensemble they named The Compass Players. They were radical for that time and remain influential to this day.

Bradfield’s music ensemble on this production is radical also, sometimes reminding me of the Chicago Art Ensemble and at other times the recording is lush and full, sounding more like a big band than a small, nine-piece ensemble. This is particularly obvious on “Impossible Charms”, the fourth cut on this work of art. Anna Webber shines on flute during her solo on cut #6 titled, Anamneses. It’s fourteen minutes long, but I was never bored. There is plenty of improvisational spirit shown by these players and Geof Bradfield is an exceptional composer/arranger and reed man. No wonder that this project was commissioned by Chamber Music America’s New Jazz Works through the generous support of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. You can enjoy this ensemble up close and personal at the upcoming Chicago Jazz Festival on August 30, 2018 or simply pop this stellar recording into your CD player and musically embrace them at your leisure.
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SUMMER JAZZ FEATURES PIANO POETRY AND VOCAL VARIATIONS

July 13, 2018

By Dee Dee McNeil / Jazz Journalist

LYNNE ARRIALE TRIO – “GIVE US THESE DAYS” Challenger Records

Lynne Arriale, piano; Jasper Somsen, double bass; Jasper Van Hulten, drums; Kate McGarry, vocals.

As a bandleader, Lynne Arriale uses her 88-key instrument to inspire. The conversation that develops between herself and her accomplished players is the epitome of jazz expression. That is to say, the music of freedom develops because of the individual talents of musicians who blend their emotions and techniques to enrich the music and to inspire each other and the world. The power of improvisation is truly an example of the power of democracy. Jazz music allows each musician to solo and thereby express themselves, but at the same time, masterfully and artfully blend with the other musicians in a supportive, compatible way.
Lynne Arriale has composed six out of the nine songs recorded on this project. She opens with Joni Mitchell’s popular “Woodstock” tune. All arrangements are by Arriale and I found the title of this project provocative, prayerful and positive. Yes. We need to be reminded of the blessing each day becomes; a day given to us to learn, to live and to love. Explained in her liner notes, Lynne Arriale has approached this ambitious musical concept in hopes of unbridling a sense of wonder and freedom. Known by many as a piano poet, her creative genius has evolved on this recording and she says her inspiration for “Give Us These Days” was the poetry of Jim Schley entitled, “Devotional.” She dedicates this project to the memory of Peter Schmidlin, drummer and founder of TCB Music, the Montreux Jazz Label.

Double bassist and co-producer of this project is Jasper Somsen. Both he and drummer, Jasper van Hulten are from the Netherlands. The tightness of the trio’s sound makes me believe they have been playing together for some time. Together, they have created a priceless piece of music and a hope that their listeners will not only enjoy it but be inspired by the music to count each day as a blessing and a gift.
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ROSS NIXON – “THE REMOVALIST” Independent label

Ross Nixon, piano/composer; Curtis Lundy, bass; Victor Lewis, drums

A melancholy and very beautiful arrangement of an original tune titled “The Removalist” begins with Curtis Lundy’s big bass sound out front and prominent. Then Victor Lewis joins on drums. They set the groove and the rhythmic trampoline is established for Ross Nixon’s piano fingers to jump upon. This is a Nixon composition and one of six original songs on his CD. The delightful old standard, “Crazy He Calls Me” is beautifully interpreted by Ross Nixon as a dreamy ballad. “The Take Down” races off his Compact Disc with energy fused by the masterful drums of Victor Lewis and Curtis Lundy is pumping his bass in a fast-stepping walk. Nixon cuts-time across the rhythm path and dances atop the speedy arrangement, sometimes letting his fingers fly to express improvisational creativity and joy. When Victor Lewis takes a solo, it is exciting and technically astute. Here is a premier recording for this Australian pianist that is well produced and a lovely listening experience. It can be found on CD Baby.

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MND FLO – “FROM TIME” Independent Label

Sharik Hasan, piano/voice/composer; Simon Moullier, vibraphone/synthesizer/ percussion/voice;Alexander L.J. Toth, double bass/elec. Bass/guitar/Fender Rhodes/piano/synthesizer/voice & sound design on all tracks; Anthony A. Toth, drums/percussion/trumpet/voice.

The strands of a guitar sparkles across space from my CD player. A drum rim shot adds smooth jazz rhythm to the premier piece on this recording and a voice recites poetry. I think to myself, this first recording from a group of musicians who met at Berklee College of Music, promises to be both creative and unique. These four young men, who have formed a mind flow union (i.e.: their Mnd Flo group) are combining cultures, traditions and creativity in hopes of bringing something fresh to jazz.

Together, their members embrace Hungarian, Trinidadian, Indian, Canadian, French and American cultures. As students in Boston, Massachusetts, their original group was a trio including Sharik Hasan and Alexander and Anthony Toth. The addition of Simon Moullier, on vibraphone, came later. Their goal on this project seems to be combining creative expressions to create something fresh and new employing their own musical interpretations. The result is a sound relatable to ‘New Age’ music that blends their ethnic roots and they use electronic elements to enhance a fresh approach to their musical expression. Some of it sounds like modern jazz, for instance on cut #4 titled “Scalaphunk”. There is an element of contemporary music seeping through their repetitious grooves and rhythmic backbeats. All tracks were composed by Sharik Hasan except a collaboration with Alexander L.J. Toth and Defne Sahin on track one. Tracks three and five were composed by the TothBros. Like all artists, these young men seem to be reflecting dreams and expression, using music as their paint brush on the canvas of life. Each man is multi-talented, as you can note above where I have listed the many instruments each one brings to this project. I imagine the longer they work together, play together, stay together, they will accrue a sound and style unique and memorable for their “Mnd Flo” group. This is a well-executed beginning to a rich and buoyant career.

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JOCELYN MICHELLE – “LIVE AT VIVA CANTINA” Chicken Coup Records

Jocelyn Michelle, organ; John Rack, guitar; Steve Mann & Bill Noble, alto/tenor saxophones; Andrea Lindborg & Tony Farrell, trumpet; Sammy K, drums/percussion; Al person, percussion; Laura Dickinson, vocals.

The opening tune, “Groove Yard” could have grooved harder for me. Just turning up the speed a hair would have punched this tune right into the pocket and opened this CD up with more of a bang. As it is, the moderate tempo still introduces us to Jocelyn Michelle as a skillful organist. Although the majority of her life and music has been happening on the Big Island of Hawaii, she returned to Los Angeles to record this project. Southern California was once home to both Jocelyn Michelle and her husband, guitarist John Rack. Cut #2, “Englewood Cliffs” bursts forth with the energy I was expecting from an organ ensemble, led by the guitar work of John Rack and propelled by drummer, Sammy K. Jocelyn Michelle invites the tenor saxophone solo to lay down a red carpet of excellence before she enters with her organ solo, enhanced by Sammy K’s spontaneous drum work. I actually recall this song from her “Time to Play” album that I reviewed in 2016.

Jocelyn Michelle was born in Florida, raised in New Jersey and attended the University of Miami School of Music. Her musical parents noticed their daughter’s ability to hear a tune and play it on their piano when she was just a small child. Thus, began her piano lessons at age seven. She also played guitar. While working the club circuit in Miami, she met her husband, John Rack, and became the keyboard player in his band. Soon they became life partners as well as musical partners. They resided for many years in Los Angeles and moved to Hawaii in 2013.
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MAURICE FRANK – “MAD ROMANCE AND LOVE” Jumo Music

Maurice Frank, vocals; John DiMartino, piano/arrangements; Eric Alexander, tenor saxophone; Aaron Heick, soprano saxophone/clarinet/alto flute; Paul Meyers, acoustic guitar; Luques Curtis, acoustic bass; Obed Calvaire, drums; Samuel Torres, percussion.

Maurice Frank has a unique sound and a lovely voice. He introduces me to the Cole Porter song, “Dream Dancing.” I am surprised I’ve never heard this song before, because it’s so lovely and the lyrics are so compelling. Frank sells the song from the very first verse and snags my interest, like a fisherman’s hook. Each song pulls me comfortably along. Maurice Frank knows how to interpret a lyric and his timing and pitch proclaim that he is no newcomer to the business of jazz and singing. His voice is youthful and powerful, but the gray in his beard, pictured on the CD cover, says he’s circled a few blocks and occupied a few stages along his entertainment journey. His choice of songs is exquisite and interesting. He veers off the well-trodden musical path and offers us a glimpse of beauty in songs both familiar and unfamiliar.

The John Di Martino arrangements support Frank’s talent and vocal strong points. His musical ensemble is tight and talented. Currently residing in Florida, Maurice Frank adds a current and twentieth century sensibility to songs he grew up listening to by the famed crooners of the 1950s and 60s. This is good listening and a fitting way to introduce a younger audience to old and unforgettable jazz standards, like Billy Strayhorn’s “Day Dream” and Buddy Johnson’s “Save Your Love for Me.”
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ALEXANDRA JACKSON – LEGACY & ALCHEMY IT/IS TELECOM LLC

Due to over 150 artists contributing to this CD, I will not list them as I usually do. Information is available online.

Alchemy is usually descriptive of converting base metal into gold or a magical process of transformation and creation. From the very first percussive rhythms dancing from this amazing Brazilian musical project, I am enthralled and hypnotized. The production is rich and welcoming. The energy and multi-layered voices dance off the CD and the Portuguese language does not deter from the originality and musical excellence. One does not have to speak a language in order to understand and embrace the emotional contest. Alexandra Jackson’s voice soars, like this ambitious 2-CD-set production. She is the catalyst that ties together English, Portuguese, and a host of special iconic artists who also love Brazilian music. During this 60th anniversary of the bossa nova style, CEO and executive producer, Robert Hebert, was inspired to honor this huge Brazilian music legacy and its contribution to the world. Hebert explains:

“The highest levels of Brazilian music and American jazz have always reverberated. We created an environment and commitment to the alchemy of the music, based on humans endeavoring to evolve the legacy of the music. Brazilian, African and American music have a history of connection due to the slave trade and that’s what creates this sense of musical integrity; what ties it all together.”

Alexandra Jackson is the daughter of Atlanta’s first African American major, Maynard Jackson Jr and her mother is a noted NPR personality, Valorie Richardson Jackson. Alexandra studied jazz at the University of Miami and performed with a host of Latin bands and Brazilian ensembles. She loves the music of Ivan Lins, Gilberto Gil, Caetano Veloso and Carlinhos Brown. On the jazzier side, she is a big fan of Sarah Vaughan, Oscar Peterson, Take 6, Tony Bennett and Chaka Khan. As a member of Generation X, she also embraces the more contemporary, R & B music of artists like Maxwell, D’Angelo, the Brand New Heavies and Jamiroquai.

Currently, the fourth cut on Disc #1 of Alexandra Jackson’s CD is titled “All One” and it’s getting huge airplay across the nation on over 150 radio stations. Five songs from this album are being featured on five Sirius XM channels. This song is also soaring up the Billboard Smooth Jazz Charts. The entire Alexandra Jackson project is just so wonderful, I see why radio DJs are playing it and sharing it, worldwide. Not to mention, the producers of this project have included the work of over 150 participating artists to set a historical stage for the continuous engagement of Brazilian music with American artistry. On the popular cut, “All One” Al Jarreau is featured and as fate would have it, it is one of his last recording sessions before his untimely departure from this world. Also featured is the voice of Castro-Neves from 2005. It was recorded during his own last studio date and conscientiously mixed into this session.

Alexandra Jackson’s voice is the fire and passion that colors each tune in her own unmitigated way, blending with masters like Miles Davis on trumpet, and the superstar Brazilian composer, singer and percussionist, Carlinhos Brown. She makes lilting, joyful music with Paulo and Daniel Jobim on “A Feliciadade” which reminds us of the impact Brazilian music made in the 1959 Black Orpheus film that helped launch samba and bossa nova to the ears of the world. You will hear Hubert Laws and Rod Temperton, Oscar Castro-Neves and Dona Ivone Lara on these familiar and beautiful songs. On “Anjo De Mim” written by Ivan Lins, Vitor Martins and Will Jennings, one of the composers, Ivan Lins, is featured on vocals. His and Alexandra Jackson’s voice blend naturally, like moonlight and dark, romantic nights. The lyrics are lovely.

On “Corcovado,” Miles Davis can be heard on trumpet, joined by Antonio Carlos Jobim and Ivan Lins, and accompanied by the Bossa Nova Noites Orquestra. How extraordinary for Jackson’s sultry vocals to become blended into this piece of historic tape. And all this is found on disc #1 of the double set. Remember, there are two discs. The music is happy, soulful and the production, featuring the talents of co-producers, Larry Williams, Rod Temperton, Arthur Maia, William Magalhaes, Ricardo Silveira, Max Viana, Chris Walker and Robert Hebert is stuffed with culture and delivers icons, and seventeen exuberant, musical offerings. Not only does Ms. Jackson sing lead vocals, she sings all the background vocals and even adds a ‘mean’ whistle on several tunes. Sometimes I hear an Earth, Wind & Fire influence in her productions, for instance in their fresh approach on “Girl From Ipanema”. Chris Walker’s voice shines on “Turns Your Heart Around” as he duets with Alexandra Jackson. Great song! The producers have paired this talented lady with several varied male voices. On Track #3 of disc two, percussionist, Pretinho da Serrinha sings an ebullient duet with Alexandra Jackson that shakes the cow webs from stagnant feet. You are compelled to dance. Rod Temperton and Lionel Richie have penned “Our Time Now.” With the vocal help of Siedah Garrett, Chris Walker, Rod Temperton and Armando Marcal, Alexandra Jackson embraces good company to perpetuate a positive message of humanity embracing golden dreams and celebrating life. This inspirational lyric easily describes Jackson’s entire project.

This recording is an important one and I could not stop playing it, over and over again. I savored each song, each note, like a delicious dessert, it tastes sweet to my ears.
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ANTONIO ADOLFO – ENCONTROS ORQUESTRA ATLANTICA AAMO712

Antonio Adolfo, piano/vocals; Nelson Faria & Claudio Jorge, acoustic guitars; Leo Amuedo, electric guitar; Jorge Helder, double bass; Rafael Barata, drums; Dada Costa, percussion; Jesse Sadoc, trumpet & flugelhorn; Gesiel Nasciento, trumpet; Danilo Sinna, alto sax/flute; Marcelo Martins, tenor saxophone/flute; Levi Chaves, baritone/soprano saxophones; Aldivas Ayres & Wanderson Cunha, trombone; Marcos Nimrichter, accordion; Ze Renato, vocals; Members of Orquestra Atlantica.

Until now, Antonio Adolfo has mostly been a featured pianist with small ensembles. I recall reviewing him in 2016 when his album, “Tropical Infinito” was released. This project is a dream come true for Adolfo. As a talented pianist/bandleader, he has always wanted to record with a big band that understood Brazilian music and how beautifully it combines with jazz. It was in 2012 when Antonio Adolfo witnessed a Brazilian jazz orchestra in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil called Orquestra Atlantica. He knew immediately that he had found the big band that he wanted to record his original music. As a composer, Adolfo recognized using this top-grade orchestra to interpret his compositions would cast a bright and beautiful spotlight on his writing ability.

Antonio Adolfo enjoyed arranging a new version of his biggest hit record, “Sa Marina” that he composed in 1967. With lyrics written by Alan and Marilyn Bergman and in English named, “Pretty World,” his song has been recorded by more than 200 artists. Below is an example, sung by Stevie Wonder.

On this big band arrangement of the same song, after his spontaneous piano solo, he features Marcelo Martins on tenor saxophone and also Levi Chaves on baritone sax and trombonist Aldivas Ayres. They put new fire and passion into his song.

All the music on this album explore Adolfo’s original compositions with the exception of “Milestones,” the Miles Davis jazz standard. On this arrangement, Adolfo has combined bebop jazz with Frevo and shares his piano solo with accordionist, Marcos Nimrichter. The entire production has a smooth, cohesive sound and blends his Brazilian culture with jazz in a very contemporary way. The horns fly like startled birds and are beautifully arranged.

On “Luizao,” written as a tribute to the late bassist, Luizao Maia, who was an innovator in reinventing the way that a samba is played on the bass instrument. He was also once a member of Antonio Adolfo’s small ensembles. During this straight-ahead big band performance, Adolfo chooses to highlight valve trombonist, Serginho. All in all, this is an expansion of Antonio Adolfo’s exceptional talents and a beautifully arranged album of his compositions, grandly interpreted in a big band, orchestrated way.
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HENDRIK MEURKENS & BILL CUNLIFFE – “CABIN IN THE SKY” Height Advantage

Hendrik Meurkens, harmonica; Bill Cunliffe, piano/string arrangements.

I was eager to listen to this project. The temptation was the wonderful, ethereal music that a master pianist like Bill Cunliffe and an extraordinary harmonica player like Hendrik Meurkens might create. I was not disappointed. This duo is quite exceptional. On their recording, they have tackled Broadway tunes, covered respected jazz composer’s and added original material with the same dedication and talent necessary to make this project absolutely memorable. As mentioned in their liner notes, perhaps this project was inspired by the Toots Thieleman and Bill Evans classic collaboration. Or, perhaps it was their longtime friendship and the promise of one day recording together that brought these two musicians jointly on such a tender and challenging musical journey. Meurken’s composer abilities are stellar, beginning with “Afternoon”, the second cut on this disc. It’s a very melodic piece, with unexpected musical twists and turns. The composition is richly enhanced by Cunliffe’s sweet string arrangements. This is such a beautiful tune that I found myself playing it over several times and enjoying it more with each replay. Another song, “Prague In March,” is beautifully penned and harmonically soloed by composer, Hendrik Meurkens. His compositions touch a creative spark in me.

You will hear the music of Wayne Shorter, Joe Zawinul, Jobim and even Bobbi Gentry’s hit pop song, “Ode to Billie Joe”. Cunliffe showcases his composition skills with the tune, “You Don’t Know” and “Time to Say Goodbye” co-written with T. McConnell.
This recording exemplifies a clarity and delicate balance between two musicians who set out to create a duo work of art. The simplicity of the project leaves plenty of space for each one to step forward creatively and spontaneously, threading improvisational dexterity through a needle of technique and talent. This project is stitched together like a million-dollar museum quilt, rich and brightly colored; warm, historic and beautiful.
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