SUMMER JAZZ FEATURES PIANO POETRY AND VOCAL VARIATIONS

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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