Archive for August, 2018

DRUMS, PIANO AND HORNS TAKE CENTER STAGE ON NEW CD REVIEWS

August 29, 2018

DRUMS, PIANO AND HORNS TAKE CENTER STAGE ON NEW CDs
By jazz journalist / Dee Dee McNeil
August 29, 2018

PETER NELSON – “ASH, DUST AND THE CHALKBOARD CINEMA”
Outside In Music

Peter Nelson, trombone/composer; Alexa Barchini, voice; Nikara Warren, vibraphone; Josh Lawrence, trumpet; Hailey Niswanger, alto saxophone; Yuma Uesaka, bass clarinet; Willerm Delisfort, piano; Raviv Markovitz, bass; Itay Morchi, drums.

It’s an odd title for a CD, but it embraces the unique journey of Peter Nelson, trombonist and composer. I rarely read liner notes before listening to music, because then I become influenced by what someone else has written and surmised about the music. But the title of this CD was so peculiar, that I was tempted to read about this artist. First, I pushed play on my CD player and listened as I went about my daily household chores. The first tune titled, “It Starts Slowly (First in Your Heart),” reminded me of space and moonlight; stars and planets. There was an ethereal vocal, along with vibraphone and trombone. No words. Just lovely, spacey sounds that tickled my imagination about universes and the vastness of creation. Who is this guy, Peter Nelson, I thought to myself? The tune is brief, but it peeked more interest in reading the liner notes. That’s when I discovered Nelson’s life story.

A Michigander, born in Lansing, Peter Nelson fell in love with the trombone at age ten. He earned a bachelor’s degree in Jazz Studies at Michigan State University, then moved to Brooklyn, New York where he currently resides. Along the way, during a pinnacle in his career he was struck with a debilitating disease that no one could diagnose. It began with small, localized pain and feelings of anxiety. Later, it escalated to chronic hyperventilation, severe shortness of breath and pain in his face, down his back and in his arms. Horribly, all of this was happening while he was on the bandstand.

“It became difficult to be on the bandstand, while at the same time fighting my horn and fighting my body. It felt like a physically violent way of losing my medium for relating to the world and was emotionally and spiritually crippling.”

In search of help, he saw many doctors, physiologists and educators. But it was not until he met Jan Kagarice, one of the world’s authorities on musicians’ health, that she diagnosed him and in a single lesson was able to reverse sixty percent of his pain. She showed him how to comfortably play again. His odd symptoms appeared to be the result of bad pedagogy, or habits inherited from teachers who did not recognize or understand the workings of the human body and the physical process of making music. Thanks to her insight, Peter Nelson has produced this magnificent tribute to his journey from dark days to brilliant light; from illness to health. His music celebrates that struggle. Nelson plays the trombone so swiftly, at times, like on the composition, “Do Nothing (if less is more),” that I am stunned by his agility on the instrument. He has composed every song on this album and each is a story in itself amply interpreted by his ensemble, with Alexa Barchini on lyric-less vocals. I enjoyed each tune, but found the abrupt endings on several of his compositions annoying after the first one. On the up side, these musicians and Nelson himself make the chapters of his life an interesting and inspirational jazz journey.

“We always want closure,” Nelson says in the liner notes. “But it’s an almost laughable concept. Everything that I learned about brass playing — and more importantly about myself and what music-making really means to me, those lessons are priceless and I wouldn’t change a thing.”
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HAKON SKOGSTAD – “TWO HANDS TO TANGO” Avontango Records

Hakon Skogstad, piano/arranger.

If you love tango, classical music and piano jazz, Hakon Skogstad’s latest CD will richly reward you. He is entrenched in solo piano technique and stimulated by his love of the bandoneón and how that instrument is used in solo arrangements and compositions. The Bandoneón is popular in Tango music and very popular in Argentina, Uruguay and Lithuania. It resembles an accordion in appearance. Challenging himself on the piano, Skogstad endeavors to incorporate much of that unique bandoneón style and technique in his solo playing. His piano technique is very dramatic. As a composer, he has contributed two of his own compositions; “Milonga Impromptu” and “Norte.” You feel his passion and dedication to this unique and wonderful music throughout this production. Perhaps he explains it best in his liner notes.

“I wanted to see if I could incorporate the multilayered, flowing and improvisational manner of playing, constantly changing focus between the bass chords and melodic structures, rather than trying to do it all at once, as often as possible, like an orchestral reduction. “

If you have never seen a tango performed, check out this example with one of my favorite actors from the movie, “The Scent of a Woman.”


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SAMUEL MARTINELLI – “CROSSING PATHS” Independent label

Samuel Martinelli, drums/percussion/composer; Claudio Roditi, trumpet/flugelhorn; Marcus McLaurine, bass; Tomoko Ohno, piano.

Samuel Martinelli is a blossoming Brazilian drummer and composer who is currently based in New York. He is joined on this recording by some pretty legendary jazz musicians. For one, Brazilian jazz trumpeter, Claudio Roditi. Mr. Roditi has performed with Herbie Mann, Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Rouse after coming to the United States years ago to study at the Berklee School of Music in Boston. Marcus McLaurine is playing bass. Like Claudio Roditi, McLaurine is also a seasoned jazz veteran who has worked with Kenny Burrell, Dizzy Gillespie, James Moody, Lou Donaldson and the Count Basie Orchestra under the direction of Thad Jones.

Tomoko Ohno is a pianist/composer and recipient of the Student Award of Outstanding Performance. She was a celebrated member of the Dean’s Honor List and graduated with a B.A. in Jazz Studies from William Paterson University in New Jersey. A native of Japan, this young talent has already performed with such artists as Jerome Richardson, Wynton Marsalis and Benny Golson. She’s released three albums on a Japanese record label and spent time in Brazil, recording an album there for MDR Records. Consequently, she fits perfectly into Samuel Martinelli’s Brazilian flavored band.

On “Samba Echoes,” the first song on this production, Tomoko Ohno makes a solid statement on the 88-keys with a backdrop of Samuel Martinelli playing double time on his drums with driving force. On his solo, towards the end of this tune, he resorts back to an Afro-Cuban feel along with the brilliant bass playing of Marcus McLaurine. This is one of six original compositions featured on his recording and penned by Martinelli. “Talking About Spring” is a lilting, moderate tempo’d swing tune that feels like we should be skipping down an avenue, holding hands with happiness. “Bob’s Blues” shines the spotlight on the bass and McLaurine showcases a melodic bass accompanied by Martinelli on drums and Ohno on grand piano. They set it up beautifully for Claudio Roditi’s trumpet solo.

“St. Thomas” is one of my favorite Sonny Rollins tunes. It is one of only two tunes on this project that Samuel Martinelli did not compose. Martinelli brings a fresh arrangement to the piece, letting Ohno’s grand piano set it up while McLaurine’s bass bows the melody atop the contemporary chording of the piano. Sometimes it’s dissonant and it’s arranged as a ballad, rather than the ebullient, carnival-type production that Rollins originally recorded. It certainly shows that Martinelli thinks outside the box. “St. Thomas” was kept a trio tune, without adding the horn and featuring the bass instead. It is a unique production of the Rollins’ composition. On Martinelli’s original composition, “A Gift for You,” he invites Claudio Roditi back to the recording booth and the group swings hard. There is a drum solo that allows Samuel Martinelli to stretch his technique and talent across the skins for our complete listening pleasure. The only other cover-tune that Martinelli features is the Dizzy Gillespie song, “Birks’ Works.” This gives Claudio Roditi the well-deserved spotlight.

https://www.gofundme.com/claudio-roditi-needs-our-help

Martinelli’s album title, “Crossing Paths” is in celebration of the wonderful people he has met along his continuing journey up a jazzy, musical avenue. This entire album gives us an up-close and personal look at a budding composer and competent drummer. His quartet of prominent musicians make the music dance effortlessly across the airwaves.
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MIKE SPINRAD with GUIDO FAZIO – “HORNS” Spin Radical

Mike Spinrad, drums/percussion/composer; Don Turney, piano/organ/sound engineer; Guido Fazio, tenor saxophone/flute/horn arranger; Richard Conway, trumpet/ flugelhorn; Larry Stewart, baritone saxophone; Eric Lyons, John Hettel, Daniel Parenti & David Enos, bass.

Mike Spinrad played drums throughout his youthful school years all the way into college days. He earned an AB in Psychology from the University of California, Berkeley; then an MA degree in Counseling from St. Mary’s College of California. After securing a teaching certificate, he settled into making a secure living teaching history, psychology, economics and government at San Marin High School in Northern California. But his passion for music remained strong. He’s been teaching for fifteen years and performing on the side, whenever opportunity presented itself. This is his dream-come-true project, where he can express the composer/ musician inside of him to its fullest extent. This disc is full of creativity. His compositions come alive with the help and mastery of his close friends and peers.

The “Horns” waltz into my room with harmonic precision, speared by the awesome timing and technique of Mike Spinrad on drums. “Smarbar” is co-written by Spinrad with pianist John Groves. It’s smart and straight-ahead. Mike Spinrad has composed or co-composed every tune on this album. All the horn arrangements are written by Guido Fazio. When you merge these two talented men, (Fazio and Spinrad), the result is a quality musical product. The second tune is titled “Bette ‘N Hy,” a more funk and contemporary arrangement, featuring Don Turney on organ. Turney formerly produced Spinrad’s premiere CD and acted as recording, mixing and mastering engineer on this project. On the third cut, “Chaim” puts us back into a straight-ahead realm. The horn arrangements scream, ‘big band’, although this is a group of just six talented men. Spinrad had a specific goal in mind when he decided to create this musical work of art.

“When I decided to do this project, the first person I contacted was Guido Fazio, who arranged the horn sections, and plays tenor sax and flute on the recording. He’s a monster player with amazing instincts. … his approach to music mirrors my approach. For me, music needs emotional content. It’s great to listen to someone with incredible technique, but technique alone doesn’t move me. Guido has great technique and plays with an incredible amount of heart and soul,” Mike Spinrad shared.

There is something for everyone on this recording. The “Sheila” composition is a sweet and beautiful ballad and the tune named “Raul” is a Cuban-influenced montuno, named after one of Spinrad’s co-workers.


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STEPHANE SPIRA – “NEW PLAYGROUND” JazzMax Records

Stephane Spira, soprano saxophone/composer; Joshua Richman, piano/Fender Rhodes; Steve Wood, bass; Jimmy MacBride, drums.

Stephane Spira plays a smooth, straight-ahead soprano saxophone. I’m not a big fan of soprano saxophone, but I love this musician’s tone and technique. “Peter’s Run” opens his CD and it’s a perfect vehicle to showcase his amazing trio. Jimmy Macbride is stellar on drums, bringing texture and time to his instrument. Steve Wood is cement solid on bass and Joshua Richman colors the music with his piano mastery. All songs on this recording are composed by Stephane Spira. I found his music to be melodic and beautiful. “Gold Ring Variations” and “New York Windows” are both intriguing titles and the compositions themselves are lovely. Spira writes music that inspires and his melodies lend themselves to lyrics, still unwritten. His soprano saxophone style is honest and steeped in blues with a taste of Django’s gypsy style echoing through his compositions. Spira says song #3, “New York Windows” was inspired by Les Fenetres de Moscou (Moscow Windows), a favorite traditional Russian song that his dad loved. The up-tempo jazz waltz, “Underground Ritual” gives Richman an opportunity to stretch out on piano and Jimmy MacBride, on drums, is always a driving force throughout this recording. But it’s the tone and vulnerability of Stephane Spira’s saxophone excellence that draws me into this recording like quicksand. His compositions, and the way he plays them is intriguing. He’s like a child, exploring a “New Playground” and sharing his excitement with us.
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MICHIKA FUKUMORI – “PIANO IMAGES” Summit Records

Michika Fukumori, piano/composer. Steve Kuhn, producer/piano duet on cut #11.

Michika Fukumori has composed the first song called “Colors of Blues” and it exhibits admirable piano technique with a seemingly easy ability to use both hands in counterpoint and still keep perfect rhythm. Actually, that is no easy task. Her original composition was inspired by United States Blues, a music steeped in hard work and rooted in African American slavery. Ms. Fukumori explained:

“I learned how important the blues is to jazz after I moved to this country and I fell in love with the form. This is my dedication to this music.”

Right away, Fukumori establishes her love of melody. I want to sing along with her compositions even though I’ve never heard them before this moment. That is particularly true on the second cut titled, “Into the New World.” Michika Fukumori has composed nine of the thirteen tunes on this CD. She is a strong player and competent composer, which is brazenly clear on this solo recording. She needs no other instrument to sell her songs or make them beautiful. That raw talent she exudes needs no lipstick, rouge or pancake makeup to enhance it. There is natural brilliance to her playing and I am even more impressed with her composer abilities. Her left hand is busy playing memorable bass lines and holding the rhythm in place, while her right hand creates lovely melodies and improvises with tenderness and a deft touch. On the eleventh song, “Oceans in the Sky,” she combines talents with her mentor and producer, Steve Kuhn, who has written this song. They both play piano simultaneously to interpret this composition, using two sets of hands and 20 fingers. There is the feeling of rushing water, ocean waves and the forcefulness and intimidating independence that miles of water, with no land in sight, can represent.

Born in Mie, Japan, Michika Fukumori began studying piano at age three. Receiving her classical training at the Aichi Prefectual University of Fine Arts and Music, she soon was drawn to jazz and began working professionally in various Japanese jazz clubs. In 2000, Michika Fukumori moved to the United States and studied with two jazz icons at City College in New York; bassist Ron Carter and pianist extraordinaire, Geri Allen. She also began taking private lessons with Steve Kuhn, who has produced this recording for her. For the most part, this is peaceful music. It’s easy listening jazz and showcases the stellar talents of Michika Fukumori on piano.
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RANDY BRECKER & MATS HOLMQUIST – “TOGETHER” MAMA Records

Randy Brecker, trumpet/flugelhorn; Mats Holmquist, arranger/composer/conductor; Mikel Ulfberg, guitar; Seppo Kantonen, piano; Juho Kiviuori, bass; Markus Ketola, drums; Trumpets & Flugelhorns: Jakob Gudmundsson, Teemu Mattson (lead) Timo Paasonen, Mikko Pettinen, Tero Saarti, JanneToivonen; Saxophones: Ville Vannemaa, lead alto/soprano/clarinet; Mikko Makinen, alto/soprano/clarinet/flute; Teemu Salminen, tenor/clarinet; Max Zenger, tenor/flute; Pepa Paivinen, Baritone/flute; Trombones: Heikki Tuhkanene,(lead); Mikko Mustonen, Juho Viljanen, Mikael Langbacka, bass trombone.

On this recording, harmonies fly off my CD player like a flock of starlings. This is an exhibit of dynamic orchestration, featuring the arrangements of Mats Holmquist. Randy Brecker is grandly supported by the 18-piece UMO Jazz Orchestra. The Holmquist style seems deeply rooted in the classical genre, with splashes of modern jazz. Trumpeter Randy Brecker is the featured soloist on many of the tunes. His musical accomplishments include collaborations with Horace Silver, Larry Coryell, of course his brother Michael Brecker and their amazing success as The Brecker Brothers, and a significant number of popular smooth jazz and pop recording artists. In this setting, you will enjoy Randy Brecker encircled by the astute arrangements of Mats Holmquist and the orchestra. They utilize composers like Chick Corea, (Windows, Crystal Silence and Humpty Dumpty) along with several songs composed by Mats Holmquist.

Mats Holmquist was born and raised in Sweden and is a first-class composer/arranger who has eight albums under his belt as a leader, four of them released on Summit/MAMA Records. He has also authored “The General Method” called “The Big Band Bible” by Jamey Aebersold who published his book.
The UMO Jazz Orchestra was founded in 1975 and is considered Finland’s finest big band. They have featured a number of iconic jazz names including Dizzy Gillespie, Dexter Gordon, McCoy Tyner, Michael Brecker and John Scofield. Blending these three extraordinary talents, Brecker, Holmquist and the UMO Jazz Orchestra is musical magic.
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MIKE FREEMAN ZONAvIBE – “VENETIAN BLINDS” Vibes Out Front (VOF)

Mike Freeman, vibraphone, coro; Guido Gonzalez, trumpet, Coro; Ian Stewart, bass; Roberto Quintero, congas/guiro/shakere; Joel Mateo, drums/campana.

Here is an album that peeked my interest from the title, “Venetian Blinds.” Mike Freeman took this title from the look of ‘vibes’ all strung-together in bars, similar to venetian blinds. I learned from the press package that Tito Puente used to roll his vibes into the Palladium and his followers would say, “Here comes Tito with those venetian blinds!”

Freeman is a masterful vibe player and his music is very percussive and heavily cemented in Latin jazz grooves with the rhythm of Joel Mateo on drums and Guido Gonzalez congas. There are three cuts on this album that are meant to celebrate Bobby Hutcherson; “Clutch the Hutch”, “Bobby Land” and “House of Vibes.”

Mike Freeman composed these songs and was working on this project when Bobby Hutcherson passed away. “Fancy Free” was written to celebrate his daughter and her first birthday and “What’s Up With This Moon?” was written for his son, a direct quote from a video his son texted to him one night. This is a project full of joy, rhythm and Latin flavor.
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GARY BRUMBURGH – “MOONLIGHT” Café Pacific Records

Gary Brumburgh, vocals; Jamaison Trotter, piano; Gabe Davis, bass; Christian Euman & Conor Malloy, drums; Pat Kelley & Larry Koonse, guitar; Bob Sheppard, tenor saxophone; Paulette McWilliams & Gail Pettis, vocals.

Gabe Davis, on bass, walks his instrument with power and determination as an introduction to the first song. Jamieson Trotter adds piano after several bars of bass. Then in steps the star of the show, Gary Brumburgh singing the Lennon/McCartney hit record, “Day Tripper” in a very jazzy way. Bob Sheppard always brings the magic to the bandstand and this recording session is no exception. His saxophone solos are inspiring and complement Brumburgh’s vocals. Brumburgh introduces us to some song verses we may not be familiar with, for example on “I’ll Close My Eyes.” I enjoyed hearing the verse of that song interpreted. However, I found some of the smart and creative arrangements on these tunes to work better with the instrumentalists than with the vocalist. Pointedly, on this tune, some of the guitar chord changes at the top of this song, that become a repetitive theme throughout, are challenging but don’t necessarily support the vocalist. After all, it is his project and the point is to be ‘hip’ but also to give him a substantial stage of musical support that spotlights his vocal talents.

That being said, the musicians on this project are some of the best in the business and they offer him a strong trampoline of tracks to bounce upon. For me, the stumbling block are a few of the unique arrangements that don’t always fit the vocalists’ tone and timbre.

Brumburgh has a smooth, distinctive vocal style. His repertoire is well-rounded, including oldies like Sweet Georgia Brown (mixed with the Miles Davis composition “Dig”), Jimmy Webb’s “Witchita Lineman,” Sting’s “Heavy Cloud No Rain,” Michael Franks’ “Eggplant” and the title tune, “Moonlight” a John Williams composition with lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman. The songs he picks are wonderful. He also includes a couple of awesome female vocalists. For one, Paulette McWilliams, who adds harmonic background to the arrangement on “Heavy Cloud No Rain” produced quite bluesy, allowing Paulette McWilliams to pump the soul into this song. At times, Brumburgh bursts into scat and has a tone that easily becomes a vocal horn. I thought the Brazilian feel on “Just A Little Lovin’ (Early in the Morning)” well-suited Brumburgh’s vocal style. I must credit Brumburgh and Jamison Trotter for successfully arranging so many pop tunes with strong jazz creativity. I bet Holland, Dozier and Holland were surprised to hear the way the Diana Ross hit record, “My World Is Empty Without You, (Babe)” was re-arranged. I know I was. The final song, with the very sensitive piano accompaniment of Terry Trotter, “What’ll I Do” touched me deeply. It was just voice and trio; simple and honest, obviously sung with passion and sincerity. This is Gary Brumburgh at his best.

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REMEMBERING ARETHA – QUEEN OF SOUL

August 25, 2018

REMEMBERING ARETHA – QUEEN OF SOUL
By Jazz Journalist/Dee Dee McNeil
August 25, 2018

When I first met Aretha Franklin, I was maybe 22 years young. I had gone down to the Fireside Lounge in Detroit where she was performing. I believe she was signed to Columbia records then and she was recording jazz songs. I had those albums in my collection. I loved hearing her sing “Skylark,” “Take A Look” and “Mr. Ugly” was another one of my favorites.

I remember my friend, Marthea Hicks, took me backstage to say hello to the queen. She was gracious and downhome; still getting dressed for her appearance. At that time, Marthea had a radio program on a local Detroit station and her father was a minister, so she and Aretha had that in common. Rev. C.L. Franklin probably knew Rev. Hicks quite well. I remember feeling star-struck, sitting in the dressing room and being absolutely quiet. I was overwhelmed just being in the queen’s presence. No one could sing a song with the emotion, passion and pitch like Aretha Franklin. I think, at one time, I might have owned just about every record Aretha Franklin recorded. But my record collection of over 2000 LPs was sold three years ago when I cleaned out a storage space in Detroit. Since then, I’ve replaced my Aretha Franklin collection with CDs and often listen to her. One of my many favorites is her Amazing Grace CD. I was in the audience both nights when she recorded that album ‘live’ at James Cleveland’s church in South Central Los Angeles. The electricity in his historic church was palpable. Cameras were everywhere and they filmed that session. I hope that film is released, because that was an exceptional afternoon and evening of unforgettable music. Her dad was still alive then and Reverend Franklin was sitting right upfront in the first row. Aretha was playing piano and recording Marvin Gaye’s song, “Holy Holy.” She kept going over the introduction and being the perfectionist that she was, she kept stopping and starting over. She wanted to play it a certain way. Her dad, the honorable Reverend Franklin, finally encouraged her saying, “play it Aretha” and You can hear him on the original recording speaking those encouraging words. I don’t hear him on this newer CD I bought. But that was the time she played it perfectly and that’s one of the takes you hear on her recording that is beautifully performed. There were plenty of cameras there that night. I do hope they release that documentary because the music and Aretha’s performance were both electric! The spirit in the room was palpable. The Southern California Community Choir, directed by Rev. James Cleveland, was on fire. Aretha Franklin’s music was a soundtrack for our lives. Every album and every single she released reminds me of a special time in my life. She influenced so many singers. Chaka Khan told me once that her family used to refer to her as “Little Aretha,” and how much the queen meant to her. As a young singer, Chaka proudly admits patterning herself after Aretha Franklin, along with the influence of Stevie Wonder. You can hear Aretha’s influence in the vocals of Patti Labelle, Mary J. Blige, Fantasia, Whitney Houston (who was her God Child), Natalie Cole and so many more. No one could slide to a note like Aretha. She changed the face of Rhythm and Blues music, the same way that Ray Charles did. Both of them brought Gospel music into the mix and the spirit of a deep belief in God. Aretha Franklin also brought awareness to the Civil Rights movement with both her songs and actions. After all, art is always the reflection of a society. Aretha Franklin’s songs lifted us and addressed the challenges we faced as a people. She spoke up for women’s rights in her songs, long before the “Me Too” movement. She always made us feel proud of ourselves and our community by the way she carried herself and with the songs she sang.

She supported Dr. Martin Luther King, who was a family friend, and Aretha consistently offered her songs and support during the civil rights movement. If Americans didn’t realize her importance and the impact of her amazing talent on the world stage, they sat up and took notice when, on August 16, 2018, she overtook the news media on all major television stations in America. The Queen of Soul was featured prominently on CNN, MSNBC and more. Instead of the negative news we are used to seeing on network television, the airwaves paused from their usual news feed to celebrate the life and legacy of Aretha Franklin, our unforgettable Queen of Soul. Rest In Peace, beloved Aretha, and thank you from the bottom of our hearts for sharing your voice and your unrelenting love with us, in hopes of making the world a better place.

FRESH ORCHESTRATIONS AND BIG BAND BEAUTY EQUALS RAINBOW GRAVITY

August 10, 2018

By Dee Dee McNeil / Jazz journalist
August 10, 2018

One thing I learned from the liner notes of SCOTT PETITO’S latest release titled, “Rainbow Gravity.” Rainbow Gravity is actually a theory and a concept in quantum physics. It contradicts the Big Bang Theory and asks humanity to consider that time stretches back infinitely and continues on endlessly. very much like music. This rainbow of artists I’ve reviewed do the same. For one, the amazing arrangements and execution of THE COUNT BASIE ORCHESTRA under the direction of GREG FIELDS recalls another era, but still shines with contemporary and timeless music. THE SOUTH FLORIDA JAZZ ORCHESTRA DIRECTED by CHUCK BERGERON presents THE MUSIC OF GARY LINDSAY, a versatile and talented arranger. The JEFF “SIEGE” SIEGEL QUARTET offers a ‘live’ recording in London that reminds me of the freedom and excitement of John Coltrane’s heyday. Vocalist, REBECCA ANGEL, blends pop and jazz music on her debut CD. PEDRO GIRAUDO & THE WDR BIG BAND meld an Argentinian conductor, composer and arranger with a German band to celebrate his South American heritage and his two decades of living in New York City. JIM McNEELY pours all his imagination and composer skills into the FRANKFURT RADIO BIG BAND. Last, but certainly not least, the satin-smooth vocals of VIVIAN LEE, personalize love and loss on her CD titled, “Let’s Talk About Love.” Read all about them.

SCOTT PETITO – “RAINBOW GRAVITY” Planet Arts Records

Scott Petito, composer/bassist/piccolo bass/NS bass/cello & loops; Omar Hakim, Peter Erskine, Simon Phillips & Jack DeJohnette, drums; David Sancious, keyboard; Rachel Z. & Warren Bernhardt, piano; David Spinozza, guitar; Mike Mainieri, vibraphone; Bashiri Johnson, percussion; Bib Mintzer, saxophone; Chris Pasin, trumpet.

Here is a production of pure funk and contemporary musicality played by some of the top modern jazz players in the business. Scott Petito is a bassist, a composer, producer and engineer. This is his second recording as a leader and he has contracted a melting pot of world class musicians. You recognize their talent right away, from the first strains of “Sly-Fi”, one of nine compositions that Petito has written. He has a strong sense of melody. This tune sparks of fiery, punchy horn lines by Bob Mintzer on saxophone, with Petito’s bass, pumping up the band, locking in with Omar Hakim on drums and David Sancious on keyboard. David Spinozza adds guitar to complete this hot rhythm section. Bashiri Johnson fattens their sound with percussion. This tune is over seven minutes long, but I’m never bored for one second. The time changes and melodic intervals keep the music interesting.

Each tune features a different mix of characters, like short, on-stage vignettes. For the second cut, Petito invites Peter Erskine to the drum set, Rachel Z. is on piano and Chis Pasin masters the trumpet. Titled “The Sequence of Events,” Scott Petito adds a piccolo bass solo and Rachel Z is given ample opportunity to showcase her excellence on piano. All of Petito’s compositions are full of groove and embrace the smooth jazz idiom. Even when they settle down to a moderate tempo ballad like “A Balsamic Reduction,” they manage to inspire this listener to tap her toes. The difference between much of the smooth jazz I hear on the airwaves and this recording is that Petito is an awesome composer and has employed these stellar, Grammy nominated musicians to enhance his excellence. None of this music is repetitious or simplistic. The vibraphone solo of Mike Mainieri during this lovely tune is pleasant to the ear and adds to this production. Simon Phillips mans the drums and David Spinozza shines on his guitar solo. Scott Petito covers all bases, incorporating styles. This may be contemporary jazz, but every one of these players know how to produce straight-ahead jazz and are masters in their own right. You hear a sample of this diversity on “The Sanguine Penguin” where Bob Mintzer celebrates his saxophone skills with gusto and where Scott Petito walks (or should I say ‘runs’) his bass lines beneath this production like raging waters. Simon Phillips is given a space to solo on drums, showing off mean technique. This is a recording project burning with talent and excitement. It’s beautiful music with memorable arrangements. There is not one bad tune on this entire recording. Perhaps Petito summed his project up the best when he explained:

“The experience of playing and listening to music can suspend us and yet at the same time sweep us away to new places with infinite possibilities. That relationship between music and our very essence of being, always struck me as the most human of experiences.”

On” Dark Pools,” utilizing the great Jack DeJohnette on drums and Petito on NS bass, cello and loops, Scott Petito expands his sense of music and stretches our imaginations. Petito’s music is provocative.

The title of Petito’s CD is meant to further describe Scott Petito’s musical goals. What I learned from the liner notes is that “Rainbow Gravity” is actually a theory and a concept in quantum physics. It contradicts the Big Bang Theory and asks humanity to consider that time stretches back infinitely and continues on endlessly. As a bassist and stellar composer, Scott Petito endeavors to create a sense of timelessness in his music. At the same time, he’s striving to capture a feeling that could very well continue on forever. To me, “Dark Pools” exemplifies some of this magical music and the composer ‘s forward-thinking mindset.
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THE COUNT BASIE ORCHESTRA – “ALL ABOUT THAT BASIE!” Concord Records

I was expectant and excited to get a preview listen of the Count Basie Orchestra’s September release. Undisputedly, here is a big band/orchestra that has consistently produced amazing music with an unchallenged style and sound. This album is no exception. They open with their famed “Everyday I Have the Blues” featuring the Grammy winning vocal group, “Take 6.” It’s joyful to hear this normally a‘Capella, contemporary vocal aggregation singing with the Basie Band. Oh boy, do they swing! It’s a wonderful blend of modern vocal arrangemenst melded with classic Basie. This is followed by Earth, Wind and Fire’s hit recording of “Can’t Hide Love.” Iconic trombonist, Wycliffe Gordon, often celebrated for his plunger trombone style, is featured and he leads the trombone section. Pianist, Eric Reed adds his virtuosity at the grand piano. This pop piece ‘swings’ hard and continuously, as only the Basie Band can do. This album is produced by Gregg Field, former drummer of the Basie orchestra. Field has garnered eight Grammy Awards celebrating his creative production talents. Stevie Wonder joins the orchestra as a special guest on harmonica, whistling his way into our hearts with his awesome delivery on his self-penned, “My Cherie Amour.” But trust me, there is nothing ‘Pop’ about this arrangement or production. Wonder fits right into the slow swing arrangement that reminds me a little bit of Neal Hefti ‘s Lil’ Darlin’ hit record. It was recorded in the early Basie-Band-days on an album titled, “Atomic Basie.”

Woodwind player, Hal McKusick, who recorded with Neal Hefti in the 1950’s, once asked Hefti what made him stray away from his up-tempo, swingin’ compositions to create this ballad? Neal Hefti explained he originally wrote Lil’ Darlin’ as a medium tempo swing. During a rehearsal, when Basie was running the tune down, the Count asked Neal if the band could try it really slow. Basie said, ‘I’m hearing something.’ So, Neal agreed. He knew Basie’s instincts were always spot on. Basie proceeded to count off Lil’ Darlin’ at a much slower pace. After it was over, Neal said all he could do was smile and say to Basie, you did it! *

“My Cherie Amour” is followed by the timeless jazz standard, “Don’t Worry ‘Bout Me,” passionately interpreted by the silky-smooth, vocal style of Kurt Elling. Gregg Field sits in on drums during the revival of this Frank Sinatra hit record.

The orchestra shows its Latin side on the memorable hit by guitarist, Wes Montgomery, choosing “Tequila” as the vehicle to recall the Basie Band’s great success in the 1950’s and 1960’s when they used Latin music as a vehicle. Jon Faddis, with his high trumpet tones and impeccable style, is a welcome featured guest on this arrangement. Bobby Floyd records the hip-swaying, Latin piano chords. He locks the groove into place, along with Will Matthews on guitar. This arrangement also invites the legendary Chick Corea to add his own piano licks and Luisito Quintero flavors the tune with percussion and conguero.

Jamie Davis, a Basie alumni and baritone vocalist re-introduces Jimmy Rushing’s blues hit, “Sent for You Yesterday” with a small ensemble of Basie band members including L.A.’s saxophonist, Rickey Woodard, with Eric Reed back on the keys, Gregg Field manning the drums and L.A.’s own Trevor Ware on bass. Jazz trumpeter, Scotty Barnhart adds a solo. This album would have been incomplete without a good old Kansas City blues and the one chosen does not disappoint. Another highlight is one of my favorite modern-day jazz organists, Joey DeFrancesco. He joins the Basie Orchestra for the second time. I also enjoyed him on the album,“Ray Sings/Basie Swings.” De Francesco brings new life to “April In Paris.” Carmen Bradford is a stellar jazz vocalist who frequently sings with the Count Basie Orchestra. On this project, she tributes Ella Fitzgerald by singing and debuting a never-before-recorded arrangement of “Honeysuckle Rose.” The arrangement was written specifically for Ella by Benny Carter. Gregg Field and the orchestra have covered all bases with this production, adding “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen, and even incorporating the Adele pop hit, “Hello” to show they are still staying current. The orchestration shows that they can easily embrace popular, contemporary music with the same love and style that the Basie band always brings to their bandstand. They transform”Hello” into a slow swing, featuring a unique, stylized piano solo by Bobby Floyd and a sexy, bluesy trumpet solo by arranger, Kris Johnson. At the song’s ending, they incorporate the popular signature Basie tag to remind the world, “It’s All About that Basie.” Release date is September 7, 2018.

*Note: Historic reference from biography of Neal Hefti (1922 -2008) – Jazz Wax, Oct 15, 2008.
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THE SOUTH FLORIDA JAZZ ORCHESTRA DIRECTED B Y CHUCK BERGERON presents THE MUSIC OF GARY LINDSAY – “ARE WE STILL DREAMING” Summit Records

WOODWINDS: Gary Lindsay, alto saxophone/clarinet/composer/arranger; Gary Keller, alto/soprano saxophones/flute; Ed Calle, tenor saxophone/flute; Phil Doyle & Jason Kush, tenor saxophone/flute; Mike Brignola, baritone saxophone/bass clarinet; Rick Margitza, tenor saxophone; TRUMPETS: Augie Hass, Jeff Kievit, Jason Carder, Alex Norris, Greg Gisbert & Peter Francis. TROMBONES: Dana Teboe, Dante Luciani, John Kricker, Major Bailey, Derek Pyle & Andrew Peal. FRENCH HORNS SPECIAL GUEST: Richard Todd; RHYTHM SECTION: Martin Bejerano, electric & acoustic piano; John Hart, guitar; Chuck Bergeron, acoustic & Elec. Basses/orchestra director; John Yarling, drums; Brian Potts, shaker, pandeiro; Ksenija Komljenovi, vibes & xylophone. Julia Dollison & Nicole Yarling, vocals.

Gary Lindsay is a popular arranger of big band music. This is the first full album that celebrates Lindsay’s big band orchestration on all eight songs. Directed by bassist, Chuck Bergeron, the orchestra includes some of Florida’s best jazz and studio musicians. Both Lindsay and Bergeron are music educators. Lindsay teaches at the Frost School of Music, part of the University of Miami, where he is Director of the Master’s in Music program in Studio Jazz Writing and the Doctoral program in Jazz Composition. Bergeron is a professor of Jazz bass and Jazz History at the University of Miami. This music is an easy listening jazz experience.

The first cut, “Moment in Time” was penned by Gary Lindsay and it brings to mind the smooth, unforgettable sound of Stan Getz, featuring a beautiful saxophone solo. John Hart adds an energy driven guitar solo on this arrangement. “Spring Is Here,” introduces vocalist Julia Dollison, with her soprano range and flexible vocal power. Dante Luciani proffers a memorable trombone solo. “Easy Living” features another vocalist, Nicole Yarling, who brings a soulful expressiveness to this old standard. The arrangement sometimes dwarfs the vocalist with the busy musicality. Lindsay explains:

“…I don’t write arrangements where the vocalist sings the melody and the band plays the accompaniment. I prefer to write arrangements where the singer and the band are in a contrapuntal conversation with one another.”

Ms. Yarling is up for the job, standing her ground with passion and sometimes scatting against a backdrop of horn punches and sweet, pudding-thick orchestration. Soloing, Greg Gilbert steals the attention on trumpet and plays beautifully.

The Pat Metheny composition, “Better Days Ahead,” steers the orchestration into Smooth jazz waters. While the Title tune, “Are We Still Dreaming,” reflects a sultry ballad composed by Lindsay. He once again incorporates the bell-clear soprano voice of Julia Dollison, blending her instrument with the orchestra like a soprano horn. The gorgeous Thelonious Monk composition, “Round Midnight” features Ed Calle on tenor saxophone with a bluesy interpretation of Monk’s music.

This project is produced by trombonist, John Fedchock. It’s a mix of music, styles and eras, strung together by the arranging talents of Gary Lindsay and amply interpreted by the musicians who make up the South Florida Jazz Orchestra.

Gary Lindsay is a recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts Award and a Chamber Music America grant from the Doris Duke Foundation.
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JEFF “SIEGE” SIEGEL QUARTET – “LONDON LIVE”
Artists Recording Collective (ARC)

Jeff “Siege” Siegel, drums; Erica Lindsay, tenor saxophone; Francesca Tanksley, piano; Uli Langthaler, bass.

This project opens with a striking drum solo. The tune is smoky; sultry; straight ahead! A sexy saxophone sings and a piano solo lifts tenor saxophonist, Erica Lindsay’s composition titled, “Meet Me at the Station.” to an exulted level. This group brings back memories of John Coltrane. Speaking of which, when I finally did get to overview the album credits, their third cut is the Coltrane composition, “Peace on Earth.” I was driving to a gig when I first listened to this album. Immediately, I noticed the excitement and technical ability of the drummer. He takes an outstanding solo on this first tune and always keeps pushing the musicality; coloring the phrases and supporting the various players with solid rhythm, but even more-so, with carefully placed licks of percussive encouragement. I could not wait to park my car, so I could read the liner notes and see who the players were. Sure enough, it’s the drummer’s quartet, and a magnificent ensemble it is! This is a ‘Live’ recording; a concert at the Pizza Express Jazz Club in London. It was the culmination of a European tour of Germany and Austria. You can hear the tightness and precision of this group, but also the freedom that comes from trusting your musical peers and being familiar and comfortable with each other. This is jazz at its best; Live! Uninhibited and formidable.

It’s the Jeff Siegel Quartet’s fourth album and their second live recording. Six of the eight songs are original compositions written by tenor saxophonist, Erica Lindsay, pianist, Francesca Tanksley and their leader, Jeff Siegel. Every song on this recording is excellently played and memorable. If I were giving out stars as praise, I would shower all the stars in our universe upon this project. Had I not been driving, I would have given this group a standing ovation.
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GEOFFREY KEEZER TRIO featuring GILLIAN MARGOT – “ON MY WAY TO YOU” Markees Records

Geoffrey Keezer, Yamaha pianos; Lee Perrson, drum; Mike Pope, elec & double bass; Gillian Margot, vocal.

Geoffrey Keezer is a busy pianist, with fingers flying and crescendos raging on the very first song titled, “These Three Words.” He makes the title sound more like a novel of music rather than something as simplistic as three words. Keezer’s amazing talent races up and down the black and white keys, with tenacious attention and detail. He fills up every space of Stevie Wonder’s composition. It’s a song from Stevie’s “Jungle Fever “album. A song I know quite well, but hardly recognized. I listened twice and I enjoyed the tenderness that bassist Mike Pope put into this composition during his solo. If you’re familiar with the lyrics of Wonder’s composition, they touch you in a tender kind of way. I think sometimes that if musicians listened to the lyrics of a song, as closely as they listen to the melody, their interpretation of that song would be more efficient and inspired. I enjoyed Keezer’s solo, when he re-entered, after the bass improvisation. However, it didn’t take long before he was once again crashing against space with amazing strength and piano power.

Vocalist Gillian Margot has a beautiful voice and has taken to penning lyrics to “You Stay With Me” a Keezer composition. The melody is challenging and the vocalist has penned prose to Geoffrey Keezer’s tune that are printed on the album cover. At first listen, they do not attach themselves to memory. As a published songwriter myself, I’ve learned to understand the way that melodies ebb and fall inspire lyrics. The rhyme and rhythm should match. I think this was a lyrical opportunity lost in translation.

“All the Things You Are” is interpreted as a medley with the Earth Wind & Fire popular, “Serpentine Fire” song. Keezer and his trio show us the funkier side of his group, and Lee Perrson on drums is formidable. Mike Pope’s bass-line pushes the funky feeling forward, locking in with Perrson. It’s a strong rhythm section and Keezer is amazing during his piano attack on this creative and unique medley that fuses these two familiar tunes.

Geoffrey Keezer is an artist who creates new art, finger-painting on his piano and splashing surprise solos and unusual arrangements in vivid colors of sound. Take for instance, Thelonious Monk’s “Brilliant Corners” tune, played as a funk; or listen to his arrangement of the Michael Legrand composition “On My Way to You”, where he adds strings and Gillian Margot’s lovely voice. I think her rendition would make Barbara Streisand proud.

Perhaps Geoffrey Keezer sums up this project best in his liner notes when he says:

“When I got to New York in the late ‘80s, it was the clear mission of the pianists there to play strong and hard; to give it up a thousand percent every time,” he summed up his style and explained his energetic and ebullient playing.

“Even though I’ve lived in California for almost twenty years, I’m coming out of that late 80’s New York piano style for sure.”
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REBECCA ANGEL – “WHAT WE HAD” Timeless Grooves Records

Rebecca Angel, vocals/programming/composer; Jason Miles, keyboards/Fender Rhodes/Moog bass/pads/percussion; Dennis Angel, flugelhorn; Gottfried Stoger, flute; Hailey Niswanger, soprano saxophone; Sebastian Stoger, cello; Jonah Miles Prendergast & Christian Ver Halen, guitar; Ricardo Silveira, acoustic rhythm guitar; James Genius, acoustic bass; Reggie Washington & Adam Dorn, bass; Mino Cinelu & Cyro Baptista, percussion; Brian Dunne, drums.

A mere twenty-two year old, Rebecca Angel brings a pop/jazz,crossover feel to these arrangements, beginning with the Charmichael/Adamson song, “Winter Moon.” Hailey Niswanger offers a compelling soprano saxophone solo during this Latin arrangement and the sexy rhythm track on this first cut sets the mood for what is to come. Kudos to the percussion player, Mino Cinelu, and also Brian Dunne on drums. They create a strong groove that may also have been enhanced by producer, Jason Miles, who is a master on pads, percussion and keyboards. Jason Miles also plays Fender Rhodes and Moog bass. Rebecca Angel has surrounded herself with a cadre of musical excellence on this, her first EP production and premiere release. I note that she already has a signature sound. That is to say, you will recognize her voice when you hear it again. She exhibits a smoky second soprano tone and tends to slide up to her notes. The title tune is one of her original compositions. It too is produced with a Latin feel and there’s lots of overdubbing on her vocals, adding descants and harmonies. This tune is very ‘popish’ and could have been mixed better. On “Agora Sim” we get back to a jazz/Brazilian feel, tickling my memory of Astrud Gilberto or the popular A&M recording group, Brazil 66. “Stand by Me” is a standard R&B song, made famous for its insertion into film and originally performed by the famous artist, Ben E. King. It’s strange to hear “Stand By Me” recorded on a CD being publicized as a jazz recording. Then again, if you’re trying to break into the Smooth Jazz market, it could easily find a foothold. This is a fresh and well-produced beginning to a young artists’ vocal career. She has time to develop her style, confidence and fan base.

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PEDRO GIRAUDO & THE WDR BIG BAND – “AN ARGENTINIAN IN NEW YORK” Zoho Records

Pedro Giraudo, composer/conductor/bassist/arranger. The WDR Big Band.

There is no doubt that music crosses all boundaries, all borders, all cultures and nourishes us with its richness. Sometimes music introduces us to new horizons, new thoughts and often music blends nationalities and experiences sweetly, like sugar and salt, that are both combined in baking a successful cake. Pedro Giraudo is a composer, conductor and Argentinian, who relocated to New York twenty years ago and recently found himself in Germany, conducting the esteemed WDR big band on November 29, 2016. It was an evening to remember, playing to a packed house at the WDR Funkhaus in Koln. Like my example of the cake, it was a sweet and rewardingly successful experience.

Each of Giraudo’s compositions has a title and story behind that title that he shares with us in his liner notes. I enjoyed his composition, “Chicharrita” (“Cicada”), that gave the clarinetist an opportunity to solo and soar. Giraudo explains that Osvaldo Pugliese (1905 – 1995) was for decades an important figure in the history of the ‘Tango.’ He was a composer, pianist and bandleader. His style was deep, rich and lush, but his voice was shockingly high pitched, thus earning him the affectionate nickname of Chicharrita. Giraudo uses the high-pitched woodwind to float above his lush arrangements and celebrate this man who popularized the tango with his unforgettable music. “La Ley Primera” (The First Law) is played in a very bluesy way, featuring a lovely and heartfelt saxophone solo. You will find Pedro Giraudo’s music adequately expressed by the German WDR Big Band in an exuberant and technically proficient way. I wish I could have credited the many expert soloists I heard. They put their heart and souls into expressing these very sensitive and passionate compositions. Their individual voices on their instruments spoke to the beauty in each arrangement and magnificently interpreted Pedro Giraudo’s original works. I regret the soloist names were not included and referenced in liner notes, pinpointing the solos they played. One of the things I enjoyed about Pedro Giraudo’s arrangements is that he left lots of open space for soloists to improvise and express themselves.

Pedro Giraudo is well known in the New York arena, having merged his talents as a virtuoso bass player with well-respected musicians like Regina Carter, Reuben Blades, Paquito D’Rivera, Branford Marsalis and more. He is a respected bandleader who has released five critically acclaimed albums. Giraudo, diversified in his musical efforts, leads three bands; a big band, a jazz orchestra and a sextet. This is another plume in the multi-cultural, multi-generational hat he proudly wears.
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THE FRANKFURT RADIO BIG BAND – “JIM McNEELY BAREFOOT DANCES AND OTHER VISIONS” Planet Arts

Jim McNeely, composer/arranger/conductor; Peter Reiter, piano; Martin Scales, guitar; Thomas Heidepriem, bass; Jean Paul Hochstadter, drums; Heinz-Dieter Sauerborn, soprano & alto saxophones/flute/alto & bass flutes/clarinet; Oliver Leicht, soprano & Alto saxophones/flute/alto flute/B flat and alto clarinets; Tony Lakatos, tenor saxophone/flute/alto flute; Steffen Weber, tenor saxophone/flute/bass flute/clarinet; Rainer Heute, baritone saxophone/bass clarinet/alto flute; Frank Wellert, Thomas Vogel, Martin Auer, & Axel Schlosser, trumpet/flugelhorns; Gunter Bollmann & Peter Feil, trombone; Christian Jakso, trombone/euphonium/valve trombone; Manfred Honetschlager, bass trombone.

The opening tune reminds me of the Cozy Cole style of drums. The percussion staunchly carries this arrangement and I search for the drummer’s name in the credits. The horns accentuate the rhythm-licks and the arrangement is interesting and ear-catching. Christian Jakso is featured on valve trombone and Martin Scales shows his skills on guitar. But it’s the drummer, Jean-Paul Hochstadter, who makes this first cut pop and memorable. It’s called “Bob’s Here” and is one of seven songs composed and arranged by Jim McNeely for this project. McNeely started working with the Frankfurt Radio Big Band in 2008. After three or four projects, he became familiar enough with the band members to imagine their talents, tone and improvisational sounds while he was writing his scores. With great care and adulation, Jim McNeely has tailored these musical visions to support each individual musician’s high points and uniqueness. He also composed these songs with various historic inspirations. For example, on “Bob’s Here” McNeely imagined the return of composer and trombonist, Bob Brookmeyer, who was one of McNeely’s mentor’s. Brookmeyer died in 2011. “Redman Rides Again” is his composition celebrating famed arranger and reedman, Don Redman, who wrote fantastic clarinet trio arrangements. McNeely let’s Axel Schlosser on flugelhorn and Oliver Leicht on his harmonized clarinet re-imagine Redman’s arrangements, woven into the texture of McNeely’s tribute composition. This is no ‘swing’ band, but it is a work of lush orchestration, imagination and aptitude.
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VIVIAN LEE – “LET’S TALK ABOUT LOVE” Tara Records

Vivian Lee, vocals; Brenden Lowe & Joe Gilman, piano; Buc Necak, bass; Jeff Minnieweather, drums; Jeff Clayton, alto saxophone.

Vivian Lee’s rich, alto voice floats atop solid, jazz, band arrangements and immediately peeks my interest. From the premier cut, their unique presentation of the Burt Bacharach tune, “Wives and Lovers,” is fresh and original. I used to love to hear Dionne Warwick sings this song, but Vivian Lee and her swinging ensemble makes it totally their own. Her repertoire is plush with tunes from the Great American Songbook. However, Vivian Lee interprets each in her own inimitable way. For example, on the Gershwin standard, “The Man I Love,” she turns a bluesy ballad into a mid-tempo ‘swing’.

This talented vocalist reminds me of songs I’ve loved and missed, reaching back into yesteryear and pulling out gems like “Didn’t We” and “Out of Nowhere”. Ms. Lee breathes new life into beautiful melodies and lyrics like “Being Green,” (the Mercer/Mandel composition), or “Emily and “Waltz for Debby.” Not only does Vivian Lee talk about love, she tells stories of love we all have lived and makes us relate to each one with the passion and tonal precision that only a seasoned and sincere jazz vocalist and storyteller can do.
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WOMEN IN JAZZ MAKE POWERFUL STATEMENTS WITH MUSIC

August 1, 2018

By Dee Dee McNeil
August 1, 2018

ADISON EVANS – “MERIDIAN” Aditone Music

Adison Evans, baritone saxophone/bass clarinet/flute/ composer/producer; Troy Roberts, tenor saxophone/co-producer/co-writer; Silvano Monasterios, piano; Joseph Lepore, bass; Roberto Giaquinto, drums; Jeremy Smith, percussion; Vasko Dukovski, clarinet; Mat Jodrell, trumpet, Flugelhorn.

Adison Evans is a baritone saxophone, bass clarinet and flute player. She’s also an accomplished composer. With the release of this recording, she continues her journey of jazz. In 2014, Adison Evans brought two and a half busy years of touring with Beyoncé and Jay Z to an end and began her independent journey as a solo artist. She felt she needed a break from the demands of touring that come from performing on-the-road with two very public, very popular artists. When the tour concluded, this talented female saxophonist passed up the opportunity of returning to New York City and decided she’d relocate to Europe. Her choice led her to Asciano, a small countryside village located on a hillside just outside of Siena in Tuscany, Italy. Then, in 2016, she released her debut album titled, “Hero”. On this, her follow-up recording, she continues her pursuit of expression using her reed instruments and her penchant for composing. It took a change of pace to produce this album of nine songs. Once settled into her Italian village farmhouse, she found peace and inspiration by staring at the rolling hillsides, soaking up the morning fog and enjoying a village bursting with nature gifts. Her composition, “Owl People” reflects her musical connection to the natural beauty of her surroundings. It’s both melodic and full of rhythm-licks that Jeremy Smith and Roberto Giaquinto accentuate on drums and percussion. Adison Evans’ silky-smooth tone on her baritone sax is both beautiful and comforting. This particular original composition made me sit-up and really take note of her playing and her composing talents. Troy Roberts, co-producer of this project, is stellar on tenor saxophone. He sounds like birds taking flight. Mat JodrelI, an outstanding trumpeter and flugelhorn player, also elevates this tune with his soaring talents. “Prelude and Fugue in D Minor – The Plunge,” is a lovely mix of classical technique, brightly showcased by Silvano Monasterios on piano. The classical music melts into straight-ahead jazz like fresh churned butter on hot toast. As a Julliard graduate, Adison Evans reflects her classical training in this original composition. It’s very beautiful. There is something haunting and sensitive about Evan’s talent that is reflected each time she picks up the baritone saxophone or her bass clarinet. It’s not just her technique. There’s a richness to her playing and an honesty that creeps from her horn and touches me. On Henry Mancini’s “Two for the Road” she glows like a full moon on a dark night. Troy Roberts has arranged this tune and gives Joseph Lepore an opportunity to share an improvisational solo on his bass instrument. Roberts and Evans play horn-tag on the ending. Troy Roberts has co-written several of the compositions on this recording. The title of this work of art is “Meridian” which translates to a circle passing through the celestial poles and the zenith of a given place on this earth’s surface. As I listen to the Adison Evans project, I find peace and entertainment holding hands with her music. But she knows how to play it straight-ahead and gritty too. On “The Parking Song” she ups the tempo and splashes some East Coast energy onto the cool Tuscany hillsides. This tune sounds like a jazz jam session at Small’s Paradise in NYC. Everybody gets a piece of this song. When Adison Evans describes “Meridian” she explains:
“Meridian is a pathway in which vital energy flows within and radiates beyond, to the earth, the trees, to the sun, to each other. Everything is connected.”

You will enjoy a sweet connection between Evans, her creative spirit and the wonderful musicians who join her in the interpretation of her music and mindset.
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LUCIA JACKSON – “YOU AND THE NIGHT AND THE MUSIC: Roni Music

Lucia Jackson, vocals; Ron Jackson, 7-string electric arch top guitar; Yago Vasquez, piano; Matt Clohesy, double bass; Corey Rawls, drums, Yaacov Mayman, tenor saxophone; Frederika Krier, violin; Javier Sanchez, bandoneon; Dan Garcia, Flamenco classical guitar; Samuel Torres, cajon/congas/percussion.

The first thing that knocks me out about this CD is the fantastic rhythm section that Lucia Jackson has backing her up. What a group! One of the star players is Ron Jackson on guitar. He puts the ‘swing’ into the music. Lucia Jackson is a dancer, model and has a pleasant voice to complete the picture. However, when it comes to jazz, you have to be able to ‘swing,’ especially when you have a rhythm section this strong. That being said, her choice of repertoire is impressive. This is her debut album and she’s young enough to develop into a strong and confident vocalist. I especially enjoyed her arrangement of “And I Love Him” the famed Lennon/McCartney song. Her bell-clear tones are lovely on ballads. She also includes the verse on the title tune, “You and The Night and The Music” which is done very tastily and rubato on the top with just vocal and guitar. When the band enters, the tune ‘swings’ and Lucia Jackson handles this song with class and confidence. Yaacov Mayman steals the show with his unforgettable tenor saxophone solo. The addition of a violin, beautifully played by Frederiko Krier, is a lovely touch to Lucia Jackson’s vocalization on “I’m A Fool to Want You”. Additionally, Javier Sanchez adds a nice touch on his bandoneon instrument during this ballad arrangement. Flamenco classical guitarist, Dan Garcia, has co-written “Feel the Love” with Lucia Jackson. It’s a melodic and rhythmic Latin tune and her singular contribution on this recording as a songwriter. The arrangement of “Never Let Me Go” as a Latin tune is very nice and Lucia Jackson sounds comfortable and at ease. She also sounds beautiful singing the Osvaldo Farrés tune, “Toda Una Vida” with only the talented accompaniment of Ron Jackson on 7-string acoustic classical nylon string guitar. As I listen and peruse the liner notes, I discover that Ron Jackson, the guitarist on this project who I commented on earlier in this review, is this artist’s father. I’m certain with his talent and guidance, Lucia Jackson is on her way to bigger and better musical rainbows. She has the talent. The pot of gold patiently awaits.

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CAROL LIEBOWITZ/BILL PAYNE – “SPIDERWEBMANDALA” Line Art Records

Carol Liebowitz, piano; Bill Payne, clarinet.

Pianist, Carol Liebowitz has locked talents with clarinet player, Bill Payne to create an artistic accomplishment as an improvisational duo. Here is a unique work of art. Theirs is a ‘live’ concert, performed and recorded in Albuquerque, New Mexico, at the Outpost Performance Space during the Spring of 2016. This is a spontaneous concert presenting Liebowitz and Payne compositions and incorporating, at times, the poetry of Mark Weber. On the “Spiderweb Mandala Flower Explosion Poem: Drishti” Mark Weber interjects his original, spoken word. Weber also hosted this outdoor event, featuring the two spontaneous artists. All of their music is created improvisationally and on-the-spot. This is musical poetry; avant garde, modernistic and magical. These two artists have been working together for eight years and you can hear their camaraderie in the compositions they create. Carol Liebowitz shows her classical influence at times and, at other moments, her dynamic exploration of chord harmonics and piano colorations that both support and enhance Bill Payne’s clarinet talents. They are each musicians who are part of the New York jazz improvisation scene. Liebowitz is a student who developed from the inspiration of the High School of Performing Arts and later, at New York University (NYU). She has studied with Sheila Jordan, among others, and performed in Europe and throughout New York and the United States. Her CD, “Payne Lindal Liebowitz” was recorded with Bill Payne and violinist, Eva Lindal. That 2015 recording was chosen by Art Lange as one of the Top Ten Jazz CDs in the National Public Radio Jazz Critics Poll.

Bill Payne was raised in Harvey, Illinois and moved to New York in 1977. Early in his fledgling career, he spent five years touring with the Ringling Brother’s Circus. He has played in ensembles that backed -up theater shows and toured with Margaret Whiting, Kay Starr, as well as playing in orchestras on Cruise ships. He’s been a musical director for the Los Angeles Circus for three years and toured with the UniverSoul Big Top Circus. Currently, his direction has been tapping the deep waters of improvisation and performing freeform music without boundaries. He enjoys the liberation and creativity that working with Carol Liebowitz inspires. This recording promises to continue the Liebowitz/Payne legacy.
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BOB MINTZER BIG BAND NEW YORK VOICES – “MEETING OF MINDS” MCG Jazz – Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild

Bob Mintzer,arranger/bandleader/tenor saxophone/flute; Kim Nazarian,vocals; Lauren Kinhan, vocals; Darmon Meader, vocals/vocal arranger; Peter Eldridge, vocals/piano; REEDS: Bob Sheppard & Lawrence Feldman, alto saxophone/flute; Bob Malach, tenor saxophone; Roger Rosenberg, baritone saxophone/clarinet; TRUMPETS: Bob Millikan, Frank Greene, Scott Wendholt, James Moore. TROMBONES: Keith O’Quinn, Jeff Bush, Jay Ashby,trombone/percussion; David Taylor, bass trombone; Phil Markowitz, piano; Marty Ashby, guitar; Jay Anderson, bass; John Riley, drums.

Listening to this project was absolutely rewarding and joyful. Bob Mintzer has arranged a magnificent jazz treat for our musical palate and it’s delicious to my ears. Lead vocalists, Kim Nazarian and Lauren Kinhan do a superb job of singing “Autumn Leaves” with an amazing arrangement by Bob Mintzer that features Phil Markowitz on piano and Bob Sheppard on alto saxophone. All the vocal arrangements are by Darmon Meader. When the New York Voices employ all those ninth and thirteenth chordal harmonies, they are beyond beautiful. Peter Eldridge has a smooth, clean, lead vocal on “I Concentrate on You” and he helped with the vocal arrangements of this song.

One of the reasons this recording is so historic and special to the MCG Jazz label is because The New York Voices performed with the Count Basie Orchestra on this label’s first commercial release. This unique singing group has been a part of the MCG Jazz family since the 1980s. Their recording with Basie’s band went on to win a Grammy Award in 1996. MCG Jazz has produced five other Bob Mintzer Big Band recordings. This is the first time they have blended The New York Voices with Mintzer’s illustrious orchestrated arrangements. Integrating the creative genius of Darmon Meader’s vocal arrangements with Mintzer’s big band magic is pure gold. This project sparkles and is rich with talented singers and musicians. One of the ladies and founding members of the group is Kim Nazarian.

Kim Nazarian has come across my desk on numerous recording projects. For two and a half decades she’s been an intricate part of The New York Voices. She was one of the featured vocalists on Bobby McFerrin’s “VOCAbuLarieS” CD. She was honored to collaborate with the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra and the Manchester Craftman’s Guild on a concert tour that celebrated the great mother of jazz, Ella Fitzgerald. She’s a jingle and studio session vocalist who also sings on movie scores. For the past three years, Kim Nazarian has been a judge for the International a’cappella Competition in Graz, Austria. Her solo CD, “Some Morning,” won national acclaim a few years ago.

The only other female in The New York Voices is Lauren Kinhan, who I thoroughly enjoyed when she sang the lead on “Old Devil Moon” and “Speak Low.” Ms. Kinhan is also a competent songwriter, discovered in 1997 by the legendary Phil Ramone. It was during her performance in New York City at the club Bitter End. Lauren Kinhan’s latest CD is titled, “A Sleepin’ Bee” released on her own label, ‘Dotted I Records’ that tributes the great Nancy Wilson. She also has three recorded albums featuring her own original compositions. Like Ms. Nazarian, she’s been with The New York Voices since their inception.

Bob Mintzer brings voices and musicians together with a wave of the baton and a stroke of the pen. He has golden ears and a clear sense of what brings out the best of each song, each instrument and each voice. A native New Yorker, at age sixteen an organization that sponsored jazz performances called, Jazzmobile, sent an amazing quintet of musicians to young Mintzer’s New Rochelle high school. The group consisted of Billy Taylor, Grady Tate, Ron Carter, Harold Land and Blue Mitchell. After hearing these jazz masters, Mintzer was hooked on music from that point forward. One of his great teachers was Jackie McLean, during his study at University of Hartford’s Hartt School in Connecticut, where Mintzer had received a classical clarinet scholarship. Mintzer quickly joined the jazz program at Hartt. His illustrious career has spanned decades of performances, album productions and arrangement writing. From working with Buddy Rich’s Big Band to being a part of Jaco Pastorius’s “Word of Mouth Band”. He became a member of the Yellowjackets group in 1991 and is currently a well-respected educator at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles where he teaches jazz composition, saxophone, directs the Thornton jazz Orchestra and conducts jazz workshop classes worldwide. ‘Scuse me while I play this recording one more time.
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JUDI SILVANO & THE ZEPHYR BAND – “LESSONS LEARNED” Unit Records

Judi Silvano, vocals/composer; Kenny Wessel, guitar; Bruce Arnold, processed guitar/bass clarinet/soprano & tenor saxophone; Joe Lovano, tenor saxophone; Retzo B. Harris, bass; Bob Meyer, drums; Todd Isler, percussion.

Judi Silvano is produced by reedman/husband, Joe Lovano. They feature a Zephyr Band. Zephyr is said to be a musical project started in 2000 by London-based composer and producer Elizabeth Henshaw, involving musicians from a variety of different backgrounds. According to other sources, Zephyr music records was born out of passion for transcendence music that would influence the lives of music lovers and artists. Zephyr is also an instrument with a very unique sound. So that gives you an insight into what Judi Silvano and her Zephyr Band are striving to produce with this project.

On their recording, Judi Silvano has composed all the songs both music and lyrics. As a respected vocalist, who has four times been named a DownBeat Top Ten Vocalist and Composer, she continues using her composer skills to share life stories that encourage people to recognize that all of humanity is connected. I appreciate her songwriting ability and her lyrical messages. For this reviewer, however, her vocals are an acquired taste. To my ear, this is not an album I would consider jazz. As a social message, it is definitely cerebral food for thought. As a composer, Silvano soars.
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RACHEL CASWELL – “We’re All In The Dance” Turtle Ridge Records

Rachel Caswell, vocals; Sara Caswell, violin; Dave Stryker, guitar; Fabian Almazan, piano/Fender Rhodes; Linda May Han Oh, bass; Johnathan Blake, drums.

Rachel Caswell is an exquisite jazz singer. From the very first tone of her voice on the Sting composition, “Fragile,” I knew I was in for a treat. First of all, I do love Sting’s songwriting and it takes a special vocalist to tackle his music. Rachel Caswell has a lovely style, a wee bit reminiscent of the great Roberta Flack in the way Caswell phrases, but Caswell is certainly strong and uniquely her own person in both vocal characteristics and presentation. She scats as easily as she emotionalizes the lyrics of her songs. Caswell is sweet as syrup and as powerful as the maple tree that births that maple syrup. Her sister, Sara Caswell, plays a violin solo on this song that is spellbinding. It appears talent runs in their family. Dave Stryker, also takes a notable solo and additionally produced this recording. With only Linda May Hon Oh playing bass, Rachel begins the next tune, “A Lovely Way to Spend An Evening” and the duet is surely a lovely way to start this song, arranged at a medium tempo. By the time Johnathan Blake joins them on drums and Fabian Almazan adds his complimentary piano licks, the song is in full ‘swing .’ Once again, Caswell breaks into a scat that may have well been a saxophone or trumpet solo. She’s silky smooth and joins Dave Stryker in certain parts, singing unison scat tones with his guitar. The title tune, composed by Will Jennings & Christophe Monthieux, has memorable and sensitive lyrics that sum up this album of artistic music. Rachel Caswell sings:

“Like the dance that we all have to do. What does the music require? People are moving together. Close as the flames in a fire. … Looking for one more chance, oh I know, We’re all in the dance.”

Once again, I do find deep appreciation for the virtuoso violin work of Sara Caswell on this arrangement. Rachel Caswell’s repertoire is refreshing and she is deeply passionate when she sings. Not everyone can capture passion inside a recording studio. I was eager to hear her delivery on the Ray Charles hit record, “Drown In My Own Tears.” She keeps it as a bluesy ballad, perhaps a little less Gospel than Ray Charles arranged it, but Dave Stryker puts a capital “B” in the blues on his guitar. Rachel Caswell is a fearless artist who puts her own ‘take’ on tunes by Charlie Parker (“Dexterity”) or Herbie Hancock’s “Tell Me A Bedtime Story” with interesting lyrics by Tom Lellis and a challenging melody that demands her full range. Closing with Thelonious Monk’s “Reflections (Looking Back),” she has shown the listener that she is a full-fledged jazz diva with excellent timing, pure tones that swoop and soar like a reed instrument and the ability to improvise with precision pitch and great creativity. Her flawless enunciation reminds us of the importance that lyrics add to music and her emotional delivery seals the deal.
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JOHNAYE KENDRICK – “FLYING” Independent Label

Johnaye Kendrick, vocals/arranger/composer; Dawn Clement, piano/keyboards; Chris Symer, bass; D’Vonne Lewis, drums/percussion; Michael Nicollela, guitar;Adele & Nola Oliver, children’s voices.

Johnaye Kendrick is another singer/songwriter with a social consciousness that creeps through her music with lyrics like:

“They push you, they pull you. Don’t even know how much you can bear. Though they’ll tell you that they rule you, never you mind. You come from a legacy of warriors and though there’s fear, know that fear’s what fueled the fire of courage.”

This original composition by Kendrick, “Never You Mind,” opens her album and is very melodic and engaging. It’s followed by a tune called “Fallen” written by Lauren Wood. Johnaye Kendrick has a pleasing soprano voice and she sweetly draws you into the songs she sings. When she performs the popular jazz standard, “It Could Happen to You” with only bass and drums as accompaniment, she breaks into a scat solo that’s fiery and effective before returning to the poignant lyrics. Chris Symer takes an interesting and creative solo on bass during this arrangement.

Her composition, “You Two,” is a beautiful ballad, dedicated to her twin girls. You can hear the coos and childlike voices on the tag of this song. The weak link in this recording is that this talented lady probably needs a producer and jazz studio session players that could lift these songs and give this vocalist the professional cushion she deserves to elevate her presentation. I do enjoy Ms. Kendrick’s arrangements and her creative ideas. She’s a very fine songwriter, both melodic and she’s lyrically fluent. Her music easily crosses from jazz to pop and borders on smooth jazz. For example, cut #6, “I’ve Got No Strings” is a little Erykka Badu-ish and expands Johnaye Kendrick’s appeal towards more commercial opportunities. Once again, although this has the makings of a pop hit, with the right production and a more funk-sensitized pianist, she probably would have had the makings of great crossover appeal and a hit record. Sometimes it’s more expedient and dynamic to use seasoned studio musicians to lay down strong tracks and then hire another band for touring and ‘live’ performances. Another original composition titled “Boxed Wine” is definitely one that could be played on both Easy Listening and Smooth Jazz stations. The addition of Adele and Nola Oliver, who beautifully layer harmonics with their background vocals, creates a delightful, ethereal groove. Johnaye Kendrick’s lead vocal sings the story and she smoothly floats atop the catchy arrangement. This is another example of her diversified composition talents.

Johnaye Kendrick earned her Bachelor of Music degree from Western Michigan University. She has already garnered a DownBeat Student Music Award for Outstanding Jazz Vocalist and has worked with some of the best musicians in the business including great pianist, Fred Hersch. I wish he had played on this production. She was featured vocalist with the Ellis Marsalis Quartet and the Grammy winning New Orleans Jazz Orchestra. Ms. Kendrick received an Artist’s Diploma from the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz and a Master’s degree in Jazz Studies from Loyola University in 2009. Currently, she is sharing her experience and talent as an educator, songwriter and vocal coach in Washington State.
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JOANNE TATHAM – “THE RINGS OF SATURN” Café Pacific Records

Max Haymer, piano; Lyman Medeiros, bass; Dan Schnelle, drums; Marcel Camargo & Larry Koonse, guitar; Bob Sheppard, saxophone; Brian Swartz, trumpet; Kevin Winard, percussion.

Joanne Tatham is another cabaret singer who has surrounded herself with some of the best Southern California musicians around. She has perfect elocution, sharing stories of New York (her former stomping ground,) using the ebullient Michael Franks tune, “Summer in New York”. Franks is one of my favorite modern composers and the musical arrangement on this tune features Larry Koonse on guitar and Max Haymer on piano. Both exhibit their technique and bravado during spicy solos. Haymer has done most of the arrangements on this album and for the most part, they are stellar. Singer/songwriter, Phoebe Snow left us way too soon, but gifted her faithful audience with several delightful and sensuous compositions. A favorite of mine is “Poetry Man” that Max Haymer has completely rearranged. I hardly recognize it. Tatham sticks to the lovely melody, no matter what the repetitive chords do, but I think the beauty of Snow’s composer skills are buried in this arrangement. The title tune, “The Rings of Saturn” is beautifully executed. The track and arrangements are smokin’ hot on this one. Bob Sheppard sounds fabulous on the song, “Can We Still Be Friends?” All in all, the arrangements really swing on this album.

Tatham is a fine vocalist. Producer Mark Winkler knows how to contract a band and he has put such an amazing group of musicians behind Ms. Tathan, she can only soar. She is especially successful on the more Latin flavored tunes and the way she learned the scat part of the guitar on “If You Never Come To Me” (composed by Jobim), puts her into the realms of jazz in a sweet way. However, for the most part, she sounds like an actress or Broadway rather than a jazz vocalist. When I read her bio, I recognized that I was correct in my assumption. Tatham studied music at the performing arts conservatory at the University of Hartford at the Hartt School. She has a graduate degree from Syracuse University’s Newhouse School and lived in New York City for ten years working as a theater actress.

Although this album was released in the Spring of this year, it’s never too late to give it a spin and enjoy the wide diversity of this talented actress and cabaret vocalist.
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