WOMEN IN JAZZ MAKE POWERFUL STATEMENTS WITH MUSIC

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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